After the fireworks stopped, the tears of joy or despair dried and the jubilant crowds straggled home, the magnitude of what happened on election day 2008 began to set in. Barack Obama was president-elect, the first black man in the country's history to claim the Oval Office.
The response was as complex and varied as America itself: elation, shock, doubt, wonder and some hard feelings.
Older folks put their trust in children they decided knew better. College students paid homage to the civil rights heroes upon whose shoulders Obama stood. A struggling businessman took heart that things might start to turn around. A woman opposed to abortion feared damnation.
When the nation awoke Wednesday, it was, for better or for worse, "a whole new world."
The succulent smell of fresh pan dulce permeated Vicente Fuentes' bakery Wednesday morning, almost as sweet as the joy he felt in contemplating the nation's first black president.
As customers trickled in, Fuentes, 43, was still talking about what he had seen Tuesday night, when Obama delivered his victory speech to as many as 200,000 people in Chicago's Grant Park.
"I said to my wife, 'Watch the TV -- in Chicago, in the park.' The white people, black people, Hispanic people," Fuentes said. "All races in the same park. And they wait for a black man. This is great. This is beautiful for this country."
Among the most striking results of Obama's decisive victory was the strong support from Latinos like Fuentes. During the Democratic primary, Obama lost the group to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. But in the presidential election, Latinos backed Obama by a 2-1 margin over Republican John McCain, according to exit polls.
Latino activists say the community rallied behind a candidate who was a racial minority and the son of an immigrant.
"Seeing a person of color rise to this office gives hope to all persons of color -- hey, you could do this, the American dream still is within reach," said Dan Pabon, a lawyer and Obama campaign volunteer in Denver.
"Maybe in 25, 30 years," Fuentes said, "we have a Hispanic president. Why not?"
At the Bagel Bar East Bakery & Deli, Obama's victory was being pondered more than relished during Wednesday's lunch rush.
Asked if he was pleased with the election outcome, Al Meyersohn, a 77-year-old retired manufacturer of polymers from New Jersey, replied with little emotion: "No."
Meyersohn supported McCain.
"I'm a Korean War veteran, and I've always liked McCain and admired him for what he's been through," said Meyersohn as he and his wife waited for a table. "I think he would have been a good leader."
Sitting at the lunch counter was Sandy Liebowitz, who voted for Obama at the urging of his son and business partner, Michael. He still had reservations about the Democrat's ties to proponents of anti-Israeli rhetoric like Palestinian scholar Rashid Khalidi.
"I was concerned about that," said Liebowitz, 58, enjoying a pastrami on rye.
"There's too many other people involved who will steer Obama away from that," said Michael Liebowitz, 29.
Their L&M Engraving and Trophy business has been experiencing a bit of a slowdown, the son noted, adding that he has more confidence in Obama's economic plans. Sandy Liebowitz, who had been looking pensive as his son spoke about Obama's promise, seemed to come to a surprising conclusion.
"The future is going to be amazing," he said, "and in a positive way."
Ira Abler, a 79-year-old property manager with no plans to retire any time soon, said he was pleased with Obama's victory and incredulous about GOP accusations that the president-elect bodes danger to relations with Israel.
Having an accomplished, inspirational, family-oriented man of color as president sends the right signal to the world -- to America's friends and enemies, Abler said.
"When they announced on TV that he was president, I actually cried," he said, choking up again.
Among the Crenshaw High School leaders gathered in the library Wednesday, one got rock star treatment: Pierre Dupree, 18, the only student old enough to have cast a ballot for Obama.
"Oh my God, you got to vote?" several of his 17-year-old classmates shrieked jealously. Instinctively, they reached out to hug and touch him, as though they could experience the voting through him.
"What was it like?" one student asked.
Dupree smiled at the memory of the voting booth. "I felt proud. I thought, 'I'm voting for the first black president the first time I vote,' " he said. "I can't really describe it."
The others nodded, black and brown alike. They look at Obama and see themselves, their hopes for getting into Dartmouth, UCLA and UC Berkeley next year, their dreams of studying veterinary medicine, forensic science, law and psychology. They say they see a future that many of their parents never had.
"My mother was crying yesterday, and I've never seen my mother cry except over my grandmother's death and my brother's death," said Brandi Thibodeaux, 17. "We get to vote in four years to keep him in office."
The student council and class leaders had gathered to discuss homecoming activities, a canned food drive and the winter formal. (That means no T-shirts, flip-flops or caps, one girl spelled out for the boys.) But on this momentous day, student body President Warren Jones also wanted to talk about the fact that "history was made yesterday."
Senior class President Hyacinth Noble, 17, said Obama had "set the bar high" and that others should follow his example.
"No more excuses," she said. "There is still racism, but . . . we all should stretch our dreams to the highest and make our goals the biggest goals in life just like Obama."
The Price Hill Chili family restaurant on the west side of town is a classic neighborhood joint in a working-class, heavily Roman Catholic neighborhood that, until recently, was overwhelmingly white and Republican. The eatery is a favorite stop for politicians of all stripes who mingle with voters over calorie-laden dishes like French fries with melted cheese.
