I have a confession to make. This is not easy, and in writing what I am about to write I fear I may significantly damage conceptions of what you all think of as essentially Me and leave in the wake of those conceptions a polluted shell of a person with whom you would rather not associate. But I have to get this off my chest:
I have been to a Hooters restaurant. More specifically, I have been to three Hooters restaurants.
I immediately regret my decision to use the expression, "I have to get this off my chest," but you must forgive me. I mean, I'm the type of guy who goes to Hooters restaurants.
This indiscretion (or these indiscretions) occurred in July of 2008 and October of 2008. On all three occasions I was accompanied by the same two friends. To protect their identities, I shall call them Bill and Dick. That was a lie. I'm pretty sure they could care less whether or not they are named as willing patrons of Hooters. In fact, Bill may have a collection of Hooters apparel or, at the very least, a frequent diner's card. I mean, this is a guy who bought a signed copy of a Hooters calendar to give to mutual friends of ours on the occasion of their WEDDING (I may have encouraged this). In fact, I'm pretty sure Bill has dated a Hooters girl before. I guess I'm just protecting my identity. Ok, in the interest of accuracy: To protect MY identity, I shall call them Bill and Dick. Better?
Hooters is an interesting place. Somehow, although Hooters is essentially a strip club at which the women never actually disrobe, it has been marketed as a family restaurant. And I have to admit, during all three of my Hooters experiences, there have been actual families dining alongside the gawking men I expected to be there. Maybe it's the fact that it's less sleazy and more tacky; or that the ridiculous outfits, campy songs, and decent wings (seriously, they're quite decent) lend to it an air of all-in-good-fun legitimacy; or maybe it's the best example ever of it-is-what-you-say-it-is. Regardless, I'm not here to deconstruct Hooters and its implications in a feminist sociological construct. I just know that Bill, Dick, and I have been on three different occasions and that on all three occasions, although I reluctantly sulked to the door and muttered under my breath that I could not believe I was about to go to a Hooters, I left with laugh weakened abs and a story to tell.
The first Hooters I ever went to was in West Virginia just inside the border with Virginia. Think about that for a moment:
If you're like me -and if you're still reading this we probably have some similarities- both Hooters and West Virginia set off a slide show of images in your head. Now, If those images were published and if that book of photos became popular and if it became so popular that it spawned a following of similar books such that a new category for those books was created and if those books were sold in your local bookstore, I like to think the label telling you where to find those books amidst the romance novels, history books, and literature would read,"Moonshine Erotica." Just saying. And before you become offended, remember that I was in the midst of this Moonshine Erotica with two of my best friends and that we were not necessarily unwilling participants.
We stopped at the Hooters on a lark. We were on the last leg of a road trip that we did not want to end and we figured story value for stopping at a Hooters was worth the delay in our trip. To be honest, not much of note happened at that first Hooters. Which is to say, nothing surprising happened. Which is to say, all of my preconceived notions (see the previous paragraph) were confirmed. Which is to say, it was hilarious, but in all the wrong ways.
The most notable thing that happened at that first Hooters was the taking of a solemn vow between Bill, Dick, and me that we would stop at every open Hooters we passed on the way home. I know that doesn't sound too terribly earth shattering, but we still had an eight hour drive in front of us (at 3PM) and had to be at our respective jobs early the next morning. Story value makes teenagers of us all.
After a thirty minute drive from Hooters number one, we found ourselves at Hooters number two (also in West Virginia). This Hooters was quite a bit more active even though the dining room remained almost totally empty through the duration of our five hour stop. Yes, five hours. Those five hours produced a series of events and conversations that caused me to wonder if perhaps Bill, Dick, and I were the unwitting targets of a hidden camera show. Bill hula hooped with in the parking lot with our waitress, a ridiculously well endowed college student studying to be a nurse. In an effort to steer our conversation with said waitress away from Bill's amorous proclivities, no doubt heightened from his hula hooping experience, I asked her what kind of nurse she eventually wanted to become. She replied, stone faced, that she wanted to be an RN nurse. A nurse nurse. Ignoring the redundancy of this statement, I followed my initial question with, "When are you done?" I was thinking that since we had already been discussing school she would answer with something along the lines of, "Next spring," or, "Next fall," but was instead answered with sincerity that she would be off work at eleven thirty that night. She seemed even more confused when I explained the true intent of my question and then could not figure out when she was scheduled to graduate. She really tried too. For about four or five minutes she stood next to our table, bit her lip, counted on her fingers, and muttered the names of classes already taken and those left to take. Finally she just threw her hands up and answered, "I don't know. A few years."
