The small raft skimmed across the flooded asphalt, moving from the watery reaches of Custis & Brown Seafood to an excited customer waiting on dry land.
"How often do you have someone paddle up with your bag of shrimp?" said 16-year-old Ingrid Brown as she paid the raft pilot and watched, fascinated, as he paddled away.
The Custis & Brown houseboat, normally a part of the D.C. waterfront on Maine Avenue, was surrounded yesterday by three feet of dark swirling water. But it didn't stop the business from serving the curious who had gathered on slightly higher ground a few yards away.
The skies were blue, the sun was bright, and the flood was on its way. It was enough to send people who never considered the Potomac more than a traffic jam on a bridge to head for the nearest lookout point to view the swollen river.
It was a day to look at the Potomac, to talk about the Potomac, to speculate on how the Potomac might affect one's drive home. It was also a day for flood fever, a giddy, almost holiday-like atmosphere that united people in a common interest. Along the Key Bridge at rush hour, for example, dozens of people stood as if at attention, seemingly mesmerized by the river's muddy flow.
Here, a closer look at how Washington reacted on the Day of the Flood:
*10:30 a.m.: Cabdriver Ted Assl was mad -- no, he was livid. He had driven a passenger from 14th and K streets Northwest to National Airport, usually the most coveted of fares. And can you believe it, a 15-minute trip had taken two hours and 30 minutes. The George Washington Parkway was closed, and I-395 South moved at a snail's pace.
"I've never seen traffic like this," Assl muttered. "It's crazy out here. Crazy. I think I'll go home. I'm not going to get anywhere today."
*11 a.m.: Susan Sprouse and Barbara Chretien, Georgetown legal secretaries sprung for the day, took a leisurely stroll near Washington Harbour, the huge retail-office-condominium project on K Street. The electricity in their nearby law office had been shut off in anticipation of the flood and the employes were sent home, possibly until Monday.
"We're going to go downtown and do some shopping," Sprouse said happily as she looked down at the debris-strewn water that had already forced the closing of part of K Street. "And then we'll come back here and see what's going on with the river."
*Noon: A handful of lunchtime joggers sprinted along a closed section of the Anacostia Freeway, despite piles of sandbags, a green flood wall, and the forbidding presence of police cars. They were forced to make a quick detour, however, when they reached the flooded parts of the highway. "We always run around here, every day," said Randy Behrends, a 32-year-old accountant. "Today was no different -- but it's a little more fun."
*1:30 p.m.: The place to be in Southwest Washington during lunch break was the overlook above the waterfront provided by the high bluff of Banneker Circle -- much to the chagrin of Richard Wakeman and Chuck Dennis.
"Usually, this is a beautiful quiet place I have all to myself," said Wakeman, who works for the Maritime Administration.
On a normal balmy day, about 15 people might lunch in the little park with its broken fountain. Today, there were several hundred people in Banneker Circle and on the nearby Southwest Freeway. They could have been mannequins arranged in similar positions -- shielding their eyes from the sun as they looked out toward East Potomac Park, Hains Point and National Airport.
"I figure if the water rises another foot, it'll be over those tennis courts over there," said Richard Green, a federal programs analyst, pointing to the courts in East Potomac Park.
*2:30 p.m.: At the Georgetown waterfront on K Street, Victor Perea and Bob Brew had come to watch the muddy Potomac rush by.
"I guess I'm always sort of fascinated by natural disasters," said Brew, 36. "I never think of D.C. as even being on the water, much less being the scene of a natural disaster."
"This is not the time to invest in Georgetown waterfront property," said Perea, 26.
*4 p.m.: To serve the Georgetown gawkers, Chanterelle Caterers set up a cloth-covered table in front of their Wisconsin Avenue office. Free coffee was poured from silver urns and raspberry butter cookies, chocolate shortbread and almond cookies served from lacquered trays.
Owner Barbara Aledort said Chanterelle employes took note of the heavy traffic on Wisconsin around 11 a.m., and started "baking furiously."
*5:15 p.m.: At Thomas Jefferson and K streets, 31-year-old John Cornett climbed a 225-foot smokestack -- the better to see the flood.
"I'm not afraid of heights," said Cornett, a master plumber. "And I knew I couldn't see anything from K Street. It's a great view up here."
*6 p.m.: At the Kennedy Center, people were still coming. The sky was black, lit up only by television camera lights. There were the first signs that the waters were lowering: water rings on the trunks of trees marked the height at which the river had been just moments earlier