WASHINGTON — Modesto cabinet maker Jeremiah Williams now knows what a difference four years can make, ceremonially speaking.
On Monday, Williams joined hundreds of other San Joaquin Valley natives and residents in the quadrennial swarm honoring a new presidential term. But unlike 2009, when many fumed and froze and sometimes never reached the main event, President Barack Obama's ceremonial swearing-in Monday unfolded in relative comfort.
"This year, it was 100 times easier," Williams reported.
Better weather marked one big advantage for Williams, Madera County resident Catherine Balbas and others present Monday. In 2009, the Inauguration Day thermometer hit 28 degrees at noon. On Monday, noontime temperatures reached about 42.
Shrunken crowds also enhanced the individual experience. Attendance on Monday was nowhere near the record 1.5 million people estimated to be present four years ago.
"It really wasn't a problem, though security was a little tight," said Hughson resident Roger Frazier, business manager for a managed care company.
In another big difference from 2009, the Monday ceremonies were strictly for show. Obama took the formal oath of office Sunday, as the Constitution dictates that a new presidential term starts at noon on Jan. 20. The Monday events were devoid of all but symbolic significance.
Nonetheless, the city still looked "really festive and beautiful," said Balbas, an official with Service Employees International Union Local 521.
Some inaugural experiences remain constant; early starts, for one.
Frazier and his wife, Carol, began their day about 4 a.m., and were in place near the Capitol shortly after 8 a.m. They passed the time talking to strangers, taking lots of pictures and absorbing the atmosphere. Balbas, too, said she and her husband, Rob Blazer, spent hours meeting new neighbors after arriving at the Capitol about 7 a.m.
"There were a lot of people to talk to, so we made the most of it," Balbas said.
Some Californians stuck around to watch the post-speech parade in person, while others beat a tactical retreat. Modesto native David T. Kramer, a midshipman at the Naval Academy, said he and fellow midshipmen returned immediately to Annapolis, Md., to meet a 6 p.m. deadline.
"It is not something you want to be cutting it close on," Kramer said.
Others opted for someplace warm where they could relax, avoid security lines and watch the parade on TV. That was the choice made by Balbas and Blazer, saving energy for the inaugural ball Monday night.
"We're going to cut a rug," Balbas said Monday afternoon. "We're going on a double date with Michelle and Barack."