The driver of the late 90's model sedan struggles with her GPS device while navigating through the city's back streets, on this cool summer night. She smokes a cigarette and turns to Orchid who is sitting in the passenger seat and asks "what is the address again?".
"It's four three zero Acacia", says Orchid.
The driver exhales and taps the device which is mounted to her window. The car chokes a little and accelerates. Houses with cars parked in cracked driveways slip by. A few dilapidated structures have dirty yards stuffed with toys and broken swimming pools. Chain link fences hold signs that read "Beware of Dog".
Empty fields appear and she makes a right handed turn. Most of the visible structures here - what few there are - are industrial. Some are abandoned. The noise from the traffic can be heard from the busy highway across the farmland. A dim streetlamp casts short shadows that slither into the stark, gravel paths by the roadside.
"Find out if he's parked behind the warehouse", the driver, a dishwater blonde woman named Randi says. Randi is in her late forties and looks it. Even though she could pass for Orchid's older sister, her experience in the life is rather new.
"I owe everything I've learned to her", Randi says about her friend. "She taught me what to do and say. She screens everyone and makes the arrangements."
Orchid picks up her cellular phone and speaks into it. "What kind of truck are you driving?" she asks and then nods her head. "Are you near the old car lot or by the field?." She pauses and stares at her reflection in a flip mirror, purses her lips and runs a hand through her hair. "Oh, okay I see you" she says into the phone and shuts it off.
The sedan pulls up next to the parked truck. Orchid opens the door and steps out. As she turns around, she shouts to Randi, "the hour starts now!" and slams the door.
Touring the State
On the afternoon of this interview, Orchid and Randi have found a motel in the Bay Area. There is a lot of money here and the two of them can easily contact their regulars who live or work here. Previous to the new FOSTA (Fight Online-Sex Trafficking), both women used to get business through websites like Backpage and Redbook. Now, that most of these sites have had their personals sections edited , the two ladies have few options available to advertise to new clients.
"Closing down Backpage and Craigslist is not a good idea", observes Orchid. She is wearing a blue dress that could pass for a negligee and has put grey streaks in her red hair. Randi sits on the bed and thumbs through a people magazine.
"That's why you see a lot more girls on the street," says Randi, "and it's dangerous."
The law which they are referring to, FOSTA, was designed to prevent pandering of underage girls or women who might be reluctant participants in the sex industry, was recently signed by President Trump. Internet sites which are popular with escorts had to shut down their personal adds. Often as well, there would be individuals in the community who would place false adds about someone else in order to cause harm. Orchid and Randy used to do most of their own advertising on the Backpage site. There are few left however that are similar and others that still cater direct to the industry. The two would like to start a page of their own.
Who is exploited by the industry?
Motels, Coffee Makers and Don't Forget the Maid
Orchid has agreed to meet and talk about a typical day in her life. She'll answer some questions I have and let me see her collection of clothes. Typically she will travel from through the state, staying near the major cities of the Bay Area or Southern California. She'll pack several outfits and look for units that offer amenities such as refrigerators and microwave ovens. She can shop at the grocery store and avoid restaurants which can be expensive and put her at risk of exposure. "I have enough soap and shampoo and give them to the homeless," she says.
This particular room has two queen sized beds and is fairly spacious. The interior is painted bright which gives it a clean and open feeling. This hotel chain has comfortable sleepers. The last room they were in had one king size mattress which was almost as long as the room itself. Sometimes the rooms are nice and modern. Orchid tries to avoid the older motels which might be dingy and serve as temporary shelters for transitional populations such as those in subsidized housing programs.
"Always check the room for anything left behind," Orchid says, her eyes faraway. "Once I found a gun stuffed under a drawer. The people came back for it..." You have to be good the the maids as well. Some of them a pretty nice, but you always leave them a tip and they'll remember to turn their heads.
Q. What started you in this profession?
A. Somebody told me I was sitting on a gold mine and when I needed money I decided to use my “gold mine”.
Off and on I have been in the profession since my early thirties. So about twenty years. I started on the streets. For years I didn’t work. The internet came about and made things less dangerous than the streets.
