In North Beach in 1962 if you weren't 21, you slipped a fake driver's license to the bouncer and hoped to get into the bar. A TOPLESS bar. Two dollars a drink to look at those boobs. But it was worth every penny then: just to look at those boobs. The sins of San Francisco hadn't come yet to Southern California and it was still Forden Fruit. Like borrowing the old man's car in high school and making runs to Tee- . Jay before it got cleaned up, when the Blue Fox was still open. Now, now that you're older, everywhere you go you see signs of the Fruit: the neon TOPLESS, BOTTOMLESS, ALL-NUDE, GO-GO GIRLS. Everywhere.
On Midway Drive, next door to Shakey's, "the family pizza", the In Spot serves its clientele the Fruit. Under a thousand different names, the In Spot sits on a thousand neighborhood corners in Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, and EI Cajon. This one on Midway has all the elements of the neighborhood. go-go bar. The pool tables clacking, the juke box blaring, cigarette smoke and obnoxious music, assaulting the customer, and the girls dancing, knees eye-level with bar patrons.
Surrounded on three sides by the horseshoe bar, the stage has a wall mirror as backdrop, so it looks bigger than it is. The dancing girl sports a green sequinned g-string and top and hair-sprayed red hair. Her wan face makes you wonder whether she is bored or scared or stoned. She moves jerkily to the strains of "Little Egypt", her fingers outstretched and her forearms moving from front to back, back to front, front to back.
When the girls aren't performing, they serve drinks. A dark girl with short hair and a tiny, shiny jacket that comes just below her chest and looks like it was designed for Star Trek talks nervously. She has a very slight Mexican accent, every phrase clipped short. She has danced go-go for five years in Seattle, British Columbia, Portland, San Francisco and here. And she hasn't noticed any difference between the cities. "People are people." And she has no apologies to make. "I'm married and my husband doesn't mind." Another girl with pale skin, long hair, and a black tasseled outfit is obviously much newer to the scene. She is friendly tovisitors, squealing, squeaking, and giggling- with them. "Oh, ex-cuse me!" she squeaks, bumping into two guys. Up on stage she's actually bubbly, and more creative in her choreography, trying to act out the words in Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze". She squats, bends over, winking at the bar customers, and when she gets yells and applause from a table twenty feet away, she claps and laughs in response. She'll learn. On the wall above the table flutters the animated. lighted sign, "Miller/ if you've got the time/ we've got the beer."
The go-go bars downtown are classier. They cater not only to a Navy and blue collar crowd but to petty bourgeoisie and visiting businessmen as well. As soon as one enters the Barbary Coast, at 4th and C Streets, the difference is clear. Red carpeting, softer lights and music, no pool tables, tough bouncers, There_ are two !arg~. semicircular bars-around two stages with a girl dancing on each stage. On a platform connecting the two stages is the Magic Box. At measured intervals during the evening, the performer undresses behind the Box, steps in, and the flashing lights hit her. "You can see her but she can't see out," the waitress knowingly confides to us as we watch the gyrating girl. A-ha.
Lyn, petite and blonde in a brown, polka-dot shift, gives us our drinks and pours out her feelings. "Oh, Ah'm just passin' my time here, a-waitin' for the right man," she sighs. "Ah used to work at the King's Club an' Ah think Ah'm goin' back there. Here ya gotta dance in that Box, no air conditmnin'; ya get all sweaty, your hair gets ruint, there's not enough room to move around in there. And the woman who runs the day shift is so scatterbrained, I don't even know my own schedule. Course Ah've saved lots of money, bought me a home. 'D like to get married 'n have my: baby in two years." Lyn doesn't look like she belongs here at all. Her face is much too delicate, like a sorority girl's; she still has a little sparkle in her eyes. Even though she's been at it for five years, she isn't hard-looking like the others. She says she had quit school in the ninth grade. "You-all students? ... That's nice. I never did like study in' ... Ah'm really glad you-all came in here. You don't get much of a chance here to talk to people like this."
