As sub-zero winds swept across the District yesterday, the bloodshot eyes of men who had congregated around a fire barrel shed tears that turned to ice. The pavement near their stoop at Fifth and K streets NW was coated with frozen exhaust fumes and cruddy snow lingered on the curb, but there was no talk of canceling this street-corner vigil: These men were awaiting trash haulers who might have an odd job for them.
On a transistor radio, they heard that Ronald Reagan's inaugural parade had been canceled to protect participants from the cold. So, Sidney Woods, 45, offered him a toast. "Here's to Ronald Reagan," he said, pulling a near-empty bottle of Scotch from his back pocket. "May the hell he has caused freeze over."
From street corners to living rooms throughout this city, people were taking Reagan's name in vain. After swearing in for another four-year lease on his house at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the nation's 40th president remains one of the most unpopular residents in town.
Just three months ago, his neighbors voted overwhelmingly to evict him. No big deal, it seemed. On election night, the District was just a red dot on a virtually all blue voting-returns map, signaling his landside victory.
But that red dot was flashing, and the signal it sent was clear.
"In many ways, the District serves as the conscience of the nation, for we are a people who have the moral integrity to vote what we believe," said the Rev. A. Knighton Stanley, influential pastor of the People's Congregational Church. "We did not vote for Reagan because we do not believe that his administration bodes well for black people and other minorities. Of course, there is no one in this city who does not wish we were wrong, as he begins his second term."
As limousines and shuttle buses chauffeur dignitaries and celebrities to and fro, however, there is little, if any, indication that the next four years will be any different for blacks or women. Thus, visitors who dare venture outside hotel lobbies and ballrooms will find an acutely anti-inaugural chord being sounded throughout the backbone neighborhoods of this city.
Indeed, there have been parties just to cheer up those otherwise depressed by the prospects of four more years of Reagan.
"It's not just an anti-Ronald Reagan party," said party planner Gail Dixon, an employe at the Folger Theatre, who was recently informed that Reagan administration budget cuts would force the theater to close within months. "It's just that Reagan symbolizes a country celebrating a rebirth when, in fact, many of us have nothing to celebrate. I'm giving a party so people can pledge to survive."
That's a feat that won't be easy.
"The people of this city are out of it," said Augustus Boone, a cab driver, as he drove around looking for inaugural-day fares. "You have our mayor Marion Barry hugging up to Reagan, and all these so-called black leaders tipping in to see him, and all the while we are getting screwed.
"Look at this inaugural -- for big shots only," Boone continued. "They got all the money in the world, yet they get free limo service to the parties, free bus service to the airport. It's the small guy like me that's being froze out."
Back on the corner of Fifth and K, in front of a dilapidated old buildling that was once the city's employment office, men wrapped in rags and bags stood frostbitten and shivering, their fire barrel wood burning low. By noon, there had been no job offers, and some contemplated returning to their shelters for the homeless.
It was street corners such as this one, and the complaints of residents such as Boone and Dixon, and the concern of those like the Rev. Stanley, that makes Reagan talk of an "opportunity society" sound like a lie. A recent report by the Greater Washington Research Center says discrimination is still a major factor in the underutilization of blacks and women in the work force here, yet Reagan's record on civil rights leaves minorities cold. So, yesterday it was as if he had received a taste of his own medicine, with a climate so bitter that the inaugural parade was canceled for the first time in history. But even after the weather thaws, it is unlikely that District residents will warm to the man who claims to be president for all.