Q. Who told you this?
A. Some guy,he wasn't a boyfriend. When I first did it, I took a Xanax to calm my nerves. I was very nervous
Q. What was your first date like?
A. I guess it was good. I liked it. I had a good roll in the hay. I messed the bed up. I was walking a certain street in a town. I got busted right away – the next day. He (the officer) grabbed me by the hair and said if you run I’ll beat the fuck out of you. Like I murdered someone.
Q. What were your feelings toward this when you first started?
A. It was sort of exciting and at the same time, it was scary. You never knew what to expect when you got into the car with a stranger.
Q. Hollywood and the news portrays many prostitutes as victims. Do you feel like a victim?
Q. What evidence of trafficking have you noticed?
A. Only recently by someone asking if I could get a minor. I reported that number to the police. Visually, no I haven’t. Do you know if you could get me any younger girls. What do you mean by younger? Younger like 15 or 16 like that.
Q. What is a typical day for you like?
A. Now, it’s a process of getting ready to see clients and getting ready again. Most days there are three to four clients I usually see. It’s rare I see more. I don’t work every single day. I take a few days off. I have a lot of regulars but most are not. I’m always meeting new people because I am going to new places.
I usually rent a hotel and move to populated cities where I am apt to get more calls than a smaller town.
Q. What are your clients like?
A. They range. Most of mine are younger. The average are in their late 20s. A lot of younger guys want the experience of an older woman. Some have tried the younger girls and don’t like them. They might have mommy issues. A lot just are attracted to older women. They want a mature woman with experience.
Q. How much do you typically make? How do you set your rates?
A. It depends on where you are. An average is four or five hundred dollars a day for the bay area. I set my rates and see what the average the other girls are asking for in this area and bring it down a bit. I offer them a bargain. I don’t want to cut other girl’s throats but I need to stay competitive. I have an edge on the younger girls because there are not a lot of older women out there doing this and that makes me a novelty.
Q. Do you feel this activity has changed you as a person?
A. Yes. It has made me believe less in love because there are so many of my clients who are married. I don’t want to be in love with anyone and have them cheat on me. I couldn’t be in love and do what I do. It makes me not believe in relationships and if I did I wouldn’t put my heart into it.
(Continued next two boxes down....)
A Place to Rest Your Head
For the most part, Orchid feels safe. She has a chance to be her own boss and make her own hours. She gets to go to new places frequently and meet interesting people. Some of her customers have become good friends of hers. There are dangerous things that can be encountered.
The two tell me about Angel, a woman whose parents had died from drugs while she was in her teens.
"She looks like she is standing on two barrels," Randi says. "And she brags 'I've dated thousands and thousands and thousands....' " Angel is staying a few rooms down with a transgender who is very passable.
"He, she, whatever is much prettier," observes Orchid.
"The pimp she is staying with has fake jewels," says Randi. "I had a guy do that to me once. Give me a ring and tell me it was a diamond."
Last night in the hotel, someone smashed out the windows from two cars. A homeless man wandered around stealing the garbage bags filled with trash from the refuse cans outside the rooms.
You sometimes hear gunfire and the sounds of sirens wailing are common and sing late into the night.
Orchid has never been beaten, assaulted or raped. One customer tried to offer her groceries. Another picked up the money he had set on the bureau and left with it after they had finished.
"Karma will get him back," Orchid says with confidence.
Sometimes the trouble comes from the people who you trust to take care of you at the hotel. Once, when Orchid was in the bathing, a maintenance man walked into her room while she was relaxing.
"There was no reason for him to be there or to come all the way back and open the bathroom door," Orchid muses.
"Oh. Sorry," said the man. "So sorry."
"Get the heck out! What are you doing!" Orchid screamed. She is convinced he knew what he was doing when he accidentally walked in on her.
Q. Your clients tell you about their wives?
A. No. Sometimes they’ll tell me I am clean because I have a wife and they don’t want to use protection. That’s when you absolutely don’t want to go bareback. Most guys don’t like condoms and that’s scary.
