Princesses and doughnuts usually don't share the same sentence. But shortly after dawn, and after a night of dancing, dozens of cherry blossom princesses and a couple of queens needed the sugar boost for the long march ahead.
So there they were yesterday morning, in their crowns, sashes and eyeliner, munching on frosted doughnuts and drinking coffee poured from paper boxes. Some chatted on cell phones, others giggled and primped. Miss Kentucky, a dental student, flossed.
"I just should have stayed up all night," said an exhausted Miss Massachusetts, Jennifer O'Halloran.
Reina Mochizuki, this year's Japan cherry blossom queen, was in traditional dress when she tried her first doughnut ever, promptly pronouncing it "too sweet."
Soon the princesses were off, leaving their Northwest Washington meeting place in a bus with a police escort, bound for the staging area of the 2005 National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade. The parade is a highlight of the annual festival, which began as a celebration of Japanese-U.S. friendship and has become one of the city's signature events.
Organizers, participants and even police officers keeping watch along the route said this year was truly blessed. Warmth, sun and, best of all, cherry blossoms were in abundance; the parade coincided with the date of the much-heralded "peak bloom."
"For the first time it's not raining," said Sgt. 1st Class Susan Moser, a flutist with the Army's Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps who was wearing a wig and a three-cornered hat.
It was a bit of an exaggeration, but some past parades have slogged along in downpours. "It's a perfect day for a parade," Moser said.
The event helped draw 483,146 passengers onto Metrorail trains by 7 p.m., about 200,000 more than on a normal Saturday. Thousands of others came by car, seeming to take every available parking space.
Everybody does love a parade, but it takes work to make it look easy. Such as adjusting the drone reeds on the St. Andrews Legion bagpipes. Or using a wrench to tighten the bolts on the Japanese drums used by the Tamagawa University Taiko drummers. Or Tech. Sgt. Charles Mercurio reminding Air Force Honor Guard members to keep their bearing, look straight ahead and, for heaven's sake, no smiling.
The dozens of parade bands, guards, groups and troupes mustered two hours before the start. They got in last-minute practice and a tuneup or two. Joggers ran blithely by dozens of traditional Japanese dancers. Tourists pushed strollers past young tuba players. Flags and balloons were everywhere.
On Seventh Street NW, three clowns from Kapitol Klowns were running through some serious preparations. Enough balloons to hand out? Check. Bottled water? Check. A silly red sticker for a pesky reporter's nose? Check.
Paul Heckert, a technician with Starbound Entertainment, explained how he had just inflated the giant "Jumping Arthur" balloon. You just stick a hose with helium in a valve in Arthur's foot, he said. "It's not that hard. You don't have to go to school for it or anything."
Then there are the last-minute ministrations, such as Pam Biddlecomb's. She is the official "taper and tucker" of the Severna Park High School band. Taping means securing bank members' white gloves and tucking deals with stray hairs that fall out of the caps. She finishes with a spritz from a can of "Frozen Stiff."
With military precision, the parade kicked off at 10 a.m., winding west on Constitution Avenue from Seventh Street to 17th Street, past a crowd a dozen deep.
Tatsunori Okamura, a Hiroshima native studying medicine at Duke University, piled the family in the car and drove up for the event. His three children sat on a "Hello Kitty" towel mesmerized by the drums of the U.S. Marine Corps and by Mickey Mouse waving from a Rolls-Royce.
Sadie Hyman, who will turn 2 next month, was old enough to sense that a parade was a festive occasion, though too young to understand that she would not be a participant. That explains the ladybug costume complete with red and black antennae.
"She woke up this morning, said, 'Ladybug' and pointed to her Halloween costume," said her mom, Rachel. "She just knew it was a parade."
Staff writers Clarence Williams and Martin Weil contributed to this report.