Behind the bonnet is a girl who just wants to have fun -- and another beer, please.

Amish Girls Gone Wild 

Behind the bonnet is a girl who just wants to have fun -- and another beer, please.

It's Friday night at Twister's. Tina launches the evening with a tallboy of Sparks. Customers eyeball her white bonnet and shin-grazing dress as she sips from her can of malt liquor and caffeine. She's used to the gawking. Impolite scrutiny comes with being Amish.

"Everyone stares at you," she says. "It's not very fun, but I just ignore it."

Besides, Tina's on a mission to get tanked. No amount of rubbernecking can stop her.

The DJ approaches. Rodger Locher, a clean-cut city boy, is what's known as a "Yank," the all-encompassing term for not being Amish. Since he became Twister's resident DJ, Tina's become a regular, obsessed with listening to Beyoncé, the Killers, and Korn over rounds of neon cocktails.

"Remember the last time you were here?" he asks her.

"Sorta," Tina laughs.

"Yeah, probably not at all. You were wasted! Got any requests?"

Tina asks for "Smack That" by Akon, then orders a Sex on the Beach.

Martha sits down with a Bud and bums a cigarette. Her cherub face is framed by a starched bonnet, her squat figure submerged in a dowdy dress. As Akon sings about slapping gyrating butts, Tina and Martha lip-synch, bouncing their bonnets to the beat.

Tyrna, hold my woody back through my drawers, they demurely mouth in unison.

A drunk lady with a crunchy perm dances toward Martha. She grabs Martha's hands, trying to drag her onto the dance floor, which is little more than a space between tables. Martha resists. "Oh, c'mon!" the lady shouts.

Martha shyly shakes her head no.

"Why not?" asks another Yank.

"If we dance, people will really start staring," Tina says.

The drunk perm dances back to her friends and knocks down a quick shot before playfully grinding her hips along a man's thigh. The smirk on Tina's face is a mixture of amusement and disgust. "I just like watching people," she says.

The way she climbs up and down them poles, lookin' like one of them Pretty Cat Dolls, she lip-synchs.


Twister's is Tina's favorite hangout. It's hidden on an unlit, tree-lined road, tucked inside the Dutch Country Restaurant in Middlefield. To get to the bar, you're whisked through a maze of families polishing off platters of gravy and dumplings under intense fluorescent lighting.

But the shoe-box tavern is a different world. Twentysomethings gulp beers and shots with names like "Redheaded Slut." For young and restless Yanks, Twister's is a reprieve from the farms and factories of Middlefield, a place where the guys shoot pool and gussied-up girls mimic the moves of rap videos. For Tina, who comes here almost every weekend, Twister's is everything her life isn't.

Though her house looks like any other vinyl-sided suburban home, inside there's no internet, no flat-screen, no electricity. She lives by gas lamp, sewing her own dresses and hitching buggies in the snow.

For the first several years of her life, Tina, the youngest of seven children, spoke only Pennsylvania Dutch, a slow, lilting language that sounds more like an ancient Norse dialect than modern German. She didn't learn English until she entered school, graduating by the eighth grade -- as all Amish do -- to begin working as a babysitter.

When she turned 17, she started her rumspringa -- the Amish rite of passage in which young adults are allowed to dabble in the indiscretions of our world before officially joining the church. "It just means you can do whatever Yanks do," Tina says. "Not everyone drinks alcohol. Some people just drink Coke and play volleyball."

At her first party, she didn't drink. She was already intoxicated by the chatter, the shiny silver kegs, the smoke of the bonfire and cigarettes, the dizzy dancing.

It was her first real encounter with Yanks. She found them fascinating. Their lives appeared woven of a more breathable fabric, free from the constraints of overbearing parents and ankle-length dresses. "It's just easier," she says. "Especially with parents. No one bothering them about where they're going."

She quickly grew a tiny collection of T-shirts and eye shadow, learning to drink by the six-pack until dawn and memorizing Eminem's entire discography. She even bought a cell phone, which her parents still don't know about.

Though the rules of rumspringa allow Tina to indulge in all of this, her parents still don't want these things around the house.

This was made infinitely clear when her mom caught her sneaking in after a late night of partying. "I saw you with jeans on last night," Mom said.

"So?"

"Don't ever do it again."

But there was little her mother could do. As long as Tina was still in rumspringa, she couldn't be shunned for breaking the rules -- a consequence saved for those who have already joined the church. "They get upset about it, but there's not much they can do about it."

For a while Tina dated a Yank. She cared for him so much, she thought about leaving the Amish. But if she did, her parents warned, the family would never speak to her again. Tina called off the relationship. "It would be hard not to talk to my sisters," she says.

