by: Christina Wilkie (Huffington Post)
TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney wasn’t the only person making a crucial stage debut Thursday night. A few miles from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where Romney accepted the Republican nomination for president, Gloria, a willowy 18-year-old with long, brown hair, prepared to take her first turn on center stage at Alibi, a strip club near the airport.
Like Romney, Gloria had a lot riding on her performance — possibly more than he did. She needed money, badly. Sitting at the bar, shivering in a tiny black bikini, the new mother said she had a $400 electric bill to pay this month, plus what she guessed were an extra $400 to $600 in expenses for her and her 9-month old daughter.
A few days ago, she said, she had been fired from another club, The Pink Pony, after another dancer who was accused of smoking in the bathroom blamed Gloria. “I always smoke outside,” said Gloria, who, like others interviewed in this story, would give only her first name. “But they told me not to come back.”
So on Thursday, at about 10:30 p.m. — just as Romney was re-introducing himself to America — Gloria walked into Alibi and introduced herself to the manager, Mike, who liked her enough to let her dance the same night.
With its dark corners, smoky air and peeling brass-painted poles, Alibi was a world away from the brightly lit stagecraft of the Republican National Convention. But inside, the patrons and employees represented slices of America that each party will need to win over in the coming months if they hope to be in the White House in November.
As Gloria took the stage, Angel, a 58-year-old former Air Force mechanic who considers himself a regular, was sipping a Heineken. Obama, he said, had disappointed him.
“I’m a military guy, so I always voted Republican until Obama,” Angel said. “But I believed [Obama] was really different. Now I’m an agnostic, so I don’t think I’m going to vote.”