The biggest, pinkest, wispiest cherry blossoms at the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade yesterday afternoon were the ones Washington Gas Light Co. employes tacked to the sides of their truck -- after fashioning them out of tissue paper.
They might have been the only ones.
In a city of political transients, where bright names bloom and fade faster than you can say "November," Washington's cherry blossoms are perhaps the most famous and fleeting of phenomena.
But the absence of real blossoms didn't stop thousands of people from turning out yesterday in the fickle flower's honor.
U.S. Park Police estimated that 125,000 spectators jammed the sidewalks of Constitution Avenue from Seventh Street NW to the Ellipse, climbing on benches, craning their necks and hoisting up their children for a view of the annual parade.
Some came because they are longtime D.C. residents and haven't missed a Cherry Blossom Festival Parade in years.
"I hardly ever miss the parade," said Barbara Williams. "This is the only one you can enjoy without being cold." Her granddaughter, 5-year-old Brooke Crosland, dressed in tights and shoes of petal pink, took a break from her lollipop to wave at Ronald McDonald of hamburger fame.
Scores of others had journeyed to Washington just to see the trees.
"I'm visiting from Chicago," said Nathalie Dewar, who arrived Thursday, several days after most of the blossoms had fallen to the ground. "I came for the cherry blossoms, which we were real disappointed in.
"But the parade is extra special," Dewar said. "I think it's really the time of year -- it's springtime and we're celebrating."
High school drill teams and the 1st U.S. Army Band, crisp in pressed navy uniforms and with shimmering brass instruments, marched up Constitution Avenue. So did clowns. Giant balloons bobbled over the street, while the parade's grand marshal, Ed McMahon of the Johnny Carson TV show, rode in a powder blue convertible.
Edgar Collins, 5, bounced on the top rail of a Constitution Avenue fence, his eyes riveted on the huge inflated football hovering above the parade. It was his second Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, and his grandfather's 35th. Bill Hickok said he keeps coming to watch because "I like parades. And D.C. is my home town."
Many spectators yesterday praised the weather, another fickle Washington phenomenon, for cooperating with sunny skies and temperatures that rose to 73 degrees by late afternoon.
"I like to see all the people and the music and everything," said Vivian Door, 74, of Chevy Chase.
"But I think the thing I like best today is the weather," said her husband, Bernard, 77. "It's beautiful out -- that's the main reason we came down."
The flowers' flightiness prodded some enterprising souvenir manufacturers to try to preserve them -- on commemorative plates, mugs, banners, pens and posters.
Dan Kelly, 16, of Crofton, hawked his wares -- pastel prints of the Jefferson Memorial with frothy, full-blossomed cherry trees in front -- by saying, "They're really good, especially if you've been to the parade but haven't seen the cherry blossoms."
Lisa Henggeler said she had often wondered why Washington fusses so much over the blossoms, but she bought one of the prints anyway. Henggeler, who lived on the West Coast before moving to Alexandria recently, said shifting seasons are enough cause for celebration.
"Here you have the change of seasons, and in California we don't," she said.