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Hooters Air: a mind boggler

By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 4, 2002

Say it ain't so, Joe.

Say it ain't so, Joe.

Okay, it's no Black Sox scandal, and nobody who was involved was named Joe, but when I heard the news that Hooters' bid to buy an airline had been rejected, I felt like the little kid talking to Shoeless Joe Jackson outside an Illinois courthouse in 1919, and it just seemed to fit.

Just when I was looking for something to brighten the otherwise increasingly dismal prospect of air travel, I had my hopes dashed last week when Hooters' bid to buy bankrupt Vanguard Air was rejected as "inadequate."

And, for the record, I personally have never been rejected at Hooters as "inadequate," but it's probably only because in my recent single days I never came on to women the age of my granddaughter.

My pal and colleague Tom Zucco had some fun with the proposition, so to speak, when the offer was first made, but he chose to see the humorous side of Air Hooters while I, as usual, will remain the staid and conservative voice of reason.

And no, if it kills me, I will not do any flotation device, implant, or "Beer, wings or me?" jokes, nor will I refer to my horrors of the possible gross indignity of being patted down by Hooters employees simply because I uttered the word "nuclear," aboard an aircraft.

Actually, Hooters and airlines have something in common in the more serious arenas of gender discrimination.

Remember "stewardess?"

Yeah, that one, the word that gets you the frosty look from the folks, now both men and women who will inform you that they are now, "flight attendants."

Actually the airlines wanted to keep them stewardesses, claiming that travelers preferred it that way, but a government crackdown on discrimination paved the way for equal opportunity in the friendly skies.

Hooters, on the other hand, still has its Hooters Girls (back off, feminist friends, that's their title, not mine) and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission has backed away from an initial decision requiring the "breastaurant," chain to hire male as well as female waiters.

In the forefront of that movement, incidentally, was a lawsuit filed by a Pasco man who later settled with the chain.

I, frankly, was a little amazed that the EEOC let itself get sucked into Hooters' superb publicity and marketing machine by taking the case and devoting scarce resources to it rather than to hundreds if not thousands of other genuine complaints.

I always thought that the best way to handle that case would have been to hire the men, require them to wear the same uniform and, as their female counterparts do, survive on the tips that they get for lugging heavy trays of food and beer. Market demographics would have accomplished in short order what months of bureaucratic hassling couldn't.

Hooters Air would have resulted in an almost metaphysical battle between form and function as federal officials would have begun an entirely new dialogue on where entertainment ends and air safety begins.

And, although most of my feminist friends have grudgingly accepted the rights of restaurants to name themselves whatever they want, a restaurant is one thing. A 747 with "More Than a Mouth Full" on it and a front-end paint job that someone (besides me) would eventually have to think of, might just push them over the edge.

Again, economic forces might have proven the deciding factor. More women than ever before are flying on business, and male fliers would still have to turn in expense accounts that, if they bore the slang name of any female anatomy, might not be the kind they would want as an exhibit in their company's next discrimination lawsuit.

This whole naming thing, as you might have noticed, is kind of sensitive hereabouts, anyhow. Not everyone was thrilled with the St. Petersburg Times' recent purchase of naming rights for what is now the St. Pete Times Forum and with a subsequent move by another well-known Tampa business figure to rename a streetcar station after one of his better known ventures.

I guess we can be thankful that Joe Redner can't afford an airline.

Can he?

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