"All week, everyone has been honking and smiling because they think I'm out here for the inaugural," she said. "I have to tell them that this is my job."
Howell said she would much prefer to attend the inauguration, just to take in the spectacle, but she needs to earn money to support Christiana, her 11-month-old daughter whom she is raising on her own in Southeast's Fort Dupont neighborhood. When she completes her shift as Miss Liberty, Howell said, she picks up extra money delivering pizzas.
A lifelong Washingtonian, she said that she has never attended an inaugural ceremony or parade, though she feels proud that the celebration is held in the town where she grew up. "This is my city, and everything that goes on today is part of my city -- this is it," she said, turning back to wave to passing motorists.
In some corners, people chose to devote the day to familiar rituals, even though they had the opportunity to attend the celebration.
Drew McGowen, 17, and two pals spent part of the afternoon at the Best Buy on Route 1 in Alexandria. In his pocket, he had three gold-edged invitations to the parade, given to them by their teachers at Episcopal High School. The teachers had tried to impress upon them the importance of witnessing history. The teens were more interested in playing a "Star Wars" video game.
"It's just not so important to us," said E.J. Morgan, a shaggy-haired 16-year-old. "We're so young."
McGowen added: "He was president last year, too."
As Bush was being sworn in, three women chatted as they waited for their polish to dry under a glowing blue light at the California Nail Salon in Crystal City.
In a few hours, Jane Price -- who was celebrating her 22nd birthday -- would dress up in a new pink gown and travel to Union Station to work as a volunteer usher at the Freedom Ball. For the moment, though, Price and her two friends said they were content to watch Bush on the salon's television rather than endure the chilly weather and the probability that they would see next to nothing.
One, Nancy Wilberg, 27, an adjunct professor at the Corcoran School of Art, said she was repelled by the inauguration's cost, particularly for an incumbent president. "Whether you're pro the president or not, it's kind of ludicrous to have such an event for the second time," she said.
Price, a research assistant at Catholic University who said she likes Bush, disagreed, saying it was appropriate to celebrate that "we're a free country." But that was the extent to which she wanted to debate politics. So when their nails dried, the women moved on. "We're getting lunch, and we're going shopping," Wilberg said.
Later in the afternoon, at a McDonald's in Falls Church, three men stuck to their daily rite, meeting for a round of 26-cent "senior coffees" and shooting the breeze, just as they and five other friends have done nearly every day since they met 15 years ago.
Don Heiney, 75, a technical writer, flipped through the newspaper and said he would have gone to the swearing-in, except for the cold. Instead, he watched Bush's speech on television, although he said he would have enjoyed hearing it in person.
"I wish they'd hold them in the spring," he said of the ceremonies. "Maybe about the time that the cherry blossoms bloom."
Some people clung to variations of their routines, even though security precautions made it all but impossible.
A group of Northern Virginia pilots revved up their single-engine planes even though the region's air space was closed between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The pilots from Aviation Adventures took off at 9:40 a.m. from the Manassas Regional Airport and flew west, away from the restricted space, to Basye, Va., where they hit the slopes at the Bryce ski resort. Their seven-person party included a defense contractor, a computer analyst and a pilot for Independence Air.
"We wish President Bush well in his second term," said Bob Hepp, Aviation Adventure's owner, speaking by phone from the resort. "We're going skiing."
Staff writer Ian Shapira contributed to this report.