Sometimes I ask if they’re married and they’ll tell me yes
If they are good in bed, I will tell them that their wives are lucky.
Q. You enjoy the sex?
A. Sometimes I do because the guy is nice looking and talented. I think it is my birthday and Christmas all rolled up in one. And getting paid for it.
Q. What is one of your more memorable experiences?
A. I have so many.
One guy wanted me to convince him that he had the smallest I’d ever seen and the more convincing I was the better I was paid. He was fairly well endowned but wanted to be convinced otherwise.
One guy wanted me to kick him. He was into humiliation.
Q. How is this job different from other careers you’ve had?
A. The money seems to be easy. The easier it comes though the easier it is to spend.
This job takes a toll on you because you get numb. And I’ve talked to other girls and they loose interest in sex and their drive dissipates.
Q. Prostitutes can’t have orgasms?
A. That’s not true, it depends on how long you’ve done it and maybe how much abuse you’ve experienced.
Q. Is your age a factor?
A. Yes, I believe that someone calls me and asks me my rates they may think I should be less expensive because of my age. They say no thank you gramma and I say well you called me, sucka.
Q. Have you ever been victimized
A. Of course, when I was on the streets I thought I deserved it. I know now that I didn’t deserve it but I thought I did. Now that I’m online I haven’t been raped. There was a situation where it felt like rape because the guy sets his money on the table and then picks it up after the session and leaves. Technically he didn’t fulfill his agreement so it feels like rape or robbery or whatever.
I don’t want to go out and scream and bring attention to myself but I believe in karma and that it will bite him in the butt.
Q. How do you think other people view what you do?
A. I think some people are absolutely disgusted by it. Others just want to turn their heads and not think about it. Others just want to judge you and look down on you. Very few don’t judge you.
I believe it helps society. I think it contributes to less rape and saves marriages. It provides an outlet for some people.
A married man can not worry about meeting someone in a bar that might ruin his relationship at home.
Some married men go to prostitutes because they can legitimize it and not worry about committing adultery.
Q. What do you think about the new law passed by congress FOSTA
A. It has put a lot of more women on the street because rather than working from the privacy of their own homes, they have to go out on the streets to find clients.
Q. Is there a difference between the streetwalker and the escort?
A. Yes. The difference is the danger for the client picking up on the street. And so are the girls. There is a lot of guerrilla pimping – is where the girls go out and grab the girls and make them work for them through threats and intimidation.
Online you are more in control of your surroundings. I usually have my own room. I work independently and if you don’t go anywhere with them, you are safer. I treat people with respect and like a king if they come see me because that’s the way I do business. I am customer oriented and want repeat customers.
Q. Do you ever anticipate retiring?
A. Yes. I feel it coming soon. But as long as I’m requested, I’ll participate.
I am not ashamed of what I do. AT least I’m not out robbing and stealing. I’m not on public assistance.
Every Day is New Under the Sun
Orchid is a remarkable looking woman who manages to maintain a vibrant charisma which probably explains her popularity. Hobbyists as many of the gentlemen or ladies who prefer the market and providers, as the workers call themselves are a subculture to themselves. With the advent of the internet, things have become more sophisticated and from the pressure from FOSTA, things appear to be heading back to where they were in the 1990's for this society.
She recognizes that she lives on society's edge and that there are people who want to put her and her customers to a stop. She doesn't hurt anyone and everyone she deals with engages in consensual activity. No one is exploited or has property taken from them or is in any way humiliated. Most of the men she sees are married and in fact, as Orchid asserts "I save marriages. Most men would leave their wives or have an affair with a woman and get caught. I take all that out of the picture."
She is not ashamed of what she does but of course, doesn't flaunt it. Most younger men appreciate an experienced woman which explains why so many college aged kids, or men starting out on the career frequent her company. They much prefer a grandmother type than one who is their age or younger. She is kind and caring and always genuine and respectful. Whether it's her figure, the fact that an older woman seems to be a bit of a taboo still or her vivacious character is a bit of a mystery.
"They keep coming back," she says with a smile and a tip of the hat.
© 2018 Fin