When Tina was 20, she considered joining the church, but quickly realized it wasn't for her. "I had to promise in front of the whole church that I'd never go to parties again," she says. "And I was like, uh, I'm 20 years old -- I'm still going to go to parties. I like going to parties. I just like being around people and talking with them."

Tina decided to stretch out her rumspringa for as long as she could. Since there is no cutoff age, she plans to join the church when she's either sick of partying or tired of being nagged by her parents. "I'm sure I'll be done with parties before I'm 30."

But these days, she expresses little interest in relationships and rarely dresses like a Yank -- unless she's going to a concert or an amusement park, where the ogling is infinitely worse.

Her interest in Yank ways, however, has expanded beyond keggers and midriffs. She'd like to go to college and become a nurse. She knows of one Amish woman who did just that, but when she finally joined the church, she gave it up. "I don't know if I could be a nurse and still be Amish," Tina says. "No one has done it."

Her life's path is based entirely on such precedents. She does things, she often says, because "that's just how it's done."

When asked why she doesn't leave the Amish -- what they refer to as "Yanking off" -- Tina shrugs. "Don't really see the point."


On a rainy winter evening, Tina sucks down Smirnoff Ice in an empty diner on the outskirts of Middlefield. She's joined by Locher and her friend June.

June is Tina's partner in crime -- a ruddy-cheeked 21-year-old with a devilish giggle. She is lapping everyone by at least two Buds, not including the one she spilled on Locher's lap. "You gotta watch out for this one," Locher says, pointing at June. "I'll put this girl up against pretty much any Yank I know."

June started her rumspringa when she was 17. "But I went to my first party at 15," she says, bursting into laughter.

She has already joined the church. But that hasn't kept her from closing down the bar on Saturday nights. She doesn't fear being shunned over a couple of Miller Lights. "It's really not as strict as people think," June says.

The women make clear that their church is not as puritanical as outsiders perceive. Tina's is simply a group of about 15 families who take turns hosting Sunday services -- a community of sustained tradition, uncluttered by modern conveniences. Their isolation has more to do with preserving the old ways than any real disdain for Yanks.

In Middlefield, there are dozens of these churches. Each has its own pastor and its own views. In June's church, it's up to each family to decide how to deal with disobedience.

Locher is one of the few Yanks who understand the subtle variances of their world. He dated an Amish girl -- a stunningly slender blonde from a family of eight children. She was sincere and grounded -- so different from the other girls Locher had dated.

She peaked his interest in the ways of the Amish. So Locher paid a visit to her pastor, hoping to sort out fact from fiction. "They're nothing like Amish in the City," Locher says. "Their focus is on family and helping each other out. Nothing else matters. I really respect that."

The pastor revealed that his oldest son had left the church to marry a Yank. He decided not to shun his son. His only rule is that his son must dress Amish when he comes to visit. "I realized they were a lot more open than many people perceive them to be," Locher says.

Though he stopped seeing the girl, Locher still toys with the idea of becoming Amish. "Sometimes it would be nice to get away from the city and live off the land," he says. "But I still have too many questions."

A few Yanks have joined the Amish, but it's rare. "It's so hard," Tina says. "You have to give up your radio. No TV. No car."

On the other hand, many Amish have left their communities, seduced by a Yankee soul mate or the chance to own a car. Some are shunned forever. Others return like prodigal sons. And there are those capable of navigating both worlds, like June's uncle, who left the Amish long ago. "I still love my uncle," she says. "He drives my dad to work almost every day."

Like many Amish teens, June thought about following her uncle. "It was when I was 16 and I wasn't getting along with my family," she says. "But now I love my family, so it doesn't make sense to leave."

Her family is smitten with the choice, even if it means she still bends the rules a bit. "I just don't tell them that I go to bars," she says. "But even if they found out, they wouldn't do anything about it."

The waitress interrupts, asking if anyone needs anything. June mischievously eyes Tina. "I'll have one more," she says.


As forgiving as June's family may be, the law is not.

While police elsewhere in rural Ohio focus on meth labs and wife-beaters, Middlefield's cops have a curious fetish for busting the Amish.

June was first pinched at 17. She and her friends had killed a six-pack before hopping in a buggy to buy more. They noticed a cop trailing them and stuffed their mouths with Listerine strips just before they were pulled over. It was no use. Everyone was forced to take a field sobriety test. June failed miserably. The cop delivered her home.

Tina was once cruising around town with her cousins when one accidentally dropped a 12 of Bud into the street. They were instantly pulled over. "They'd been trailing us for a while," Tina says. "I wasn't even drunk, but they're always following buggies around."

Locher wags his head in agreement. "You'll never see a buggy parked in front of a bar," he says. "They're instant targets."

