Four of us were driving in a rental van up to Massachusetts to film four commercial spots in a Hooters in downtown Boston. I only knew one of the other guys vaguely from doing a few of the same stand-up shows. This must have been over twelve years ago. I remember because, at one point, conversation turned to the DC sniper.
One of the other guys, Freddy, said, “They’re going to find out it’s Al Qaida, i’m sure of it.”
“No,” I said. “If it was Al Qaida, they would take credit for it.” This was only a year after 9/11 and I can’t speak for anyone else but it was still very much on my mind.
It was a small production, non-union. But we were being paid. They put us up in some hotel chain 45 minutes outside of Boston and gave us a per diem that we all used to drink in the hotel bar the night before. We drove into Boston early the next day, a Sunday, to film the spots.
The spots were pretty tasteful playing on the juvenile humor (or blatant sexism) inherent to Hooters: it’s the restaurant that features waitresses with big boobies. Each of the spots dealt with men trying to get attention from one of the Hooters girls.
Going to Hooters straddles the line between going to see waitresses with big boobs and going because it’s ironic to be the kind of guy who would go to a restaurant to see waitresses with big boobs. But an honest look at oneself will reveal that there is no line. The experience is one and the same.
Sometimes, while attending my all boys Jesuit high school, we would go to Hooters after our volunteer work. We went in a state of smirking incredulity that we were doing this after coming from a nursing home or a pre-school to engage in one of the mildest forms of rebellion ever. I used to justify it to myself by saying “no, seriously, the wings are great. If nothing else, you can count on Hooters for good wings.”
Hooters, clearly having a sense of humor about themselves, offer on their menu a dozen wings with a bottle of Dom Perignon. So, in college, on a road trip to the Niagara Falls casino, my friend suggested that if one of us hit it big that we go get that special. He cleaned up at the black jack table that night and we went the next day. They actually had to run out and get us a bottle. Perhaps the buffalo sauce pairing or my unsophisticated palate was to blame but the Dom was nothing special. Things aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be.
We arrived at the Boston Hooters early in the morning to start filming.The crew set up the camera and I waited. I got my makeup and then just took advantage of the Dunkin’ Donuts and coffee provided (gotta love Massachusetts). Then the waitresses began to file in. Maybe somewhere in the recesses of my brain I believed that Hooters really could be an oasis of busty women eager to flirt but there’s something universal about watching people get into work. Whether you’re putting on scrubs, coveralls, or a tight white t-shirt and tacky orange shorts, there’s the same resignation to the upcoming hours, the same muted small talk. One woman was there with her husband and baby daughter and if there’s one thing that can make you look at a Hooters waitress differently, it’s seeing her with her family.
We had half of the restaurant to ourselves to film. People piled in. There were men at the bar who knew the waitresses names and flirted with them. It seemed so odd to me that in Boston, with all of the Irish pubs all over town, grown men would choose Hooters as their haunt.
The first ad was a shot of baby who dropped her spoon. You see a waitress’s hand pick it up and say “here you go sweetie”. Then there’s a shot of the floor and spoons start to hit the floor.
My spot was next. Mine was a close-up shot of my eyes darting all around from behind a menu. Then it pulls back to reveal that my menu is upside down.
After I was done, I got to drink beer and watch football and take in the absurdity of getting paid to sit in a Hooters. Occasionally I checked in with the filming to see the other spots.
Freddy’s spot was the toughest. He’s a customer who calls over a waitress just to get her attention and then realizes he doesn’t actually need anything. So, he chugs his water then sheepishly asks, “can I have some more water?” He did the take, like, five times. Each time with a full glass of water.
The day wore on. I drank more beer. I was just waiting to go. Then I noticed a waitress wiping down the tables in her section. Her proportions could only have been described as Bavarian. She was a Hooters waitress among Hooters waitresses, if you will. I remember that she just looked so miserable. Now, it could have been anything. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she just hated her job like many people hate many jobs. But I’ll just go ahead and project on to her anyway. Maybe, just maybe, she was sick of the little orange shorts and the white sneakers, all of it just because she happened to have big boobs.
And that’s when I realized what it was about those regulars sitting at the bar. It is, in fact, weird to be a regular at a Hooters. But they kept coming back because these waitresses, these pretty women, had to talk to them.
After the last spot wrapped, we loaded up the van and I slept off the afternoon’s beers all the way home.
I got to see the spots eventually but they never actually aired. Apparently Hooters corporate didn’t approve of the them. It was disappointing but I love the idea that something called Hooters corporate actually exists. I guess the guys who filmed them just wanted them for their reel.
I’ve been to Hooters twice in the twelve years since. Both times the wings were disappointing. Hooters doesn’t have good wings, upstate New York has good wings. I had been lying to myself.
And yet somehow, in the face of myths shattered, we go on.