"This changes my life"

As President-elect Barack Obama prepared to depart a downtown hotel to speak at Grant Park, crowds packed the sidewalk, hugging strangers, crying, and smoking cigars.

One of the cigar-smokers, Gary Harris, 41, who lives downtown, said: "This changes my life."

Amidst a crowd of people shouting the next president's name, Harris recited part of the Pledge of Allegiance: "One nation under God, with liberty and justice for all. And for the first time I believe it. I'm so proud that this generation has gotten past [race]."

Police on horses cleared members of the crowd who were blocking much of the street. Most of the revelers were cooperative, and no problems were reported.