Executive Tans is hunkered down in a narrow, deep little storefront on busy Harbor Boulevard that by rights should bustle—but at 10:30 on a recent Friday morning, it's as empty as Greg Haidl's future. And that's okay with co-owner Scot Drew. Like Robert August, the tanning business follows the sun, he says—and today's marine layer hasn't burned off yet.
"Our best days are the sunniest and the hottest. People see it's sunny, and they come in to get a tan. No one has time to sit around for three hours," said Drew, a stocky man in his late 20s, with smiling eyes and the barely perceptible tanned glow of ruddy good health. He and his brother Marcus opened the franchise's first OC location June 3, targeting the chain's namesake customers: executives, the busiest of busy Southern Californians.
Which sounds wrong; it wasn't supposed to happen this way. Especially not here, in Southern California, where once—as around the nation—an indelible line was drawn in the sand, separating hard-working executives from laidback beach bums.
Except some lines are meant to be crossed. Ever since the tiki thing first popularized the tropical lifestyle in the 1920s, the Andrew Carnegies of the world have envied the Duke Kahanamokus their ease, their leisure, their leathery hides. And since neither side is likely to rumble, they long ago reached a compromise that is only now becoming obvious.
The Andrew Carnegies have quietly co-opted the Duke Kahanamoku vibe—tan, perfect hair and teeth, sculpted physique—even learning to surf, while their lip service and tax dollars have made the soul surfers of the world, from Duke to the Big Kahuna to Rat Fink a Boo Boo, rich selling themselves to the business world.
Which brings us to 2004, when not only can you have it both ways, but you also must.
Gone, Drew says, are the days when being in business meant being married to it: working through lunch, sending the wife and kids to the lake in the summer la Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch, then spending your brief nights lusting after your nubile upstairs neighbor (Marilyn Monroe) whom you knew you could never land 'cause (A) you were married and (B) you were white as a ghost.
In Tom Ewell's day, a pasty complexion and a dyspeptic constitution were the overworked executive's badges of honor, and he wore them proudly—if a bit painfully. Nowadays, everyone wants to make working hard look easy—which is curious because even more so than the Japanese, we are literally working ourselves to death.
"Everyone wants to look good, whether you're a businessman or a high school student," Drew said. "Everyone wants to look healthy, athletic, well-traveled, like you're going to Argentina, Belize."
Never mind that the economies down there center on insolvency, insurrection and parasailing. Some people think there might be doings afoot—and the busy executive wants to look as though he or she is part of that. Which is where Executive Tans, founded in 1991, comes in.
It's small and offers personalized service (and tanning lotions with names such as My Bad, Sex Pot, Smooth Softie and You Wish!), but this is the McDonald's, the Honda Motor Co., the Levittown of tanning.
Where once a tanning session might last the better part of an hour, Executive Tans' most powerful bed cranks out an eerie ultraviolet ray that'll start browning you in just seven to eight minutes. (You baste yourself.) Seven minutes: not only is that how long it takes, but that's also the maximum time you're supposed to lie under those powerful, artificial rays.
"After two to three sessions," Drew said, "you'll be able to look and say, 'I'm getting a good base tan.'" Unlimited one-year memberships range from $99 to $250.
The alternative, though, may be even better. Executive Tans is the only franchise to offer a stand-up self-tanning spray booth that'll coat your carcass with non-cancerous, tan-colored goo in six seconds.
"Ours is the only one," Drew gloated. "Most take 45 seconds to a minute." I know what you're thinking: How can they do it? HOW CAN THEY DO IT? It's the spray nozzles. Executive Tans' self-tanning booth has 12, so you can step in, get hosed, step out, without all the turning around and stretching you'd do in a booth with fewer nozzles.
Cue the cast of Richard Bissell's The Pajama Game singing "Think of the Time I Save." Or tune in one of half a dozen channels of prerecorded music that are available in each tanning booth.
Or do what every driver on the freeway does—talk on your cell phone. Figuring that these days, seven minutes is way too much for the executive vice president of a widget maker to waste, I asked Drew if you can get cell phone reception in a tanning bed. He got a funny look on his face.
"You know, the other day, I was in here, and one of our clients was here in the back, and all of a sudden, I started hearing him talking," Drew said with a grin. "And I went back there, and he was talking on his cell phone."
Think of the time he saved.
Executive Tans may be had at Triangle Square, 1870 Harbor Blvd., Ste. S29, Costa Mesa, (949) 650-8267.
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