For once, the drumbeats of division receded and Americans of every ornery opinion gathered to witness history unfold in President Barack Obama's second-term inauguration.
Hours before Monday's pageantry, people on foot spilled out of Metro stations near the White House and streamed toward the festivities, military vehicles and buses sealed off intersections blocks from the White House and commuters packed coffee shops, among the few businesses open on an inauguration falling on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.
A heavy and steady stream of people headed toward the National Mall as the sun rose, but there wasn't the same early morning crush of humanity of Obama's first swearing-in four years ago. No one expected a repeat of those unprecedented crowds, nor quite the same adrenaline-pumping excitement. But for many thousands, it was not to be missed.
David Richardson, 45, brought his children, Camille, 5, and Miles, 8, from Atlanta to soak it all in and to show them, in Obama's achievement, that "anything is possible through hard work."
The "mostly Republican" Vicki Lyons, 51, of Lakewood, Colo., called the experience "surreal" and "like standing in the middle of history."
She didn't vote for Obama and voiced plenty of worry about the nation's future but said: "No matter who the president is, everybody needs to do this at least once."
Outside the Capitol, scene of Obama's noontime inaugural speech, people had their pictures taken with the flag-draped building in the background. It was cool with a steady breeze, but the crowd was spared the biting cold of four years earlier.
Obama's motorcade went into motion several hours before the speech, taking him with his family to St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House for a service. On recent visits to the "Church of Presidents," Obama has taken to ditching the motorcade in favor of walking back to the White House through Lafayette Park.
But this was a day for a speech, a parade and the decorative rituals of power, not an idle stroll.
Associated Press writers Richard Lardner, Alan Fram and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.