Friday, May 24, 2024 May 24, 2024
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Cover Story

119 Reasons Why We Love Dallas – No. 118

photography by Elizabeth Lavin

Because Mexican Immigration Means a Beautiful, Chaotic Blending of Cultures—and, also, Lovely Girls in Bikinis Hawking Beer

photography by Elizabeth Lavin
There are lots of things I love about this place: I love a taco as much as the next guy. Weaving through the steady bus traffic to and from Guanajuato, I’ve cruised Jefferson Boulevard and been knocked back by the blues and oranges of its spectacularly colored storefronts. The Latino Cultural Center, another wonder of chromatic imagination, is a highlight of my neighborhood. And had the palefaces from the Trinity River Project not already gotten their way, I’d be all for re-dubbing Industrial Boulevard whatever the César Chávez Task Force wanted to call it. Tejano music moves me—not that I know a lick of Spanish. Fiesta is my grocery store of choice—well, when Whole Foods, Central Market, and Elrod’s Cost Plus are closed. And against the protests of my GP, I’ve loved every last kernel of that cardiac-arresting corn concoction served up in Styrofoam cups by Latino street vendors.

Still, of all the thrilling flavors and infusions brought to Dallas by its vibrant population of Mexican immigrants, the spice that excites me the most is—forgive me, sainted pioneers of Teatro Dallas—the bikinied beer girl. You know, the Latina lovelies who, from their poolside and sidewalk perches, act as live bait for the Bud Light crowd forking over its day wages at drive-thru beer barns like Fuel City and Seven Express. And who are just plain pleasing to the eye for the rest of us.

Woody Allen quipped that the only cultural advantage Los Angeles has over Manhattan is the ability to make a right on red. Dallas’ bawdiest lifestyle edge is a traffic liability. It’s not so much the truckloads of firefighters who slow traffic long enough to lend their civic support with a blast of their air horns to these icons of enterprise and hard work. It’s the careening oglers who make a mess of things. Across from the Seven Express on Greenville, one salivating rubbernecker plunged his car into the median and jackknifed a lamppost.

In North Dallas, at the intersection of Webb Chapel and Storey Lane—where, in a staggeringly strange and public display of girl-on-girl action, warring teams of beeristas go head-to-head for drive-by business at the neighboring and competing AsPs and Seven Express booze huts—the wreckage is less about cars and more about sensibility fender-benders.

Three years ago, a group called the Association of Residents of Bradford Estates managed temporarily to suppress the family-valueless tactics of these businesses—which, in a fascinating twist, aren’t Latino-owned but largely operated by Koreans. The association’s president, Sharon Boyd, was at it again last summer, prompted, in part, by the even more lewd salesmanship going on down the block, on Northwest Highway, at a shed called the Palms Beer Express.

John Benda, the ebullient owner of Fuel City, prides himself on showing at least some restraint. His beer girls—who sit poolside on Fridays and Saturdays, near the drive-thru of his sprawling, all-purpose “ranch” in downtown Dallas—wear bikini tops, but hot pants are a no-no. “I wouldn’t let my daughter do that!” he says. Nor does Benda conspicuously exploit the Mexican community (which makes up the bulk of his clientele) by limiting his hiring to enticing Latinas. “I’ve had African-American girls, Anglos,” he says. “Whoever I can find! These girls aren’t too reliable.”

At a time when the immigration wars are reaching a new peak, rising joblessness has refocused the spotlight on undocumented workers (who, it’s estimated, count for one of every 10 Dallas residents), and, locally, the English-language resolutions of Farmers Branch and Oak Point have inspired similar legislation in Lewisville and growing anti-Latino sentiment in general, these beer babes could make for easy targets.

But here’s the truth about it: each of them is certified by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and, as such, a proven American citizen. When the weather goes south, these girls make as little as $40 for a typical nine-hour shift. (Many of them are—illegally—unsalaried, and work only for gratuities, typically a dollar per customer served.) Harassment from tip-waving patrons is so routine that muscle is sometimes required. At the Seven Express on Greenville, the muscle is provided by a manager named René, who, for the purposes of employee enrollment only, keeps a picture of each of his lusty girls in his cell phone.

In recessionary times, there’s good news in this ridiculously simple equation: the summer months are here. Hot weather means beeristas in the bare minimum. The bare minimum means a spike in business. A spike in business means more tips, more girls—and more competition.
Which makes for Sharon Boyd’s nightmare. Word is that, to keep its edge, the Webb Chapel Seven Express is going thong this summer.
My heavens! Bud Light, anyone?