The moment finally had come for Dave Rosenberg. He raced in full gait toward the yellow convertible stalled on Constitution Avenue to reach out and touch his boyhood idols, Roy Rogers ("King of the Cowboys") and Dale Evans ("Queen of the West") -- the grand marshals in yesterday's Cherry Blossom Festival parade.

But before the 65-year-old Bavarian Dancer in his green-suede lederhosen could reach them two U.S. Park Policemen cut him off, abruptly aborting one man's cherished rendezvous with treasured memories.

A lesser man might have stomped and ranted. But a gentle zephyr ruffled the warm afternoon sun, the blossoms were in full bloom and band music filled the air, stirring the blood, as beauty queens rolled down the avenue in pastel convertibles, and purple-headed clowns tickled the spirits of onlookers.

So the peppery-haired Rosenberg merely paused briefly, then the quizzical expression on his face gave way to a broad smile. He raised his camera, snapped a picture of Roy and Dale, and started dancing again, skipping and hopping down the avenue as he has done in 29 other Cherry Blossom parades.

"Ah, well. We're going to eat at Roy Rogers' after this, anyway," he said. "If you can't have the real thing, there's always the substitute. I'm not disappointed."

Nothing seemed to disappoint the estimated 50,000 people who lined the sidewalks yesterday to officially usher in Washington's springtime at the annual parade. Although the crowd was only two-thirds the size of last year's, spectators in the bleachers buzzed with excitement.

"God, how I love a parade. I just looooove Washington," shreiked 40-year-old Rubye Jones as a group of well-sculpted cartwheelers spun by. A widow from Manhattan, Jones traveled to the nation's capitol with nearly 200 members of the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union. The group arrived late yesterday afternoon, and the first stop, they announced in unison, was at a liquor store.

"i've never been so excited in may life. Look at the parade. Look at the beautiful girls," bubbled Jones. "And, my, look at the beautiful men. I feel just like a baby in a toy store. I don't know what toy to play with first.

"It's all just wonderful. I may even come back next year."

Then she turned back toward the parade, a tassled red-and-blue felt hat embossed with scenes from Washington perched jauntily on her head, and resumed hooting at the high school bands strutting by.

Rubye Jones was at her first Cherry Blossom parade yesterday. Mary Trivett, 72 years young and a native of Ontario, was at her eighth.

"Honey, I was here long before you were born," Trivett declared.

"I always love a parade and this is always a nice one," Trivett added. She then nudged the woman sitting next to her, pointing to the miniature race cars zipping back and forth in front of the bleachers, and announced: "That is my favorite."

Then came the Shriners, 50 of them, with the ubiquitous Turkish felt hats, scooting along the street in flourescent orange roadsters.

"They're great. They're my Shriners," Trivett said.

While the young at heart but not of body sat it out in the bleachers, groups of children "oohed" and "aahed" as each chose a "favorite band" from among those marching by. Each majorette, spinning and flapping the flags in her hand, became for some young girl a model come alive.

"Someday, if we practice, maybe we'll be able to march in the parade," 12-year-old Harriet Hopple of Fairfax whispered to a friend crushed against her on the crowded curb. Hopple was on escort duty for the day with her girl scout troop.

"Its just so exciting. I'm glad we're here," she said.

A salute to the future for some, the day was also a salute to the past for others.

"They're just a fine, fine group of men. It reminds me of the spirit this country had in World War II," said Joseph McGarty, as the U.S. Air Force Band strutted by blaring out "The Wild Blue Yonder." McGarty, a retired Army major, snapped to attention and saluted.

"They're the finest in the world, in the greatest country in the world," he said. "You know, this is what this country needs. Everyone loves a parade."