Plenty in Tampa have said it or at least thought it over the years: mayors and newspaper columnists, city council members and cops, the street preachers who'd picket his business, the television callers who'd threaten his life. But last August this was no longer a question of morality. Joe Redner really was sick.
Redner—strip-club owner, self-proclaimed inventor of the lap dance, First Amendment advocate, and Tampa's most prominent and certainly most vilified resident—was at the annual Gentleman's Club Owners Expo in Las Vegas when a bolt of pain shot through his chest and back. "I thought I was having a heart attack," he says. The pain subsided, then arrived again back in Tampa. The 71-year-old underwent a series of tests and scans. The diagnosis: stage 4 lung cancer metastatic to the spine. Redner didn't tell many people; despite his local celebrity, news of his illness wouldn't appear in the Tampa media until the following April. He didn't want sympathy, and as an atheist he damn sure didn't want prayers. "Praying for me, you're not helping," he says. "You're causing me stress, which is the worst thing for somebody in my condition." That didn't stop those closest to him from showing concern, especially his employees. "All the girls were worried," says Redner's longtime director of operations, Toni Derby. "Every day they'd come into the club asking how he was doing."
* * *
Tonight, Mitt Romney will address the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Tampa is not Mitt Romney's kind of town, mostly because Tampa is Joe Redner's kind of town.
The Tampa Bay Times counts 30 strip clubs in the city. The oldest and most iconic is Mons Venus, opened by Redner 30 years ago this October. It's been name-checked in Wyclef Jean's stripper anthem "Perfect Gentleman" and featured on The Daily Show, 20/20, and various daytime talk shows. From the outside, it looks little deserving of such fame—a squat, windowless hut set back from a busy six-lane highway otherwise lined with big-box stores; amid their towering signs, the small Mons marquee is easily missed.
Inside is just as unassuming: an octagonal stage surrounded by chairs, padded booths along the mirrored walls, a cocktail table or two. There are no cocktails, however—Tampa law prohibits alcohol in full-nude clubs. Instead, waitresses take orders for bottled water, soda, and Red Bull. There's no DJ—the girls play their own songs on a jukebox. There are no private rooms, either, not only due to lack of space but because, as Redner says, "Who the fuck knows what they're doing in those rooms?" Celebrities don't get any special treatment at the Mons. "Shaq O'Neal wouldn't come in 'cause I wouldn't let him in free with his entourage," Redner says. "I figure he makes enough money, let him spend some of it."
The women are the reason for the Mons' renown. In the club's 1990s heyday, before a series of events buckled Tampa's strip trade, it boasted a stable of dancers 300 strong, with 80 or so working each night. They come from as far away as California, New York, Las Vegas, Alabama, and Georgia. Some have worked for a decade or longer, and those who've left for different clubs almost always return.
What makes the Mons such a popular workplace is its laissez-faire approach toward its principal product. A girl can work every night a week or just one. There is no schedule. And provided she retains her looks, she can come back to work no matter how many months or years she's been away, no advance notice necessary: just walk in, hit the dressing room, and hop onstage. The only rules are a three-hour shift minimum; no leaving and coming back; no drugs on the premises; and no customers touching between the dancers' legs.
"It is by far the best place I have ever worked," says Eve Banks, in her eighth month at the Mons after stints at Tampa's Penthouse Club and Manhattan's Rick's Cabaret. "There are no TVs, no liquor, no food, no smoking. There are no distractions. It's all about the entertainment. Aside from that, the management is more like a family. They really aim to make sure the girls working there are happy. They take less money from you than any club I've ever worked at and permit you to leave after only a few hours. Also, they never call to beg you to come into work like I have dealt with at other clubs. You're truly respected as an independent contractor."
Many clubs take a cut from their dancers' earnings; customers exchange cash for house currency, and when the girls exchange it back, the house keeps a percentage. There's no house currency at the Mons. Besides a voluntary tip-out divvied up among the manager, bouncers, waitresses, and cashier, the girls keep every dollar they make—anywhere from $500 to $2,000 a night, according to Derby. ("I never disclose how much I make," says Banks, "but I'd make less if I switched to a porn career, let's just say that!") The house makes its money from the cover charge, plus a minimal amount from drinks.
