A few minutes later, the three generations of family pulled away from the Owings Mills neighborhood and headed toward Washington.
To Andre, a sophomore at New Town High School, the journey was a first chance to feel a part of history. To Johnson, a 35-year-old information technology supervisor, it was about saluting a man he believes will prove a great leader. For Brown, 60, whose parents never voted because they thought it was futile, Barack Obama's Inauguration Day was the culmination of the decades-long struggle for civil rights.
"I think about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X when I hear him speak," said Brown, a middle school teacher visiting from San Francisco. "Once again, he is the people's voice."
As the three, along with other family members, drove through the dark to the Silver Spring Metro station, they talked about the influence that Obama's election has already had on their lives and the lives of people around them. Johnson's sister, Dana Brown-Turner, 42, said she gave out bags of toiletries and food to homeless people this Christmas, inspired by Obama's call to volunteer.
Once on the Metro train, the family settled into seats while Johnson leaned against a pole, holding a camcorder.
"Where are you going?" he asked his mother.
"I'm going to install our president."
"Barack Obama," she said, raising her fist in the air.
The family got off at Judiciary Square and were pushed by the crowd up steep steps and into the street. Vendors wearing stovepipe hats called, "'Yes we can' shirts right here," "Flags, two for five dollars."
A helicopter circled under a crescent moon. A crush of people, some bundled in scarves so only their eyes were visible, or wrapped in blankets, buzzed in the streets.
"It's the Obama movement," Brown-Turner said.
"This is amazing," Johnson said to his son as the crowd spontaneously cheered. "You'll never see anything like this again."
Guided by volunteers wearing red caps, the family wound through a tunnel and along a maze of streets before arriving at the Mall. There, they parted ways.
Brown, Brown-Turner and two other relatives had tickets. The Johnsons did not. So they stood on the gravel near the old Smithsonian building. As the sky brightened, more and more people crowded behind, laughing and stamping their feet to keep warm.
An aerial view of the crowd appeared on the big screen, and father and son saw that the crush of people stretched out far behind them to the opposite side of the Washington Monument.
Johnson, who has raised his son alone for the past six years, said that like Obama he grew up without a father but wanted to be a strong role model for his child. He works two jobs and helped coach Andre's sports teams. He clapped his hand on his son's back.
"Based on what Obama's doing, there's no excuse for anyone in your generation not to do anything they want to do," he said.
"You're living history right now, man. You're going to look back on this when you're my age and think, 'I was there. I was part of that.'"