It’s a Sunday evening, early last December, and the Walmart is out of bread. Ten feet of shelves sit empty between the tortillas and the crackers, holding not so much as a single loaf of store-brand white. There’s still some cereal, but mainly off-brands. This is the only Walmart that I’ve seen with empty shelves outside of hurricane season on the Gulf Coast. It’s also the only one in the country that had to ban RV parking in its parking lot — so many people were living there, regular shoppers couldn’t find a place to park.
Four years ago, my traveling stripper/escort friend Tara made a guy pay for her services in gift cards from this store. The only accessible ATM in town was broken, and it was a Sunday, so they had to wait until noon for the store to open because of the local blue laws. It’s to her credit, or all her fault, depending on my mood, that I have to shop here at all, because this is the best option for buying groceries on a Sunday night in this flat, charmless, remote town.
There are gentlemen’s clubs and there are strip clubs, and the differences can be huge. A gentlemen’s club has a DJ, VIP rooms, bathroom attendants, and a dress code for the customers and the dancers. A strip club might have a jukebox and stackable chairs, and share a bathroom with the Mexican restaurant next door. I’ve made plenty of money in gentlemen’s clubs, but strip clubs have always been more fun. Whispers is a strip club. The first time I walked in and saw the carpet — a black light-reactive repeating neon mud-flap girl pattern that looks as if it should be upholstering the back of a shaggin’ wagon — I knew I’d found the right place, even if the stage was just a corner of linoleum-tiled floor bounded by low countertops. You could just tell that this was the kind of club where dancers might occasionally wear flip-flops or cowboy boots on stage and where an ankle monitor or extra pounds wouldn’t keep a friendly dancer off the schedule.
It’s not the charm that brings dancers to Whispers, though. We’re in Williston, North Dakota, because oil companies are here working to extract the abundant natural resources of the region, and to do so, they require many men to work for them. Female company is far less abundant than the petroleum resources of the Bakken Formation. It is mobile, though, so here we come, the next sign of a boomtown after the oil and the men.