As the winner of the Fifth Annual Bastille Day race leapt across the finish line yesterday, he triumphantly raised his tray of champagne glasses to the cheering crowd - and the tray crashed noisily to the ground.
No matter. Jorge Camacho, 32, was a thousand silver dollars richer and the first waiter from Dominique's restaurant to win the contest. His run down Pennsylvania Avenue in the oppressive humidity set a new record of 7 minutes, 40 seconds.
The other 99 contestants crunched across the sidewalk covered with broken glass, ready to obliterate their sorrows with free drinks at the two-hour open house given by restaurateur and race sponsor Dominique D'Ermo.
In 1975, the French-born D'Ermo started this American celebration of the Gallic holiday honoring the first incident of the French Revolution.
Each year, Dominique's has celebrated Bastille Day with the mid-July madness which has earned D'Ermo a special reputation in cafe society. The race requires each contestant to carry a tray bearing two champagne glasses and a split of champagne in one hand and a miniature French flag in the other. The first waiter or waitress to race the six blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House and back to Dominique's is the winner.
"It's organized chaos," said Lucien Conein, former French Foreign Legionnaire and longtime fan and friend of D'Ermo. "It's one of the most wonderful and traditional things."
D'Ermo had started the race off - not with a pistol, but with the pop of a cork. The golden contents of what he said was the largest bottle of champagne ever shipped to the United States spewed over the 100 contestants herding across the starting line with some immediate spillage. Soon only their bobbing heads and shoulders were visible.
On the sidelines, hundreds of people were standing or seated at dozens of tables. Some of them had already been enjoying the bubbly, and riotously cheered the contestants on.
A table of 20 spectators in Maurice Chevalier hats played "The Caissons Go Rolling Along" in unison on their kazoos. A man at the next table, who was wildly waving a red-white-and-blue French flag, accidentally swiping the few individuals who got in the way, requested that the kazoo band play "The Shadow of Your Smile." But before they could answer, the nasal sound of the Irish Pipers, a bagpipe group, drowned them out.
"Here's to James Schlesinger!" cried one man, lifting his glass of beer to anyone who might listen.
The race - limited to 100 contestants although many more wanted to compete - this year attracted entrants from Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, Delaware and California. And two waiters from Spain, Luis Iglesias and Emilio I. Serrano, joined in the champagne balancing act. The competitors in yesterday's race represented 60 different restaurants.
An hour before the race began, the contestants began to warm up. Clad in white shirts and black pants or skirts, some discussed past victories and training techniques.
George McWhirther from The Pawn Shop in Rosslyn did pushups against a tree.
"Just loosening up," he smiled. "I've been practicing after work at about 3 in the morning, running around Foggy Bottom. I've gone through a dozen glasses of champagne already this morning."
Toby Lackner, bar manager at the Jockey Club, who has participated in every Bastille Day race so far, said that "the person who is consistent and calm will win."
"I was going to enter, but I got the gout," said a big, white-haired man, with a little straw hat perched on top of his head and an Instamatic camera in his hand.
There were no excuses from winner Camacho, however.
"I didn't train at all," he said. "It was just natural skill."
Asked what he intended to do with his prize money, Camacho gave a most appropriate answer under the circumstances:
"I'm going to spend it on champagne." CAPTION: Picture, Winner Jorge Camacho crosses finish line, left, and loses control of his tray; photos by James A. Parcell - The Washington Post