The Mons also differs from other clubs in its insistence on female managers. "Women are more comfortable around other women," says day-shift manager Lorry Kasner, who started at the Mons as a dancer 26 years ago. "We can see a dancer's point of view a lot better than a man can." Night shift manager Vicki Baham danced at the Mons on its first day of business. She switched to manager a few months later and has held the position ever since. "All the dancers are my kids," she says. "They all call me 'Mom.' I understand if you have your period and have a backache. I understand if your baby's crying at home. I understand if you and your boyfriend are in a fight."
"Men are weird beasts when it comes to a pretty girl," Redner says by way of explanation. "Even more when they have power over them."
The exception, it would seem, is Redner. Though the managers know his taste—"He really likes his girls toned," Baham says. "No pudgy, chunky butts."—they are solely responsible for auditioning and hiring dancers. While he's dated dancers, Redner isn't the sort of strip-club owner who cadges blowjobs on the side, as a perk. "I might be ruining his reputation," says Baham, "but if he likes someone, he'll send them flowers. He courts them like a gentleman."
* * *
Redner was 8 years old when his parents divorced and his mother moved him and his older brother to Tampa. Why she picked Tampa, he isn't sure. She worked as a waitress at a drugstore. He sold newspapers on a street corner. Even at that young age, he questioned the status quo. "I remember shouting out the headlines during the Korean War. And I'm thinking, 'What the fuck are we doing there?'" He was equally skeptical about religion. "My mother was religious. She first went to a Catholic church, then changed to Episcopal, then Methodist. It was at the Methodist church that I received communion for the first time. I expected to have this revelation but I felt no different whatsoever. And the Bible stories never made any sense. I thought, 'This is bullshit.'" Joe preferred movies. He would walk to the downtown theaters every weekend, saving the bus fare his mother gave him for jelly beans. He also played football and was a good enough halfback to be recruited by the head coach of Chamberlain High School. He quit soon after practices began. "They gave me a helmet that didn't fit. It hurt just wearing it. Every time I'd get hit it was terrible. I told the coach and he told me to tough it out so I said, 'Fuck off.'" Football was the only thing he liked about high school. He wasn't a good student. He dropped out two months into his sophomore year.
From then through his early 30s, Redner worked a succession of what he calls "existence jobs." He was a stock boy and a carny. He worked in a can factory and a furniture store. He was a carpenter. He married, had a child, divorced, had another child, remarried. (That second marriage, which produced two children, also ended in divorce.) He drank. He did lots of drugs. "Mushrooms, coke, quaaludes, LSD. I did every drug there was. I was so out of it, I once hitchhiked across the Causeway with coke in my pockets." (A 10-mile bridge linking Tampa to Clearwater, the Courtney Campbell Causeway was once nicknamed "Suicide Alley" for its many accidents.)
Out of it as he may have been, Redner always knew how to work an angle. "When I was 16, me and some friends tried to sign up for the army. They told me I was too young. I said, 'You better take me now cause you're not getting another chance.' As soon as my first wife got pregnant, I went down to the recruitment office and had them mark it on my file. Because they were less likely to draft you if you had a kid. Well, my wife had a miscarriage. Then she got pregnant again—she had that baby. And I went back to have them mark that one in my file. They still had me down as having the first kid. They didn't ask me about it, and I didn't correct them, because if you had more than one kid you were even less likely to get drafted."
His ingenuity would serve him well again in the summer of 1975. Redner was managing a go-go bar called the Deep South, a job he had gotten by doing carpentry for the bar's co-owner. He was a good manager. He'd built more stages, hired more girls, and business was never better. This particular night he was driving home after closing, around 3:30 a.m., when a news report came over the radio. The Supreme Court had ruled on Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville, overturning on First Amendment grounds the city ordinance that prohibited drive-in theaters from showing any films containing nudity. To most people around the country the outcome was of minor significance, if they were aware of it at all; for Redner, it was a landmark decision. If the Constitution protected nudity in movies, he concluded, why not naked dancing, too? "Dance is speech," he says. "It's been speech since the beginning of time. Indians around the campfire. Ballet. Interpretive dance."
