Two (Not Very Glamorous) Nights in the Life of the Bud Girls
by MATTHEW LEISING
WAS MY VISION FOR A NIGHT WITH THE BUD GIRLS: amid a packed and smoky bar, a
bar full of beefy college-age guys in flannel shirts, their cheeks red with
drink, the Bud Girls would float, smile, and offer conversation and innuendo
to anyone and everyone (there is no prejudice in the mission of beer promotion).
There would be a scene where a drunken fool sprays a Bud Girl with beer, and
I might step in and defend the lady's honor. I found it a good vision, one fostered
by a lifetime of Budweiser indoctrination. There would be glamour and flirting
and the feeling of celebrity.
Boredom had no part in this fantasy.
The Bud Girls walk into the bar with gym bags over their shoulders, one wearing a zip-up sweatshirt. They are unmistakable for their long legs and high heels. They are both brunettes, Danielle maybe 5'7" in heels, Nicole an inch shorter. Danielle owns her own café, while Nicole is a history major at San Francisco State. They wear identical short attention span dresses cut incredibly high. The "dress" is embossed with red letters spelling Budweiser up the right side. They are both 22 years old, very beautiful and visibly nervous. Nicole has been a Bud Girl for a month; she is along tonight to watch and pick up tips and trade secrets from Danielle, a three-month veteran of Bud Girldom.
They are here tonight because of Monday Night Football. The Oakland Raiders are playing the Denver Broncos. A banner hanging over the circular dance floor invites everyone in large letters to "Come Meet the Bud Girls!"
They have collected the raffle tickets they will hand out all night, and are getting ready to mingle. I ask them how they were feeling.
"Very nervous," Nicole says.
"We're on the spot," Danielle says.
I wonder if I am about to see the transformation from everyday woman into Bud Girl, if their nervousness will be swallowed and they'll suddenly adopt the role. I ask them if they become different when they are Bud Girls. "I'm a little more pushy," Nicole says.
any sporting event, there are pre-game jitters when you're a Bud Girl.
But once you're on the field, you get caught up in the action.
I'm at a table watching the Bud Girls make their first lap around the bar. The bar is part of the Burlingame Marriott, which has a huge atrium-like foyer with tall palm trees, landscaped flowers and thick layers of fern. The rooms of the hotel all front on this atrium; the elevators are glass and slide up and down their tracks with a muted clacking sound. A bit of investigative journalism reveals the plants to be real.
The people in the bar are all older customers staying at the Marriott. They are clearly here for the free buffet. Total number of people witnessing the Bud Girls at this point: 18.
The Bud Girls just completed their second lap of the bar. They unsuccessfully persuade a table drinking Coronas to switch to Bud. A few minutes later a Budweiser commercial comes on the seven televisions the bar has.
Well-heeled older gentlemen are engaging in conversation with the Bud Girls, who move very slowly. They saunter and linger over their steps and how they move their arms. It is amazingly seductive. They have both perfected the hair-tuck-behind-the-ear-as-they-slowly-lean-in-to-chat maneuver.
The Bud Girls step out for what I at first assume to be a smoke break. Following like the dogged journalist I am, I soon learn they were just powdering their noses (they assure me they are healthy and do not smoke). How are they feeling now? Nicole explains it this way: as in any sort of sporting event, there are pre-game jitters. But once you're on the field, so to speak, you get caught up in the action. "We have our game faces on," she says.
There is a DJ present. He plays snippets of radio rock and hip-hop during the commercials of the football game. Then he comes booming over the PA, "Oh yeah! Howya doing tonight? We got some $1 Buds tonight, and speaking of Bud we got the Bud Girls in the house! Oh yeah!" This is greeted by a solitary rejoinder of "Oh yeah!" from the back of the bar. Then there is silence. The Bud Girls have completed their third trip around the bar.
The winning raffle ticket numbers are 038, 053, and 041. The lucky holder of one of these tickets wins a Budweiser T-shirt. The winners barely ruffle a feather among the crowd. In the midst of all this, one older customer has to venture out onto the dance floor; under its lights he reads the numbers on his ticket to make sure he's not a winner.
I think I've cracked it. I suppose it seems obvious, but to witness how men react to the Bud Girls in person is to really drive home the point. These women represent the best possible situation for single men sitting alone watching football. They are engaging, they are gorgeous, they are all about beer. No matter what these men like to call their beer of choice, tonight they will dream of Budweiser.
It's getting near half-time. I am trying to convince myself there will be some kind of Bud Girl extravaganza half-time show. It is starting to get to me, the stark difference between perception and reality. The Bud Girls lived for ten years in my imagination as the apotheosis of barroom, heterosexual dating possibilities. The Budweiser they advertised was only a vehicle to get there, you understand; it was the women that made it all magical. Somehow two Bud Girls chatting with a man holding a plate of celery and carrots, a man wearing the kind of pants only grandfathers can, just doesn't live up to my fantasies.
