Moonlite Bunny Ranch
Last week I spoke at yet another Mensa "gathering" (convention), this one a regional affair hosted by the Northern Nevada chapter. I happen to know several Mensans in Nevada: some are readers, several are relatives of good friends here in Colorado. They really begged and pleaded for me to come and talk at the first Regional Gathering they were doing, and I finally relented.
I have to admit that something on the sign-up form intrigued me: the group was planning to sponsor a brothel tour. Nevada is well known for its casino gambling, and it's perhaps less known that several of its more rural counties also license houses of prostitution -- the only state in the U.S. where brothels are legal. And yes, the cathouses have billboards pointing the way to the front door.
Weekly Weird News
Insert obligatory joke here about how Mensans have social skills that almost require paying for sex. Well, that pretty much is true for a subset, but it's definitely not the case for the majority. (I commented on some Mensans' lack of social skills in my first Mensa blog posting, after I attended this year's Denver AG. All in all, I've found most Mensans to be pretty "normal" people.)
One "abnormal" part of most Mensans is that they have terrifically open minds: they want to learn about just about everything, which is why they had scheduled a tour of the brothels in the first place. As for me, I've made a career out of exploring the human condition by observing the weird things humans do with life. I certainly hadn't explored the "world's oldest profession" in any depth, and I leaped at the opportunity to learn about it.
But after arriving in Reno we got bad news: the tour was pretty much an all-day affair, leaving in the morning and not getting back until the late afternoon, thanks to their using a shuttle bus that made a huge loop going all the way to Lake Tahoe. OK, I didn't have that much time to run around looking at cathouses -- I do have to work when I'm on the road. Kit and I bowed out of the tour, as did several others.
But then a buddy who was also there as a speaker said, "How about if we rent a car, hit just a couple of the places, and then head back to the hotel to get some work done?" That would only take a few hours, even with a stop for lunch. In total, five of us went: me, Kit, my buddy Russ, a gal who is quite high up in the national Mensa organization, and a friend of hers.
Now, you may be raising an eyebrow at two things I just said, and I'll take this opportunity to unabashedly confirm them. 1) The group that went was two guys and three gals; and 2) Indeed one of the women was my wife. Yep: I took my wife with me the first time I ever went to a whorehouse.
Kit looked up the address for the main attraction, the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, which opened in 1955 and is known as the subject of the HBO documentary series, Cathouse. I've never seen the series since I don't have HBO, but I'm vaguely aware that there is such a show. Kit found the address in the phone book (remember, such places are legal): 69 (ha ha) Moonlight Rd, just outside Carson City, Nevada. The "town" it's in isn't incorporated, but is quite appropriately named: Mound House. Yes, really.
We plugged the address into our GPS navigation system and set out.
Even if one manages to miss the billboard along the road, the "road sign" on the way in (right) makes it clear you're nearing the place. And yes, it felt decidedly odd to go down their driveway. After you pass the helicopter landing area (for the high rollers flying in from Reno and Vegas), there is ample parking.
Even the parking lot elicited some amusement: there is not only handicapped parking (and supposedly the Bunny Ranch has spent several hundred thousand dollars ensuring access throughout the facility for handicapped customers), but there's also bicycle parking (shown in the photo below), which I suppose is for customers who have lost their licenses after too many DUI convictions. (They're not for Little Johnny: you have to be 18 to buy services here.)
I noticed that no one seemed to want to park right in front. Including Russ.
We pushed the button on the gate, and a moment later we were buzzed in and met in the entryway by an employee who welcomed us in -- showing no surprise whatever that there were women in the mix. We told her that we were part of an arranged tour group, but had come separately. No problem, she said; the people on the bus hadn't shown up yet. She explained that several of the "girls" (their term) would do a line-up for us, and we should choose one of them to conduct our tour.
When no one said a word after the introductions, the hostess (madam?) again invited us to choose one. Now, at 6'3" I'm a very tall guy, so I tend to stand in the back of groups. And every one of the four people with me, from my buddy to my wife, simultaneously turned around and looked to me to choose one of the girls. I rolled my eyes and chose the gal I thought was the best looking one of the bunch.
