I turned off Highway 50 and up the steep, winding road that leads to the Bunny Ranch around 5 o’clock. A inauspicious, homemade sign leads the way; the sort of marker you’d typically see pointing towards a car wash fundraiser for a local high school marching band. It’s a lonely, gravel road a few hours before sunset on a Friday. Nothing but overgrown patches of brown grass and a worn-out auto-body shop along the way. At one time, at least, the cautionary sign below greeted visitors as they made the trek.
The grounds of the Bunny Ranch are much better kept. The view from up there looks over the golden valley down below. A sign attached to the cargo hold of a truck features two of the ranch’s employees besides pastel words that scream “WORLD FAMOUS BUNNY RANCH! AS SEEN ON THE HIT HBO TELEVISION SHOW, CATHOUSE!” The parking lot was mostly empty and quiet. There were few signs of life, with the exception of a bored driver reading a magazine in a limousine parked by the side entrance.
The Bunny Ranch is the color of sand, sterile, with a white security that runs around the perimeter. There’s no neon offering “HOT, LEGAL SEX!” or anything like that. The only bit of flare on the building itself is a few pink tiles over the front porch. I made the mistake of going to the side entrance, which is reserved for VIPs eager to avoid the eyes of the public. A voice in a speaker-box said it would buzz me in through the front gate.
TOUR THE GROUNDS UNTIL YOU FEEL AT HOME
A madam greeted me on the front porch. Somewhere north of 50, she was conservatively dressed with bleach-blond hair stretching down her back. Her skin looked like it had jumped out of a tanning bed and onto to her body just seconds before she opened the front door. The foyer looked like the waiting area in a Planet Hollywood with glistening, black tile and plush benches. She handed me a glossy brochure along with an “erotic menu” describing what the employees of the Ranch would and would not be willing to do. As I glanced through it, she told me what would happen next.
“Ok, in a minute I’ll bring out the girls. They’ll introduce themselves. You take your pick and she’ll give you a tour of the grounds. Or, if you would prefer, you can head straight to her room.” Each prostitute at the ranch has their own room with a large bed, an HDTV and a private bathroom and shower. “Remember, the tour is free,” the madam told me. “You’re not obligated to have sex if you don’t want to but you can’t discuss prices or what you’re looking for until you’re behind closed doors. This is Nevada state law.”
Before I could process these words or the menu, the madam stepped into the adjoining bar area and returned with a dozen scantily clad women. My brain shot a jolt of culture-shock down my spine. I felt like Bashful suddenly presented with a dozen busty Snow Whites. I blushed, fought against a nervous smile and tried to avoid eye contact while maintaining some semblance of calm. “Stay frosty,” I told myself as the urge to flee hit. “Remember, you’re a professional journalist blogger-type person. If you can survive butting elbows with the Hollywood press and ghost attacks in haunted hotels, you can handle a dozen women who would love to drain both your genitals and your bank account.”
Most of them were in their 20s. A few had a natural, co-ed look about them while the rest resembled porn stars. Lots of breast augmentation, Collagen lips and Botox-soaked cheeks in this line-up. One lady, who had endured more than her fair share of plastic surgery, looked like a buxom space alien— somewhere between Joan Rivers and one of the Visitors from V. I can’t imagine what they thought of me, dressed in jeans, hiking boots and a Threadless t-shirt. I had come to Nevada dressed for Burning Man, not a trip to a brothel. Was I some slovenly internet millionaire from the Bay area or a college student from Oregon? Who can tell these days?
The looks in their eyes ranged from quiet desperation to a hungry twinkle worthy of a stockbroker about to unleash a Ponzi Scheme on a client. Each of the women introduced themselves briefly, like contestants on the first episode of a reality show. I nodded politely to them and said hello, feeling like a total sleaze ball all the while. I picked the least intimidating woman in the line-up, “Jane” (neither her real or her professional name), a gal in her early 20s who strongly resembled Meadow on The Sopranos. She was dressed in a pair of skimpy shorts and lacy negligee.
The rest of ladies returned to a small den filled with velvet couches and began chatting as Jane led me over to the bar. Its many bottles glowed red like the dying embers of a campfire in hell. She showed me a row of photos of various celebs who had visited the Ranch (and were willing to have their photos taken). Shots of Ron Jeremy and “Bridget the Midget” were prominently displayed. She’s been known to work at the Ranch but apparently had the night off. Across from the bar was a display case filled with sexual toys available for purchase. Jane offered her opinion on the best anal beads in the bunch.
