Inside the Stripper Mobile, it's the opposite of sexy. "What's that smell?" Kali asks as the engine starts. "It's, like, toxic fumes."

The others shrug and simultaneously light cigarettes, which fill the bus with enough smoke to asphyxiate a small pony. When a detector on the ceiling beeps — as it does often — the girls take turns spraying it with perfume. It does the trick but makes the place smell like a Chanel factory on fire.

Plus the back door is precariously rigged shut. Plus, it's freezing. To prevent the windows from fogging up while the girls perform, the driver blasts arctic air. When he hits the brakes, the girls squeal and fly forward. That makes it hard to dance, so they all adopt the same move: Grip pole, bend over, jiggle butt cheeks.

Kali is pregnant.
Natalie O'Neill
Kali is pregnant.
View from inside the Stripper Mobile.
Natalie O'Neill
View from inside the Stripper Mobile.

Still, they have fans. As the girls pull into a Shell gas station, they score a thumbs-up from an older woman with exactly one tooth. She snaps a photo with her cell phone and scampers back to a truck to show her husband.

When the road widens into a strip of chain restaurants and liquor stores, people begin to freak out. College kids in Toyotas slam on their brakes. Some wave dollar bills; others pull out video cameras. Mystique, the nervous nanny, waves back and then takes a seat on a black leather bench. To her, stripping is an out-of-body experience, she confesses.

"Mystique is very playful and flirty," she says of herself. "But that's not me. My real personality is completely different. I am not sexually active; I don't even like sexual attention. And" — she warns — "this is really deep, but I think of myself as a doctor of erotic physical therapy. I perform stimulating exercises."

She was an honor student in high school but ran away from home because her parents were too strict. A drug-dealer boyfriend invited her to stay, but the cops ruined that setup when they sent him to jail. Afterward, the strip joint seemed like the best option. Now she wants to be a fashion designer so she can put clothes on other people instead of peeling them off.

The thought causes a crease between her eyebrows until the truck enters a neighborhood full of bars, where white lights blur into a fuzz. A couple of guys in backward caps chase the truck, and an impromptu audience forms. One of the strippers suggests they "should do girl-on-girl while there's a crowd," and they begin to air-hump each other to Top 40 radio. When a commercial comes on, they are stuck grinding to a Wendy's ad, which makes things a little awkward.

One particularly drunken man doesn't mind; he runs up and licks the side of the bus. The rest of the reactions are mixed: A heavyset woman offers a middle finger; a smitten bouncer uses a telephone pole to do his own mock striptease; and a wild-eyed grandpa holds a sign that reads "You deserve Hell."

Soon, a cop with a bewildered expression sees the bus and follows it. He seems to be poring through his memory bank for a possible charge (indecent exposure? disturbing the peace?), but after a few blocks, he gives up and turns a corner.

It's November 2005 outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. An attractive couple pays $20 to climb into a bus with tinted windows. Inside, nude women give football fans $40 lap dances. There are free chicken wings, and a small cloud of pot smoke rises from the back of the bus.

The couple takes a seat and cracks open two Bud Lights. They try to make small talk, but there's something strange about the lovebirds: They seem a little too tense.

One of them is Theresa Dennis, an undercover cop. She propositions a 27-year-old Asian beauty for a lap dance. Midway through, the girl says, "Stop being shy and touch me wherever you want," according to police reports. Then she kisses the officer and hands her a business card.

Minutes later, the cops bust up the tailgate party. The strippers — along with bartenders and managers — are arrested and hauled away in a paddy wagon. Tampa police collar at least ten people and dole out charges ranging from selling alcohol without a license to soliciting prostitution. (All charges would be dropped.)

Says Ice, the general manager: "At first, we thought it was funny. Then it was on Jay Leno, and our boss was like, 'This is not good.' "

But in some ways, it was. The club had landed in dinner-table conversation across the country. Even librarians in South Dakota now knew the name Déjà Vu.

Afterward, commissioners in Hillsboro County — where Tampa is located — passed an ordinance to strengthen public nudity laws. The outcome: Mobile adult entertainment vehicles would be forbidden from suburban parts of the county. Which meant no tailgating parties.

The episode taught Déjà Vu a valuable lesson: Don't piss off law enforcement. And if you do, at least get some decent publicity out of it.

So for the next four years, the club behaved itself. The bus was scrapped, and the chain hummed along with such a disappointing lack of scandal that one reviewer even called it "clean" and "nice." It was time to create a controversy without doing anything illegal. That's when a creative horndog came up with a brilliant idea.

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