It begins in the elevator the first morning after the election. A large, gray-haired bureaucrat is loudly mocking this incompetent, this loser, this Carter.

Overnight, the sheep have grown teeth.

Ah, wasn't it only yesterday that we moved with the exuberance the Reaganites feel today? Everyone in Georgia headed north. I may have been the only person in America heading south to Washington to get a job.

A Georgia high school band was practicing at the foot of Capitol Hill as I walked to Rep. Brock Adams' office in January 1977 to get the handshake that would mean a post in his 10th-floor think tank at the Department of Transportation. I waited with a roomful of fellow petitioners. Ted Kennedy was in making his courtesty call on the congressman.

The following Saturday there was a spiritual lift strolling up the White House driveway in the bright sunshine for Jody Powell's first meeting with the department press staffs.

Washington was crackling, as it will this January. Everyone wanted to interview the new Cabinet officer. There was an exhilaration that made 9 p.m. seem like a reasonable quitting hour. (White House staffers were quick to claim it was 11 p.m. for them.)

Over here in Southwest we had the Concorde decision, I66, airbags, fuel economy standards for cars, Pinto crashes, Firestone's exploding tires and the fight to save Amtrak. At the White House, the president's men had an idea for a Saturday morning radio talk show with Walter Cronkite -- America Calls Jimmy Carter.

Their first press trauma was the Bert and the Lone Star Beef House on 9th Street. I had to explain to the taxpayers why they now owned a topless joint in wicked in Washington, D.C.

We looked for ways to cut back the bureaucracy, but we did not cut one political job. If the Reagan forces do it any differently -- if they eliminate any of the $50,000 plums -- I will send a contribution to the GOP campaign fund.

The intensity, the volume were never again as high as in those early days. Most of the later excitement came first in holding on to one's job in the Great Purge of '79 that swept Adams out and then in watching a wisecracking new secretary, Neil Goldschmidt, take charge with hustle and humor.

The morning after the election, the invisible line that separates the political appointees from the career people had suddenly reappeared. We are going -- we 80 in a department of 110,000 -- and they are staying. They will have to make an accommodation with the new, hard-eyed strangers. We will never see them.

One day is set aside for the official office Irish wake. A picture of Reagan is pasted on a sports page shot of a soccer ball about to be kicked. A photo of a mass parachute jump is labeled "The Goldschmidt Team." A GS14 jokes that she and other women will have to relearn how the men like their coffee.

The next day an old college calls from Philadelphia. He's given my name to a friend of his who is about to launch a new newspaper.

"That's the best call I've had today," I reply. "It's also the only call."