The gray suit was gone.

Instead, when Nelson Mandela strode out of the Madison Hotel and into the gentle morning sunshine yesterday about 6:45, he wore blue slacks, a New York Yankees cap and a Yankees jacket.

His casual attire was appropriate because Mandela spent the next 40 minutes experiencing the gamut of Washington: stepping through calm, tree-shaded neighborhoods, into the gritty, hard-knocks world of 14th Street, and back through the downtown business district.

Surrounded by a platoon of security agents and police officers on foot, on motorcycles and in cruisers, the 71-year-old deputy president of the African National Congress walked north on 15th Street to Swann Street, where he changed direction, and went to 14th Street. Then he walked south on 14th Street to H Street and over to 15th, returning to the hotel.

Normally bustling with people, 14th Street was relatively empty when Mandela passed through at 7 a.m., although many of the small businesses -- auto repair shops, dry cleaners -- were just opening.

Along 14th Street, he strode on sidewalks littered with trash, and passed several corners usually populated by drug abusers and drunkards. He also walked past several homeless people, who watched him with the same curious eye as many others did yesterday morning.

Georgeann Taylor was sitting at a bus stop at 14th and S streets NW when a police officer asked if she would mind not moving for a few minutes. "He said, 'Turn around and you'll see Mandela.' I said, 'Are you for real?' " Taylor recounted. "For a guy who's 71, he was walking pretty fast."

Along the way, police cleared Mandela's path, asking people to stay where they were, or telling them to cross the street. Looking well-rested, Mandela stepped briskly and never stopped during the 2.5-mile hike.

Many who glimpsed Mandela through the horde of police waved and shouted his name, and he waved back and smiled. Several others simply stared, not realizing the cause of the commotion until Mandela had passed.

"You couldn't really see him. All you could see was police," said John Birdine, a maintenance worker for the D.C. Department of Public Works who was collecting trash at 14th and R streets when police officers asked him to cross the street.

At Peoples drugstore near Thomas Circle, about 10 observers in front of the store were asked to stand against the wall as Mandela approached.

"He was a little bigger than I thought he would be," said bystander Edward Hall. "He looked very happy."

By the time he passed K Street, Mandela was again in the world of gray business suits and black attaches. Office workers and executives hustling to work were forced to pause as he stepped past.

As Mandela walked back up 15th Street to the Madison, several people with cameras scrambled to the hotel side of the block. Some leaped onto concrete plant pots, trying to get a better view.

"He was really very stately," said Anita Jackson, who climbed onto a plant pot. "He had the air of a king about him. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience."