- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2001

Laboring on Labor Day was a quiet prospect for many blue-collar workers across the District a city that seemed to have emptied out yesterday.

"It's like a ghost town," said Hailu Assegahegn, a bellhop at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Washington.

"On a good day, I might take home $80, $90 in tips," he said. "Today, I might make $40."

At the Capitol Hilton, a bellhop who gave his name only as Emmanuel echoed Mr. Assegehagn's complaints.

"It's not a good day," he said. "Many people are carrying their own bags."

Staff at the Capitol Hilton put their holiday occupancy rate at 40 percent, and other hotels around the city quoted similar figures.

Taxi drivers cruising through the District had complaints of their own.

"I might make $70 today if I'm lucky," said driver Edwin Straughin, claiming he makes twice that on a busy day.

"I'm trying to stay where the possibilities are, but the possibilities aren't there," he said, pointing to his two-way radio, which remained silent except for the odd crackle of static. In the first half of his day, he said, he had transported only one customer.

Still, few service workers were willing to take a three-day weekend.

"I've spent my money during the last two days off," said David, a bellhop at the Grand Hyatt. "Senior people can afford to take three days off."

For many, the lure of holiday pay an extra 50 percent was enough to bring them into work despite the lack of tips.

"I'll catch up on my paperwork," said Mr. Assegehagn.

Not all workers were unhappy about the slow pace of the holiday.

In Silver Spring, a tow-truck driver who gave his name only as Eric, 36, savored the downtime after a busy weekend of impoundments from drunken-driving arrests.

"We twiddle our thumbs, listen to the radio and read the paper," he said. "It'll speed up by the evening, as people get back into town and get into accidents."

In the District, another tow operator tried to make the best of a slow day.

"Somebody's got to work," James Kale said with a laugh. He is part owner of Father & Daughter Towing. "Everyone's out there having picnics, having fun."

Like other tow operators, Mr. Kale expected business to pick up in the evening. "People will start leaving their picnics, tearing up their cars," he said.

Next door, at Capital Service Center, two auto mechanics sat on the hood of a car, watching traffic go by. They hadn't seen a customer all day.

"We're just here today to chat," said D.P. Singh. "Maybe a little cleanup work. That's all."

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