The following year, Redner and a bail-bondsman friend opened the Night Gallery, Tampa's first all-nude club. "They weren't the best-looking girls," Redner says, "but they weren't the worst-looking, either." The police raids started almost instantly and continued every day except Sunday and Monday, when the vice squad was off. Here, too, Redner showed his savvy. Rather than arrest one girl at a time, the undercover cops would wait for a dancer to take her second turn onstage, then arrest her and whichever dancers had come in between. So Redner made sure there were always nine dancers working. He'd send them to the stage in shifts of three. When the first shift was taken to jail, the second shift would begin. When those dancers were hauled off to jail, the third shift would begin. By the time that group was taken to jail, the first shift had been bailed out—Redner's partner was a bondsman, after all—and was ready to retake the stage.
It was a costly process, but Redner was making it back and then some. "Customers loved watching the girls get arrested," he says. He even had a sign out front that read: "COME WATCH YOUR LOCAL VICE SQUAD AT WORK." "We depleted the police force of undercovers. They had to use three or four a day." According to the St. Petersburg Times, Redner himself was arrested 36 times that year.
The police changed their tactics—they'd charge in, en masse, and arrest the girls—so Redner changed his, too. He installed a button under the front-door carpet. As the cops approached, the doorman tapped the button. A light flashed inside the club, and any nude girls threw on bikinis. "I think one of the girls must've ratted us out when she got arrested," Redner says. "One night I was working the door and the police came up and one said, 'Step on that button and I'll shoot you.'"
The city refused to grant Redner a full liquor license; the Night Gallery served only beer and wine. After witnessing its success, other bars started featuring nude girls and poaching the Night Gallery's clientele and dancers. That's when Redner came up with the lap dance. Technically, the girls just started doing it, and he merely condoned it. (This was prior to 1978, when Times Square's Melody Theater is commonly credited with introducing the lap dance.)
Redner wasn't worried about its legality. It didn't meet the criteria for prostitution or indecent exposure and, according to a 1976 Florida Supreme Court ruling, couldn't be charged as lewdness. That case involved Pensacola gay bar the Yum Yum Tree, where undercover cops made arrests after witnessing a waiter fondling an amenable customer. The court dismissed the charges, concluding that lewdness could only be such if someone other than a police officer took offense. Redner got another boost from the courts when an Orlando judge issued an injunction against the Night Gallery vice raids, and in 1977 he and his partner opened another full-nude club, the Tanga Lounge. Eventually, they agreed to dissolve the partnership, with the Tanga going to Redner and the Night Gallery to his partner. (They'd paid $300,000 for the Tanga Lounge. In the early 2000s, the government, invoking eminent domain, bought it and a few other Redner-owned properties for a combined $8.4 million. As for the Night Gallery, business dried up and it burned down in a fire.)
While prostitution was forbidden at Redner's establishments, there were several others in Tampa where it wasn't. One was known as the Huddle Lounge, opened in the late 1960s by Tampa sports legend Rick Casares, once believed the top high school football player in the country. At running back, he led the Florida Gators to their first-ever bowl win and was a member of the Chicago Bears' 1963 NFL championship team. A five-time Pro Bowl selection, he still ranks third on the Bears' all-time rushing list, ahead of Gayle Sayers. "Tampa's Joe Namath—football star turned saloon keeper," wrote The St. Petersburg Times in his 1969 wedding announcement.
Yet just the year before Casares had been in the paper under less convivial circumstances. The Huddle Lounge and three other bars along Dale Mabry Highway, then Tampa's nightlife hub, had been raided, resulting in 10 arrests for the procurement of prostitution. Casares was not arrested but the State Beverage Department filed charges against his bar for allowing the activity. He managed to retain his liquor license but sold the Huddle Lounge in the early 1970s. The new owners kept the name—and increased its stigma.
"They had all these circular booths," Redner says. "And there'd be numbers and phones on the tables. But the phones didn't call outside, just to the other tables. If a guy sees a girl he likes, he calls her table and she comes over, and then they would leave and do their thing."
