Whenever Josh, a 32-year-old commercial truck driver, passes through El Paso, he usually pulls off the highway and heads to the Red Parrot—a topless bar where he goes to have some human contact after hours by himself on the road. "I'm a social butterfly," he told me. But after the club was shut down for long stretches last year, he tells me, the vibe there has changed. "The main thing that I've noticed is that it's a little tamer," he says. "What was a party is now a library."
Live adult entertainment has been hard hit during the pandemic. Like most non-essential businesses, strip clubs have dealt with closures, social distancing restrictions in place and smaller crowds. But on top of that, federal rules have deemed them ineligible to receive federal aid, like PPP loans. "Nobody is even caring about whether you've gotten assistance," Red Parrot owner Darius Belcher told me, as he described utility and rent bills piling up. "Any day...could be our last day."
I also talked with Jessica Barrera, a stripper at the Red Parrot, who worries about what she'd do if the club shut down. "Other clubs...they don't care about your well-being," she told me. "At least at the Red Parrot, if I fall, they pick me up. I couldn't imagine going and dancing anywhere else."