When election officials in Florida failed to mail Herman Post his absentee ballot, the 82-year-old retiree reacted swiftly: He packed his bags, loaded up his Buick LeSabre and pulled out of his driveway in Connecticut for the two-day drive to Boca Raton.
"I've never felt this strongly about an election," the widower explained.
Yesterday morning, a weary but determined Post - who divides his time between Florida and Connecticut - walked into his polling place in Palm Beach County and voted, completing a ballot he had driven 1,396 miles to cast.
It was that kind of day. Invalids got out. Obstacles were overcome. The busy made time. Even longtime nonvoters got a piece of the action; people who had never voted, some in their 40s, cast their first ballots.
Voters turned out in big numbers, particularly in the nation's battleground states, marking Nov. 2, 2004, as the day America woke up.
It was as if a sleeping giant, after a decades-long rest, was stirring - roaring, even - not harmoniously, but with a fervor not seen since the 1960s.
Suddenly, Americans were taking this voting business seriously, as the ramped-up viewership of the presidential debates, which outpaced even baseball playoff games in television ratings, indicated they might. They thought through the issues, sought clarity, weighed the pros and cons and headed to the polls once they resolved their doubts - sometimes even when they hadn't.
Maybe that was to be expected in the first presidential election since Sept. 11, 2001, a day that left many Americans feeling powerless.
But clearly, there was more than that behind the country's flexing of its electoral muscles.
For some voters, resentment lingered from the court-imposed outcome of the 2000 presidential election. For others, that cliffhanger got across the message that every vote counts. For some, it was the urging of an idol - be it P. Diddy or Curt Schilling - that propelled them. For many, the war in Iraq - their opposition to it, or their fear of switching leaders during it - pushed them to the polls.
And almost all were driven by their intense feelings about the candidates, not so much because they were smitten with one, but because they so loathed the other.
In Baltimore and beyond, in every state Post drove through and more, Americans made their feelings known at the ballot box, many for the first time.
For Shena Ray, a Baltimore barber, it was an awakening.
"I'm 48 years old, and this is the first time I've registered and voted in my life," Ray said. "And it felt good.
"I'd always been under the impression my vote wouldn't matter," Ray said between customers at Park Heights Barber Shop. She registered, for the first time in October. And first thing yesterday morning, she voted.
"It's not just the war," she said. "It's the economy, it's the gas prices, it's just the state of the world. With the mess Bush has gotten the country into, I couldn't see us taking another four years of that."
Kerry Dillon, 28, was also casting her first ballot, even though long lines at her polling place at St. Michael's Hall in Fells Point were making her late for her job at Port Discovery.
"I guess it was laziness that kept me from voting," she said. "I never paid much attention. This time, I realized it was important."
Even the undecided were eager to get to the polls.
Kim McCreedy, serving coffee at Patterson Perk, planned to make the 45-minute drive to Westminster to vote - for whom, she wasn't sure - then return, late, for her afternoon job at the Baltimore Tattoo Museum in Fells Point.
"I'm gonna decide on my way there," said McCreedy, 22, a registered Republican. "I'm right on the line. I don't know what will make me go one way or the other. It could be some little, tiny thing, maybe something I hear on the radio."
Despite her uncertainty, she felt the need to get there. "I have to exercise my right, rather than wait until I'm 40 and sit around and complain."
(Contacted later, McCreedy said she did vote, but declined to say for whom.)
At St. Michael's Hall, Caroline Jacoby didn't flinch when she saw a line of about 25 voters.
"I've been waiting four years," she said, "the end of the line is fine with me."
Jacoby, a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People volunteer who had made get-out-the-vote phone calls Monday night, said few of the people she contacted - all from a list of infrequent voters - needed persuading.
"Pretty much everyone I talked to was ready to vote, including one woman who said she was just waiting at her door."
In Chester County, Pa., the most Republican of Philadelphia's suburban counties, voters seemed giddy with relief.
At the Uwchlan Township Municipal Building, voters chatted and swapped stories about being the center of both candidates' attention. Some had even found themselves hanging up on George Bush and Curt Schilling, the Boston Red Sox (and former Phillies) pitcher, whose taped messages inundated the region.