Up on stage a girl was shaking her plump buttocks in the faces of three young patrons. One of them let out a cowboy yell and the black guy next to him laughed. Eventually Lyn came on stage wearing a purple g-string and a purple sash that went from the g-string to her neck. She had said she started out go-go and then she went topless. But she wasn't going to go completely nude. "It doesn't leave anything to, ya know, the man's-uh-imagination." She said she was one of twelve children, her father was an electrician and they lived in Palm City, near Imperial Beach. "Seventeen grandchildren, you should see us at Thanksgivin'," her voice and her eyes went up for emphasis. As she danced her very simple dance, she kept looking beyond the bar and its inhabitants. Every time the door opened, her eyes inspected the new arrivals. She looked very bored. "You'd better be-lieve it! she averred, but she agreed it had been different in the beginning: "Ah felt really good, lived day to day, really enjoying mahself. Now Ah just come in, do mah job 'n leave."
Les Girls, on Rosecrans just off of Highway 8, is another kind of go-go. They make their money from the three-dollar admission charge instead of high-priced liquor. A . logical business, since there are thousands of eighteen, nineteen and twenty-year-olds a few blocks away at the Naval Training Center.
"Really. Look me up in Minneapolis," the earnest young sailor bids good-bye to the cabbie and heads for the door. The taxi driver ignores him, "Yeah, sure," and marks another trip on his ledger. Inside, the bouncer. He is in the Navy, too, but he's older and bigger and tougher than the recruits. "Awright, let's see those I.D. cards," he barks. A shipfitter on the submarine tender Gompers ("I can steel-plate anything"), he moonlights at los Girls. The manager, thin and bearded, says yeah most of the business is Navy ("I don't know where the Marine recruits go"), but they're getting a lot of convention business. Asked about the huge Les Boys sign on top of the building, he explains that it was a female impersonation show but "it didn't go over with the straight audiences." He says he's very cautious about lewd dancing. "The girls can't touch their bodies with their hands or spread their legs more than fifteen inches." But he complained of harassment. "The policemen vent their personal feelings on us."
The lobby was very cheap-looking. Red flock wallpaper and the ugly flourescent-on-black paintings from Tijuana. A girl named Crystal with heavy eye make-up started to argue with the manager about whether she could get a ride in the los Girls bus. The bus apparently is intended only to rotate the dancers between los Girls and two other clubs, the Bedroom on University Avenue and the Showplace downtown. But Crystal wanted a ride. And she pouted by standing face to face with the manager and moving her mascara eyes first this way, then that way, and putting a mad look on her mouth.
Another girl in the lobby with blonde hair, ironically named Taco, gave me the unbelievable line that she liked dancing and when she applied for the job, she thought they just wanted dancers. Was she surprised when they asked her to take her clothes off! Only a little more believable was her story that she graduated from high school in Phoenix at sixteen, came to San Diego ("because it was the nearest place out of Phoenix"), and after frying donuts and sitting babies, she tried Les Girls. The pay was okay, but she didn't like an insulting audience. "I want 'em to watch my dancing, not my body ... I ignore the ones interested in my body." Also, the pay is low: fifteen dollars a night for topless, twenty-five for all nude. "That's a dollar seventy an hour less than the place next door."
Well, why don't you leave Les Girls for the place next door?
"That's a bar, and I'm only nineteen."
The King's Club on Broadway and 4th claims to be the Cadillac of San Diego's go-go bars. Its manager, a young, wiry guy with a gap between his two front teeth and heavily flared sideburns gives the reason: "I shop around. I'm not allowed in the other bars 'cause I rip off the good-Iookin' girls from these places. And we don't allow any rowdy behavior in here." The King's Club seemed to be the most boring of the go-go bars: no catcalls from the audience, no real stripping: a girl just threw off her dress behind a pillar and went to it, no juke box, no Magic Box. As the door opened to let in more visitors, the girl dancing looked at her watch. Two Japanese businessmen sat down at the bar and a waitress bent over, hand on her hip, to take their orders. "Hey, Doris," she yells across the room, "draw two for over here!"
Boring? the question is put to two of the "stolen" girls.
"Well, are you bored in your job, don't you ever get bored?" they answered defensively. "You know, it's hard for a girl to get a job in San Diego, even if she's got college. This is a job just like any other job!"