Our most rewarding interaction of the evening was with our waitress the nurse nurse and her best friend, also a waitress and suspiciously the only Hooters girl seemingly doing any work. It went something like this:
Bill: So, you're working here to save money for school?
Nurse Nurse: Yeah, but I also gotta buy a new car. Mine's wrecked.
Dick: What happened to it?
Nurse Nurse: It got wrecked.
Dick: Right...but how?
Nurse Nurse: Well, my friend and me were comin' back from a promotion and we were on the Interstate and I wasn't payin' attention because I hate drivin' and we hit a Laz-E-Boy.
Bill, Dick, Me [in unison and quite surprised]: You hit a Laz-E-Boy on the Interstate!
Nurse Nurse [with a horrified look on her face]: Oh ya'll don't worry! No one was in it.
This did it for me. Not only is West Virginia the type of place in which a Laz-E-Boy on the Interstate is not uncommon, it is the type of place where it is in fact so common that a Hooters waitress, noting the horrified looks on our faces, would see fit to explain to us that it was all ok, no one was in the Laz-E-Boy. Still laughing in dismay that Laz-E-Boy fatalities happen with some regularity on the West Virginia highway system, Nurse Nurse's waitress friend walked over to see if we needed anything.
Bill: Nurse Nurse is a piece of work!
Waitress: Yeah, she's my best friend.
Me: That story about totaling her car is unreal.
Waitress: Oh! I was in the car when she totaled it!
Dick: You hit a Laz-E-Boy? On the Intersate?
Waitress: Yeah, but don't worry. No one was in it.
Mercifully for us, by the time we left Hooters number two every other Hooters we drove by had long since closed. Our conversation for the rest of the trip was limited, each of us regretting staying at Hooters so long, but also no doubt mulling over the evening's happenings and keeping a keen eye out the windows of the car for rogue living room furniture and those unfortunate souls who might be occupying it. It would take a few months of recovery and an invitation to a wedding in South Carolina for Bill, Dick, and me to be reunited with the Hooters franchise. Staying in a beautiful resort town on the ocean, we had numerous respectable choices when it came to dining, but, as story value was now back in play, we opted for a Hooters just off the highway.
Parking in the nearly empty lot of the restaurant and repeating my usual hushed objections to eating at a Hooters, I felt naked and branded by the cold stares I imagined coming from the passing cars in the heavy traffic behind us. Bill and Dick laughed, shook their heads at my self-consciousness, and reminded me that in a matter of moments I would be laughing and carrying on just like I did at the Hooters' in West Virginia.
As it turns out, Hooters in South Carolina is hauntingly similar to Hooters in West Virginia. Who knew? Realizing this, I began to wonder if "story value" was just what we said to make ourselves feel not-so-dirty when in actuality we enjoyed Hooters, even would have picked Hooters over any other restaurant in the city. I Was still contemplating this and what it said about me on a basic level when I snapped to and realized Bill was buying a Hooters calendar. Not only was he buying a Hooters calendar, but one of the girls at the restaurant was in the Hooters calendar and she and the other girls were signing it. At this point, Bill told the waitresses that we were in town for a wedding and that the calendar was actually going to be a gift for the lucky couple. No one seemed surprised by this, and after the waitresses were finished cooing they unblinkingly asked for the names of the soon-to-be-married so they could scrawl well wishes throughout the months of the calendar.
After they were done, I thumbed through the calendar to see what had been written and came across it in October. Scrawled across the oiled breasts of a Hooters girl on all fours:
Carl and Shannon
Huggs n' Juggs!