October 21, 2010 | by David J. Hoffman
Ready to run

A typically over-the-top delegation from the 2008 High Heel Race. (Washington Blade file photo by Henry Linser)

It begins with a parade and ends with a race.

And it happens every year — each Tuesday before Halloween, with tricked-out hairdos and outrageous costumes. It’s a drag race on D.C.’s gay main drag of 17th Street. But don’t think men-in-cars drag race; think men in heels.

In high heels, in fact, and in full costumed regalia, on Tuesday night rain or shine, 100 or so men in drag will sprint — or wobble unsteadily — for victory, in an annual event that’s like a street carnival and that High Heels Race organizer David Perruzza says “shows a sense of community.” Though it draws a huge crowd of onlookers, he boasts the race has been “incident free for years.”

Perruzza, vice president of JR.’s Bar and Grill and Cobalt, has been the event’s lead organizer for 12 years.

Formerly a bit of a free-for-all, JR.’s took over the logistical work including securing permits and making sure police patrols are present.

It began in 1986, at least according to legend, when several drag queens challenged each other to a race from JR.’s to Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse, where they would down a shot and then race back.

These days, the 9 p.m. race, which Perruzza says begins “on the dot,” is, with its typical blur of gold lame and feather boas, guaranteed to elicit plenty of that drag fun charm. However regular attendees know that the real fun begins at 7:30 p.m. when contestants parade up and down the length of the several-block course to show off their finery. Those wanting a front-row seat should stake out a spot as early as 6 p.m. at one of the on-course cafes.

“People dress up to what’s going on,” says Perruzza, who recalls some stand-out characters from past races including runners appearing together as the cast of TV sitcoms like “The Facts of Life” and “The Golden Girls.” One year, however, someone pushed right through the envelope of good taste and came as Terri Sciavo, the woman in a vegetative state following massive brain damage and the focus of a legal battle from 1990 to 2005 over whether or not to disconnect her feeding tube to allow her to die.

“As sick as it was, it was kind of funny,” Perruzza says. “But I have a sick sense of humor.”

The race rules are clear: “Winners must cross the finish line wearing heels that are at least one inch.” Last year the first person to cross the finish line was disqualified, according to Perruzza, because that runner was not in heels and so the second person won. The race begins at the corner of 17th and R streets, N.W., and ends at the alley just past JR.s at 1519 17th Street.

All runners must register at the door at Cobalt. The same goes for those wanting to participate in the parade. Area residents and race participants are advised that some streets will be closed and towing will begin at 6.  To volunteer to be a race marshal, e-mail to heelvolunteer@aol.com.

Gay D.C. Council member David Catania will be the grand marshal and drag queen Lena Lett will officiate. Also expected to attend are Mayor Adrian Fenty and Council member Jack Evans.

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