There they go!
"They thought it was the Rose Parade," one observer remarked. And, in a way, it was.
Let it be said: Last week, Atlantic City from top to bottom, powerful to powerless, winners to losers, Borgata to Atlantic Club, penny slots to strip-club bouncers, was all on the same side of the line: Miss America, she's ours again.
"She's like a little Queen of the State," said Lisa Arrigo, 25, a self-described entrepreneur, "up all night, sleeping all day."
Friend Diana Simmons, 30, said: "When they look at you, they point at you. It's nice. It makes you feel good. They're like little princesses."
The return of the long-lost ladies of the pageant and their appreciative Instagram diaries hit this town like an IV hookup in the ER. And there's still another week before the Sept. 14 parade and the ABC-televised pageant Sept. 15 at 9 (good seats still available).
Small town that this is, the Miss America adrenaline shot through the entire town, restoring bonds honed over the first pageant life span in Atlantic City, which stretched from 1921 until 2004, when the Las Vegas idea was born of desperation and high labor costs. Now, back in A.C., everyone was doing the high-heeled hustle.
The town, as it always had been, was all in.
Once again, police officers were reporting to work and finding their assignment was to hang out with a small group of very beautiful women. In 2004, an A.C. police officer protected Miss Massachusetts and ended up marrying her. He's still an A.C. cop. She lives in Absecon and plays kickball.
"What're your guys' first names?" asked the young officer hopefully, of two Miss A's in his charge. "Or do we just refer to you by your state?"
First names were provided - who are we kidding?
Health-care administrators like Tony Boccaforni of Egg Harbor Township were taking two weeks off work to do volunteer security for the pageant, herding the contestants like kids on a field trip.
Bartenders at Chickie's & Pete's were lining up Shirley Temples, waters, and unsweetened ice teas for a line of tiaras sidled up to the bar, where the contestants pregamed for an equally sober outing to Boogie Nights.
They got noticed on Pacific Avenue and beyond.
Nell Bawer, an 84-year-old tourist from South Carolina who happened upon the Miss America traveling show during their freebie-blitz at the Pier Shops at Caesars was moved to tears - tears! - after finding Miss South Carolina, Brooke Mosteller, at the entrance to the Brookstone Store. (Others stood transfixed by the site of the uninhibited contestants trying out massage chairs, their tiaras jiggling right out there for all to see.) They shared hugs. "It feels like family," Mosteller said generously.
"My mother has not been as alive as she was last night in ages," Carol Bawer said.
One person was heard bragging that he was in the presence of the "Miss Pageant People thing."
Do those tiaras really have such magic powers?
Will this group of pretty, young, ambitious, friendly, grateful, and poised women now clad in True Religion jeans, who represent something relatively positive and wholesome, make a difference in a town where 300 people were laid off from two casinos even while the Miss A's discovered crab fries?
Put another way, can Miss Arkansas, Amy Crain, save Arkansas Avenue or just learn to pronounce it like a native (ar-KANsas)?
Last week, they seemed like the town's true religion.
"It's like a 500-ton weight hanging over Atlantic City has been lifted," said loyalist Pinky Kravitz. "Everything is so bright."
But is the faith in this group of typically uninhibited 19- to 24-year-olds obsessed with their phones a little overstated? Recovering from Sandy and Snooki, has the town rushed back in to throw good money after, well, what? Does anyone really care?
On the barricades watching the Boardwalk arrival ceremony Tuesday, Colleen Nash of Blackwood brought her two children, daughter Dylan, 7, and Jimmy, 4, to see. But to see what, exactly? "I've been trying to explain."
At the Pier Shops, Joseph Siuda, 11, of Bergenfield, was ecstatic when Miss Hawaii and Miss Kansas signed autographs. "I'm so lucky," he said.
"They're not just beauty," his mom, Sheila, wanted him to know. "They're brainy. They have good things to say."
But the locals' faith in the trifecta of swimsuit, evening wear, and STEM scholarships is unwavering. The state and other authorities are propping up the pageant with $7.3 million over three years. They predict 200,000 parade-watchers, $40 million in economic impact.
Needy merchants at the struggling bank-owned luxury Pier Shops, those still in business anyway, kicked in more than $50,000 in freebies in a public-relations Hail Mary to get the social-media reverberations from the gang with the free Michael Kors sunglasses.
Tourists like Doug and Darlene Winch of King of Prussia would certainly vindicate them. Lured by the pro volleyball tournament in town, they were tickled by the tiaras. "Miss Louisiana, how are you?" Doug called out as she exited True Religion.
"Better now!" she answered.
"We're 30 seconds from a casino in Valley Forge," said Winch, who works for a computer company. "Based on what I've experienced, I'd rather be here."
If nothing else, the historic return to Atlantic City was a reminder of this: There is at least one place where the Miss America pageant still matters. It tried to move on, but never did.
On the island, if you're not singing in the parade, the contestants are showing up at your gala fund-raiser or in your jitney. This year, it was a clambake at the Trump Plaza beach bar sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. Back in the heyday, the interns at what was then Atlantic City Memorial Hospital were stationed at the foot of the runway: on guard for any Miss America falls or twisted ankles.
It's all so close together. Go to dinner at Angeloni's and at the table next to you, law enforcement is discussing pageant security over pasta. There is a long history of the pageant as the winning trick, of all-in for Miss America.
"Atlantic City is and should be a full menu of entertainment," advised an approving Josh Oliver, a bouncer outside Delilah's Den on Pacific Avenue behind Boardwalk Hall, as he waited for the police-escorted jitney parade to pass by once again.
Nearby on their porch, Abu Rasheed, 20, and his sister Zakiyyah debated whether the temporary touchdown of Miss America would make a true dent in their city. Rasheed had seen the waving the day before as the tiaras passed by in the windows of the jitney. But noting the more loosely organized daily parade of sketchy street characters they watch from their porch in the shadow of Boardwalk Hall, Zakiyyah wondered: "What is Miss America compared to what goes on here?"
Contact Amy S. Rosenberg at 609-823-0453 or arosenberg@Phillynews.com. Follow on Instagram and Twitter @amysrosenberg.