The interior of the Ranch is a mishmash of softly-lit corridors lined with leopard-skin carpets. All in all, it feels like the whorehouse-equivalent of the Winchester Mansion. Jane escorted me out into a concrete courtyard with a hot tub tucked up against a wall. Across the way was a small office, shut for the night. “All of us are required, under Nevada law, to have regular check-ups for sexually transmitted diseases,” she told me. A staircase on the other end of the courtyard led up to what she described as a “lagoon.” “Yeah, things get pretty wild up there around 3 AM on the weekends.”
THE SALES PITCH
Jane led me to her room. A plush bed took up most of the interior, leaving little space for a long, oak dresser. I didn’t want to be in there but there was something I had to know: “how much does this girl make an hour?” Jane jumped on the bed and glanced at the Facebook news feed on her laptop. She apologized and followed this up with a text on her cell phone.
I didn’t want to waste too much of her time but, on the other hand, it was early in the evening and I figured the place would probably be a ghost town for the next few hours. I suddenly flashed to Holden Caufield’s awkward encounter with a prostitute in The Catcher in the Rye.
“Ok,” she said, closing her cell phone with a loud snap. “Come over here and have a seat.”
I could have broken out the “Sorry, I’m Just Here to Garner Fodder for My Blog” excuse but I thought up a trump card on the drive over: the “I’m a Poor College Student. All I’ve Got on Me is a Hundred Bucks” excuse. No self-respecting prostitute at one of the world’s most famous brothels was going to even shake my hand for that kind of scratch. This was my “Get Out of the Whorehouse Free” card.
I took a seat next to her on the bed and she immediately got down to the nitty-gritty. “So, what kind of a budget are you working with?”
“Actually, I’m a college student in Portland. All I’ve got with me is a hundred dollars.”
“Oh, well, we do take Mastercard and Visa.”
“I’m afraid I’m living on a budget these days. I’m heading off to Europe after Burning Man too.”
“The lowest I can go is $300, actually, and that would be for the first fifteen minutes.” I suspected that Jane was still thinking she was going to make a sale. “30 minutes runs $500. For $1200, anything goes. Hot tubs, playing doctor, anal, toys….you name it.”
The United States is in the middle of a deep recession but this woman can still make $1200 in a few hours of getting kinky with a stethoscope. What a country we live in! Now I knew why the Visitor in the lobby was still working at the Ranch and willing to endure the knives of countless plastic surgeons.
“This is probably your first term in a brothel, right,” Jane asked with a gentle smile.
“Yeah, we don’t have these things back in Oregon,” I stuttered, suddenly feeling like an Anthony Michael Hall character in a John Hughes movie. “Well, not the legal kind but…er, yeah…”
Despite the clear fact that she was getting nowhere slow, Jane was willing to keep chatting and launched into a history lesson on both the Bunny Ranch and legalized prostitution in Nevada. It was clear that this girl had a head on her shoulders and was a far cry from a bimbo. So what was she doing at the Bunny Ranch? Despite the great pay, a lot of women would never even think of going into this profession. I launched into reporter mode…
THE LIFE OF A WORKING PROSTITUTE IN NEVADA
“I work a 12 hour shift out here,” Jane told me. “Four days a week. I’m considered an independent contractor.”
“Sorry if I’m being blunt but why are you doing this for a living,” I asked. She didn’t even blink an eye.
“You know what? Before this, I was a manager in a restaurant. I probably don’t need to tell you that I make a lot more money here at the Ranch than I did back there. I choose the hours I work and it’s much more fun than having to deal with customers pissed off about lukewarm onion rings.”
“I like sex and I like having sex,” she continued. “I can turn down any client I want. If I don’t like the look of someone or I feel uncomfortable, I politely turn them down. They usually return to the lobby, find another girl and wind up leaving here pretty satisfied.”
Does she receive additional benefits or health insurance? “With the exception of the clinic checks, no.” How much does the house take? Jane dished-out a detailed rundown of facts and figures but I wasn’t about to break out a scratch pad to take it all down. An odd detail that I remembered later: if a taxi cab or a limo driver escorts a john to the ranch, a prostitute has to give them 30% of what they make.
I thanked Jane for her time. “No problem,” she said, leading me back to the bar. “Keep us in mind when you graduate and get a career going, of course.”
All in all, I was impressed with the place. It wasn’t my bag but Jane was a class act. A total professional. When we got back to the bar, around eight gals were still chatting on the couches. “What happened,” one of them asked.
“Sorry, guys,” I said, trying to think fast and already eying the exit. “This place is just too classy and spendy for me. I’m a college guy, what can I say? Jane’s great but she doesn’t offer a student discount.”
One of the gals bounced off the couch. “I offer a student discount!” The other gals cackled like a coven of witches. She rushed over to my side and took me by the hand. “You wanna come with me,” she asked, already leading me off to her room.
Uh-oh. I hadn’t planned for this.
To be continued….