Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to a Washington that was charged with electricity.
Barricades had sprung up overnight. Battalions of police, Secret Service agents and overcoated men of indeterminate agency patrolled the streets. And protesters espousing seemingly every cause spent the day chanting and marching in the downtown neighborhood within blocks of his embassy.
It was a Felliniesque scene: a woman clad in a garbage bag over her full-length fur pacing Lafayette Park from rally to rally, a man calling himself "Mr. Wake-Up-America" hiring a plane with banner to take his message to the skies, and an outraged Afghan in a curbside argument with a top D.C. police official yelling, "You will be Soviet slaves."
The city that usually shrugs off the visits of foreign dignitaries was finally overwhelmed by the hype and high-tension security arrangements. And, at spots, it was brought to a standstill as traffic on the streets immediately around the Soviet Embassy was funneled into a single lane or blocked by barricades. Even pedestrians were banned from 16th Street NW between L and M.
The climax to the day of Gorbachev-waiting came at 5:19 p.m. when the Soviet leader emerged from his black, armored Zil limousine to walk on a red carpet into the embassy. To make way for the enormous car with its extra-wide turning radius, the wrought-iron gate had to be cut Sunday night, according to a law enforcement official.
Yesterday evening, helicopters hovered, security agents scrutinized the scene through binoculars from nearby rooftops, and the entrance, shielded from overhead view by a new white canopy, was bathed in floodlights -- as if it were an opening night.
One of the onlookers, standing behind a police line, suggested that she and her friend move to the Ellipse for the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. "No," said her friend, Carol Lee Miller. "This is history."
Gorbachev had touched down in an Aeroflot jet at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County and was rushed in a 50- vehicle caravan to the Soviet Embassy, a 17-mile trip that took 27 minutes on parkways and streets that had been cleared of traffic. The tight security around the motorcade route caused rush-hour tie-ups as U.S. Park Police and D.C. police closed off sections of the roads.
Gorbachev's Soviet limousine, flown in for the occasion along with five cargo plane loads of equipment -- including at least eight other vehicles -- sped him along Suitland Parkway in Maryland, then to the South Capitol Street Bridge, to the Southeast-Southwest Freeway, to Maine Avenue SW and into downtown. The route had been cleared of traffic as it is for presidential motorcades, said several law enforcement officials.
Gorbachev's arrival for the superpower summit had brought mixed reviews. A marquee outside a Holiday Inn on his route from Andrews proclaimed, "Welcome, Mr. Gorbachev, to the United States." That angered the leader of a protest group that had come to demonstrate.
"He's welcoming the biggest murderer in the world," Jo Billings, the Washington coordinator for Women for a Secure Future, told the hotel manager.
The manager, Yogi Kumar, responded: "The man is coming here for peace. Give him a chance."
But the mood in Lafayette Park and on streets around the embassy, where there were back-to-back protests all day, was decidedly anti-Soviet.
Several hundred Ukrainian Americans gathered under black balloons in the park to rally against Soviet oppression of their people. Afghans chanted and waved fists protesting the Soviet military presence in their country.
In the downtown area, conservatives wheeled around a 13-foot-high Trojan horse made of wood to symbolize their view of Soviet intentions.
Conservative Phyllis Schlafly and about 80 supporters paraded in the park and gave speeches on behalf of President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative.
Down the block from the Soviet Embassy, former "refuseniks" -- the name given to Jews who have been denied visas to leave the Soviet Union -- held aloft a banner that read, "Washington -- Greetings; Moscow -- Beatings." The sign referred to a huge and peaceful rally Sunday in Washington on behalf of Soviet Jews and a demonstration by refuseniks in Moscow that was disrupted by young men widely assumed to be Soviet security officers.
"That should remind us of the hypocrisy of Gorbachev's public relations campaign," said Natan Shcharansky, a refusenik released from the Soviet Union last year. "Gorbachev has a nice smile and his wife wears nice clothing, but as yesterday showed, people must look beyond that."
During the day of protests, two men who had taken part in the Afghani demonstration were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. D.C. police identified them as Khawaja Rasool, 32, of 4701 Kenmore Ave., Alexandria, and Noorul Maab Hamid, 22, of 115 N.
Ripley St., Alexandria. Each paid a $25 fine and was released, according to police.
Other protesters stayed within bounds set out in permits obtained for their demonstrations from the National Park Service. They were able to denounce the Soviet leader in Lafayette Park, about three blocks from his embassy.
