Watching the event with the sound way up, brought the day in Washington zinging into focus. A thousand miles away I wanted the feel of what was happening. A cold bright sky above a people assembling for a moment in history. Not on network TV with nothing happening yet, and Dead Air to be avoided at any cost, it was the usual pre-game chatter session of anchors, reporters and analysts, plus commercials.

Luckily there was an option, 4 CNN news feeds live from Washington you could watch as clear streaming video with no distractions. For about an hour before the Obamas went to church, just the murmurs of the crowd and the sound effects from the City.The vistas and the people and more people were astounding. What makes cities so drab is all the cars and nobody on the streets. Here in Washington the cars were banished, Washington locked down for security, but packed with a million or two million, some still on the march for a better view.

On any other day you wouldn't know why they had come or what they were going to do. It didn't have any flavor of something already visited. Peaceful, polite, well-ordered crowds funneling through the streets towards the Mall. Somehow a FedEx truck managed to get in and park with all the police cars. If it was anything, the City said it was a new day, boding well for a new era.

The People and the City, they were the stars of the bright broad avenues. It wouldn't have worked in another place. The grandeur of the City made it happen, designed in fact for that by a French architect, Pierre Charles L'Enfant, with Paris and Rome in mind, designed as a new imperial city for the new world. One man's vision, like that other gift from the French, the Statue of Liberty. Here in Washington, the people had come for another man's vision, the man they elected, the man they wanted to succeed, Barack H. Obama.

I wondered what he would do for them on this day. I felt since early morning he'd do well as he'd done many times cajoling crowds to get it right. People were expecting that and they were there to root for him. It could also be overwhelming for him and them. The first black president after years of troubles and ruin. It might be a tongue-tied tired event, perhaps with all the security, the 3 and 4 block long lines to get through security checks to get near Barack Obama. Yet it was clearly a day of hope with so many people gathered to witness the passing of one president and the confirmation of another, who brought them together with "Yes, we can."

The first surprise was Dick Cheney in a wheelchair who'd strained his back moving some boxes. I wasn't expecting omens, but on the lookout for them anyway. In our times even with all our rational thinking, omens if they're noted hit us as hard as our ancestors.

George W. Bush on his way out didn't pack an omen, not until it spread over his ashen face as he heard the new president slamin' and dunkin' the last eight years Bush was in office. Flying away in his helicopter, after too many explanations why it wasn't Marine One anymore, going to catch, not Air Force One again at Andrews AFB. But fitting that Bush was whisked away into the blue as though by the Gods never to trouble Washington again. A quiet escape. I don't remember people waving, as I'd heard later on TV. Only a long zoom lens quietly following the ascent and departure.

The first of the radioactive pastors, the conservative Rev Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church, failed to detonate or produce any political fallout with a nice Invocation. The second the ultra-liberal Rev Joseph Lowery, stole the warm-up with a backward thump on the promising present and a future within reach, asking God to:

". . . help us work for that day when black will not be asked to give back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right."

I liked this character a lot, injecting all his warmth and humor into the formalities. Here was a old funky black guy telling us what we and the new president should still be doing. From those who marched so many years ago with Martin Luther King like he did, chanting and praying stuff like this to keep their spirits strong. Lowery easily extracted some southern-fried amens from the crowds around and I think it was about then I heard someone in the crowd yell, "Yes we can and yes we will." A happy moment, a good sign that Lowery had broken the formal ice of the occasion. We'd all be pleased with the day ahead.

Still I had been feeling bad since I'd heard of Senator Ted Kennedy having a seizure at the Statuary Hall Luncheon and the ancient Senator Byrd with his own health issues, but as it turned out both surviving a heady day and a heavy lunch. With cellphones everywhere word must have got out to about everyone flooding the Mall, waiting for Barack Obama. Perhaps it had an unspoken effect, a damper on any vanity showing its face. That turned the Cheney Dr. Strangelove joke around for me. The signs were more like the Grim Reaper haunting the Capitol and maybe Bush next, who during the last few months seemed to be a shadow of his former feisty self, even before his pained departure from the City, which brought back an image of President Richard Nixon getting on his last helicopter the hell out of Washington.

Time will tell as we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off.

But I wasn't prepared for the Oath of Office that both the Chief Justice John Roberts and Barack Obama managed to mangle when Barrack jumped the gun and started leading Roberts. Here was an omen. If we had been in Imperial Rome the Priests of Mercury, first in matters of luck and ill omens, with the backing of Capitoline Jove and the Arval and a dozen more keepers of the Temples would have barged in, and the whole ceremony would have been stopped and repeated, not just the oath, only after a new round of auguries to pick a favorable day. Doubly urgent for a Roman Emperor to get it right, as Pontifex Maximus or pope of the Roman State Religion.

