WASHINGTON (AP) _ Bill Clinton wanted to meet the common folk Wednesday on his trip to Washington, and he came face-to-face with Charles Wallace, who bummed a quarter from the president-elect.

''I told him I was unemployed, that I just came out of the penitentiary,'' said the 36-year-old Wallace, who waited for several hours to meet the Democrat.

Clinton, in his first trip to the nation's capital since winning the election two weeks ago, came to Wallace's neighborhood in Northwest Washington to meet with business people whose mom-and-pop shops line Georgia Avenue near where the low-income Petworth and middle-class Brightwood neighborhoods meet.

The Arkansas governor said he ''wanted to show America that I'm going to do my best not to get out of touch as president.''

Hundreds of residents in the working-class neighborhood poured into the streets to see Clinton, including Wallace, who panhandled in the crowd before and after he got the quarter from Clinton.

''I figured if I couldn't go to the president, who could I go to,'' said Wallace, who served six years in prison term for embezzlement.

Several blocks of the four-lane Georgia Avenue were closed for Clinton's visit. The setting was far from the lavishness of the White House, where he met earlier with President Bush, and from the posh settings where presidents are usually entertained.

Georgia usually carries 50,000 vehicles a day between busy downtown Washington and the quiet Maryland suburbs. It's lined variously with boarded- up buildings, open-air drug markets, middle-class neighborhoods and Howard University, the nation's most prestigious predominantly black institution of higher learning.

Bordering Georgia in the neighborhood Clinton visited are a beauty shop, a doctor's office, a liquor store, a laundry, a gasoline station and a fast-food takeout restaurant. Most of them a black-owned.

''There's a city out here, a city that needs a president,'' Clinton said. ''There's a lot of people working hard to make life better.''

Among them are Bernadine Carey, who runs Bernie's Beauty Shop.

''I think it's great,'' she said of Clinton's stop in the area. ''How often do we get a president to come in this neighborhood?''

Clinton hadn't previously made any public appearances except news conferences and his jogs around Little Rock, Ark. An aide billed this visit as a chance for him to see a neighborhood in the process of redevelopment.

But Clinton also had a chance to reassure blacks of his concern for their problems, like improving the nation's crumbling cities.

''I think it's more than symbolic,'' said Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. ''I think we've got a real friend.''