The girls are ready, and there are plenty of them. Girls who will laugh at your jokes and say yes and take you by the hand into a private room. Skinny ones with big eyes that seem miles away, like they are already back home, scanning Cosmo or painting a toenail, where lonesome, silly men are not invited.
They are dancers, not strippers, they tell you. Girls who are done adjusting bra straps inside the Super 8 motel and are now trotting in their high, heavy heels to a ridiculous contraption on wheels. It rests two blocks from the ocean in South Beach on Super Bowl weekend.
The thing is humming and spewing yellow light like a 7-Eleven. It looks like a see-through U-Haul truck and moves no faster than a wounded dog. A silver pole juts through the center, for stripping on the road, and an image of a topless woman clutching her breasts is emblazoned on the front. The bus has already rolled through the Bible Belt — past the fat families that say grace in roadside diners — from another galaxy called Las Vegas, where the strange people are the ones wearing clothes.
Behold the Stripper Mobile, America's most absurd advertising gimmick. It has been booted from Sin City, shut down in New Orleans, and stalked by media from New York to Japan. It has confused cops, prompted political crusades, and inspired grown men to French-kiss its plexiglass walls. Inside is a hotbox of sex, gossip, and tricks of the trade, courtesy of Déjà Vu Showgirls, the Wal-Mart of strip club chains.
In South Florida — where few people think twice about girls gyrating in bikinis — the dancers wonder, Will anybody even notice?
And there are the logistical questions. "Wait. How are we supposed to strip when it's moving?" one of the girls asks. Her name is Mystique, and she could pass for a nanny, except she's wearing only lacy pink panties and a bustier. She tucks her hair behind her ears when she's nervous and talks compulsively about her devotion to Jesus Christ.
An enormous man named Ice answers, "Just hang on to the pole, ladies. And no flashin'."
Ice walks with a slight limp, smiles often, and has impeccably clean shoes. He's general manager of Déjà Vu's Tampa club and is good at his job ("It's kind of like being a psychiatrist"), but he looks a little nervous tonight. "I ain't going to jail again," he announces, then puts his huge hands in his pockets. "Cops got it out for me."
Ice's boss gave him a crappy assignment: Get the Stripper Mobile from Tampa to South Florida and back without any arrests, breakdowns, or injuries. Oh, and get as much publicity as possible. The good kind.
Thing is, Ice has done this before, and it ended badly. There was a football game and some lap dances on a bus four years ago. And then there were bottles of booze and the flash of pink nipples, followed by a frown on the face of a mother passing by. Ice remembers the undercover cops and the holding cell afterward. And he has better places to sleep on a Friday night than that dump.
Idea man Larry Beard isn't worried, though. He is the marketing director who created the Stripper Mobile. "This is Marketing 101," he says. "If I were selling fruit, I would set up a truck with apples and peaches and park it on the strip. Our product is pretty girls."
Naturally, the thought nauseates Anthony Verdugo of Miami's Christian Family Coalition. "I find it objectionable and repulsive," he declares. "It's cheapening women, and it pushes us back to the dark ages — to cavemen days."
The Rev. Nadege Dutes, a Pentecostal pastor at the Church of God of Holiness in Christ, also doesn't like the idea of the bus pulsing through her neighborhood on a Sunday. "We try to keep children away from prostitution and drugs. This is going to distract them — especially the teenagers."
Moral qualms aside, cops expect the biggest dilemma to be simpler. Says Miami-Dade Police Det. Alvaro Zabaleta: "If they are dancing without seat belts, you're talking about a traffic safety violation."
The ladies are unfazed. As the engine starts, they blast hip-hop and begin to rub against the silver pole like it's a new lover.
Outside Déjà Vu Showgirls in Tampa, a pink sign flickers around the corner from county jail, near a sprawling truck yard. It's the kind of place that plays the same Evanescence song three times on a Friday and, like a mean joke, does not serve alcohol. Tonight the club is full of men who have arrived alone.
Backstage looks like a sorority house: It's dotted with abandoned clothing, bottles of lotion, and bags of makeup. Six girls are gabbing as they pluck eyebrows and apply lipstick. It's the weekend before the Super Bowl, and the ladies have volunteered to go for a ride around the city. Clutching their handbags and wearing nearly nothing, they climb into the truck.