Participants and promoters of Washington's annual High Heel Race could not have had better conditions. The weather offered a mild, seasonal briskness, and the rain stayed away, making for optimal pumps-meet-pavement conditions. The Metropolitan Police Department had traffic securely cordoned away from the 17th Street racetrack between P and R Streets NW, as red-shirted volunteers helped herd the crowds -- who did their part by stuffing this tiny stretch of the Dupont neighborhood to maximum capacity.
''I don't think I've ever been surrounded by so many straight people,'' said Don, who asked not to give his last name, to his friend Ivan. The two stood amid the throngs near the finish line.
Summing the crowds up as ''bad,'' Don, who on Tuesday wore civilian clothes, but has raced in years past as a girl scout and a cleaning lady, added, ''I've been about eight times. It was a lot less crowded eight years ago.''
Ivan, who also declined to give his last name, said he was not at all bothered by the density of the crowd, which was so thick it likely raised the temperature along 17th Street by a degree or two. He suggested, however, that the race might be stretched a few more blocks in the future to help thin the crowd.
Nearby, friends Erin Robertson, Rachael Smith and Ashley Wall appeared to enjoy watching the milling crowds as much as the costumed contestants.
''There's so much energy,'' Robertson observed, as the three refreshed themselves with some Trader Joe's ''Two Buck Chuck'' in plastic cups. ''Everyone's enjoying life to the fullest -- even on a work night.''
As the High Heel Race evolves, now more than two decades old, Robertson, Smith and Wall may represent the future. As young, straight women, all living within a mile or so of the race, they say that race fans like them are evidence that what may have seemed like a fringe gay event when it began -- with an impromptu challenge between drag queens drinking at JR.'s -- is gaining ever greater acceptance, as is the GLBT community.
While Smith points out that they all have gay friends, Robertson added that some of the straight women they were with Tuesday had boyfriends dressed in drag for the night.
But none of those boyfriends won the race. That honor went a yellow-wigged fellow whose identity still remains inexplicably unknown....