SEXES

A wash on the wild side

MICHAEL ROSE May 23 1988
SEXES

A wash on the wild side

MICHAEL ROSE May 23 1988

A wash on the wild side

SEXES

From the outside, the one-storey grey building looks like dozens of other run-down garages in Montreal’s working-class east end. In fact, the building, which sits between a narrow alley and a bar on Montgomery Street, houses a car wash. But it attracts so much business that there are often half a dozen or more cars lined up outside the unpretentious structure, waiting to get in. The reason: its attendants are scantily dressed women who soap down cars to the strains of blaring rock music. A small pink sign over the doors announces that the establishment is Lave Auto Erotique—Erotic Car Wash. Said co-owner Jacques Mailhot: “Topless bars and erotic clubs always do well in this city, so we saw no reason why an erotic car wash wouldn’t be a success.”

The car wash is the latest addition to Montreal’s already broad array of erotic—and controversial —business ventures. Among them are strip shows and so-called peep shows — which allow customers to look at, but not touch, nude or seminude women. Sex-show impresarios say that their establishments provide a harmless outlet for sexual desire. Still, many people condemn them as openly pornographic.

When the Erotic Car Wash first opened on April 1, some residents of the area complained about the increased traffic and objected to the fact that local children clustered in front of the doors, trying to get a glimpse of the attendants. But the controversy subsided after the owners told the young women to retreat to a dressing room during lulls in business. Since its launch, however, traffic has been heavy, with 60 to 75 drivers pulling in on most days for the $12, 10-minute service.

Still, other provincial communities have toughened their stance against the growth of similar establishments. For many Quebec City residents, the final straw was the opening in March of Joli-Corps—Pretty Body, a club that has booths that surround a small rotating stage where a naked woman performs an erotic dance. For $35, men may enter a booth and watch the dance in private for about 20 minutes.

In response to residents’ complaints, city authorities recently ordered a 160-day moratorium on new licences for so-called erotic spectacles until after public hearings, scheduled to take place last week, are completed. Said Communications Services information officer Yvan Lépine: “We

felt we had to step back and look at the situation before it got out of hand.” Still, Joli-Corps director Pierre Gagnon said that although his business prohibits sexual contact, most customers leave satisfied and with a desire for nothing more than a cold beer.

Drivers pulling into the Erotic Car Wash are forbidden to leave their vehicles or have any direct contact with the attendants. A team of two to four young women — dressed in anything from shorts and halter tops to bikinis—swarms over the car, soaps it, then rinses and dries it with chamois cloths. Some dance to the rock music, and some press

their bodies against the windows. Attendants report that customers frequently make sexual propositions. Despite that, the owners say they have experienced little difficulty in hiring staff, who earn from $100 to $125 a day, including tips. Said Sylvie Forand, 18, who has worked at the 24-hour car wash since mid-April: “We just ignore that stuff when it happens.”

Meanwhile, Montreal police and morality squad members are monitoring the car wash to ensure that its operations do not violate obscenity laws. Uniformed officers also stop by regularly to check for disturbances, but so far they have reported no incidents. Said Joclynne Lévesque, 29, an attendant and former barmaid: “It’s better working here than in a topless bar. There are no fights and there’s just a lot less trouble.”

The owners say that they are so pleased with their initial effort that they are planning to introduce a ladies’ night and one for homosexual males. On those occasions, men wearing very little will wash customers’ cars. The owners also say that they soon plan to open similar car washes in Ottawa and Quebec City. But said Cyndra MacDowall, a feminist artist who has taught in the department of women’s studies at Montreal’s Concordia University: “Frankly, I wouldn’t want to have a half-naked man lolling about on my car.” To some people, the appeal of voyeuristic sex shows is clearly a question of taste.

LISA VAN DUSEN

MICHAEL ROSE with LISA VAN DUSEN in Montreal