Joyce A. Murray, a contracting officer at the General Services Administration, was left stranded yesterday without a ride back to her home in Waldorf.

J. Vernon Roberts, a research engineer at the Department of Transportation, had to cancel a trip to Detroit to meet with auto industry representatives on safety issues.

Scott A. Frankel, an engineer with an Alexandria firm, showed up promptly for his 1 p.m. appointment with GSA officials over the design of a room at the National Archives, only to find no one was there.

Due to continued warfare on Capitol Hill, a substantial portion of the federal government had been canceled -- not that everyone didn't know it would soon spring back to life. The ritual made for a day that could only happen in Washington.

"If this were private industry, they would never sit still for it," said Kathy P. Shamburger of Falls Church, a Transportation Department secretary. "It's political nonsense. It's all Congress' fault."

Of 2.1 million civilian federal officials nationwide, only 500,000 actually were sent home, according to the Office of Management and Budget. The money for some agencies has already been approved by Congress, but that for others has not. If, however, an agency has an essential service such as food inspection (Agriculture) or air traffic control (Transportation) or security (Treasury), those employes worked on even though their departments were caught in the money crunch.

They closed the Washington Monument at noon. It belongs to the Interior Department. The thing you do at Interior, or threaten to do, when money gets short is close the Washington Monument, on the theory that the public will be outraged and the outcry will prod Congress into action.

At the Interstate Commerce Commission, in Hearing Room A, the seven commissioners and a roomful of lawyers were discussing the virtues of an exquisitely complex issue known officially as Ex Parte No. 347 (Sub-No. 1), Coal Rate Guidelines, Nationwide.

It was a discussion only lawyers could love, and it continued until 1:10 p.m. Only then did Commission Chairman Reese H. Taylor Jr. tell the assembled throng, including many members of his staff, that the ICC was out of business and they were out of work, momentarily at least.

GSA, the government's landlord, ordered the Federal Protective Service to "gray alert" status. That means "there is reason to believe that a threatening situation may develop," said Quentin Y. Lawson, a senior FPS official. "We can't leave virtually unmanned buildings unprotected."

The Maritime Administration (MarAd) continued working although some in the Transportation Department, of which it is part, went home. MarAd's appropriation is in the Commerce Department appropriations bill, which has already passed. MarAd used to be in Commerce.

In Denver, an attorney contemplating the filing of an oil lease went to the Bureau of Land Management office in the federal center to get a status map. The office was closed because BLM was closed. The lawyer was angry. "I charge my client $85 an hour," the lawyer said. "Can I charge him for this?"

At the Education Department, a "procedure of suspension memo" was distributed about 11 a.m. telling everyone to proceed out the door after they were suspended at 1 p.m. "Do we get paid?" a telephone operator wanted to know. No, unless the president, as he has done in the past, decrees paychecks for the lost time.

There were frowns and downcast expressions as federal workers streamed out of their buildings yesterday afternoon, but there was also an air of joviality among many workers who looked upon the furlough as a chance to enjoy the balmy weather.

"It's kind of disappointing that the whole government gets shut down," said James D. Kesler, chief of the campus and state grants branch of the Department of Education. "On the other hand, it's a beautiful afternoon, and having a free afternoon with no obligations isn't the worst thing that could happen."

Asked what she would be doing, Gail Lefkowitz, a program analyst for the Internal Revenue Service, smiled. "Get my hair cut. Get my kid out of school early. Have a drink," said the Burke resident.

With the Metro subway running extra trains, few jams developed, and auto traffic was lighter than during normal rush hour. Many workers elected to have lunch before they went home, dispersing traffic still more.

At the Pentagon Metro stop, where express buses tote scores of federal workers to their suburban homes each afternoon, Metro officials had braced for a flood of commuters seeking early trips home. What they got was an orderly procession.

Metro supervisor James Coburn said he had summoned between 30 and 35 extra drivers and dispatched 10 additional buses by 1:45. "We had the extra buses and drivers over here by 12:30," he said. "I expected the platform to be filled by now."

As workers stepped off Metro trains in waves and rode up to the bus platform, long lines formed briefly and Coburn rattled off bus numbers and arrival times to commuters wondering how to get home. But most of the lines vanished quickly, and at times, bus drivers waiting for assignments nearly outnumbered commuters.

Beverly R. Silverberg, Metro's public affairs director, said the transit authority had to start calling in hundreds of off-duty bus drivers, many of whom had already gone home after completing morning shifts. As a result, officials said, Metro provided only a limited increase in bus service before the start of regular rush-hour service at mid-afternoon.

Metro spent an estimated $30,000, mainly on overtime pay, to provide extra rail and bus service for commuters, who were charged non-rush hour fares.

"What time did the government close down?" asked H.W. Johnson Jr., who usually drives the 8X bus to Fox Chase in Alexandria. Told that workers were dismissed at 1 p.m., he peered across the quiet platform and checked his watch. It was 1:45. "Where's everybody at?"

The Agriculture Department had started sending people home about 10:30. Secretary John R. Block canceled a trip to Gainesville, Fla., because federal travel is nonessential when there is no appropriation. He had been scheduled to speak at the centennial of a food-science institute.

Gene Hemphill, a press aide reduced to answering his own phone, said that Block "plans to go to their bicentennial." Joke.

Roberts, the DOT engineer, said the shutdown caused turmoil within the government long before workers were told to go home. Some employes from his office already had gone to California for a meeting planned for this week on traffic fatalities, he said.

"Some people already had plane tickets and went. Then there is a question of whether they have to pay for it. The whole thing seems folly," said the Great Falls, Va., resident. "A lot of time is being spent on things besides our mission," he said.

Many federal workers were blase, having seen it all before. But Jenny G. Jamison, a typist at GSA, began working for the government just this week and immediately encountered federal Washington at its most Wonderlandish. "I don't know what to make of it," she said.

There may have been confusion in some quarters, but the White House had its act together, as would be expected. A phone call produced the following recorded message:

"You have reached the Executive Office of the President. In the absence of appropriations, the White House is involved in an orderly phase-down. All nonessential personnel have been furloughed. No one is here to answer your call."