The very first attractions in the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade were the pastel, picturesque blossoms themselves. The famous flowers did, in fact, lead the procession -- by about five days.
But the weather bloomed yesterday even if the flowers didn't, and about 100,000 people gathered under crisp spring skies to giggle at the clowns, tap their feet in time to the bands and hoist their children up for a view of it all.
Many in the crowd lining Constitution Avenue were decked in cherry-blossom hues -- white tights and pink hair ribbons, blush-colored sweaters and eggshell-tone shoes. The parade, led by grand marshal Beau Bridges, kicked off at Seventh Street and wound up at 17th -- a spot from which those in the crowd might have spied the fleeting flowers themselves, had they been there a week earlier.
Steve Fogleman, a student at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, found the flowers' absence in his favor. He sat smiling before a rapidly disappearing stack of cherry blossom lithographs, $2.88 each.
"They're selling great," he said. "It think it's because of the fact that the cherry blossoms died out so early this year. A lot of folks from out of town didn't get to see them."
A lot of folks from out of town didn't seem to mind. Marie Austin and her husband Bert came down from Utica, N.Y., because "we just wanted an adventure," she said. "We came down Thursday, and most of the blossoms were gone, but there were a lot of other flowers."
And a bloom by any other name may be just as pretty, added Bert Austin. "An awful lot of the trees are beautiful. And if you don't know their names . . . "
Beyond the shoulders of the crowd were jugglers and majorettes, dancers and clowns. The District's cherry blossom princess, Hope Helene Handy, waved from a float carpeted with spring-green Astroturf and decked with flowers.
The other princesses, most in pastels and taffeta, rode in a fleet of convertibles. Actor Robert Prosky, a former Arena Stage star who now plays the pugnacious Sgt. Stan Jablonski on "Hill Street Blues," stood braced at the bridge of a float. A large pink inflated elephant in a party hat was tethered to the sidewalk by human anchors.
Jean O'Boyle of Munising, Mich., said she was glad to leave snowy forests for Washington's more temperate spring. "The crabapples are just beautiful, and all the tulips and everything," she said. She squinted across the street, where the elephant had just lumbered aloft, bobbing above the asphalt on its strings. "I've decided I'm just going to enjoy the parade."
Nearby, Katie Webster,2, of Capitol Hill had a perfect view from the shoulders of her father Tim. "We've been coming every year for four years," said Katie's mother, Lisa. "I like the bands."
"She likes the noise," her husband said.
Pearline Lessane of Northeast said she had seen the parade on television before, but never in person. "It's better here," she said, and the children with her -- Taima Smith, 7, Chris Smith, 11, and Larry Williams, 11 -- agreed. "I like the clowns 'cause they're funny," said Chris.
"I like the men in their little cars," said Larry.
"I like the parade," said Taima. "I love the horses and the bands the best. And the parade!"