Shakespeare Harris, professional makeup artist and dance manager at Bucks Wild, recalls the day that the club first opened. He casually recounts that it was Aug. 17, but his bespectacled eyes widen when he says the storm trouble “all came about on Aug. 27.”
Before we plunge full-on into a melodramatic retelling of a sad and inspiring tale that all too many know already, I want to briefly look back at Aug. 17. It was a slightly cooler day than predicted for Houston, yet deep into the Atlantic, a storm was serious enough to be officially labelled “Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine” due to a low pressure area ominously swirling and condensing. On the opening date of the newly refurbished club, the storm that redefined the area was already brewing, but it wouldn’t be until several days later that the impact would be felt. Harris illustrates how Harvey still managed to harm a club that didn’t flood:
“It was difficult after Harvey because our city was in repair emotionally, physically, spiritually; all people could focus on was lending a hand. Overall, all businesses have suffered — getting to work, getting from work, getting to loved ones. Everything that wasn’t life or death didn’t matter.”
The strip club business is hardly a matter of life or death, but it matters nearly as much to those who depend on the revenue or tips generated by such risqué establishments. While Houston went into survival mode to cope with the effects of the deadly floods, the newly-opened club threatened to flop. Nothing mattered less to the good people of Houston than sexy legs under strobing lights, and for a time, the aftermath left some wondering if the club was doomed.
*Fancy, a tan young woman in a pink romper, accounts for the devastation:
“My usual club is by the airport. It flooded so much. My house flooded too. One club my friend works at flooded this high,” she says, pointing at her thighs. “And I can’t work there now, so I came here. But for a while there really weren’t very many girls working, and customers wouldn’t come in, but when they did we couldn’t keep them here because there just weren’t enough girls. It was very bad for a while.”
Fancy is a Houston-based dancer at Bucks Wild who earns her living by sauntering and moving about on stage under strobing lights — sometimes fully nude. There, she and other athletically-inclined women undertake strange, possibly masochistic rituals of pole courtship and display called dances. Sometimes these dances are bounced out in full neon glory on one of four stages, other times more intimate versions are performed in the semi-private VIP area, but like Wyclef Jean said in his hit “Perfect Gentleman” — there’s no sex in the champagne room — and why not trust his authority on the subject with a hit as trustworthily titled as that?
If Mr. Jean isn’t convincing enough, there’s the words of *Aquatica to consider as well. Now that the floodwaters have drained, she and six other ladies from the DFW area have been dancing in the Houston club as part of an organized effort to keep the club afloat one dance at a time.
“This club is real quiet,” she says. “I mean it’s nice and all, but there aren’t enough people here like at our club in Dallas. There we’d make so much more money, but we’re here. There just aren’t that many customers. Some ask me for sex, and I just wave goodbye.”
But of course, if this snippet from Aquatica somehow isn’t up to snuff, then maybe you can take my word for it because I’m also an adult entertainer.
I can almost hear some readers thinking “Stop the article, this lady works for the club being featured!”, but no, let’s keep it up because I can explain the fact that I, like most exotic dancers, am my own boss. To be specific, we’re usually independent contractors. Frequently we aren’t even scheduled. Sometimes we make heel to forehead contact — and when we do, there is no compensation for our injuries. Such was the case for me one night in Houston — and no, I don’t want to talk about it.
At over $3 billion per annum, strip clubs are a big industry in the US, but what really pulls in the revenue is liquor sales and surcharges on special access privileges. When a strip club is financially suffering, it’s a safe bet that times are hard. With the wet devastation wrought by Harvey estimated to total up to $90 billion worth in estimated losses, it’s no surprise that all sorts of entertainment businesses are hurting.
Could it be that reversing such foreboding trends for businesses like Bucks Wild post-storm is as simple as providing more entertainment? Anthony Reinhart, dance manager for the Dallas Buck’s Cabaret, seems to think so even if his unique dance team doesn’t always agree.
I ask my manager to comment on the economic dynamics factoring into the decision to bring more dancers to a storm-battered area where local dancers seriously need the money to recover and Reinhart, drawing on his previous experience as the owner of a glass company in the frequently storm torn Gulf Coast region, replies, “Well, the economic boost is from all aspects, not just construction, but remodeling, roofers, clean up, insurance adjusters, big contractors, storm cleanup; there’s an influx of people for work and locals that weren’t previously working get more opportunities.”
“The reason why we have to bring more dancers in… I was trying to explain this to you the other night,” Reinhart continues (touché, dance manager), “is that you don’t want to have too many customers to too few dancers or too few dancers to too many customers. Right now, we have the right ratio. Eventually, the club can support itself. If we hadn’t had you girls in Houston this week, we wouldn’t have had as many customers. The customers who come in now will make the club flourish and grow, but first we need the right amount of girls. In the long run, it’s going to help the Houston dancers.”
It’s a balmy night at the Bucks Wild in Houston. I preen, stretch and shake on the blinking stages into the wee hours along with other dancers who work through the slump. My body works harder than I approve of, and I’m not making bank — not even a wreck (dancer terms for thousands and one thousand, respectively), but I’m also part of a larger effort on behalf of the public to soften the impact that Harvey has had.
I’m not exactly in heroic form as I sweatily sneak backstage to dress into normal clothes and interview Shakespeare Harris.
“I know of a lady,” he says. “Her house flooded and her boyfriend came to check on her. In his efforts to make sure everyone was okay, a live wire came off of one of the houses, lit the water, and electrocuted him. He was killed.”
Suddenly he must attend to business. One of the dancers is making a minor scene. He firmly observes as the situation de-escalates. When he’s ready, Harris turns back to add:
“Where my heart is really broken is not only for that family, but being that the storm put our city in such a disarray, and though so many have died to help and give relief, but yet… when you’re self-employed, it puts you at such a disadvantage that you don’t get to volunteer as much as you want (so that guilt gets in) because you still provide for your family, and though the utility and car bills are being put on hold, you still need food, you still need shelter.”
While we’ve witnessed our overwhelmed government struggle to manage the mess left by Harvey to be enthusiastically congratulated by President Trump, businesses and individuals have continued to unselfishly help the area heal. Perhaps it’ll take a lot more than importing pretty ladies from a nearby metro, but if a lively club is truly any indicator of how an area is doing, then it would seem that things are indeed looking up. As Dallas-based dancer *Moscow put it last Friday night:
“This was my best time in Houston yet!”