A Royal Race

Correction appended

Senior Paul Rozenberg donned his six-inch, patent leather platform heels in a Dupont Circle alley on Tuesday for what might have been one of the last times.

As a two-time participant in the annual 17th Street High Heels Race and the director and star of GW’s production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” Rozenberg’s heels have served him well.

“The shoes have stayed with me for four years,” he said. “I’m hoping to retire them this year.”

Amid blustery, cold conditions, Rosenberg and his shoes began a busy week by participating in the High Heels Race, a pre-Halloween tradition that brings out the D.C. area’s most colorful and creative cross-dressers and transsexuals.

Rozenberg’s costume remained concealed beneath inconspicuous clothing on the way to the race. His gray pinstripe suit, high-neck sweater, black dress shoes and thick-framed glasses hardly indicated that he was on his way to a race for drag queens in heels. The only giveaway: black nail polish that he admitted made him feel significantly daintier.

Costumes ranged from a band of Amish mothers to Coco Chanel. But not surprisingly for the nation’s capital, the women of politics stole the show.

“I think Sarah Palin was this year’s most popular costume,” said D.C. Councilman Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, who attended this year’s race.

Several of Palin’s signature “updos” could be spotted in the sea of flamboyant participants, with many going the extra mile with a conservative suit and an elaborate lapel flag pin. When one such Palin was asked how she felt about the upcoming election, she replied, “If it’s anything like this race, we’ll do better.”

Another Palin was accompanied by a Cindy McCain, who sported a classic Republican red suit. “I’m here to help my husband turn D.C. red,” the impersonator said.

Of course, there were the more traditional cross-dressing ensembles, like the one worn by Rozenberg. The New Jersey native kept it simple, with a red lacy corset, black thigh-high fishnets and his trusty aforementioned heels.

It is no coincidence that this is the same costume he will wear in “Rocky Horror.” Rozenberg admitted that a large part of his motivation to participate in the race was to create free publicity for the show he has adored since age 11, which opens at GW this Thursday.

He had two of his “trannies” from “Rocky Horror” in tow. “I have to say, knowing a drag queen in the race makes me feel much more involved,” said one of his supporters, freshman Elisa Valero.

“Any excuse to see Paul in drag is amusing,” added freshman Jen Gorfine.

Rozenberg was not the only motivation for the two coming to witness this yearly spectacle, however.

“I love gay men,” Valero said. “I heard drag race and wrote it down before I knew ‘Rocky’ even existed.”

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty echoed the student’s enthusiasm.

“Look at the energy, look at the thousands of people,” Fenty said. “There’s no political agenda. Everyone’s just here to party.”

Fenty served as the grand marshal of the race and gave the “ready, set, go” to signal the start of the actual racing portion of the evening down 17th Street. He took pride in his central role and said he “wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“I don’t think that is my calling, to be a drag queen,” said Rozenberg, who is currently applying to law schools where he plans to study international financial law next fall. “I do not hide this; I showed my old teachers from high school pictures of it. I have no shame.”

Ultimately, Rozenberg did not take home the golden shoe trophy, but he did have the satisfaction of knowing that he was one of the only participants to make it all the way to the finish line.

“My feet are absolutely killing me, but I feel great,” he said.

In its 23nd year of photo op-worthy tradition, it is clear that the race has come a long way from its roots.

“The costumes have gotten better,” Evans said. “The women have gotten faster.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: (October 30, 2008)

The High Heels Race is in its 23rd year, not 22nd.

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