Nevertheless, the inaugural ceremony went much more smoothly than it did in 2009, when hundreds of ticket holders were trapped in the Third Street tunnel — the so-called Purple Tunnel of Doom — and missed the entire event.
This time, only a few people skipped the inauguration due to the massive crowds. Several would-be attendees left what was designated as the green ticket area, near Second and C streets SW.
Others were disappointed after being steered to an overflow area beyond the Washington Monument when the National Park Service declared portions of the Mall full.
But during the heart of the ceremony, a giant video screen near the monument malfunctioned, causing some to leave in frustration.
“It’s pointless to be here,” said one woman as she pushed her way through the crowd, headed away from the faltering screen.
Security was tight everywhere, and that contributed to long lines. Even after the parade had started at about 3:20 p.m., hundreds of people were still waiting to get through security lines at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Some said it took up to two hours to maneuver their way into the viewing area.
The comparison with four years ago was on the minds of many people, who showed up from around the country and abroad. Some people who attended both inaugurations sounded wistful, missing the marvel and joy that were so much in abundance when the nation’s first black president took office in 2009.
“Last time, it was buoyant and jubilant and hopeful,” said Mike Savonis, 58, of Takoma Park, as he headed down Constitution Avenue with his daughter, Sarah, 14. “This time, there’s more reality. He has the Republican House to deal with, and the Congress generally, and the NRA.”
Citing gun control, climate change, immigration reform and Afghanistan, Savonis added, “I think there’s a sense that we have a lot of work to do.”
As at all inaugurations, there was a festive air to the day, with blue skies and temperatures above freezing. Merchants hawked Obama earrings and hand warmers. Hundreds of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts fanned across the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route in red volunteer vests, helping paradegoers make it through the day.
Strangers along Pennsylvania Avenue talked about the meaning of the day, and sometimes the talk turned to race.
“This is a great moment for all black Americans,” said Ken Sloan, 54, a cook from Washington, who is black.
Ann Freeman, 56, a human resources worker from Washington, who was standing next to Sloan, said she hopes Obama in his second term will help reconcile ideological divisions.
There were reminders of political battles along the parade route and in the vicinity of the Mall. Small protests were held, by demonstrators from the left and the right.
On Pennsylvania Avenue, about eight people from the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas protested abortion and gay rights. One anti-abortion protester climbed into a tree near the Capitol Reflecting Pool and refused to come down for several hours.
Anti-war protesters, meanwhile, decried the Obama administration’s defense policies.
Such is the grandeur of a presidential inauguration that many people who waited hours to be a part of it all were not even eligible to vote. That includes foreign tourists, workers and migrants.
Riyaz Sayed, 41, a human resources manager from India, said it had been his “lifetime dream” to witness an American president take office. “He is the most powerful person on Earth,” Sayed said, “and people all over the world who have never met him, even my parents back in India, have such hope in him.”