By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
"If you're planning to dress as vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin . . . Please don't come toting a rifle," read the announcement placed in the LGBT newsmagazine Metro Weekly. "An Eskimo sidekick, however, is probably just fine."
And so began the 23rd annual Halloween High Heel Race, held last night on 17th Street NW. The race -- for the benefit of newcomers unfamiliar with this venerable institution -- happens on the last Tuesday in October, when drag queens and queens for a day pull out their best size 12 pumps and hightail it down two blocks of the Dupont Circle neighborhood.
You had your moose-ear-wearin' Sarah, your Sarah 'n' McCain, your Sarah 'n' Todd, your Sarah 'n' Bristol's baby, all sporting tousled bouffants, all blowing kisses to a crowd that screamed and shivered and packed the streets. You had your Wasilla-consignment-shop Sarah ("The original," boasts costume-wearer Philip Gerlach), and you had your Neiman Marcus Sarah, with handwritten price tags dangling from the expensive-looking jade ensemble. Purse: $990; Suit: $2,390.
"Women's size 20, and I tailored it myself," says Neiman Marcus Sarah, a.k.a. Blaise Williams, who arrived with friends dressed as Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama. "The wig was actually originally a Farrah Fawcett, but I'm a hairdresser so that was no problem."
And the shoes -- those darling peep-toe pumps -- can Williams run in those shoes?
He looks down at his gigantic feet, flexes a muscular calf. "Oh yeah."
If you haven't spent a frigid evening watching a sparkly herd of men stampede as if on a life-or-death escape from a Bedazzler that already attacked them once, then, honey, you simply haven't lived.
"The secret is to wear cushioned soles," says Sally Field, a.k.a. Andy Wormser, traveling with Julia Roberts and Shirley MacLaine and a man who unrolls a swath of red carpet as the trio moves through the street before the race.
Theory: It is impossible to witness the drag race and not utter the word "Fabulous."
The Cher/Gwen Stefani/Princess Di-and-bodyguards? Fabulous. Judy Garland making eyes at Liza Minnelli? Creepy and fabulous.
Those nine middle-age guys dressed up as polygamist-sect members in matching pink gingham? Fundamentally Fabulous.
They introduce themselves as Rose Petal, as Tabernacle Norma. "But all of our last names are Young," says Russ Goldberg.
The high-heel race tradition began on Halloween night in 1986 when a couple of guys, kinda drunk and really fabulous, decided to race from JR.'s to Annie's Paramount Steak House a few blocks away, have a shot, race back. In perilously, astoundingly, wobbulous high heels.
The fellas that year chipped in to buy the winner a bottle of champers, a prize that has been upgraded through the years to the present: a $50 bar tab at JR.'s and a trophy, provided by Junk in the Trunk. (Do journalistic ethics require us to explain that Junk in the Trunk is a trash-removal service? They do.)
Now the race has been moved to the Tuesday before Halloween, the entrants number more than 100, and the route has been extended half a block -- as of this year -- to accommodate the crowds that JR.'s Dave Perruzza estimates have exceeded 20,000.
Last night, the winner of the race was Craig Williams, a first-time participant who sprinted to the finish in chunky-heeled Mary Janes, a pink wig and a silver unitard, crediting his soccer background for his admirable speed.
Other participants did not race so much as strut, prance, mug for the camera. For them, it's less about winning than showmanship.
For us, it's less about the race than it is about the tradition, the comfort and familiarity of seeing the year's newsmakers transformed into street theater, year after year.
Last night on 17th Street, viewers could watch the nine pink-ginghamed sisters pray for a man dressed as a member of the Wasilla PTA, until the PTA member retaliated by whomping them with her purse. They could watch one Michelle Obama gyrating on the pavement in front of a whooping crowd as a Todd Palin in stilettos paraded around with Vote for Sarah signs.
In a time of economic instability and political uncertainty, when everything can seem like a big mess, a little bit of fabulous somehow helps it all go away.