Unthinkable today, but to be on the safe side of the law at least, another swearing in ceremony was done in private that night back at the White House with the Chief Justice in his robes again, no TV cameras, and somehow a Bible missing from the second swearing-in ceremony. If I were an omen-betting man, I'd say this was another one.

But while it was happening on camera at the West Front of the Capitol, the stumbling wasn't aggravated by hushing and shuddering or a plaintive cry say from three old ladies sharing one eye. I did hear cell phones ringing. It was that quiet. And the flub didn't seem to bother either Roberts or Obama who smiled through it.

President Obama, President in any case thanks to the 20th Amendment to the Constitution that might have been written for a moment like this. President Obama was President since noon with proceedings running late anyway, it had been settled by the Constitution 20 minutes before the Oath. Perhaps that's how President Obama felt. Without any nod to the moment of doubt, he launched into his Inaugural Address.

"I stand here today humbled by the task before us. . ."

The energies were high. No one was worried and I was swept along with the words that rang out with the sound way up. It wasn't Berlin or the Obama home team in Chicago. People were listening to catch the beat and the measured breath. It was fine like a fine day, stirring in places where a few buried burning emotions wafted up and away. If he'd wanted to, President Obama could have breathed fire through the Mall.

The commentators on the networks spent the following hour chewing that over, but it seemed to escape their commercial logic. President Obama had poured some water into their wine. It wasn't vintage anything, not really Kennedyesque nor even vintage Obama. He could have done a lot of other things with the speech. But at this time, for these people in this place it sounded right. It felt good. It was the President's pledge renewed for Change, the beat still coming down on the head of 8 long years of a Washington he didn't like or want and nobody there among a million and more demurring either. We had enough. Let's move on.

When it was just over I gave him a 90%. I thought that's about what everybody did, even though there were no great moments of thundering applause or shouts from the brothers, though I'd bet it was close to a 100% from all the choked-up veterans black and white from the days of marching for Civil Rights and from their children too who'd heard the stories and lived through the interminable years of growing up in a White America that had finally opened the doors of the White House to one of their own.

It was a moment of pride, and high emotion. The President hardly mentioned it, standing here in front of Washington, speaking of "a man whose father less than sixty years ago. . ." He didn't have to. It was a given, it was understood, the face of America had changed today.The President didn't have to say "Yes, we can." He wasn't campaigning. He'd won that campaign and then with his wide-ranging speech he was looking to do more. Win friends back abroad, reaffirm America's commitment to justice and people, to a helping hand for any hand that would unclench its fist. It worked. It was the right thing to say in the Land of Liberty, that had taken a powerful smack down by the Bush administration's War on Terror abroad and at home, and the other war against the middle class, the one that brought Wall Street down.

Through the glittering parade in the gathering dark behind schedule like the day, I wondered at his speech. That it was wise, I would have expected. But why with his gifts of oratory, did he tamp down the embers he flourished awhile so they couldn't ignite? But the immense crowds told me why. He had already won, America had won over 8 long years. And a million or two people who were ready to follow him, might just as easily have rushed forward and crushed each other, bringing a calamity on themselves and history. If the President had said "Go on out there and change America, you know what to do." If he'd raised them to a fever pitch, well the omens would have clicked in and nobody would have denied them their force. The cry for Social Revolution was right there on this page.

The Obama video, the full text of his speech and some excerpts:

. . . in the midst of a crisis
. . . a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable
. . . And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account
. . . and do our business in the light of day
. . . a nation can not prosper long when it favors only the prosperous
. . . As far as our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals
. . . the rule of law and the rights of man
. . . Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake
. . . know that America is a friend of of each nation
. . . we are ready to lead once more
. . . power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please
. . . for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken
. . . In the year of America's birth. . .The capitol was abandonned. The enemy was advancing. The snows were stained with blood. At the moment when our revolution was most in doubt. . . Let it be said . . . that we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

With a hard fight ahead. It would now start for all present and be won by all with hope and courage. He didn't have to say it. President Obama got the message from the medium around him before he'd said a word. The context of victory over tyranny in this place now and long ago, the City, the people, all spoke for him. He didn't have to say more.

For another view of what President Obama wisely left out, read Mike Littwin of the Rocky Mountain News.

--Alan Gillis