By GREG MAFFETT
Published: September 10, 2010
I’m about 20 feet from ground zero of Honolulu’s zone of inequity. I’m sitting in the lobby of the hotel. Outside the lobby is the central area where I observed all the dealers and hookers congregating last Friday. It is now Thursday night and not a creature of disrepute is stirring. Interesting.
I’m in the hotel lobby typing on the theory that I might get mugged if I did this in the street. But really, there doesn’t seem to be a problem out there. In fact nothing of interest at all, so far. So very puzzling.
One theory I have is that “the block” moves from night to night or week to week. Another is that Monday to Thursday are just the off nights. That is the beauty of this theorizing. I’m about as ignorant as a person could be. I’m wired into the online version of the world. But the real world, there I’m not nearly as connected. Which is why I’m here.
I’m thinking that writing this in situ is better than the distance of my hotel room. But I really don’t know. I’m gathering data here, but the data seems to lead to the conclusion that this place is dead on Thursdays. Perhaps the game has moved on. I could walk and find out…or not. I do have writing to do.
This is about the street workers that I’ve seen over the past week here. Specifically the professional women. I think I’m at the top of this segment of the food chain. Women working the street are in a tough part of the market from what I’ve read. But walking the high rent district in Honolulu, well they are the top of the bottom. The women here are “streetwalkers” but they don’t really walk all that much.
The tradition, as best as I can tell, is that the women stand and the guys walk. So I try to position myself where the women have been standing in the past and see if they get picked by random guys. Yes, not much of a plan, but you know. It’s a writer thing. Go down to the stream and see if an alligator jumps out and eats a zebra. That would be the historical antecedent to this. Great fun if you time it right. Kind of slow if you show up on a day when the gators are full. So that is where I am. The waters are pretty still, but maybe I just saw a ripple, perhaps a couple of dealers just walked by. I don’t know.
So let me write about what little I do know. I’ve been “approached” by four women. So I’ll detail those here while I’m waiting. The simplest was the African American lass. Her line was “Hey, you want to hang out?” I shook my head and she let me off easy with a “Maybe next time”. Later I saw her and she looked like she was about to give up. I have to think that the second worst part of her job is standing there not getting work. The worst part is actually getting work.
I saw her twice on Friday night, both times alone. She looked good enough to be a pop star if she could sing. So I have to think that her singing voice was no better than mine and that was part of the process that got her into this line of work. But really, on a brief exchange, I had nothing to work on other than a guess. She was here at what I thought was the top end of her game, but I think she was the one that wasn’t making it.
Around the corner I saw a small cluster of 2 or 3 women in a pack. They were not as attractive as the ones on the main street and they didn’t interact with passers-by. I had to think this was the lower priced option. What looked like a homeless guy was trying his luck. I overhead one of the women there say “That is barely a down payment!”
Another lass passed, made eye contact and asked something. This was a blonde who was easily waved off. I saw her later with a barrel-chested guy who was wearing military issue eyeglasses. She seemed happy to have some work. He wasn’t saying a word. I think he was of the “without conversation” school of thought. But she really did seem a lot happier having found work. Well, no one wants a dour pro I’m thinking, even the without conversation guys.
So those were the first two I saw. There were two more that I’ll write up in a bit. But I’ve been sitting here for a half hour watching a whole lot of nothing while not getting mugged. I’m now sitting on a concrete wall on the street and nothing is going on. So very, very curious…or just so very, very Thursday.
Eventually I get up and walk around. I’m testing the theory that “the game” moves from night to night. Three blocks east I see a pro exit a taxi. She sports platform heels, bleach blonde hair and a spare tire. She disappears quickly after exiting the taxi. I didn’t notice that she paid the driver, perhaps she has an account. A couple blocks later I see a very short Asian man with what look like sisters. One tricked out like a pro, the other in jeans. A pro with a wingman? Interesting. That was it for the working women on Thursday night. Not very good hunting for a writer on the wire.
I did see one drug deal take place. Very quick hand off between two bearded characters in an alleyway. And I saw three or four guys who were the dictionary definition of the word “loitering”. They all leaned against something with a large bag over their shoulder. Most wore sunglasses. Ok that was the street on a Thursday between 730 and 830 at night. Many dealers, few pros in sight.
So I have to go with either “too early” or they are working other parts of town. Probably the latter, as they do have to work. Even with the new health care programs, a hefty premium is required. So only working weekends only doesn’t seem viable. The economic aspect of this does begin to make sense after a few days here. I see the cops screaming up and down the street with lights blazing. I see them pull cars over. Are they picking up people trying to buy drugs or hookers? Nope, all those deals are done on foot. I see that all the cops are doing is pulling people over for seat belt violations. They are out here supporting the city economy and ignoring the business transaction on the sidewalk.
They have in fact legitimized both businesses by the way they operate. Tourists feel safe seeing all the cops on the street, so the dealers are hookers really are not the bad guys. It is the hard corps unbuckled driver that they target. It generates income for the city, shows a presence, but doesn’t bother the underworld. Now that I'm looking at this closer, this is part of the Chamber of Commerce. So I get the big picture as a global theorist kind of guy. But I still have this underlying question regarding the hooker profession- why me after 30 years of being ignored? I still had no idea.
Yes, a good portion of the reason I’m out here wandering around is that I really don’t comprehend this. That is generally my driver to spend time on a problem and this is no different. Why, after 3 decades of being ignored, am I now being approached by a quartet of pros in one evening? There has to be an explanation. I do get a couple leads on this. One is from my daughter of all people. She had spent Thursday on the north shore doing a variety of tourist things. Every place she went she was greeted with the same question “Are you here alone?” Being alone in HI really does get people’s attention. Nearly everyone here is moving in a pack. Now that I thought back to my first day here, I was walking alone on the beach and one lady was definitely staring me down in passing. I really didn’t get what that was about, but eventually it made sense. If you are single, you are going to get some kind of attention here.