Recently, GOP Rep. Steve Chabot stopped in with every Republican's favorite campaign accessory, Joe Wurzelbacher, better known as "Joe the Plumber."
Outside, a protester with a plunger screamed "Get your license!" at Wurzelbacher, provoking a confrontation with an unamused Republican, who tackled the man.
Out on the patio Wednesday, the mother and siblings of Steve Driehaus, the Democrat who had just defeated Chabot, lingered over lunch.
"You just feel a weight's been lifted off your shoulders," Don Driehaus said.
Two Republican matrons ordering lunch in the bar said they were too upset to talk about the election.
"I'll just say what they say on TV," one said tersely. "No comment."
Around the corner in the nearly empty dining room, Kathy Horner, 58, an unemployed secretary, was eating a burger with her daughters. A strong opponent of abortion, she voted for Obama, a last-minute decision. "It was hard for me to fill out his name," she said.
Elizabeth Horner, 19, chimed in: "She walked out of the polling booth and said, 'Now, I'm going to hell.' "
In this slice of Americana rich with symbols of Colonial Virginia, there stands an inn where Thomas Jefferson slept, three 18th century restaurants and two taverns.
What stands as a symbol of modern Virginia, though, is Fabian Saedi, the 66-year-old Iranian American immigrant who owns the lot of them.
If anyone is puzzled by the Old Dominion's stunning 5-percentage-point flip from red to blue Tuesday night, they need look no further than Saedi, who came here 35 years ago to open a restaurant and was greeted with name-calling and broken windows.
Today, he is a successful businessman and part of the transformed Virginia that backed Obama, the first Democratic candidate to win the state in 44 years.
"Virginia wanted change," Saedi said, rejoicing Wednesday morning, tired but happy after staying up half the night watching Obama's victory speech with four sons who refused to go to bed.
"Believe me, when I came to Leesburg I had the same obstacles that Obama had," he said, recalling hours spent at the Library of Congress researching the Founding Fathers' favorite recipes -- Jefferson's dill salad dressing is still on the menu -- only to be spurned. "I could not believe the mentality of people at the time."
But professionals and young families streaming in from across the nation and abroad brought diversity to northern Virginia -- and, with it, more moderate politics. On Tuesday, they tore the top off a Southern bloc that had voted Republican for decades.
The Obama-Biden sign Saedi posted in one of his restaurant windows appeared to offend no one and seemed even to attract a few customers.
"It's a whole new world," he said.
Pahrump is a tough town for Democrats. The first political sign you see is for Ron Paul. The Nye County Democratic Party, which calls voters on their birthdays, struggles. At its office, decorated with a National Rifle Assn. banner, the donation box holds $5.
Robert Pickthall -- a retired miner with glasses, a Santa Claus beard and a pit bull named Salt -- had been a registered, if unenthusiastic, Republican. He voted for President Bush in 2000 and John F. Kerry in 2004; he switched his party registration to Democrat this year.
There was something about the lithe black man from Chicago that stirred the 77-year-old white desert rat, whose home is off a gravel road and across from stacks of hay bales. He collects brass candle holders, piggy banks, unicorns and teddy bears.
"This was the first candidate I've been really passionate about since Harry Truman," Pickthall says, pulling out a small notebook in which he jots down his thoughts: If Obama grows enough to fit into his shoes, he'll be one tall dude. . . . President Lincoln, stand aside, here comes President Obama.
The moment Obama was elected president, hundreds of students at historically black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University knew instinctively where to celebrate.
They gathered Tuesday night at a campus statue honoring the "A&T Four": freshmen who in 1960 challenged Jim Crow laws with a sit-in at a whites-only Woolworth's lunch counter, launching a nationwide sit-in movement.
To many on this downtown campus, the election of an African American president was the culmination of a civil rights struggle spanning generations. Students who celebrated deep into the night spent Wednesday paying tribute to civil rights pioneers who they said made Obama's victory possible.
"It wasn't just Barack Obama who won," said Darius Dawson, 20, a senior. "Martin Luther King Jr. won. Thurgood Marshall won. All the civil rights activists from years ago won."
History weighs heavily here. The walls of the cafeteria are decorated with photos of the lunch counter sit-in, a wild-haired Jesse Jackson at a 1963 protest march and stores smashed during the urban riots of the late 1960s.
Dormitories are named for each of the lunch-counter protesters. A commemorative brick wall nearby contains bullet holes left by National Guard troops who opened fire during a campus protest in 1969, killing a student.
The 10,300 students here are required to take "African American Experience," a course focused on the civil rights movement.
But though they honored the past, they also felt pride in their own role in Obama's victory, said Shelbi Miller, 21, a junior.
Aided by a strong turnout by African Americans, students and young people, Greensboro and surrounding Guilford County voted 59% for Obama on a record 69% turnout.
"Previous elections, a lot of kids didn't vote," Miller said. "This time, kids my age are saying: 'We made a difference.' "
Times staff writers Carol J. Williams reported from Florida, Marjorie Miller from Los Angeles, Robin Abcarian from Ohio, Faye Fiore from Virginia, Ashley Powers from Nevada and David Zucchino from North Carolina. Times special correspondent DeeDee Correll reported from Colorado.