Prostitution and other illegal activity were even more flagrant outside the bar. "A guy would pull up in his car looking for a girl, and as one's leaning in the window talking to him, three more jump in the backseat. As they're pawing at him and distracting him, the girl at the window takes his wallet. She passes it to the backseat, and as she starts distracting him, the other girls get out. Then the first girl walks away. Once the guy realizes what's happened, there's nothing he can do. It's not like he's gonna complain to the cops."
In 1982, the Huddle Lounge finally lost its liquor license, saddling its owners with the most worthless kind of business known to man: a bar that can't sell booze. That was just what Redner needed. The liquor laws were the battering ram the cops used to keep raiding the clubs. The Tanga Lounge was being raided as often as the Night Gallery ever was—first under the aegis of dusted-off 1972 Supreme Court case California v. LaRue, which upheld a state's right to prohibit alcohol sales at adult entertainment venues, and later under the Florida Supreme Court's decision to allow cities to pull the liquor licenses of bars that violated ill-defined nuisance standards. But it was libido, not libations, that drove business. After the Tanga lost its liquor license in 1982, business would improve, as customers were better behaved. (At the Mons, Kasner says, she's never seen any kind of fight in her near-three decades of employment.)
Redner bought the Huddle Lounge for $365,000—$5,000 down and $3,000 a month for the next 10 years. (Eventually, he'd be making seven times his monthly payment in a single night.) The club needed a new name, and he already had one in mind. "I was reading a porno book, and they referred to a woman's pubic area as the 'mons venus.'" he recalls. "I think they got the spelling wrong, but I thought that was a hell of a name. I said, 'If I ever open another club, that's what I'm going to call it.'" He removed the circular booths and telephones and turned the bar into a stage. He also drove away the hookers and hustlers and pimps out front. A knife was pointed at him more than once.
(Redner was no stranger to violence. Once, a beating at the hands of former Deep South boss and notorious Tampa tough Bobby Rodriguez landed him in the hospital with broken ribs. Redner lost some teeth, too—one of which Rodriguez supposedly wore on a necklace.)
"At first, a lot of people came in thinking it was still the Huddle," Baham says. "'No, we don't do that,' we'd have to tell them. 'We just dance.'"
Redner had done everything right. He'd dispensed with alcohol and put a stop to prostitution. The city still wasn't appeased, and it wouldn't be until nude dancing was abolished outright. To that end, Tampa passed a zoning law prohibiting adult businesses from operating within 1,000 feet of each other as well as within 500 feet of residential or office property. Redner sued and was allowed to keep open the Tanga Lounge and Mons Venus. However, the city ordered he close his newest club, down the street from the Mons. "I said, 'Fuck 'em.'" A warrant was issued for his arrest. He went into hiding. "Where is Redner?" read one Florida newspaper headline. One night, while he was checking in at the Tanga, the club was raided. "I ran out the back door and jumped in my car," he says. "The cops chased after me and pulled me over. One of the cops I knew going back to the early Night Gallery raids. He started searching the car. From the floor, he pulled out a small package of foil. The car was clean. He unfolds it once and smiles. He unfolds it again, smiles. Unfolds it again, smiles. It was empty but I got the message."
Redner served 60 days of a six-month contempt sentence—one of the 150-plus times he's been arrested, by his own count. His trips to jail became so frequent that he sent his second wife to bail-bondsman school. Nearly all the arrests were business-related misdemeanors. In 1983, however, he was busted with cocaine at a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game. Redner's cocaine habit was such that his son, Joey, wrote a poem about it in a college creative writing course. "I had pockets full of money," he says. "And there was always a party. Sex parties. Cocaine parties." For the Buccaneers arrest, he was convicted of a felony and received probation. (He wouldn't have his civil rights restored—including the right to vote—until 1994.) Not long after, he decided to change his life.
"I always had low self-esteem. I never thought I'd get anywhere. Then I saw the potential. Why fuck this up? I wanted to be healthy, live as long as I could."
* * *
You can tell a lot about a man by his bathroom reading. For Redner, it's Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Thomas Paine's Common Sense, Eric Hoffer's The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. The rest of the tiny, two-room house is less revealing; you'd never guess his wealth, which even with the hits to his industry and portfolio stands at roughly $15 million.