So now the 3 decades made sense to me. Every time that I’ve been where there are pro’s nearby, I’ve clearly been a tourist, not a potential customer. Here, all the potential customers are single tourists. I finally fit the profile! I will say this did give me a sense of, well, brotherhood. Basically I’ve always been an oddball relative to mankind. But now there was no difference between me and any of the other guys walking down the street. That did put a little bounce in my step.
“Hey you have a lot of pep in your step!” I hear from my left. Ok this is a doe eyed raven haired pro. She closes quickly and changes the focus from my peppy legs to her peppy legs. She is probably 5’9” and model quality. She is proposing wrapping her legs around me. I am somewhat puzzled by this proposal, working through the details in my head while she is going on with her sales pitch indicating she has a super nice hotel room nearby. I find out her name is Megan and she likes to do the sales pitch at a distance of about 2 feet, so she can reach out and touch the potential client on the shoulder to emphasize a point. I’m not saying anything, but I really am impressed by her vocabulary and diction. In fact, I’m thinking she is way, way overqualified for this job. Which makes me wonder if this is legit or an undercover policeperson with a solid formal education. She then says “I’m sensing some hesitation on your part”. Now there is no doubt that she has well above average intelligence and likely an advanced degree. Either this is a businessperson who is doing this as an entrepreneur. Or she really is on the government payroll. In either case I’m done my research here. As an exit strategy, I mention “Well it would probably take me 30 minutes…” She immediately comes back with a price quote “We could do 30 minutes for 200”. I smile and back away. “No, no it would take 30 minutes for medications to kick in.” That quickly ended the conversation and she moved on to better prospects.
Slowly, a smile dawned on my face. I just figured out how to window shop pros! Now I’m armed and dangerous. I don’t have to wave them off quickly like the first two. I can gather a little more detail. I can wade in knee deep then run for cover as the waters get closer to my uh, you know. This of course is just what I do when a bubbly red head bounces my way. She sees my Alcatraz Swim tee shirt and inquires “You from there?” I nod and she raises a palm “High five! Me too! I do a lot of high fives. Hi, I’m Riley” Immediately the old expression “Life of Riley” jumps to mind. The expression is not used much anymore, but back in the day it was used to describe something much like this streetwalker. It described a mythical Irishman, Riley, the lowest of immigrants, who made it to the top of the heap and was living well. Riley is going through a pitch similar to Megan’s, though in her case she has an apartment vice a hotel room. That did make me even more suspect about Megan. If she had her own hotel room, how did she change sheets between customers? If it was an apartment she could have a nights worth of laundry ready. So Riley seemed more legit, at least from my perspective as a detached scientific researcher/writer.
She was clearly not my type. Sure she was female (good), in great condition (better), a red head (better still), and incredibly energetic (best). But there were the downsides. Being from San Fran, she was certainly a liberal. Then there was the Monroe piercing on her lip. Weird. That can only mean there is a belly button piercing and maybe more hidden by her dress. What she is wearing is a white shift type dress that is very short. Very functional, I’ll give her that. I imagine she can be out of that in 10 seconds. A pair of high heels and a Loius Vuitton bag completes the ensemble. No support undergarment, she was clearly augmented. Looking at her face I think she may have been at this a little longer than the others, I'd say late 20's vice early 20's. The others seemed early 20’s.
But I will say that all her mannerisms seemed very professional and to the point. She was in business and had to determine if she could make a sale, yet she kept it light and energetic. While we are chatting, Megan comes around the corner, looking much worse for the wear. Wow, I think, it looks like Megan had a very, very sweaty workout and hadn’t been able to freshen up. Now I’m thinking maybe she is more legit than I thought earlier. OK, legit is probably not the right term, but you know.
Looking closer at Riley, I see a slight bend in her nose. Not sure if that is natural or…maybe it was broken once. It’s not horrid looking, I’d say a 9.9 vice a 10 due to this. Then I see a tooth that looks like it was capped. now the story is starting to fill itself in. As energetic and upbeat as she is, I’m sure there are stories that would make me pale. No doubt she has paid a lot along the way. Now I look down and see she has a handgun tattooed on her thigh. Later I look up handguns and see this is a 9MM Glock. I’m guessing it is a Glock 17. Now if that were a guy, the 17 would indicate a level of achievement. But I don’t know that women think this way. In fact I know very little about how the women in this business think.
It seems incredibly dangerous work on so many levels, that they have to be absolutely professional to survive. It really is something to watch these people work, the more I think about it.
I do look for parallels in everything I see. One of my co-teachers has said that students make up their minds about us in the first 5 minutes and that is about it. This women are working on an even shorter time horizon, they have maybe 5 seconds. They certainly have to look the part and get moving on their sales pitch before the chance passes. So at some level there is a similarity to my job on a Monday morning when I come into a class, see 30 strangers sitting there and have to win them over in 5 minutes.
Two days later I’m walking my daughter around town, showing her the high spots and the low spots. Who do I see? Megan. She makes brief eye contact, then lowers her eyes to the pavement and walks on by without any interaction. Professional, I’m thinking. These women may not be living the Life of Riley, but they really are professionals who adhere to the standards of their business. And maybe that is my lesson from this. Not very profound, but I think the message is simple, regardless of your profession, behave like a professional.