"Wendy" (not her real name) came right over and, looking straight into my eyes, firmly shook my hand and said she was glad to meet me (eat your heart out, Russ!) Then I got my first disappointment: no photos, please. She gave us a cursory tour of the place, ending in her room (which she did not call a "crib"). She plopped onto her bed and accepted our barrage of questions.
"Do your mom and dad know where you work?" Nope: and she has to be quite careful since she's a local, and her father is well known in the community. "What's your cover story, then?" She said she tells people she's a "personal assistant". Yep, those are some pretty personal services!
"What if the guy really, really turns you off?" The girls don't have to do anything they don't want to, Wendy assured us. Or, she said, she quotes a price high enough that the guy either decides to opt for a different girl ("beauty is in the eye of the beholder" goes both ways), or it's enough that it's "worth it" to her.
"Wait: you sometimes get female customers?!" Yep. And couples, too.
Once the price and "party" details are negotiated, the services are paid for up front -- and the house gets half. "Er, um, do they take credit cards?" Absolutely! It doesn't show up on your bill as Bunny Ranch, but rather "Lake Tahoe Cash Advance". (Pause while a bunch of wives run in to examine their husbands' credit card bills from their last "business trip" to Nevada....)
The cost question, not really being answered, came up again, so Wendy expanded on it. It's extremely variable, of course, but once partying, girls make about $2,500/hour on average, she said -- which we certainly didn't believe. That would mean the guy is paying $5,000/hr. But we would believe she could make that much, or more, on a good day. She said she was using her proceeds to pay for college (she's well into her schooling, and has no debt), and she said she had bought a business in Reno as an investment -- and she had only been working there for about a year.
"What are you studying?" She said she wants to be a (wait for it!) sex therapist. She'd probably be a good one, too.
"What was the hardest part?" Getting started, she said. She was added to the line-up quite quickly after she applied for the job. Not only was she quite understandably nervous, she had no training whatever on how to negotiate -- it was pretty much sink or swim.
"What about diseases?" The girls are examined by a doctor weekly, and tested for various diseases. The men must always use condoms (per state law). No licensed prostitute in Nevada has ever tested positive for HIV/AIDS. The girls also get a three-day class on detecting signs of STDs in men before they go into the line-up.
"What was the most difficult client?" An 80ish-year-old man who wanted to tie her up and tickle her. She hates being tickled, she said, so it was difficult to pretend she liked it. Apparently she did a good job, since by the end he wanted to have sex. "You can't afford it," she told him.
"What if he -- or someone -- got out of hand?" The rooms have conspicuous intercom systems. If the girl is at all worried, she can signal the office to listen in, and send aid at any hint of trouble.
"Are most of the men married?" No, she claimed; about 80 percent are single, she'd guess. We doubted that, figuring more like 80 percent are married.
"What have you learned about men?" They mostly want someone to pay attention to them, be with them, listen to them, appreciate them. This we certainly believe -- and figure that goes for most women, too. The beautiful, sexy woman pretending she's interested in the guy's dull life? Yeah, that would surely take a big price tag to suffer through that day after day!
While on-shift, the girls pretty much spend 24 hours a day on duty, as the brothels are typically open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year (new holiday carol: "I Wanna Hooker for Christmas"...). Wendy says she works about 10 days a month, since she wants to ensure she has a real life on the outside, which sounds smart. Some girls work several weeks a month.
Wendy clearly enjoyed her work. I've never had a similar chat with an illegal hooker, but I imagine working in a legal brothel would be a lot less stressful. She clearly enjoys having control, she makes great money, she enjoys providing the fantasy and "adventure" her customers are looking for (sex is not the primary desire, she claims -- and I think I believe that), and she doesn't have to do anything she really doesn't want to do. She led us back to the entrance and took the $20 bill I slipped her as a thank-you with another firm handshake.
I imagine that other working girls, perhaps even some at the Bunny Ranch, are far more desperate, naive, and (dare I say it?) squalid. The entire group agreed: I chose well. I'm pretty sure that was a compliment.
An aerial view of the Bunny Ranch. (To zoom in, close the "bubble", drag the marker to the center, then use the "+" button to enlarge):
Note: The "Russ" in this story (his real name) is decidedly not "Rus" (also his real name) who is True's Official Consulting Pastor.
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