"Money and material things aren't what motivate me," he says. "My low self-esteem—I just want to succeed at things."
There's no bedroom. The bed is just inside the front door, in a dining alcove beside the open kitchen. There are few items in the refrigerator besides a take-out container from the Italian buffet restaurant where he gets most of his meals; he fills a carry-out container at lunch, eats half, and saves the rest for dinner. Tacked to a kitchen wall is a flyer showing photos from a fundraiser he organized several years ago for a local children's cancer hospital. The second room consists of an average-sized TV and a dark leather recliner and matching love seat. The bathroom was renovated after he moved into the house in 1992—he gave the larger, waterfront house he'd been living in to his son—but it's been nearly that long since he used the jacuzzi tub. Same with the small pool that takes up most of the backyard. He mows the yard himself as well as the yard of his elderly neighbor.
"How are ya, Joe?" she calls to him from her front walkway as he gets out of his car one recent afternoon.
He calls back: "This getting old's a bitch, ain't it?"
After his coke conviction, Redner gave up drinking and all drugs except for marijuana. He hired a trainer and ran three miles a day and became a vegetarian, which evolved into veganism, then raw veganism. (Every day, he has $30 of fruit placed in the Mons Venus dressing room, and he is sponsoring Team Mons Venus at Tampa's Tough Mudder, an obstacle-course event in December that raises money for the Wounded Warrior Project. For a time, he also kept a University of South Florida drug counselor on retainer for the girls.)
But perhaps the most drastic difference was a newfound studiousness. "I got tired of all these lawyers who didn't know what they were doing," he says. "So I decided I'd learn the law for myself." He sequestered himself in the Hillsborough County Law Library—six to 10 hours a day, every day, for 10 years. "I was the only non-lawyer allowed in on weekends. I got special permission from the head librarian, Bill Wells. I'd be reading one book and there'd be a reference to another book and he'd show me where to find it on the shelves. Sometimes I'd have to read a case 20 times to understand it."
Redner, who never finished the 10th grade and who earned his GED at age 40 while serving a month or so in county jail for a zoning violation, has an autodidact's passion for the law. On his office desk, next to an envelope addressed to "Grandpa Joe"—Redner has 11 grandchildren—is a copy of Florida Jurisprudence: Building, Zoning, and Land Controls, Second Edition, full of yellow highlighting and orange Post-Its. He talks of competent substantial evidence and the difference between a temporary restraining order, preliminary restraining order, and permanent injunction, and laughs when quoting one of the justices in Campbell v. Florida: "Who, in the dark and crowded recesses of the Yum Yum Tree at 2:00 a.m., was offended?" He's also adept at tax law. While he is certainly generous with his dancers ("They love me and respect me," he says, then pauses, choking up. "Sorry, I'm gonna get emotional here. … And I respect them."), their self-employed status—they sign a lease to use Mons Venus—is also good for his books, which are audited not infrequently. Once, during court-mandated drug counseling, the counselor asked which three people he most admired. "I said, 'Supreme Court justices Brennan, Marshall, and Douglas,'" Redner recalls. "The counselor says, 'I've been doing this 20 years and I've never heard anything like that.'"
His toil in the library was rewarded. He'd attempt to open a new club. The city or county would stop him. He'd sue—winning over the years more than $1 million in damages.
Adding to his credentials as a First Amendment crusader was First Freedom, the weekly public access television call-in show he co-hosted with his lawyer, Luke Lirot, from 1990 through 2009. Topics included the censorship of rap music, the prejudices faced by adult entertainment industry professionals, the efficacy of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, the immigration woes of professional hockey player and drug offender Bob Probert, the fate of Haitian refugees, and the legality of bungee jumping—and that's just one hour-long episode. His appearance in the show's early years didn't exactly belie his smut-purveying persona: slicked hair, thick mustache, tinted glasses, gold necklace, half-unbuttoned shirt tucked into stonewashed jeans. In a biopic, Redner could only be played by Jeff Bridges. The two sound almost identical, and Redner shares The Dude's breezy demeanor, even when confronted with callers' death threats.
