President Bush leaned forward in his seat, lifted his palm pinkie-first and waved though the tinted glass of his limousine yesterday, and 121 high school band members from southern Mississippi screamed at the top of their lungs.
The president couldn't have known that the students' lips were working largely on muscle memory, that the valves and pads of their trumpets and trombones had been sticking in the cold and that the pajamas under their blue, white and gold uniforms weren't doing the trick.
He had no idea that many of the students had gone to bed at 1 a.m. yesterday after having their band equipment swept by security agents at the Pentagon, and that they rose at 3:30 a.m. for mere minutes of glory on the "Today" show and "Good Morning America."
But since the president said he was feeling the history of the moment -- and Laura Bush reportedly was taking notes yesterday -- the first couple might have noted the bottled-up anticipation squeezed from weeks of selling calendars and cookie dough to pay for the trip and from hours spent in traffic trying to cross the Potomac.
It was excitement distilled into a moment on an eight-foot-wide wooden platform with a choice view of where the president would get out of his jet-black Cadillac. When he did, at 3:35 p.m., the students went wild.
"It's the president," shouted Stephen Smith, a 16-year-old flutist with the Gautier (pronounced "Go-SHAY") High School band.
"He's getting out!" some of the girls screamed, standing on their metal folding chairs. "Hey, Mr. President!"
All along the parade route, supporters were as proud of the president as protesters were disgusted, but what united them was a determination to take it all in, despite the cold. Demonstrators unhappy with the administration still wanted to get close and were hostile when some couldn't get past the metal detectors. Some supporters from Texas settled in metal bleachers four hours before the parade to get a good seat.
Activity along the route began early, as teenagers from a local Boy Scout troop cleared snow off bleachers for VIPs, and graduate students complained that their signs -- "Worst President Ever" and "Bring the Troops Home Now!" and "Jesus Saves, Bush Kills" -- would be blocked from view by police.
By midmorning, as the sun tried to break from behind an overcast sky, Michael McCoy, 11, strained to glimpse the president as he sped past the National Archives on his way to the Capitol for the swearing-in.
"That stinks. I didn't get to see the president," he grumbled, kicking the snow with his sneaker.
"Yes, you did," his father Mike McCoy said, trying to console him. "You just didn't know it was him."
All around them were minor grumblings -- no trash cans anywhere -- and major ones as fur-clad friends of the administration with tickets couldn't get to their costly seats. David Houck, a 14-year-old at George Washington Carver middle school in Chester, Va., helped 48 fellow students lay down blankets on a cold sidewalk. They laid down on top of each other in a pile to keep warm, but Secret Service agents came along and broke up the toasty huddle.
People coped by wrapping themselves in blankets and sitting on quilts and in some cases eating ham sandwiches provided by the Pentagon. Others grabbed fistfuls of cold cereal out of boxes or took refuge in coffee shops and restaurants.