One group of Ukrainian Americans marched to 16th and K streets to take their message even closer to the Soviets' door.
Neither they nor ordinary citizens were able to get much closer. The arrival of the Soviet leader has wreaked havoc on pedestrians and vehicles in the blocks near the embassy.
Sixteenth Street was swarming with hundreds of law enforcement officers. The block between L and M streets was barricaded with huge concrete structures to prevent vehicular traffic. Each pedestrian trying to enter the block had to pass a security checkpoint -- a procedure that prompted a range of responses.
Paul Blackman, who works at the National Rifle Association on nearby Massachusetts Avenue, said the police presence was "a hideous waste of time and effort . . . . I don't want to see this city turned into a police state just so we can have the leader of one here."
Trade association executive John Lutley saw the inconvenience differently. When he went to take his lunchtime swim at the exclusive University Club, next door to the embassy on the restricted block, he was forced to walk several blocks out of his way and produce identification at the checkpoint. Police were satisfied when Lutley produced a business card and a pair of swim goggles.
"It is extraordinary, but I understand that they need all this security," Lutley said later. "I think it would be inexcusable if we had some assassination attempt of a visiting prime minister from whatever country. We ought to protect him as well as we can."
Secret Service spokesman William Corbett acknowledged that there probably will be some complaints from a frustrated public.
But he added, "We've tried to inconvenience the public as little as possible, keeping in mind when we do set up security our main responsibility is protection of that particular individual."
The repercussions of Gorbachev's visit were not confined to 16th Street. In front of the Madison Hotel, at 15th and M streets, where much of the Soviet entourage is staying, huge concrete barricades had appeared overnight, cars and vans with signs proclaiming "USSR Embassy Car" clogged the curb lanes and traffic was funneled into one lane that barely moved.
Anna Cha, owner of Shoes by Lana, which shares the block with the Madison, complained that the police barricades had scared away her customers. Mike Simms, the manager at Ginns office supply, stood by helplessly as his delivery truck was waved right past the store by D.C. police.
Even the postman could not make his appointed rounds.
Mail carrier James Thomas was barred from the Madison for several hours because of the tight security. "There are always VIPs here," he said as he stood forlornly on the sidewalk. "But I've never had any problems before today."
All day, passers-by and protesters tried to get as close to the Soviet Embassy as law enforcement officers would allow, making the corner of 16th and L perhaps the most popular in town.
People jammed the curbs and the crosswalks, jockeying for position, as crowds of police officers shooed them along.
An 11-year-old California girl waited for two hours at the barricades for a Soviet Embassy official to come out and accept her letter to Gorbachev on behalf of families who want to visit relatives in the Soviet Union. Anna Horodysky was accompanied by her parents, Daniel and Tamara, who head an organization critical of the Soviet government for blocking the visas of such family members.
No Soviet emerged, and the family left. They returned later, after a telephone call to the embassy, and a junior official finally emerged to take Anna's note and shake her hand.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of Ukrainian Americans rallied in Lafayette Park, then marched up 16th Street until a huge contingent of police blocked their path at K Street.
They sang "God Bless America" and "Sche Ne Vmerla," the Ukrainian national anthem that is banned in the Soviet Union and which says in part, "The Ukraine will never die."
But the demonstrators said the Ukraine is dying because of Soviet efforts to destroy its native culture, discourage participation in religious life and end contact with relatives in the West.
Elsewhere in the city, suspicion of the Soviet visitors was far less enduring.
At Stevens Elementary School downtown, the hot rumor among the youngsters was that some Soviets coming to the classroom might be carrying bombs secretly. "One of my friends didn't come to school today because they were afraid the Russians might blow us up," said fifth grader Angela Dow.
But after a visit from a delegation of Soviet and American World War II veterans who had first met in victory celebrations in 1945, the children's fears receded. The former soldiers had come for a reunion at the summit.
Alexander Silvashko, a Minsk school principal, and Bill Robertson, a retired California neurosurgeon, told the children of their April 1945 meeting at the Elbe River in Germany.
"We made an oath on the Elbe River to live in peace all our lives," Silvashko said through an interpreter.
When the time came to ask questions, Angela asked if Soviet schools teach about the war (yes, every day, she was told). And David Thurston asked how Soviet media cover the summit (with new openness and optimism).
Angela seemed to be fairly reassured after the talk. "I just hope they don't go back on their word about the bombs."