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Exotic dancers feel gas prices’ pinch

Gainesville, Florida- [] Kendra slinked off stage. She counted the bills collected in her lace garter once more. The number was still the same. Five dollars. Disappointment, disbelief and discouragement overcame her.

“I cried,” she said, “and I never cry.”

The 5–foot–7–inch, 130–pound exotic dancer had finished twisting and twirling in black–lacquered, 8–inch stiletto heels for the night.

She banks on tips and private dances. She isn’t paid an hourly wage. It wasn’t the first time she left with a sparse amount. Kendra has walked out of Café Risqué in Micanopy three times lately with only $7. She used to strut out of the fully nude strip club with $200 easy, she said.

Until recently.

And Kendra has company. More than 40 dancers and waitresses at the café are feeling the effects of the sagging economy. About 90 percent of customers are truck drivers, she said, who are now paying nearly $5 a gallon for diesel and don’t have much left to spare.

“Entertainment is always the first to go,” Kendra said.

Customers are dwindling. Private dances, which cost $30 for 5 minutes and $50 for 10 minutes, are fleeting. Tips are worsening. It’s a fight for every dollar under the spotlight.

Spare dollar bills are hard to come by in the sleepy, southern town of about 700 people, who are less than excited about the restaurant with scenery. So Café Risqué is offering a 50 percent discount on food and store purchases to customers with a gas receipt. Asher Sullivan, owner of the cafe, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The economy isn’t only affecting the sex industry in Micanopy. Newsweek reported that Nevada’s legal brothels are feeling the pinch too. Business is down by as much as 45 percent in the Silver State’s rural areas, which are dependent on truckers for more than half their business.

Jennifer, a waitress clad in boy shorts that flaunt “Café Risqué” across the back, said the average customer spends $25, and that number is dropping quickly.

She was the only waitress Friday night; there always used to be two. She used to make $200 a night working with another waitress. Now, she struggles for $100 alone.

“If there’s nobody on the road,” she said, “there’s nobody in here.”

The 26–year–old described how she will stomp after customers who don’t tip her, hands on hips, pout on lips.

“I get stiffed more than I get tipped,” she said. “I have to go up and say, ‘Seriously? You’re not kidding me, right?’”

She said she always gets the tip.

Damayanti, a dancer whose name means “beautiful” in Hindu, doesn’t. She said she has left with barely $100 lately, to her dismay.

“I’m not much of a hustler like some of these other girls,” she said. “I’d like them to come to me, but that doesn’t happen.”

In ruffle–trimmed sheer lingerie, the 27–year–old mother lingered by the stage side, gazing up to the bare–bottomed ballerinas who pirouette and perform pas de deux to less–than–classical songs for the pleasure of the onlookers.

She has worked in five strip clubs. Her husband, a carpenter, was supporting her until the economy started suffering. She had to start working again.

“It’s like riding a bike, really,” she said.

Damayanti said she can only afford to put $20 worth of gas at a time in her car, which gets her hardly above empty. She is working toward sending her 5–year–old son to a private school in the fall.

“Right now, I’m just getting by,” she said. “It seems money is the root of all evil.”

The current gas receipt promotion adds to the discounts and deals already geared toward truckers, including a $5 entrance fee reduced from $8, 25 percent off food purchases, unlimited coffee and free showers. Truckers who sleep in their truck overnight get free entrance the next morning too.

Mark Gautreau, 49, is one trucker who took advantage of the deals. He parked a company–owned 18–wheeler Friday night in the designated truck area behind Café Risqué. Only three out of the 30 truck spaces were occupied.

The 13–year veteran driver said he was forced to give up his own semitrailer in May. He couldn’t afford it any longer with the price of diesel steadily mounting.

The national average price of a gallon of diesel was $4.644 on Tuesday, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. A year ago, the average was $2.959.

Additionally, Gautreau’s weekly payments included $170 for insurance and $460 for truck payments. Last year, he said he took home as much as $1,000 a week. Now, he earns $600.

“How can you make money?” he asked. “You can’t.”

Gautreau now turns to his company to provide him a truck. He said it costs about $1,400 to fill up both gas tanks, which hold a total of 300 gallons. That will take him about 1,300 miles, or 2 and a half days, before he has to fill up again.

“To be honest, I’ve got maybe $40 in my pocket, and that’s bad for a trucker.”

Gautreau has a family of five in Bonifay, Fla., a small town of 4,000 about 100 miles east of Pensacola. He said his family’s major stress is money. Overdue mortgage and car payments pile high.

“It’s not just me,” he said. “It’s everyone out there. The fuel is killing everyone.”


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