One of the few things he refrained from discussing on First Freedom was Mons Venus. He didn't want the show to come off as an advertisement. Besides, he hardly needed the publicity. The Mons was booming in the '90s. According to one St. Petersburg Times article, the club raked in $170,000 in December 1990. That was when the cover charge was $8. "I used to go to New York and see what the porno theaters were charging," Redner says. "They'd raise their prices, I'd raise mine. Whatever I charged, it wasn't a problem. People paid." (It's held at $20 since Tampa hosted Super Bowl XXV in 1991—except for service members, whose admission and first lap dance is complimentary. A lap dance is negotiable between $20 and $30.) The fire department was often called to investigate complaints of over-capacity. "It was wall-to-wall back then," he says. "But I never fought a legitimate public safety law. I always abided fire codes and occupancy rules. And the fire department were more sporting than the police. They'd come and inspect in the afternoon when it wasn't so busy." A good Saturday night was $24,000. In February 1999, the St. Petersburg Times put the Mons' annual profit at $2 million.
That would prove to be a turbulent year for Redner. In March, he lost a bid for city council. (He's run for public office eight times, and lost all eight.) In September, the council, led by his election opponent, proposed a nude-club ordinance mandating a six-foot distance between customers and dancers, thereby banning lap dancing. The ordinance was directed at several strip clubs engaged in prostitution. "Joe's clubs were fine," Tampa mayor Dick Greco was quoted as saying in a 2011 Cigar City Magazine article. "The police probably never would have said anything to him if he kept allowing lap dances had he not turned it into such a big issue."
But that's just what Redner did, organizing petitions, hiring lobbyists, buying full-page newspaper advertisements, even commissioning an economic study that showed Tampa strip clubs accounted for some 6,000 jobs and $110 million annually. Citizen groups in support of the ordinance were just as vocal, with petitions and ads of their own, and it wasn't long before the national media descended, including The Daily Show and Anderson Cooper for 20/20. The Dec. 2 vote meeting was expected to be such a circus that it was moved from City Hall to the Tampa Convention Center. More than 2,000 people turned out. With nearly everyone eager to speak, the meeting stretched from 1 p.m. to 2 a.m.—the longest Tampa City Council meeting in history. Many of the speakers were Mons Venus dancers. "Humanize yourselves," Redner told them. "Tell them about your children, where you go to school, the houses you're buying." Their stories didn't sway the council, which unanimously passed the ordinance.
While most clubs observed the six-foot rule—one went so far as to place ropes between dancers and customers—Redner openly defied it. Lap dancing continued at the Mons, and almost daily the marquee featured a new jeer: "Mayor Greco and His Loony Toon Police Dept Are a Joke," "Hey Mayor Greco Censor This," "Greco You Coward Enforce Your Ordinance." The mayor obliged. Over the next year and a half, Redner was arrested on numerous occasions along with some 300 dancers and customers, including two members of the Dallas Stars, Ted Donato and Tyler Bouck.
The penalty—six months in jail and a $1,000 fine—decimated nude-club traffic. In July 2000, Redner told the St. Petersburg Times that business at the Mons was down 40 percent. But as the months of raids wore on, and it become apparent how much money and resources were being thrown at a second-degree misdemeanor—Redner paid the legal fees of everyone arrested at the Mons and encouraged them not to plea bargain, thus straining an already-burdened court system—public and media sentiment increasingly sided with the clubs. In August 2001, a county judge declared the ordinance unconstitutional. From then on, though the ordinance was never repealed and remains on the books to this day, enforcement was abandoned.
Before Tampa's nude clubs could start to recover, the Sept. 11 attacks stunted business still further. "Eighty-five percent of our customers were from out of town," Redner says. "Nobody wanted to get on a plane anymore." Things didn't get much rosier for him over the ensuing decade. In 2002, he was willfully arrested for protesting outside the approved demonstration zone at a Jeb Bush rally featuring President George W. Bush. In 2006, he again made national news after being hit with a chair on a public television show. That same year the Mons was besieged by bullhorn-armed street preachers; Redner retaliated with a bullhorn offensive of his own. In 2007, he made it to a runoff in the city council election only to lose once again—despite offering complimentary Mons Venus admission to anyone wearing an "I Voted" sticker.
