"This and being born," responded Ray York, winner of restaurateur Dominique D'Ermo's sixth annual Bastille Day waiters' race, when asked if it was the most exciting moment of his life.
York works at Mrs. K's Toll House in Silver Spring. The 19-year-old Columbia, Md., resident trained for three weeks by running two miles daily at a local high school track. It paid off. York got a Concorde trip to Paris worth $2,800. And the roar of the crowd.
In fact, if the crowds continue to grow at Dominque's Bastille Day race, it won't be long before somebody has to storm Dominique's itself and free the trapped patrons. Hundreds of high-spirited onlookers jammed the sidewalk yesterday in front of the popular French restaurant at 20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, straining to watch 100 waiters and waitresses try to place in the sun.
They came from as far away as Takoma, Wash., and San Diego to try to balance two splits of Lanson's champagne and two champagne glasses on a tray while racing six blocks to the White House and back. Each was supposed to balance the tray with one hand and hold a small French flag in the other. Everything had to come back intact.
"Of course they move fast," observed one seated gentleman, waiting for his real waiter to elbow his way back through a mob worthy of the French Revolution. "They're not working now."
Dominique captain Savvas Mikedes strutted about in a Napoleon hat and jacket, whispering little nothings about Josephine. Guests like FCC Chairman Charles Ferris and newsman-in-waiting Roger Mudd sampled the prix fixe Bastille Day luncheon at white-tableclothed settings just off the track. Inside, scores more than the seven prisoners who awaited the mob of 1789 lunched languidly amid the hubbub.
At 2 p.m. came a new touch -- a customer's race. Planned as a "walker," the race had to be "run" again after too many walkers, carrying baskets of ice, shifted into light jogging the first time. Rules were strict. "Whoever's lined up is eligible," announced a voice over the speaker system. George Tanber, "a regular" at the restaurant, picked up a seven-course meal in the rerun.
When the waiters' race was all over -- nine minutes or so after the popping of the Salamanzar Lanson Champagne bottle set the runners off and dripping -- no one in the sprint with the bubbly had come close to matching William Wilken's 1978 record of 6 minutes, 12 seconds. One reporter did beat everyone in, stepping slowly to the finishing table. He was disqualified when he gave his name as "Rosie Ruiz." A few of the real waiters, though, were saying "Check, please."
"From the start I saw five people who grabbed their glasses and champagne with one hand and the tray with the other," complained one disgruntled Virginia waiter who declined to give his name. His spirits rose quickly, aided by Dominique's open house for all following the race, although not quite as quickly as Ray York's.
But like all of life's winners, he's about to face some problems. Like who will accompany him on his trip to Paris.
"He's promised about six or seven girls," said Libby Heyser, a co-worker, between shouts of happiness for York's victory. "So we don't know."