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TMZ flickers on mute as her five dogs howl. Sitting crisscross on her couch, she unzips a Sexy Sarasota girls bag stuffed with year-old stripper thongs. By the time she gets to the bottom of the bag, her couch is covered in ancient bedazzled panties.
There are plenty of relics from her nights as a dancer, but nothing from her stint as a hot dog girl. In the early s, ro in St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park and Largo were peppered with hot dog carts staffed by women in T-backs — thong bikinis. Valerie, who left dancing to peddle Italian sausages and sodas, claims she was the first. Once upon a time, the hot dog girls ruled the streets. Baking in the hot Florida sun, they made bank selling sausages on the side of busy industrial ro. The controversial phenomenon lasted just a few years in Tampa Bay, but it was packed with action.
Some say the T-backs were so distracting that they triggered car crashes across Pinellas. Turf wars erupted. Police arrested girls for throwing fists and spraying mace. Later, Valerie would watch as a local radio station hosted a mud wrestling battle over a contested piece of territory. Back then, Valerie was a single mom raising three small children. She was proud to have figured out how to use her strong physique, carved from years as a third-degree black belt, to support her family. The clubs were fun, but she wanted to be her own boss and have her own space. She got a and boiled her dogs right in the cart, underneath a Sabrett-branded yellow and blue umbrella.
Her friends from the clubs soon followed. They set up on ro with good traffic. Hungry drivers on their lunch break and curious Sexy Sarasota girls stopped to see what she was doing. Cars slowed to honk. She made plenty of money from tourists taking pictures alone. For instance, the Miami Times started running classified for bikini-clad hot dog hawkers in the mid s.
These were the days of thong bathing suit crackdowns across local beaches. Florida Gov. Bob Martinez approved a ban on exposed rears in state parks. Sarasota had already implemented a city ordinance banning thongs, resulting in five arrests shortly before that.
One thong-clad hot dog girl set up shop on Hillsborough Ave. So county traffic engineer Gary Tait led an investigative team to find her. He found the mystery woman selling frankfurters in the parking lot of a home improvement store. As more and more hot dog girls appeared, men and women alike screamed at them from car windows. Some whistled and catcalled, while others yelled at them to find some real clothes.
Highway 19 for months. Cindy left for a week to get her cart repaired.
Both refused to leave. After three tense days, a fight broke out. Cindy said she hit Hala in self defense. Hala accused Cindy of dragging her by the hair. They would wrestle in mud. And Valerie was squarely on the side of Team Cindy. There was plenty of smack talking on radio and television broadcasts leading up to the event. Close to spectators came, some from as far as Lake Wales. Valerie, then 27, remembers the matching American flag-themed T-back bikinis her fellow hot dog girls wore in the limo ride on the way to support Cindy.
She was already buzzed on free drinks by the time they arrived. In fact, she sent a bigger, stronger replacement — employee Kathleen Cook, a. The battle consisted of two-minute rounds in the mud. Valerie remembers the girls had to be careful of potential nip slips. Around 8 a. It was slicked with pounds of wet potting soil. A male exotic dancer named Kid Rafael paraded around the perimeter in tiny white shorts and a matching bow tie, holding up s for each round.
Valerie cheered with the crowd on the sidelines as Cindy entered the ring, facing the Macer on her knees. They lurched forward, grabbing each other by the shoulders. Into the mud they slid.
Cindy flipped the Macer over, pressing her down into the ring. The Macer wriggled free. In seconds, each woman was covered in dirt, distinguished only by flashes of hair — dark brown for Cindy, soiled blonde for the Macer. Kid Rafael the dancer got dragged into the fight. Cindy and the Macer squared off again for one last scuffle. This time, Sizzling Cindy emerged victorious. Later, the girls would wake up to red, itchy sores covering their bodies.
Whatever was in the potting soil gave them a rash that left them unable to work for weeks. But spirits were still high at the end of the fight. The girls cleaned up and posed in front of a cart for a photo. In the years to come, things would get harder for the hot dog girls. Valerie says her parents got harassed by law enforcement.
Her children were teased at school. Opponents called the career choice an attack on moral decency. In Palm Beach County, 75 residents mailed photos of women in scandalous bikinis to commissioners. Pinellas County also began to crack down. When a teenage neighbor attacked her elementary school-age daughter, ripping off her shirt on the school bus, Valerie knew it was time to get out. Valerie has always been nostalgic.
And now more than ever, she finds herself reaching for the past. Valerie stayed at the clubs until retiring from dancing in She worked building boats and repairing roofs. Then inwhile she was driving on 54th Avenue, she was hit by a truck head on. She still has side effects from her injuries. She barely sleeps. Sometimes she tries to go to the beach, but mostly she stays at home. Her husband Kevin has been having health problems too.
He recently found out he had colon cancer. Four days after he was diagnosed, he broke his left wrist.
Armed with a waterproof camera that she carries everywhere in a small gold pouch, Valerie takes pictures all the time. When she runs into old friends she used to dance with. When she makes new friends. And soon, she hopes, when she finds her sisters from the hot dog days. Subscribe Manage my subscription Activate my subscription Log in Log out. Regions Tampa St. Letters to the Editor Submit a Letter. Investigations Narratives Pulitzer Winners. Connect with us. About us.
Obituaries Homes Jobs Classifieds. Careers Advertise Legal Contact. Log in. Manage my subscription Activate my subscription Log out. Thong-clad hot dog girls once ruled Florida streets. Where did they go? By Gabrielle Calise. Published Oct. Gabrielle Calise Culture Reporter.
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