Last week, David Williams reported on one of the stranger sporting events in recent memory: the recent F1 Grand Prix race held in Austin, Texas, a very expensive excuse to bring the global leisure class to the most deliberately understated city in our most overstated state. Here, our sports/stripping correspondent "Bubbles Burbujas" offers her view of Austin's inaugural F1 weekend from inside the strip club.
Having a Formula One Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, as we did the weekend before Thanksgiving, seems roughly as strange as having a Euro Cup football tournament dropped into the middle of Texas. That is, it's really, really strange.
This sport, so popular internationally, barely registers in the U.S. in comparison to NASCAR, and the most prevalent reaction by locals to its inaugural visit to Austin was yet more bitching about traffic. A major sports event is a major sports event, though, and I figured some of that tourist traffic was bound to spill into Austin's strip clubs. This wasn't a Super Bowl, so traveling dancers didn't flood the city; nor, for that matter, did traveling prostitutes, as is never the case, contrary to the projections of the reliably alarmist sex-trafficking task forces. Just one of the many peripatetic dancers I know mentioned she might come to Texas to work F1 weekend, and she's from Montreal, the only (other) North American city with an F1 race. Other than her, no one seemed to be interested in coming to Austin to work during this event, so it seemed like the bump in business might be more on the order of that seen during South by Southwest or University of Texas home games. That was not the case.
Instead, it was pandemonium: standing room only, waits for VIP seating, lines out the front door to get in. This was no Tampa RNC-style letdown. This was the opposite, stripper Christmas come early. With so many of the visitors coming from foreign countries, I figured that many would skip strip clubs altogether. Anyone who's done even the smallest amount of fun international travel knows that the brothels/red light districts/sex shows/“strip” clubs of other countries make our repressed asses look like—literally in the case of topless bars—a day at the damn beach. Few other cultures can understand how or why there are places in which naked women dance that are not also brothels. Which is a fair enough confusion, if also one that means they are unlikely to be great customers at those places.
But there were enough, thanks in large part to a country that's a little bit like us in the sexual-repression department—England. A ton of Brits came to the race and to the club, as did well-heeled visitors from Mexico City, who are familiar with the way U.S. strip clubs work. It was so exciting to see that the finely tuned geographical profiling I use on Americans also translates to international usage! I'm not going to rag on any particular country, for fear that they'll get drunk and fight like Protestants and Catholics, but there were also definitely some kinds of French-speaking North Americans you didn't want to deal with.
It was a great deal of fun to ask people in the club for explanations of F1 racing. The question elicited answers from “It's guys in little cars going around really fast. Whoever finishes first wins” to a thorough, enthusiastic explanation of teams, points, and championships—complete with a slideshow of the photos he'd taken at the track—from the sole local fan I spoke with. Everyone complimented Austin while marveling at how little the town seemed to know or care about the event. On Sunday, when the corporate crowd who'd been working all week came in, a group of Vodafone guys sat by one of the stages glancing over at the bar. I stopped to talk to one, and while I was dancing for him he said, “See that guy over there, he is so well-known, he could never be out like this in another race city without being mobbed.” He went on to say “It was a great track, a wonderful exciting race, everyone loves Austin, wait until Austin catches on.” Catching on would presumably mean an end to drivers (and other wealthy young men) popping into titty bars.
And that would be a shame, because an event like this offered such a great opportunity to watch the leisure, managerial, and servant classes collide. Both strippers and drivers are making a living from being able to entertain a high- and lowbrow crowd. F1 certainly appeals to the leisure class more than the tawdry entertainments of strip clubs, which cater more to the managerial and working classes, but both offer opportunities for the respective classes to behave aspirationally or to slum it, as their station warrants. Surely the real big money visitors of the weekend stayed cosseted in luxury hotels, attending private parties where the only strippers in attendance were those savvy social ones who either hung out with the right coke dealers or had customers who knew Red McCombs.
Again, though, it all ends up in a very strange place. Talking about the effects of a Formula One race on the strip club landscape feels as strange—as deeply off and wrong—as talking about its effect on Austin. Even though we know the answers to the questions, the questions themselves just don't look right.
How, again, did all these flashy guys end up out here at the nudie bar? (Boners.) How did this race end up in the Texas Hill Country, of all places? (Money.) Everyone needs to be entertained and (almost) everyone needs to earn a living, and a number of us do the former for the latter. Here in the servant class, it paid out for those of us in the event's path. This held true across the service industry: On Sunday when I told a waiter from a fance downtown restaurant that Mexican and British nationals had been my best customers, he said that was exactly his experience at work, where he'd broken sales records all weekend. He didn't say whether the Irish asked him for blowjobs.