Speed Queen

On your mark, in your pumps: The 17th Street High Heel Race

by Yusef Najafi
Published on October 25, 2007, 12:00am | Comments

Carey Murphy has traveled across the country documenting various festivals for the Smithsonian Channel, and now she's ready to document Washington's annual High Heel Race down 17th Street NW. This 22nd year of the race is scheduled to kick off Tuesday, Oct. 30, at 9 p.m.

Murphy, a resident of Frederick, Md., who works for Big Fish Entertainment, is currently seeking three to four High Heel Race participants to profile for a segment to run on the Smithsonian Channel's America Wild & Wacky, an hour-long show that profiles four festivals across the country in each episode.

''We're looking for people preparing costumes, putting on make up,... shopping for high heels, that kind of thing,'' she explains.

''The one thing that is different about this festival...is that it's the first one that we've come across that's homegrown, without an official organizer,'' Murphy says. ''It's sort of evolved on its own. I think that's a really fascinating aspect of it."

Homegrown is right, as the festival has never been officially "owned," an orphan ever since the initial challenge was made between a few drag queens drinking at JR.'s at 17th and Church Streets NW, 22 years ago, wondering who could be quickest in a run down to Annie's Paramount Steakhouse, at 17th and Corcoran, down a shot, and return. Today, it's a one-way race -- minus the shot -- from JR.'s to Cobalt at 17th and R Streets NW.

''It's the spirit of the community that keeps it going and growing,'' Murphy observes.

Dave Perruzza, general manager of JR.'s, can attest to that.

''We put on the event, but we don't actually own the event,'' he says. ''JR.'s has put it on for the past 22 years, but it would become a whole different thing if somebody actually owned it. Right now whatever money is generated goes to charity.''

According to Perruzza, this year's beneficiary is D.C. Main Streets, a program created in 2002 in an effort to support ''the establishment and implementation of lasting, comprehensive revitalization initiatives in D.C.'s traditional neighborhood business districts.''

And while the contest has yet to become an official city-owned event, Perruzza says it's official in the sense that it's a community event, adding that city officials have not waived police and security fees, but have instead paid for them.

If that's leaning toward ''official,'' Perruzza points out that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is serving as grand marshal of this year's race alongside drag persona Lena Lett.

Still, community events -- whether unofficial or not, sponsored or not, owned or not -- do require community involvement.

''I need lots of volunteers,'' says Perruzza, adding that volunteers get a free T-shirt, the best view of the race and, best of all, don't have to wait in line to get into JR.'s or Cobalt afterwards.

To volunteer for the 22nd Annual High Heel Race, meet under the awning at JR.'s, 1519 17th St. NW, at 7 p.m. For consideration to be included in Murphy's documentary, call 202-470-6291.