Twenty-year-old Sterling Toye lovingly polished his spanking-new, bright red muscle car with a baby-soft chamois. When he had hit every square inch of the immaculate finish and the sparkling chrome, he started the job again. Toye was having a good time and he was doing it in Georgetown at 3 on a Sunday morning.
Toye, a federal government mail clerk, was waiting for friends to join him at their meeting spot at Wisconsin Avenue and Prospect Street. "I used to polish my car at Hains Point, but the police make you move out of there by 2 a.m.," he said. "Now I come to Georgetown every Saturday night. Georgetown is a hip place. I don't have anything better to do, so I get out my rag and start wiping."
Toye and thousands of people find Georgetown the place to see and be seen on Friday and Saturday nights. Many of the Georgetown enthusiasts are too young or too broke to be customers in the area's up-scale bars and restaurants, so they hang out along the narrow streets, content to be a part of the scene.
The phenomenon of such large crowds of young people gathering in Georgetown after hours is a relatively new one, and it has brought changes to Washington's ritziest neighborhood. Owners of some established businesses are angry, owners of some newer ones are pleased, and police say they have a new set of problems to handle. There used to be a regular detail of eight uniformed police officers in Georgetown on weekend nights. Now the detail has been increased to 45 officers, to handle the slew of incidents -- mostly minor -- that the young people's presence brings.
They come from all over the Washington area. Mike Wilson, 19, of Rockville, says he comes to Georgetown "to meet the ladies." Maurice Brown, 16, of Washington, and his friend, Ramone Lima, 14, of Bethesda, say they come for the breakdancing.
"I like to walk around the Georgetown mall and sightsee," said Brown, a student at Wilson High School. "I don't buy anything, but I look a lot. And I like the breakdancing, but the cops are always breaking it up."
For 18-year-old Monica Lisa of Washington, Georgetown is a place to hang out on a day off. She chose to begin a recent Saturday evening perched on the hood of a car in front of a bar called The Company.
"Almost everyone I know comes here," she said. "People my age like it because it is free and because it is not scary like the rest of D.C. People here are cool and you can hang out all night if you want."
Some of the young people bring beer and create parties, complete with portable music. Thus Georgetown ends up with dual entertainment areas, the one inside the popular bars and restaurants and the one outside on the streets.
The effect is to create a kind of brick boardwalk -- minus the traditional water and sand. As with a real boardwalk, there is a honky-tonk, anything-goes atmosphere, complete with the stench of urine in the alleyways, the jumble of discarded food and beer bottles underfoot, blaring music from bars and portable radios, cruising cars filled with screaming students and a restless crowd of teen-agers who move up and down the streets in groups looking for a good time.
"We most definitely do have a problem here," said Linda Arnsey, head of the Georgetown Business and Professional Association. "It is not something we are anxious to talk about. We don't want it to be the new image of Georgetown. The streets are packed and we have a street youth problem.
"We have a message for those kids. 'It's not that we don't want you. But we want you to come and be responsible. Stop throwing your beer around, throwing up on the sidewalk and urinating in the street.' "
Juan Cameron, president of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, says residents are concerned about the large crowds drawn to Georgetown for special events such as Halloween, the Super Bowl and Redskins victory parties as well as the regular crowds on summer weekends.
"The crowds are now younger and lots tougher," Cameron said. "They are out to make the scene and raise hell. We find beer bottles and empty six-packs on our residential streets. Unless you are entertaining somebody, you stay home because of the crowds. You can get pushed into the streets and get hurt."
"I can tell you, it's been one hell of a summer," said Capt. Rod Murray, who heads the increased summer police team. "We average at least 20,000 people coming to Georgetown every Friday and Saturday night if it doesn't rain. We deal with all of the various factions including the servicemen, construction workers, white rednecks, punk rockers, religious groups, breakdancers, vendors, street musicians, families with children, young couples, singles, lost tourists, lost drivers and the drunks."
Besides the expected problems of disorderly conduct, urinating in public and drunk driving, Murray dealt with complaints from women that they had been fondled or grabbed by men on the crowded streets.
