No, we weren't in France this year, but we did celebrate it the next best way, at La Cote d’Or restaurant in Arlington. When we arrived with our friends Charles and Elaine for lunch, we were presented with straw boaters with tri-colored hatbands. An accordionist accompanied our courses with a wide variety of French songs. About the time we were finishing, Raymond announced that it was time for the waiter’s race. That sounded like an interesting event to view, but he also said everyone was eligible to enter, and in fact they needed another 15 or so participants fill out the roster.
Those of you who know Betty Lou could predict that she was one of the first to sign up, as well as to pressure us and others to join her. I protested that I had already run three miles that morning, but Raymond pointed out that the course was only a half mile and it was unlikely that anyone actually would be running. When I saw the "champagne glasses," I had to agree – they were actually V-shaped martini glasses, or rather plastics. They did include real champagne, filled to the brim. Large, heavy, pottery plates served as "trays."
In the end, Charles and I were persuaded, and the pop of a champagne cork signaled the start of the race. In the past, they have been able to close the street for this august activity, but today we were restricted to the sidewalk. It wasn't as crowded as you might think, as entrants soon strung out. However, the uneven surface and occasional street sign or telephone pole and/or supporting wire required keeping an eye on the ground as well as the glass. And the weight of the plate and the required one-handed grip made for frequent transfers from one hand to the other.
I wondered how the return would be managed, visualizing conflicting contestants, but when we reached the corner, the race director in his convertible bedecked with French flags flying from the front fenders turned left. After another block, we turned right, later repeating the process twice more. Around then, some were giving up on the competitive part and were sipping spilled champagne from their plates. By the time we were back on the original street, there were no stragglers left and we had a clear return.
As racers arrived back at the start/finish line, judges announced and recorded the times and carefully placed the glasses on sheets with the contestants' numbers. Raymond had previously introduced the four judges, who he said were experienced experts, several of whom he had known for 25 years. It wasn't clear how much weight was given to time as compared to champagne level, but the judging process was quite painstaking. Fortunately, there was still champagne available to help us cool down after the rigors of the chase.
Finally, with fanfare, Raymond began the award ceremony. Third prize, a bottle of champagne and an Olympics-style medal, went to a waiter who had already returned to the kitchen. The winner of the second prize, which was described as a $100 gift certificate, was announced as number 18. Since that was my number (slightly obscured behind my medal), I asked in disbelief if he meant 8. Not at all!
Too bad I wasn't a little steadier, because first prize was a trip to Paris! But I can't complain, because the envelope actually included a $100 bill. I'm sure Raymond and Lynne know we'll soon be bringing it back.