The 2008 financial crisis dealt another blow to nude clubs. These days the Mons has 80 to 90 dancers, with around 60 working each night. A good Saturday night is $14,000. For the last few years, the club has offered a $1,000 year-pass, and Redner and Toni Derby, like everyone else in the strip club business, are turning to the Web for extra revenue. The Mons Venus site offers peeks at the dressing room, chatting and tipping, and video rental. By October, the club will have a "Make It Rain" machine, through which online customers can shower dancers with bills.
Redner contends his business is being further thwarted by conspiring taxi drivers. "Some of the other clubs will pay them $5 or $10 for each customer they bring," he says. "I won't. So when somebody asks to go to the Mons, they'll say the girls are gay, or the girls are fat. They even did it to me one time. I flew home from a trip and got a cab at the airport and said, 'Take me to Mons Venus.' The cabbie didn't know who I was and tried talking me out of it."
Then the pain, the diagnosis.
* * *
He had all the usual fatigue and sickness—he didn't use marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of his cancer, and in fact he had quit smoking after his diagnosis, convinced his "morning, noon, and night" predilection for weed was what caused the cancer—but what he really hated was his doctor's insistence he eat eggs for more protein. For the last few years, his hair had reached the middle of his back and was usually kept in a pony tail. He was glad to lose it, along with every other hair on his body. "Hair's a nuisance," he says. Now he almost always wears field caps. On the brims are pins for the ACLU, the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, and the Bucs. (He's a serial collector of causes—gay rights, for instance. In 2005, in order to strengthen a lawsuit he had filed against the county for its ban of governmental acknowledgment of gay pride events, Redner claimed he was gay. The county settled, agreeing to alter the language of the policy.)
Redner didn't just rely on Carboplatin, Paclitaxel, and Bevacizumab supplemented by an ovotarian diet. He continued exercising and walked most places instead of driving. He also took up a new cause. In 2002, he'd bought a vacant lot in a blighted neighborhood and turned it into Voice of Freedom park. The cost was approximately $150,000. "The city makes very minimal attempts to appease the people over there," he told the Tampa Tribune. "This is my contribution to revitalization in West Tampa." Last December, when the city rousted Occupy Tampa protestors out of their downtown encampment, Redner offered them the park. Only a few remain but an influx was expected for the convention. (Due to various complaints from neighborhood residents, Redner has asked Occupy members to permanently vacate the park by mid-September.) Between protestors, staff and attendees, and the media, Tampa's population was expected to grow by at least 45,000 this week.
Redner—an Independent candidate during his last election try, for State House of Representatives in 2010—isn't upset over the current Republican swarm. "They've taken enough money from the American people," he says. "Me and my girls are glad to take some of it back." What does disappoint him is that he can't be there. He's back in Vegas for the Gentleman's Club Owners Expo, delivering one of the keynote speeches.
* * *
Today, a year after that fateful bolt of pain, Redner's cancer is in remission.
"He's had an outstanding response," says his oncologist, Dr. Scott Antonia of Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. "He's a great patient—follows advice, exercises, has a positive mental attitude." Antonia estimates 15 percent of those who receive Redner's same treatment experience such results.
"I'm not going to credit anybody but science and the support," Redner says.
"Everybody just came together," Vicki Baham says. "Everybody stood behind him and said, 'We're here for you.'"
Lately, he's had more even more cause to celebrate. Four years ago, Redner invested in his son's start-up. Today, Joey Redner's Cigar City Brewing—located in the same complex as his father's offices—is one of the fastest growing microbreweries in the country, almost quadrupling its barrel production over the past two years and racking up awards, notably Florida's only gold medal at last year's Great American Beer Festival. Rarely are the brewery tours and tasting room not crowded. "A few weeks ago there was a state attorney who came to check it out," Redner says. "Even though I'm just an investor, I feel like the brewery has legitimized me to a lot of people."
He won't rule out a ninth run for public office. Before he makes a decision, though, he needs to decide how to handle the taxi conspiracy. He's looking into extortion statutes. Maybe he'll acquire his own fleet of cabs.
Sean Manning is the author of the memoir The Things That Need Doing and editor of several nonfiction anthologies, including Top of the Order: 25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Player of All Time.