"We put undercover officers into the crowds of young men hanging out on the street," he said. "They would just hang out till they saw the first hand touch the first woman and we'd lock them up for simple assault. You know, that sort of behavior creates a double problem. First you have the woman who feels violated, and then you have her date or husband who feels that he has to fight 15 guys or feels bad because he chooses to do nothing."
Bob Daniels, manager for the last 12 years of Clyde's, a well-known upscale restaurant and bar, said he is sure he has lost business because of the atmosphere on the streets.
"Women customers come in and tell me they have been fondled and grabbed and they are not going to come back," said Daniels. "Business has been affected in a big way. Late at night, we have less business. Fridays and Saturdays used to be our biggest grossing nights. Now they are just slightly better than weekdays."
Daniels has hired off-duty police officers to stand in front of his restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights to keep loiterers away from the entrance and to protect his customers as they enter and leave the restaurant, which marks its 21st year in Georgetown this month.
In response to the changing late-night crowd, Crazy Horse, a bar that attracts a young crowd and a lot of marines, has doubled its number of bouncers to keep order inside and outside. The Library, a quiet underground bar with book-lined walls, has instituted an escalating cover charge for weekend nights to discourage noncustomers. Nancy Whitney, manager of the Library, says the cover starts at $3 and reaches $5 by midnight.
Several restaurant managers complain that the younger crowd that shows up after midnight tends not to tip and that some in the crowd try to leave without paying. For example, Scott Foreman, manager of Uno's Pizzeria, says the restaurant has changed its closing time from 3 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekends because "it's just not worth staying open because of the clientele."
There is, however, another type of business that appears to be benefiting greatly from the influx of young people: Fast food restaurants, both long-established ones and new ones, do especially big business after midnight.
Frankly Fries opened in January across the street from Clyde's, and manager Mike Morgan says the french fries-and-beer menu was an immediate hit. "Before midnight we get a good mixture of ages, including some of the sophisticated crowd from Clyde's," he said. "After 12, the older ones don't want to mix with the younger ones. But we do 70 percent of our business between 12 and 3 a.m. That's when we make our money."
In the midst of this all is the beefed-up police patrol, consisting mostly of the department's youngest and newest officers. They traditionally draw weekend and night work, and therefore they end up on the Georgetown detail.
Officer Rob Moroney, 22, has walked a beat for two years in Georgetown and works weekends with Murray. Moroney has his own special name for Georgetown: "Liberalsville."
"Every time you make an arrest, you have to answer 100 questions on why you arrested the man and if it is justified," he said. "The other night, I stopped a car whose driver was squealing his tires. The pedestrians applauded me. But when I had to arrest him later on for drunken driving there were all these questions, and next thing you know there is a big street battle and everyone got arrested."
Murray, with 22 years on the police force and 16 weekends of late night Georgetown duty, supervises his troops from a favorite vantage point just up Wisconsin Avenue from M Street. He emphasizes that there is no real increase in major crime because of the weekend crowds. But there are always arrests made for disorderly conduct and urinating in public, and there are a "substantial" number of parking tickets written for illegally parked cars, he said.
On a recent Saturday night, the crowds swelled and spilled once again into the streets. Suddenly an argument between a young man and a woman became loud and violent, and friends of the young man tried to drag him away.
The man broke loose, and a wild chase was on through traffic on Wisconsin Avenue, with the man darting between cars, followed by his friends and the police. By the time the man was subdued by officers, Murray ended up with a broken finger and the young man with an arrest for disorderly conduct.
Murray carefully surveyed the damage to his hand. His little finger jutted away from his hand at an awkward angle and there was a scrape on his knuckles. "Yup, it sure enough is broken. Guess I'll have to get it looked at when the shift ends." He went back to his observation post.
"It's amazing how many people can squeeze into 12 blocks," said Murray, noting that Labor Day usually signals the advent of smaller crowds. "The feeling is that this is the end, and we all have high hopes. We are all praying for cold weather."