WASHINGTON - They left at dawn to drive from Pennsylvania farm country, rode buses all night from Boston and flew with friends from Fort Lauderdale to make merry and wave the flag, reveling in the rich prospect of four more years.
They brought their kids for a lesson in American democracy, or figured American democracy demanded they come.
Attending President Bush's second inaugural parade meant commitment. It meant standing for hours in the cold to pass through the security checks, then hours more waiting for the parade to start.
It meant jammed subways and closed streets and jostling through a spirited crowd that was, at this time in our political history, so distinctly American: People with views that are worlds apart occupying the same space, listening to each other just long enough to tell them they're wrong.
As the president's motorcade came into view down Pennsylvania Avenue, introduced by the buzz of the patient crowd, it meant having a few frozen seconds to deliver your message, to cheer or jeer as the president passed, smiling and waving through the thick dark glass of his black limousine.
Those who made it swore they wouldn't have missed it.
"It's so exciting to be part of it after you've seen it on TV," said Jean Brown, a Bush supporter from Dunedin, as she waited on the marble steps of the Labor Department with her three teenage children and hundreds of others. "We got four more years. . . . I think a lot of the country agrees with us."
An inauguration parade isn't like a Christmas or Thanksgiving parade. People aren't there to see floats and marching bands, unless their kid is in one. Instead they come to catch a glimpse of the president, to witness history, to make a political statement.
Outside a French restaurant, a young woman holding an anti-Bush placard told a boisterous crowd of W-bedecked women, "Peace."
"Love and happiness, too," Kathleen Latham of Fort Lauderdale shot back. She supports the war in Iraq and believes Bush understands freedom isn't free, and sometimes the price is blood.
The trip to the inauguration with friends was her 50th birthday present to herself, and she dressed for a party: black slacks, a white sweater and a flag scarf, with a USA broach pinned to her collar. She wore a black hat with a flashing USA flag and "W still President" on the front. On the brim was a tangle of stars. She made it herself.
"I love our president and I believe in freedom for all, and I think if you left this country, you'd understand what I'm talking about," said Latham, whose business, Latham Marine, manufactures steering controls. "I really believe he's a genuine person."
Thousands of equally enthusiastic critics of the president joined Latham, coming from as far as California and as close as Capitol Hill to protest his policies on Iraq, the environment, health care and social services.
Allison Parkin, 19, was among about 20 Florida State University College Democrats who drove from Tallahassee. Her sign said, "Church and State, Separate."
"It seems like just a little over half the nation voted for him, and he uses that as a public mandate to push his views on the entire nation," said Parkin, a freshman from Lake Mary.
Protests were more varied and organized than at Bush's first inaugural, but they were generally peaceful, with a handful of scuffles and arrests.
In the morning, about 3,000 anti-war demonstrators rallied at a park in Northwest Washington for speeches and music, then marched to a park near the White House before going to the parade.
Several thousand people packed a plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue where the International ANSWER Coalition had a permit for a peace rally, though hundreds of Bush supporters stood among them. A group called Turn Your Back on Bush said 5,000 people along the parade route did indeed turn their backs when Bush's limo passed, a number that was impossible to verify.
One of them was Toni Eubanks, 53, who flew in from Ann Arbor, Mich. She motioned to the police who massed at the street corners and stood nearly shoulder to shoulder along Pennsylvania Avenue. She complained that the president has used the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a false excuse for war in Iraq and to repress dissent.
Helicopters churned overhead. Police closed 100 blocks around the parade route, and empty city buses blocked many intersections. Most downtown businesses, save for the ubiquitous Starbucks and a few delis, were dark.
Many parade-goers said they started arriving at security checkpoints by 9 a.m., only to stand in line for three hours. By noon, several blocks along Pennsylvania Avenue seemed dominated by protesters holding "Bush Lied" and "W is for War" signs, with many bleachers reserved for GOP donors less than half-full.
But the Republican stalwarts, it turned out, weren't AWOL; they were just keeping warm. Lobbyists and trade groups hosted a series of parties for party leaders and donors in the swanky restaurants and office buildings lining the parade route, and men and women in fine black overcoats began pouring onto the sidewalks as the parade began.
The parade started at the Capitol at 3, an hour later than expected, under a gray sky with temperatures in the low 30s. As it crept west toward the White House, first came a bloc of motorcycle cops, then two black SUVs marked "Family 1" and "Family 2."
Excitement rose as the next wave of cars approached, but they carried only congressional leaders. A collective sigh, and everyone resumed waiting, stamping their feet in the slushy ruins of Wednesday's snow.
People up ahead began to roar, and the president's limo was there. Everyone rose. Protesters booed. Supporters waved and chanted USA! USA! USA! Bush waved through the window, first lady Laura Bush smiling beside him. Vice President Dick Cheney was a few cars behind.
"Just to say we were here is cool," said Ron Lentz of Maryland, who drove down with his wife.
It was as if the president's motorcade was the bow of a great ship; the crowds broke like waves in his wake. Marching bands from schools across the nation, including Tampa's Gaither High, were just behind, but for most people they weren't worth another hour in the gnawing cold.
All the way down Pennsylvania Avenue, those who backed Bush and those who turned their backs on Bush fled almost as soon as he passed, rushing into the side streets to stand together again, in line at the coffee shops to get warm.