Much has been said this week about how badly Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev needed the glow of this summit for his morale -- all about how his people are disillusioned, his economy a shambles, his leadership foundering, his own future in doubt.

But since this chapter of Soviet-American relations has been largely about mutuality, it should be noted that Washington badly needed the summit too.

For a few days, nobody was talking about 12-digit deficits and 13-digit debts, about a savings and loan scandal whose cleanup threatens to level the Treasury, about Justice Department officials failing lie-detector tests, about a sliding economy, dirty air and water, leaders who don't lead, voters who don't vote, workers who don't work.

Instead, Americans proudly watched their president, with Gorbachev, confidently making history on a global stage. Even Mayor Marion Barry, who for months has been known around the world for his alleged crack-smoking, was briefly rehabilitated by the summit glow; as mayor, he joined the official party of dignitaries greeting Gorbachev on his arrival at the White House.

"We needed a break from all the crookedness -- a lift -- and he was it," said Mary E. Missakian, who works at The Trover Shop bookstore on Connecticut Avenue and had the thrill of seeing Gorbachev during a limo stop near her workplace Friday. "I was thinking -- it's a crazy thought -- but he should defect and come here. He needs us, we need him," Missakian said yesterday.

It seemed that wherever Gorbachev went with that line of 43 cars and limos, the surroundings were transformed. For example, on Thursday, he hopped out of his sleek Zil limousine at the corner of 15th Street NW and Pennsylvania and New York avenues, at the Treasury Department -- known in Washington as the control center of the worst fiscal mess in American history.

The weight of this mess prompted Office of Management and Budget Director Richard G. Darman, whose job it is to figure out how to clean it up, to say at a state dinner with Gorbachev on Wednesday: "I'm here to make Mr. Gorbachev look good. I'm the personification of the $3 trillion debt."

But when Gorbachev's motorcade stopped outside the Treasury Department, the tables were turned: He made it look good. Limo halts. Historic Figure bounds out. Adoring crowd surges forward. Historic Figure wades into it to meet and greet Americans. "I feel very at home here," he says. And suddenly the disgraced spot is transformed into a crossroads of promise and possibility.

In normal times, Washington's ego is regularly bruised by glitterati who whine that the city is short on glamour. George Bush, Tom Foley and George Mitchell may be dedicated public servants, but Robert Redford they're not. Gorbachev solved that problem, too -- at least for an afternoon -- luring Jane Fonda, Gregory Peck, Isaac Asimov and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. to an embassy lunch.

Even the local weather, scandalously out of sync all year, raising the specter of environmental calamity, returned to the splendor of late spring, as if to provide the optimal backdrop for this transforming experience.

Perhaps most grateful for the summit were hundreds of white-collar workers who labor in buildings that line Connecticut Avenue near K and L streets. These are people who, studies tell us, are bored and alienated by the modern workplace, suffering eye strain and carpal tunnel syndrome from too many hours at computer screens, becoming less and less productive.

Then suddenly, on Friday, came Gorbachev, making a surprise limo stop right at their doorsteps. Within seconds, the office buildings emptied out; the frustrated workers were reborn as thrilled witnesses to history -- no longer alienated but in fact feeling lucky to have jobs that put them in proximity to this extraordinary sight.

Alan Vaughan, manager of the Ritz Camera Center on Connecticut, located precisely at the spot where Gorbachev stepped out of his limousine, said he saw many of his customers in the crowd, and never had they looked so excited.

"Everybody had a camera with film in it," he said. "I'm sure as the week goes on, I'm going to be developing a lot of great shots of Gorbachev."

Vaughan, for his part, practiced a little capitalism with Gorbachev's help. He snapped photos of the Soviet leader surrounded by American fans by climbing atop a counter and shooting through the store's display window. Then he sold them for $350 to a news service, whose photographer had failed to get a decent shot from the ground.

"The president goes by here a lot and nobody really reacts," said Missakian, gesturing out The Trover Shop window toward Connecticut Avenue. "I think people take him for granted. Then {Gorbachev} comes to town, and everybody is waiting, waiting, waiting just for a look at him."