Life as a Truck-Stop Stripper
In a recent documentary by Vice, two young journalist from Brooklyn NY, went down to Moriarty New Mexico to see what it would be like to be a truck stop stripper for a week. This seems to be an insane story idea, but this is Vice. This is what Vice does.
Natalia Leite and Alexandra Roxo are the two brave and stupid reporters who bring us this astounding story. I say brave because this documentary serves as a valuable window into the lives of people too often shamed into silence, and cast aside by the rest of society. I say stupid because as the story unfolds it is apparent that they did not fully appreciate how dangerous this assignment most certainly was. However, their willingness to place themselves into danger to bring us the voices to this truck stop, and these women who work there, is truly commendable.
The story loosely follows the lives of the people who come and go from the strip club, Club 203. This includes interviews with the strippers, the staff, and even the patrons of the club. It paints a vivid world, lit by flashing lights, and covered in a thin, grimy film. This is perfectly exemplified by Alexandra’s complaints of how unclean the stripper pole was.
You meet many people through out this short film, only a half an hour-long, and despite the short run, the characters become very real, full portraits. The most predominately featured people are naturally the women working as strippers. There are many you meet, from the relative new comers full of practical advice, and the veterans, full of profound insight.
“I actually enjoy it. I want to be face to face with one person, and I want to get in, and find out what’s going on. So you’ll see me looking for guys who really want someone who’s going to give them their attention, which someone may not have done that for years for all I know. There are some of these guys who may have actually never had a real intimate experience with a women and so in that sense I am glad that I am compassionate.” – Daisy, works at Club 203
Through out the documentary, it consistently portrays this world of flashing lights and G-Strings in a such a way that it breaks the dimly lit stereotypes of strippers, and strip club patrons. It does not seem to glamorize or degrade, cast praise or shame. It shows it for what it is; a harsh world filled with people as complex as anyone. It shows the struggles that the women face, such as DJ and bouncer costs, that directly eat into their take home pay, and patrons getting overly touchy with the women.
The patrons, whom would make easy targets to demonize, are shown in a very human light as well. Upon hearing that he had a gun, Natalia asks one trucker if she could see it, and he obliges saying, “Many of the places we go into are not very safe.” This brief scene conveys a moment of empathy for the man, who only moments before had propositioned the reporters to pose topless for a picture… a picture he wanted for his 16-year-old son.
The Real Danger
At times this documentary seems to miss the obvious violence of places like this. Many days into their new occupation as strippers Natalia and Alexandra have not had any events shake them too greatly, other than being dumbfounded at how little it pays. But the viewer inherently knows that this placidity will not be maintained, in large part due to the unnerving tense sound track that accompanies the film.
It is on one night after Alexandra’s first lap dance, when she was inappropriately fondled by a man (who does not posses a civil tongue), that Natalia and Alexandra experience their first real confrontation. The sort of confrontation that strippers everywhere deal with every day of their lives. When telling Natalia about the incident at the club, a man behind the building begins to shout crudely at them. When they tell him to “Fuck off,” he comes after them. He chases them back to their hotel room.
It seems almost odd that this event did not happen sooner. A 1999 study found that 100% of all strippers, out 222 Chicago based erotic dancers, had been physically assaulted at their work. This assault raged from physical assault, attempted vaginal penetration, attempted rape, and rape (Holsopple, 1999) Stripping is a very dangerous line of work. This comes not only in the form of immediate risk of bodily injury, but also in that the legal system and society are not there to help them when they are attacked.
Day and Night
An interesting dynamic that this documentary takes on is the interplay between day light and darkness. The days are filled with shenanigans, shopping, interviews, and meaningful conversations. But the sun sets. The world takes on a new aura, a darker and more antagonistic angle. Suddenly, the patrons that during the day were normal men, become the objects of fear, the pursuers of women behind buildings.
This seems to build to a crescendo during a scene at night when a man, claiming to be a reincarnated 17th century Celtic priest, tells Natalia that he tried to commit suicide after he killed 112 men in Vietnam. But the scene derails into something even stranger when he goes on to talk about how he knows a way to turn any woman into a sex slave by using two pressure points in her back. It is a profoundly disturbing episode in the film. It unsettles you as he seems to fade into the darkness, out of the eerie purple glow of the neon lights.
Another dichotomy worth noting is the one between the environment of the documentary and journalists themselves. Arguably, the differences between being film makers in NY and being a stripper in Moriarty NM, is as stark a difference as day and night. The two women traverse this unfamiliar world, discovering all of the nuance and intricacies that exist there. But at the end of the day they are going home, and this was merely trip for them. They are privileged in that way, and they are there by choice. The other women, presumably, do not have NY apartments to return to. The dangers that exist in that world only needed to be avoided for a short time by Natalia and Alexandra. The other women live that life everyday.
This day and night dichotomy servers a metaphor for the entire documentary. This piece shows you a complex world with shades of light and dark, starkly contrasting each other. Strippers vs patrons, peace vs violence. No one that inhabits this world is clearly defined, no one is fully understood, seemingly even by themselves. The manager of Club 203 says it best when he says, “As we say at the 203 welcome back to hell, it’s a whole lot cooler than we thought it’d be.”
WATCH THE DOCUMENTARY HERE