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Riding Herd on Capital Visitors

Urban ranger sees the world in Washington. REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK

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WHEN you can nearly spoon up the humidity like Jell-O, the powerful evacuate Washington and the not-so-powerful who are left behind ... well, they try to be cool. Congress has gone home, and even the President chooses to deal with the Middle East from outside the Beltway.

But in Monumental Washington, what one local chronicler calls ``democracy's Disneyland,'' everyone is happy to be here. If they can find (and afford) a parking space, their troubles are over. The rest of the day is free and there are few lines to wait in.

Here, in the cool shadows of history's symbols, National Park Service Ranger Wayne Braxton witnesses an amazing and constant parade of humanity.

``The world comes to Washington,'' he says, describing the diversity of the crowds that visit the capital of the free world.

The Mall, the velvet green that stretches from Capitol Hill to the white, temple-like Lincoln Memorial, teems with tourists in full regalia - fluorescent clothes, hats that beg the question ``why?,'' and Bart Simpson T-shirts.

Summer swelter deters few, according to National Park Service figures: A third of the 5 million people who visit the capital Mall annually do so in the summer.

It is an oasis of tasteful architecture and careful landscaping girded by city traffic, federal bureaucracy, and the gaudy trappings of tourism (this season's specials are T-shirts commemorating Mayor Marion Barry's summer of scandal and life-size models of George and Barbara Bush to pose with for photos).

The Mall remains the strip of inner-city peace envisioned 200 years ago by designer Pierre L'Enfant, says Park Ranger Braxton, who helps to oversee it.

This is not your usual National Park, acknowledges Mr. Braxton. ``If I see a bear, I'm the first one out of here,'' he says.


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