They clanged cowbells for hours, extended hands for high-fives, and waved posters for friends while hooting for strangers. They packed eight deep in Ashland, 12 deep in Natick, and so tight in Back Bay it was impossible to count.
They were all there Monday, the mainstays and the newcomers, Grand Marshal Bill Rodgers in a convertible, an ’80s cover band playing in tuxedo T-shirts in Framingham, the Wellesley College women with their “kiss me” signs leaning over the barricades.
It was the Boston Marathon cranked to 11, children on shoulders and 20-somethings on balconies, people on top of people, basking under a brilliant sun. Everywhere, of course, there were reminders of a year ago — the moment of silence in Hopkinton, the “Boston Strong” bracelet on the raised wrist of the starting-gun statue, the thousands of signs and T-shirts invoking memory and resilience — but the prevailing mood was celebratory, not somber.
“It’s kind of like a comeback feeling,” said Meg Gibson, a 25-year-old from Ohio preparing to watch her fiance, Steve Paullin, run his second Boston near the starting line.
That was at 7:30 a.m. By noon, 7-year-old Alexander Teixeira had slapped so many hands from his spot in Framingham — “maybe ... 1,289?” he guessed — that he had to prop his left arm up with his right, but still he kept it out to encourage more marathoners.
The crowds included Todd and Cindy Green of Pittsburgh — runners who brought their three children so they could get a taste of “the king of the marathons” — and Paul Matsas, who drove up from Mashpee after a 10-year hiatus, and Moshe Rock, who is 67 and lives in Brookline and walks to the race every year.
Amid the bell-ringing and indecipherable cheers and cries of “you can do it!” in Brookline’s Washington Square, Rock summed up the mood: “People are happy.”
It was easy to spot the changes from last year, especially at the start and finish, where backpacks were banned, parking was even harder, and crowd movements more restricted, with police visible everywhere.
On the edge of Hopkinton’s Town Common, a “See Something/Say Something” sign appeared next to the landmark billboard with the silhouette of a runner and the outline of Massachusetts. Across the street, men in camouflage and black vests watched through binoculars from the roof of a bank. Police dogs sniffed the air.
Over the loudspeaker at the start, race director Dave McGillivray elicited roars when he declared, “we’re taking back our race today, ladies and gentlemen, we’re taking back our finish line!” And the starting-line announcer drew knowing nods when he asked for patience with all the changes. “Maybe at some point down the road, next year or the year after, we’ll return to some sense of normalcy,” he said.
But really, normalcy was everywhere. Around an early bend in Hopkinton, the “Rocky” theme — “Getting strong now ... Gonna fly now” — blasted from speakers. Near the one-mile mark, a bluegrass band played outside Hopkinton’s Weston Nurseries, the banjo player sporting a Bruins jersey. When the lead men crossed into Ashland at 10:09 a.m., more people outside TJ’s Food & Spirits hoisted pint glasses than cameras.
In that crowd in front of the pub, and all along the route, there were “Boston Strong” T-shirts and banners, and variants on the theme: “Boston Strong/Keep Calm and Marathon,” “Still Boston Strong,” “Dorchester Strong,” “You R Strong,” and on and on.
In a few places, signs said simply, “Lingzi/Sean/Krystle/Martin,” and everyone knew what they meant.
From the roof of a white clapboard house in Ashland, a young woman held a poster boisterously paraphrasing David Ortiz: “THIS IS YOUR F’N MARATHON.” Beside her, a woman in sunglasses held one that said “Boston,” with an arrow pointing east.
There were personal signs (“Go Mrs. Berkowitz,” “Kujo Let’s Do This!”) and locally accented signs (“Wicked Hahd But You Got This!”, in Natick Center) and signs evoking Internet memes, like the “hey girl . . . you’re almost there” sign featuring a picture of Ryan Gosling — on the approach to Heartbreak Hill, no less.
At Wellesley, the famed “Scream Tunnel” included undergrads holding all manner of “Kiss Me” posters (“Kiss Me ... I’m a Rebel,” “... I’m a Redhead,” “... I’m Khaleesi,” a “Game of Thrones” character) and cupping their hands over their mouths like megaphones and leaning over the railing to plant one on a runner.
Festive feelings commingled with memorial feelings everywhere. On Commonwealth Avenue in Newton, two homes had “Boston Strong” banners and children’s bounce castles in the front yard.
By Boston College, the young women cheering in “For Boston” tank tops, the last O in Boston formed by a memorial ribbon.
That blend was especially true in Hopkinton and on Boylston, but in both places, still, joy seemed to overwhelm sadness.
At the start in Hopkinton, Beyonce and Lady Gaga blasted from the speakers. A man in a colonial tricorn hat approached Main Street from the Town Common, holding a Marathon bib. Near the fountain, a disabled Vietnam veteran named Bill Foreman was trying to buy a number to gain last-minute entry after driving all night from Roanoke, Va. Tiny American flags poked up from his socks.
“I’m patriotic,” he said solemnly, explaining that he was drawn to Boston for the same reason he was pulled to Lower Manhattan after the attacks of Sept. 11. But he was also charmed by what he read about the atmosphere of the race; he hoped to finish with a lobster roll, and he smiled about the young women at Wellesley and their famed “kiss me” signs.
Twenty-six miles later, it was hard not to think of the home stretch as one long symbol — bracketed by the firehouse and the finish line, the pavement in between having seen so much suffering and chaos.
But that was not the first thing that hit you coming around the bend off of Hereford Street; it was the wall of faces up and down Boylston, the cowbells, and one long rumbling cheer.
More from the 2014 Boston Marathon — Cullen: Just like the days we used to know | Gasper: Boston reclaims its Marathon | Photos: Marathon scenes | The ‘Scream Tunnel’ and Heartbreak Hill | The elite runners | Boylston Street | Videos from the Marathon | Full coverage
Globe correspondent Jeremy C. Fox and Meghan E. Irons and Kathy McCabe of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Eric Moskowitz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeMoskowitz