One minute Clarence Moore was watching the crowd and the cameras and the police from a second-story window. The next he was racing through the Crystal City Marriott lobby, zipping up his uniform.
Did he want to be in the receiving line, a hotel manager had asked?
A moment later, at 5:40 p.m. yesterday, he was standing in the hotel drive with the other 19 employes. That's how Clarence Moore, a 20-year-old busboy from Southeast Washington, got to meet the former hostages.
Moore was there along with the chef in his white apron and tall hat, when the first cheers went up. "There they are!" shouted someone in the crowd of 1,000 crushed around the hotel entrance. And the first of four dozen motorcycle police, red lights flashing, roared past.
When the buses finally pulled to a stop, the cheers turned into a roar, patriots waving flags and yelling, "welcome home!" at the top of their lungs.
For the returned Americans, and the 10 busloads of friends and relatives, it was the last homecoming in a day of rousing homecomings.
As they had all day, they responded to the unrestrained displays of joy and affection at the Marriott Hotel with an amicability that drove the crowd wild.
"Oh, I'm so excited," bubbled Connie Brown, a secretary at the nearby General Electric patent office. "I'm so excited."
As they stepped off chartered buses, the ex-hostages and their families were swept up in a flutter of signs and, of course, yellow ribbons.
Everyone -- returnees and welcomers -- had a special way of celebrating. Small groups of neighbors and friends carried signs to greet particular area returnees, while a security guard stood proudly in the street, applauding the whole group and clutching a yellow balloon.
Inside the hotel, the returnees and their families were given the run of the Marriott facilities. Although hordes of reporters made hundreds of interview requests, talking to an ex-hostage was a little like trying to get an audience with the pope.
Reporters were so starved for interviews that when Lisa Moeller came into the press-packed banquet room to tell everyone that her hostage husband, Michael, would not come down for interviews, the pack descended on her. As she kept protesting, "I'm not giving interviews," she continued to answer questions. Finally, she kidded reporters, "I know you guys, you're all like vultures."
"The families have gotten pretty adept at dealing with the media, but the returned hostages are still bewildered by it all," said one State Department official as he was delivering yet another interview request to a returnee's hotel room.
"If I were them," said Jack Harrod, spokesman for the State Department's now nearly-defunct Iran Working Group, "I would go in, go up to the free room Marriott is providing, eat the free dinner Marriott is providing, drink the free drinks Marriott is providing and go to bed."
Most of the hostages headed for the private Crystal City Club where an array of raw vegetables, cheese puffs and barbecued spareribs, along with the free bar, had been provided by the Marriott Corp. The hotel was studded with other gifts from around the country, among them numerous floral arrangements as well as such edibles as a cake from citizens of Provo, Utah, who described it as "a tasteful way to say it right."
On hand to greet the hostages was the owner of it all, J. Willard Marriott, the hostages' 80-year-old benefactor who said of the scene, "I haven't seen anything where there's been more enthusiasm." Marriott's own enthusiasm included a free book in every room courtesy of the Honor America Committee, which glowingly and succinctly tells the history of America.
Jesse Pessoa, a Brazilian harpist who performs regularly at the hotel, was one of the few persons other than family and friends allowed near the returned hostages. He and his Swedish vocalist partner, Eleanor Fridstrom, were thrilled at the chance to do a show for the group but also a little worried.
"I'm a foreigner and I don't know many American songs," said Pessoa. But he said he had brushed up "on the 'Yellow Ribbon' song" and was going to give it a try.
Amid all the excitement, the real significance of the hostages' return had not sunk in for some.
"Can they leave the hotel tonight if they want?" one reporter, hoping for a private interview, inquired.
"Of course," answered an official, savoring his reply. "They're not hostages anymore."