Mikhail Gorbachev stepped out of his limousine yesterday near the U.S. Treasury building, pushed past his frantic security detail and shook hands with some of the hundreds of office workers on their way home and tourists out for a late afternoon walk.

"I feel really at home here. I feel that people everywhere want the good life," Gorbachev told the crowd through an interpreter. "People want to be confident of their tomorrow. They want peace everywhere, and the rest is not too important."

On that block of 15th Street, his up-close smile and greeting instantly unraveled the blahs that had taken over Washington for the Soviet president's second visit to the city. Men in suits and ties jumped up and down, women in high heels screamed and shoved to get closer to him. A mass of tourists in shorts and sneakers bolted around the corner as word of his late afternoon stop spread down the block.

"We were actually having a conversation," said Frank M. Sands, an investment banker on his way home. "He looked me straight in the eye and looked very earnest. We all said, 'Good luck.' It was such a shock."

Gorbachev's motorcade jerked to a standstill at 6:05 p.m. at the corner of 15th Street and New York Avenue NW, after a day marked more by its sunshine than by groundbreaking agreements between the superpowers.

"Motor One is stopped!" District police radios crackled.

Walking first to the east side of 15th Street in front of the red-brick Crestar Bank building, Gorbachev spoke briefly with people who normally would be headstrong on getting past the crowd. His security guards moved in behind him, gently guiding him back to his black limousine.

The Soviet leader headed for the other side of the street. Eager bystanders surged forward, trampling a flower bed and hanging off a slender tree. "Get the people back on the curb!" an officer yelled on the radio. But Gorbachev reached out and shook hands with about four people, as security guards and police tried to hold back the crowd. With a flick of his wrists, he pushed through the nervous guards.

"He came over when we all screamed for him to come over," said Justin Malave, a bus driver for a group of students from Ohio. "It was unreal."

"I was squished in the middle . . . . Somehow he ended up right in front of me," said Lucy Muckerman, 23, who works in the White House advance office. "He held on to {my hand} for a while."

Joe Landreneau, a tourist from Louisiana, could not believe his luck. "Oh my God," he yelled, gripping his young son's hand. "He just came up and shook hands. He looked really excited."

Esther Koebler, a Salvadoran hair stylist, said she stood next to Gorbachev and told him, "You are a courageous man," and that she expected him to bring peace to her native country.

"Be advised. I am on the scene. He is out of the car," the radio continued.

" . . . Is this a stop on his part, correct?" came the confused reply.

It was a repeat performance of Gorbachev's 1987 foray into a lunchtime crowd at Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW. But no matter. The whole block roared in applause as he got back into the car and raced to the Soviet Embassy to prepare for a 7:30 p.m. state dinner at the White House.

It was the clear, gentle sun that pulled thousands of Washingtonians out on the streets earlier yesterday afternoon and the hope of seeing or yelling to the Soviet leader that kept some outside for hours.

Several hundred protesters, including Cubans, members of the Unification Church, Vietnamese, Palestinians, a Japanese Buddhist sect, supporters of more AIDS research and a couple of Lithuanians demonstrated at Lafayette Square, the Ellipse and in front of the White House. They were outnumbered by tourists and office workers.

During the day, curious people wandered over to the corners near the Soviet Embassy on 16th Street NW, standing longer than they thought they would.

"I was just walking down the street and I thought, 'Hey, I'll just try this Gorby-watching,' " said the Rev. James Blair, as he joined the crowd near the embassy. "It's a nice diversion on a nice day."

Gorbachev began his public day with a 10 a.m. motorcade to the White House. As his Soviet-made armor-plated limousine and surrounding vehicles rolled up 16th Street, made a left on M Street and went down Connecticut Avenue, they kicked up a dust of excitement. Dozens of people, including a woman pushing a stroller, bolted in full-throttle pursuit of the cars.

"He smiled real big and waved. I was excited," said Francis Cate Grigsby, of Nashville, who saw a flash of Gorbachev as his big Zil limousine crossed Pennsylvania Avenue a little after 10 a.m. "He was very friendly and open. He had a very open expression. He looked very pleased that so many people were waiting here to see him."

"I'm excited to see Gorby," said Lisa Allen. "I'm from Ohio. Even to see a limousine is exciting."

After his meeting with President Bush, Gorbachev held a luncheon in the ornate Gold Room of the Soviet Embassy. Invited were an eclectic group of scientists, authors, politicians and actors.

During the luncheon, Gorbachev boldly addressed the momentum released in his part of the world.

"We have no other way to proceed, and there is no turning back," he said.

Robert P. Gale, the California bone marrow specialist who treated Soviets after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in 1986, said after the lunch that the guest list was perhaps Gorbachev's idea "of what he would like the Soviet Union to become."

"You have to feel -- not pity for him -- but sorry for him," he said, referring to the serious economic and political problems Gorbachev faces at home.

While Gorbachev was entertaining the well-knowns, Anthony Evans waited behind the police tape on 16th Street "just to see the trappings they drag out for just one man."

He said he hoped he could have a word with the leader, and this is what he would say: "I would tell him, 'Hang in there and listen to the people . . . . This is not the era of dictatorships, it is an era of cooperation.' "

After the luncheon, Raisa Gorbachev headed to the Library of Congress to open an exhibit of Russian manuscripts, and then to the Capital Children's Museum.

Tourists and Capitol Hill staff members waved to the Soviet First Lady as her limousine arrived at the Library of Congress, but were disappointed when she entered a protected door under the main sweeping marble steps.

"We took an hour out of work and didn't even get to see her," said a Library of Congress employee.

The ceremonies began late and some guests sneaked out before the guest of honor departed.

"It was just wonderful, but I hadn't counted on being away from my desk so long," said Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Staff writers Linda Wheeler, Bill Dedman, Carlos Sanchez, Keith Harriston, Ruben Castaneda, Stephen Buckley, Maria Koklanaris, Nell Henderson and Jane Seaberry contributed to this report.