WASHINGTON - Helicopters buzzed the skies. Law enforcement officers stood on the roofs of federal buildings, including the White House, watching the crowds through binoculars. Police officers brought in from as far away as Chicago stood shoulder to shoulder along the parade route. The wait at security checkpoints was up to 90 minutes long.
Welcome to the 55th inauguration. Please remove your shoes at the door.
It seemed a small miracle that anyone attended the swearing-in or parade at all. Anyone trying to get within eyesight of the parade route was subject to a pat-down and metal detector test. Some Metro stations were closed. About 100 downtown blocks were closed to vehicular traffic. And Amtrak halted service to Union Station - near the swearing-in site - at 9 a.m. because a train came off its rails.
Don't forget the weather. Chilly, blustery conditions made wind tunnels out of Washington's grand boulevards.
"If you're going to come out in this cold weather and snow, you're either really supportive or really angry," said Greg Bart, 39, a lieutenant commander in the Navy who counted himself in the supportive camp. "It's cold, it's wet and it's crowded, but it's a bit of American history."
Bart and his wife, Rosa, who live in Washington, got their tickets from a friend of a friend who works in a congressional office. Many said they had tangential connections that hooked them up with their bit of history. They were intent on seizing the opportunity no matter the obstacle, or temperature.
Rick Byrd, his wife and two daughters drove 12 hours through the night from Birmingham, Ala., to attend their first inauguration. At 2 p.m. they found a perch at the corner of Fourth and Pennsylvania - ground zero for the protesters - and tried to decipher the anti-Bush chants that echoed around them.
"NOT OUR PRESIDENT! NO MORE WAR!" went a typical one. At this, Byrd muttered, "We voted. You lost. Get over it."
Thousands lined Pennsylvania Avenue in advance of the parade yesterday morning. Risers were set up along much of the route, and two layers of fences separated the crowd from the street. Children climbed trees for a better view, while adults climbed transformers and telephone boxes.
The wait for the parade was a long one. It was scheduled for 2 p.m. but didn't start until shortly after 3. In the meantime, kids built snowmen and threw snowballs at each other. Then they threw snowballs at trees. There wasn't much else to do.
Those who sought refuge in the National Gallery of Art were turned away. Little was open, save for a Starbucks near the parade route, where the wait for a hot beverage was 10 minutes or more. Others got plenty hot just arguing with each other.
"So we need to attack Syria next and Iran after that and kill 80 percent of the people in those countries?" protester Asheesh Misra, 30, of Washington asked a group of Bush supporters from Ohio, as a small crowd watched. "This country has never attacked countries that haven't attacked us. Iraq never attacked us."
Brandon Hinds, 22, chairman of the College Republicans of Ohio State University-Newark, shot back, "This country is safer than it's ever been before, thanks to Bush."
The inaugural brought into close proximity two groups that have mostly kept their distance since the election - those who fervently support Bush and those who don't. Some called Bush the best president since Lincoln. Others held signs with a grainy photo of Bush and the message: "Worst President Ever."
One woman walking by one of those signs said, "Be ashamed. Absolutely be ashamed." Another man shouted, "Maybe one day you'll grow a brain."
The clashes - which seemed mostly peaceful - provided almost as much spectacle as the parade. Carla Theilig, 16, on a high school trip from Houston, said, "I like seeing all the protesters everywhere. We don't have those back in Texas so much."
When the parade finally did begin and the president's motorcade slowly rolled down Pennsylvania Avenue, dozens of people could be seen raising their cell phones and digital cameras in the air to capture the image, a kind of salute for the technology age.
The vice president came next, Secret Service agents walking alongside his limo, their fingers touching the door handles.
'A little overkill'
"I saw the vice president," said Henry Slootmaker, 44, a credit union CEO from Bloomingdale, N.J. He enjoyed the show but said the hassle of getting there was unnecessary. "The security has been a bit too much, actually. I think it was a little overkill."
Marylanders participating in the parade included Lisa Kakavas of Parkville, a member of the Mason-Dixon Rescue Dog Association. She marched in the first division with her 5-year-old German shepherd, Cleo. She and Cleo were in the Bel Air Fourth of July parade last year, but it was nothing compared with this.
"This is a little bit bigger for us," she said before the parade. "We feel the enormity of being able to participate."