By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
When we arrived, Jazmin was already hard at work sitting under an umbrella and wearing playfully unbuttoned denim shorts that showcased her various tattoos, most noticeably the joker's mask that stretched down her left thigh. I'd obtained a tasteful black one-piece for the occasion, but Kaitlin went the Lolita route with polka-dotted bikini bottoms, pink kitten heels and an orange triangle top.
The pool girl is a vital part of the Fuel City aesthetic, providing "a little something for the guys to look at" when they come through the store, in Benda's vision. "They get some beers, and they get to see some pretty girls." Ours was a task vital to the continued success and laid-back aura of Fuel City. So the three of us started off with a little light waving, Kaitlin in her dots, me in black and Jazmin in ink, all secured safely in the pool area behind an iron fence.
After a few minutes, Jazmin wandered into the parking lot, where a Hispanic guy in a cowboy hat had been setting up a little black trailer with multi-colored disco lights. She returned with a blue binder. The trailer was equipped with speakers for Tejano karaoke, and the man in the cowboy hat wanted us to sing.
"Then we won't be in the cage anymore!" Kaitlin exclaimed, gesturing to the fence that stood between us and cars full of Fuel City patrons. But once you're standing nearly naked in 100-degree heat in a parking lot in the middle of a major American city, you lose the right to act shy, coy or anything other than extremely enthusiastic.
While the Tejano man searched for our selection, Elvis' version of "Hound Dog," two teenagers sipping big, sweaty cups of Coke walked up to the fence with the kind of confidence people have approaching the lion cage at the zoo because they know there's a barrier in place. One of them was clicking away with a digital camera. For a brief moment I was tempted to lay into the kid about whether or not it was appropriate to just walk up to a woman and take her picture like she might be some kind of exotic animal on display, but then I realized I was standing next to a pool in a gas station in a swimsuit, and I was supposed to be acting sexy for the visual enjoyment of the heterosexual male customer base.
"How old are y'all?" the shorter one drawled, his straw half in his mouth.
"I'm 23," I said, and the boys looked a little crestfallen when Kaitlin said she was all of 22. I wasn't sure if they wanted us to be older or younger. "How old are y'all?"
"We're 14," said the taller one, pointing to their chests, which they puffed up, probably unconsciously, for effect. Their names were Randy and Josh, and they were up from Waco, with Randy's dad, planning to go to the monster truck rally in Fort Worth that night. The boys made an excellent audience for our "Hound Dog" performance in the parking lot, where Kaitlin and I displayed for all to hear why we'd wisely chosen journalism over singing careers.
As we finished, Randy's dad walked up with a sack full of tacos. "These boys just got their hormones, you know," he explained from beneath a wiry, bushy goatee and red, white and blue baseball cap.
"I'm Rufus," he said, shaking my hand. Of course he was. Of course Rufus was from Waco and on his way to the monster truck rally. Men named Rufus wouldn't be caught dead anywhere else. As they headed back to the car, Rufus called out, "You just made these boys' day!"
A half-hour later we were making grown men's days out by the drive-through, asking to put bumper stickers on cars before they drove away, heavy with cases of Bud Light, Corona or Coors stuffed in next to fancy sound systems or baby car seats. Much of the time, those baby seats were occupied, and I tried to act family-friendly in my swimsuit and platform wedge heels. No easy task considering some of the looks we were getting were something far, far from G-rated.
One such gazer pulled up in a teal sedan, winking and waving at us while his toddler daughter emulated him from the backseat. Instinctually, I waved back and smiled at the little girl who giggled and grinned even bigger. I was struck with a premonition.
Ten or 11 years down the line, that little girl might be standing in front of her bathroom mirror, wondering why she was so obsessed with makeup and always looking pretty to get attention from boys. And she would have no idea that, years before, she'd sat in a car seat and watched her dad make winky faces at women in swimsuits. Would we be responsible for lowering delicate self-esteem 10 years into the future?
Giving the little girl my best Hollywood smile and pageant wave, I whispered, "Oh God, don't aspire to this." There was a tirade welling up inside me about the objectification of women, and how we were aiding the denigration of female sexuality, merely bowing down to the male ideal of what defines sexy. But nobody there wanted to hear a tirade; they just wanted to hear a reasonable total for their order and a friendly "Hola!" from a girl with no pants on. And so I shut up and waved and said "Hola!" with no pants on.