When do Southern California waitresses work the hardest and move the fastest? Probably during the South Bay Waitress Races, held last weekend in the parking lot of the Redondo Beach Marina.
The 4-year-old event, which drew 300 waitresses from 75 establishments as far away as Glendora, raises money for a local charity known as Cheers for Children, but the competition could aptly be named Leers for Adults.
The waitress races drew a largely male, very vocal crowd of several hundred who spent their time sampling more than 40 brands of imported and domestic beer as well as looking at, talking about and trying to get to know the competitors.
"I fell in love about 20 to 30 times today," race official Herb Kinnard said.
Most of the women in the audience, on the other hand, just looked on with bemused expressions.
Proceeds from this year haven't been tallied yet. The event raised almost $5,000 for the charity last year, mostly from beer sales, according to Warren Turnbull, the event's promoter.
The waitresses competed in teams of four in the relay race, each running one 25-yard leg while balancing three drinks on a tray. To make a successful run, a waitress had to finish her leg of the relay and hand her tray to the next waitress without knocking over any of the drinks.
If a drink tipped over, the waitress had to return to the start of her segment of the relay, refill her glasses and try again.
Half the teams in the competition ran preliminary heats last Saturday, the other half last Sunday. The winners of the Saturday heats met Sunday's winners for the title.
Since the competition, which was dreamed up by local bar owners, began in 1982, the event has grown in entries and prestige.
Some waitresses said they had practiced as much as an hour a day for six weeks. Most wore running shoes with their uniforms. But it didn't remind anyone of last summer's Olympic Games.
"It's more like Keystone Kops than athletics out there," Turnbull said. Of course, the grand prize of $500, to be divided by the winning team, was an incentive to do well.
Other teams had even more incentive. "If we don't win, our manager said we'd lose our jobs," one waitress joked.
The team from Manhattan Bar and Grill in Manhattan Beach, which ran the fastest preliminary heat at 34.7 seconds, did not practice at all. "Last year we practiced two months and lost," explained waitress Donna Williams, "so we didn't do anything this year."
The team from the Blue Moon Saloon in the Redondo Beach Marina had won the competition the first three years (raising the question of home-field advantage), and they were determined to continue their streak. Sure enough, they won again--possibly leaving a trail of unemployed waitresses in their wake--but other teams tried their hardest to knock them off their pedestal.
"People were telling me that they would kidnap me and throw stuff at my legs," said waitress Sheryl Derenia, who has run the crucial last leg on the winning team all four years.
Waitress Bridgette Bauder of Joe's in Redondo Beach deserved some sort of award. Bauder ran her leg of the race without as much as a drop escaping from her wine glasses--although she is pregnant and, in her words, "due any day."
Besides speed, the qualities that set a good waitress apart from others include friendliness, intelligence and efficiency, bar owners and managers agreed. But many of the costumes seemed designed to divert attention from the service to the server, no doubt with an eye toward the best-looking-uniform contest.
As each team was announced, the four waitresses strolled out as if they were high-fashion models. Some assumed provocative poses. The uniform styles ran the spectrum from the crimson T-shirts and gray athletic shorts of Finny's to the one-piece bathing suits and Polynesian wrap-around skirts of Criterion.
Although the sizzling red-and-gold halter tops and bikini bottoms worn by the women from Pancho and Wong's had men in the audience hooting and hollering, it was the team from the Comedy and Magic Club of Hermosa Beach that won the uniform competition with sleeveless tuxedo-like outfits, tails included.
One establishment, the Sheraton Miramar of Santa Monica, brought eight waitresses--but only four were waitresses.
The rest were cheerleaders--four mustachioed waiters in drag, complete with blonde wigs, makeup, and balloons under their shirts.
One of the "ladies," Richard Rose, who moved to California eight months ago from his native Cape Cod in Massachusetts, said it is common back there for men to dress in drag and act as cheerleaders for women's athletic events.
"We have made the biggest impact on this year's festivities," the waiter/waitress exulted.