No Shirt, No Car, No Problem

The Shirtless Roadside Walkin' Dude offers a top-down model for living

I've been to Santa Monica, Knoxville and Nashville. Spartanburg, South Carolina. Macon, Georgia. Montgomery, Alabama. DeQueen, Arkansas. New Orleans. Pretty much all of Texas.And I'm fairly certain that Pinellas County is the Shirtless Roadside Walkin' Dude capital of this great land of ours.

You know 'em; you've seen 'em. Males of every age, body type and hairstyle, striding alongside the county's thoroughfares with purpose, shoulders brazenly bared to the subtropical sun. Some bear the dark, leathery skin that comes only from a lifetime of topless wandering, tattoos faded to incomprehensibility, while others sport the kind of pallid, freckled epidermis that begs for a blistering peel. They're not just a height-of-summer phenomenon, either; our home offers naked-torso ambulation opportunities pretty much year-round, and you'll see members of this eccentric tribe practicing their rite in temperatures that would chill the heartiest snowbird.

And they're everywhere. Shirtless Roadside Walkin' Dudes don't get to be such by hanging out at the beach. They're notable because you find 'em surrounded by the fully clothed: beacons of scandalous comfort amid civilized, attired sprawl. There are definitely SRWD hotspots. Park Boulevard, Clearwater's Myrtle Avenue south of downtown, the corner of 16th Street and Ninth Avenue N. in St. Pete, and that most interesting of Pinellas byways, Haines Road — these spring immediately to mind. But wherever a block features a hard-dirt path beaten through the grass rather than a sidewalk, you'll see them. Wherever a stop-sign post is bent to nearly touch a chain-link fence with a sign on it that says FORGET THE DOG — BEWARE OF OWNER, they'll pass by. Wherever a convenience store lies within 2 miles of an apartment with lenient credit-checking policies, there they'll be.

They intrigue me, these Shirtless Roadside Walkin' Dudes. After all, they can't all be ambling down to the Gas 'N' Sip for a deck of Luckies and a sixer of Natural Light. And if not, then where are they going? A basketball game where they know they don't want to play on the "Shirts" team? A medical exam, but they're in a hurry? Shirt shopping ("no bag, thanks, I think I'll just wear it out of here")?

Plus, and I'll be the first to admit it, I envy them, their freedom from self-consciousness. Nothing says "I don't give two shits what you think" quite like a 270-pound young man who thinks a sit-up is some kind of pastry with a hot dog in it, strolling down U.S. 19 during rush hour wearing only denim cutoffs and Chuck Taylors. You think your Mohawk is anti-authoritarian? Try publicly sporting the ponytailed mini-mullet and full back-piece depicting the Grim Reaper giving Yosemite Sam the bony finger, all day, every day. No that's disenfranchisement, you poser.

My programming prevents me from fully engaging in such behavior. My parents not only stopped letting me out of the house without a shirt (and jacket, and spare pair of clean socks) when I turned nine, but also bequeathed me the traditional Christian legacy of body shame. Oh, to roam the streets of my hometown, my pectorals unfettered! It's not to be, however, so I must live vicariously through the noble civil disobedience of the Shirtless Roadside Walkin' Dudes.

But alas, not everyone shares my admiration. In fact, there are those who assign certain, shall we say "lower" cultural and financial status to the SRWDs, arbitrarily and automatically, on sight. Obviously, their disdain stems from their resentment of the carless cabal's flaunting of uppity societal mores; yet the stigma persists.

So in the interest of raising the public esteem of the Shirtless Roadside Walkin' Dudes, I'd like to make a few suggestions. You see, when a dude is strutting along the road's edge, he's anonymous, an interesting part of the scenery. It's when he reaches his destination that he again becomes an individual, and subject to the perceptions of those present. In other words, you can walk anywhere you want — and I encourage it! —sunning your torso, but there are some places where it will definitely help to have a shirt handy when you get there. Of course, there are plenty of places where chest coverings are optional, too. Allow me to outline a few examples of where nude deltoids are not OK, and of where they are.


The Job Interview. It could be for CEO of Time Warner Inc., it could be for a day-labor gig at a construction site. Either way, shirts are required. I'm not saying it's the only reason why you haven't landed a job since junior college, but it's one of the biggies.

The Girlfriend's House. Come on, dude. Her parents, children's father or another SRWD might be home. Also, you should at least try to appear as though you didn't wear only the minimum amount of clothing it took to get over there, with an eye toward there being less to take off and, later, put back on. (Exception: If your girlfriend thinks a sports bra is acceptable eveningwear, don't even worry about it.)

The Dealer's House. Yes, the dealer will almost certainly be shirtless, but he's the dealer, and it's his house. Show some respect.

The Bar. There are bars where they don't care what their daytime clientele wears, so long as they pay by the drink. Sporting a shirt in such an establishment, though, is a classy move, lending the illusion that you're the most upwardly mobile patron in the place. Plus, it's always cool to have to peel it off when you get into the fight.

The Pawn Shop. If they think you can't afford a shirt, do you really think they're gonna believe that 1963 Fender Stratocaster is yours, and that you'll be back for it on payday? Or that if they do, that you'll get anything approaching a reasonable price? Use your head, and put a collar below it.


The Concert. A no-brainer. Why bring a shirt if it's coming off as soon as the first roadie is mistaken for a band member and screamed at? Sweaty bare skin is harder for the bouncers to get a grip on, anyway.

The Employed Buddy's House. In this case, going shirtless serves two purposes. First, it makes him feel a little better about himself and his station in life. Second, and more importantly, it makes him feel a little worse about yours, which always helps when the subjects of money — his lending, your borrowing — or lodging come up.

The Corner Where Your SRWD Chapter Hangs Out. Another no-brainer. And when you're on your way to a shirt-required destination with a nice clean tee dangling from the small of your back, don't forget and pass by your corner. You'll never hear the end of it — "oh, look who's too good for melanoma," "taking the Queen of England a dime bag?", etc.

The Landlord's Trailer. You don't want your rent suddenly jacked up another $15 a week, do you?

The Parents' House. See The Employed Buddy's House.

Contact Scott Harrell, or find out more about the Shirtless America Now Project, at 813-248-8888, ext. 109, or by e-mail at [email protected].

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