Former Chardon Municipal Court Judge Craig Albert admits as much, but cites safety as the reason. "The car will go right into a ditch," Albert says. "But the horses will go right through an intersection. These kids will get in their buggies and pass out and just let the horses head home on their own."

After four years of dealing with the law, Tina and June are now well practiced in deceiving it.

The last time Tina was pulled over, she was riding shotgun, alcohol wafting off her porcelain skin. Though she wasn't driving, she was forced to take a field test. When she failed to walk a straight line, she invoked her diabetes. "I told him my sugar was low," she says. "I really do have diabetes, so I got out my stuff and started testing my sugar, and they let me go."

Then there was the time she passed out on the side of the road. Next thing she knew, she was waking up in a patch of grass to an officer's flashlight. "I showed him my ID, and he was like, 'You're Amish?!?" she says. "He just let me go."

Others aren't so lucky.

In 2000, Geauga County Amish leaders asked police to help curb public drinking. Albert, now a Geauga County Commissioner, was happy to take the job. "He'd always cuss out the Amish when they were caught drinking," Tina says.

If an Amish kid walked into Albert's courtroom, he or she could be sure to spend a weekend in jail. Albert says he was simply honoring elders' wishes. "It was usually enough just to give them a weekend in jail," he says. "After that, they'd never come before you again."

Albert's tactics have proven effective. These days, you'll find few Amish driving buggies home drunk -- and even fewer at the bars. "It's been quite some time since we've had any negative run-ins with the Amish community," says Middlefield Sergeant Michael Fabian. "When we see them leaving bars, they usually catch rides. But, for the most part, they're not out at the bars much anymore."


It's around 1 a.m. and Twister's has filled out nicely.

Amish guys in straw hats and bowl cuts keep to themselves, playing a video scavenger-hunt game. The rest of the room talks loudly over the Pussycat Dolls and Fergie. Tina and Martha are the only Amish girls to be found.

Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me, they sing.

After several hours of drinking, they are the color of fleshy nectarines, ready to mingle. A glassy-eyed Yank approaches. "You got a cell phone?" he asks a blushing Tina. "Can I call you some -- I mean, what's your number?"

As Tina recites it, he drunkenly punches in the digits while struggling to keep his balance. He flashes the phone at a friend before turning back to Tina. "They bet me 20 bucks I couldn't get your number," he says.

Then he erases it, making clear that she's nothing more than the punch line. "Thanks," he says, oblivious to the embarrassment he's planted on Tina's face.

She doesn't say anything as he walks away. She's used to the rudeness of shit-faced Yanks.

Just the week before, a group of middle-aged men sat next to her, going on about having sex with Amish girls. "They were talking about Amish pussy and if I wanted to have a threesome," she remembers.

Tina kept her cool until a bartender told the guys to shut the hell up. "They apologized after that," she says. "I figured I'd just be nice. I'm not gonna be like them."

A few minutes later, another Yank approaches. She knows this one. You can't miss Jason Byler. "He's, like, the only black guy in Middlefield -- and he can speak Amish!"

Byler was adopted by a family with Amish ties. "I picked up the language just by listening to it," he says.

Tina asks him whether he'd ever consider being Amish. "No way. It's boring -- no Playstation, no TV, no computer. And I love my cars. Forget hitching buggies in the snow."

Tina gets a bit testy. "I know we're weird. The Amish are weird," she says. "I'll admit that. I mean, I wouldn't mind having electricity."

Byler knows where this is going. "Yeah, but if she left her family, she couldn't even sit at the same table with them anymore. That's hard."

Tina nods. "And if it's between family and electricity, I'll chose family. I would never not talk to my family again."

Byler shrugs before heading for another drink. "Just glad I'm not Amish," he says.


As the bartender announces last call, people close out their tabs and sort out rides. It's a lucrative moment for the Yanks. The dozen or so Amish sitting at the bar need rides home, and they're all willing to pay.

Byler walks up to a Yank and makes her an offer -- there's a group of Amish guys who all need rides; they're willing to pay $40 a head. "I'd give them a ride myself," he says, "but I'm still pretty drunk and the Amish are serious cop magnets."

The girl turns him down as she heads out the door with Tina and Martha in tow.

Rain pounds against the windshield, complementing the hard cadence of the girls conversing in Pennsylvania Dutch. The car pulls up to Tina's house, where a rainbow of plastic toys is piled neatly on the back porch.

As they walk toward the door, the headlights catch the gleam of Tina's cell phone.

She turns it off and then carefully hides it in her bag before walking inside.

  • Behind the bonnet is a girl who just wants to have fun -- and another beer, please.

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