Complete Inaugural Coverage
Dan and Toby Gowing, who came to the nation's capital from Middletown, N.J., were among the many who tried to make their way through the masses. But by the time they reached the edge of L'Enfant Plaza, they were thwarted by an endless wall of bodies.
"We've never experienced that before," said Toby Gowing, who was witnessing her first inauguration. "We got caught in a human gridlock and said, 'You know what? We don't want to go that bad.'"
Throughout the Adams Morgan neighborhood in northwest Washington, many people seemed content to watch President Obama's inauguration in the cozier confines of bars, cafes and living rooms.
The Gowings were joined by friend Winfield Swanson, a Washingtonian who was escorting them back to her apartment to watch the festivities on television.
"I have never seen a crowd like that," said Swanson, a longtime D.C. resident who has attended numerous rallies on the Mall.
Toby Gowing said the lines at security checkpoints had reached two hours by 9 am and many people "were giving up." Still, she and her husband were hardly discouraged, having gone to the concert on Sunday and soaking up the atmosphere all weekend.
Despite Tuesday's chaos, Dan Gowing said people were in a cheerful mood, so the experience was still fun. And while he had hoped to watch the historic scene in person, he admitted he was not too disappointed by his current location - on the couch.
"It's nice to watch it on TV because you can see everything," he said.
Swanson then looked at a panoramic shot of the crowds swelling near the Washington Monument. "Look at it," she said with relief, opening a beer. "That's what we're not in."