This may be a cynical town of partisan dealmakers, but it was overwhelmed Monday by misty-eyed believers, by ordinary Americans who said they wanted to share a moment in history, who unabashedly waved little flags and cheered their president.
Even when they weren't sure which black limo was his.
"This is a million-dollar view," said Vance Burden, a lifetime Washington resident, who could see straight down flag-lined Pennsylvania Avenue to the approaching inaugural parade, sun gleaming off the tubas, the alabaster Capitol rising behind them.
"It's a beautiful day, a God-gifted day," he said. "It's a time every human being available should come out and pay their respects."
The parade spectators gave an uncertain cheer as a black limo flanked by walking Secret Service agents rolled past. It was President Clinton, but most couldn't see him. The Clintons walked only the final few blocks to the White House.
The crowd had spent hours in the cold by then. They listened to the swearing-in on loudspeakers along the parade route, joining in the Pledge of Allegiance even as they stood blocks from the Capitol. They waited outside while Clinton ate a long lunch with congressional leaders. Then they stood on tiptoe or climbed every bench, ledge, planter or curb to get a glimpse of the parade to the White House.
"I'm not normally for "rah-rah, yea country' kind of stuff," said Roy Westover of Marietta, Ga. "But this gave me goose bumps."
"Anybody that misses something like this is crazy," said Rick Rossi of Boynton Beach.
People began camping out at dawn to watch the swearing-in ceremony from the sloping Capitol lawn or to see the parade on Pennsylvania Avenue. They passed the time with food and music, including performers stationed along the route to entertain them, and tried to stay warm.
Vendors sold the usual T-shirts and saucer-size lapel pins to commemorate the inauguration. But they couldn't sell hot food or drinks, lest a propane tank explode. So they set up stands a block away from the parade route with big, red HOT CHOCOLATE signs to draw the crowds. People lined up 20 deep for hot dogs and hot pretzels after the swearing-in at noon.
A gaggle of adolescent boys from Houston ducked into the National Gallery of Art to warm up, lounging in their nylon jackets against the imposing marble fountain in the gallery's domed foyer. They were wild about Clinton, thrilled with the swearing-in.
"It's, like, a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said 13-year-old Jerral Luna of Paul Revere Middle School. "I thought it was cool."
Michael Keegan, also 13, said Clinton is tough.
"With all that Whitewater stuff, he's hanging in there. Like, by now, probably most other people would have already resigned _ all that stuff that he's going through and stuff."
"Paula Jones! Gennifer Flowers!" another boy offered.
"I really respect him," Keegan continued, "because he spends a lot of time with little kids and goes to the park and runs with old people."
Washington was a security fortress with cement blockades, wooden sawhorses and yellow ropes holding back the crowds. Police and military troops kept order. The only decidedly anti-Clinton sentiment was from a group of anti-abortion protesters who lined one block of the parade route with posters of bloody fetuses.
Some children made a game of spotting rooftop snipers. But the security wasn't oppressive. Groups were allowed to gather on other rooftops to watch the parade, and people pressed their noses to the windows of every office building and hotel along the parade route to watch Clinton pass.
An estimated 250,000 people thronged to the city for the swearing-in ceremony, as many as expected. But some thought the inauguration didn't have the same urgency as Clinton's first.
"I don't know what's wrong," sweat shirt vendor Tanya Williams said of the slow sales. "Four years ago was great."
"I couldn't give my (parade) tickets away," said Helen Murray of Alexandria, Va.
Hundreds of people abandoned their bleacher seats on the parade route and flocked to Planet Hollywood, another Pennsylvania Avenue landmark, upon hearing that actor Antonio Banderas was dining inside. The town has been full of celebrities who performed at inaugural events.
Clinton is a celebrity, too, of course, but it almost didn't matter which president was being sworn in Monday. The crowds brought respect for the office.
"It's history in the making," said Diane Mathewson, a tall woman in a black mink jacket, leaning alone against a tree to watch the parade.