It's one week later and I walk
into Sammy O'Leary's, a pub in San Mateo. It is Monday Night Football again,
the 49ers versus Green Bay. The pub is on a nice street in downtown San Mateo,
part of a swanky shopping district. A sign in the front window of Sammy O'Leary's
reads, "Parking For IRISH Only, All Others Will Be Towed." There are
ten people in the bar when I walk in: seven men, two Miller Girls, and one Bud
Girl, Danielle from last week. She is dressed exactly the same. The Miller Girls
are dressed in shorts, T-shirts, and sneakers. They are short. They are not
Bud Girls and they don't last long.
Danielle has made sure everyone all seven of the men at the bar are drinking Budweiser; it seems like she had some inside information that the Miller Girls were coming and took the pre-emptive strike on her own. My immediate reaction and strange fantasy - catfight! - leaves with the Miller Girls.
She recognizes me from last week and comes over to my table.
"This is really slow," she says.
I ask her if she thought being a Bud Girl was going to be like this.
"Actually, I thought it was going to be way different. I thought it was going to be glamorized, but it's not."
Does she ever feel like an object? "Totally. It's kinda like if it bothered me I wouldn't put up with it, [but] I expected it from the beginning."
She seems to be more at ease tonight. She tells me she likes being a Bud Girl because it's different from what she does during the day. She gets paid $25 an hour for being a Bud Girl. The money goes for "other, little extra things," she says.
Aspirations to goddesshood have never entered into her thinking.
The Bud Girls also make appearances at '49er home games, a different kind of interaction from a bar, Danielle says. Apparently the sun is cruel to the Bud Girls and dark, smoky environs make for better business. "I think in bars it's easier [being a Bud Girl]. Everyone looks good in a bar. During the day at Candlestick it's different. There's pressure."
In the bar there are now six guys, one Bud Girl, me and Monday Night Football. I ask Danielle what her parents think of her being a Bud Girl. "[My mom's] fine with it," she says. "She doesn't know what I wear." Her dad told her that at least she "picked the right brand." She has two older brothers, one of whom she says doesn't like her being a Bud Girl. The word "protective" comes up. As for her boyfriend, he feels OK with her Bud Girldom "Actually, I wish he'd worry a little bit more than he does," she says.
We are up to eight men in the bar now. The bartender is stirring a vat of beans behind the bar. Danielle floats by and tells me it is actually chili he is cooking, and that earlier tonight she came in wearing street clothes, sat down at the bar, had a beer and a hot dog, and then went into the bathroom to change into her Bud Girl dress. The guys in the bar didn't even blink, she says. "It's a good feeling not to be over-objectified," she says.
We are now getting down to the bare bones of being a Bud Girl, the shadow of the image that hides its shame. Most of Danielle's friends don't know she's a Bud Girl. "I'm super secretive about it," she says. At first she doesn't know why she is embarrassed about being a Bud Girl, but then says she worries about the slutty image that comes from being in a bar dressed as scantily as she is. But she is thick skinned. "I wouldn't not do it, but I wouldn't do it in my hometown. I'd be pretty embarrassed if anyone I knew walked in." She says she would like to keep promoting Budweiser in this fashion "as long as I can. As long as I don't get fired." She will tell her future children, she says, that their mother was a Bud Girl.
"God, it's so dead tonight," Danielle says. Her rounds tonight consist of talking to me and going down the bar every ten minutes or so to chat up a sandy-haired man in glasses. She returns from the bar feeling philosophical. "It's all in the name, ya know? 'Oh my God! A Bud Girl!' And it's not that special." I'm trying to console her: me, in the bar, consoling a Bud Girl. The bartender gives the pot of chili another stir.
"What time is it?" Danielle asks me.8 pm, I say. "Cool," she says, "only one more hour." An older gentleman gets up from the bar and kisses Danielle on the hand before leaving.
I learn that after football season Danielle will put away her Budweiser dress temporarily to become a Sol Girl for soccer season (Sol is a brand of Mexican beer). Danielle is excited about this. "It's cool," she says. "It's more conservative. I wear shorts."
I decide to talk to the man Danielle has been talking to all night. His name's Craig McIntosh. He lives in Sydney, Australia. He's a good-looking guy with sandy-blonde hair. What's his take on the Bud Girls? "I think it's a very consistent image that Budweiser has," he says. "Using good looking women to sell its beer, and they do it well." McIntosh mentions Spuds McKenzie, the Bud pit bull of many years ago who was always flanked by numerous beautiful women. "They do it in style," McIntosh says, contemplating the hype surrounding Budweiser. "It's very subtle marketing, but it's good." He has a bottle of Bud in front of him.
I ask him whether, as a native of a country with a proud beer-drinking tradition, he would rather be drinking something else right now. "If you're in America, you got to drink Bud," he answers. Danielle is down at the other end of the bar, the Monday Night Football Game projected on a big screen TV is her backdrop. She is adjusting her dress as McIntosh looks her way and says, "especially if she tells you to."