Yesterday was Bastille Day, and, for the 12th time, waiters and waitresses honored the birth of the French Revolution by racing to and from the White House bearing aloft trays laden with champagne.
Start and finish of the race was Dominique's restaurant at 20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, where proprietor Dominique D'Ermo presided over his annual celebration of Liberte', Egalite', Publicite'.
Move over, David Wolper.
Ross Crystal of Channel 5 was there, along with a statistically significant sample of Washington's press corps scrambling for ersatz news during the July doldrums. "I don't do the White House," said Crystal. "I do features. This is the feature story happening today."
Crystal wanted to get ABC correspondent Sam Donaldson, who was having lunch at an outdoor table, on camera. He did.
"Well, I have sort of an affinity for Bastille Day," said Donaldson. "Words fail me and that seldom happens."
Arni Jonsson, sound man for the News in Washington service, had a more elaborate theory on how to cover a media event of this magnitude. "The thing is to catch the momentum of the day -- to find the flavor of the thing, not just the whos and whys -- to give people the feeling that they were there."
If you were there, you saw a lot of spectators jamming the corner of 20th and Pennsylvania, sweating just enough to make them look sexy in their business suits and dresses; about 30 members of the public carrying trays laden with two open cans of Coors and an open can of Dominique's U.S. Senate Bean Soup in the fourth annual customers' race; and 84 waiters and waitresses vying for a trip to Paris by struggling to keep two splits of Perrier-Joueu t and two champagne glasses on their trays as they scuttled, Groucho Marx style, from Dominique's to the White House and back.
Some, bearing memories as well as champagne, came prepared for the worst. Vincent Brock of J. Paul's remembered once spilling 11 Cokes on four women. Susie Cochran, representing Mrs. K's Toll House in her pink, crinoline-inflated uniform, recalled accidentally dumping "a pin a colada down a lady's back."
Training was intense. Ani Fello of R.J. Bentley's spent the past few afternoons running up and down a stretch of Rte. 1 in College Park with tray, bottle and glasses in hand. The guys at an all-night gas station taunted her with cries of "Bring my champagne! Where's my caviar!?"
The winner, Fernando Castellon' of Dominique's, won a round-trip Concorde ticket to Paris. Castellon', a Bolivian-born veteran of 10 years at Dominique's and two times a runner-up in past races said, "While I feel happy, I also feel sad because it seems I won't be able to participate next year." Them's the rules.
Runners-up Mohsen Shojaedini, representing Phineas in Rockville, and Diane Hoppmann, of J. Paul's, each won round-trip tickets to New Orleans.
Customers' Race winner Jeff Bergers of Gaithersburg, an accountant for a hotel management company, won a trip for two to Cairo.
Political satirist Mark Russell, who previewed the race yesterday for "Good Morning America," expanded his coverage from his table overlooking the finish line. "I like a story that's devoid of any meaning whatsoever," he said. "I liked it better when we were mad at France."