03/18/2008 12:53 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Driving Through Death Valley to Meet a Hooker

Diane Sawyer's revived 20/20 special about a Bunny Ranch, and "Kristen's" fast-moving musical career call to mind my interview a couple of years ago with a Nevada hooker.

Things started when I dated a meticulous, ambitious law firm partner who admitted that throughout his former marriage he not only visited prostitutes regularly, but enjoyed taking some of them to lunch. One was a psych major at NYU. The lawyer explained he liked the freedom from needs or demands, and the power of being able to "pay, play and leave."

Like most women, I'm programmed for intimacy and romance, and I usually empathize with the wife, having been one, twice. But I was curious about the widespread lure of prostitution, so when I found out I was attending a conference in Las Vegas, I wangled an interview at a legal Nevada brothel called Angel's Ladies.

Here's my on-the-spot experience, which I had blogged about more briefly on my website

There's a brothel or two near Pahrump, near Vegas, but my appointment is further along, past Death Valley. (BTW, and off-point, the most fascinating non-hooker woman in Pahrump is Marta Becket, over 80, who still dances -- on point -- at the Amargosa Opera House she founded there. She painted murals of an audience to surround the stage, and she sings and dances for that silent group even if no one shows up.)

This September morning in Death Valley the temp is 106 in the shade, but "dry heat," so it feels like ... 106! At a lunch stop at the aptly-named Furnace Creek Inn, a door sign reads "sauna." Redundant.

Surreal landscapes reflect my mood as I drive to meet the hooker in blessed air con along salt flats 300 feet below sea level, with far-off mountains rising into haze. I pass pink and violet shadings at Zabriski Point, wavy outcroppings of mineral and rock, sand dunes, ghost towns, and abandoned mines. Lots of time to ponder why I'm doing this.

In Beatty Nevada, at a saloon called The Sourdough, I get directions to the small pink roadhouse, Angel's Ladies, just north of town. Maybe 100 feet from the door, by a big sign, the wreckage of a small plane, as if some horny pilot couldn't get there fast enough.

The reception area at Angel's Ladies looks like a neat, paneled rec room from the 1970s. There's no bar, just some seating, and a shower room off to the side. I'm warmly greeted by Miranda, the manager and one of the half dozen or so women who lines up most days and nights to be chosen, as she says, by "truckers, virgin kids, and frustrated husbands."

Miranda's a fetching redhead in dark-rimmed glasses, slim in a sweater and slacks. When she smiles sweetly, she looks like my third grade teacher, Miss Astor. She sits me down on a couch, asks if I want some water, and tells me she's a forty-something grandmother, and an online business-administration student. She used to work in a factory, and likes her current job much better. Not what I expected.

Miranda says she's on her own, the money's good and steady, and she enjoys people. She doesn't mind filling out the tax forms and conforming to the strict health codes imposed by Nevada. She explains that she shares fees with the couple who owns the place, and prices are slightly negotiable.

She hands me a piece of paper. The menu of services seems pretty standard. Nothing too kinky, nothing too expensive: top prices in the low hundreds. Miranda offers that she's on call, 24/7.

Only one man comes in during my half-hour afternoon visit. He turns and looks out the window when he sees me, and swiftly walks to the back of the house with a pleasant woman on his arm. A few of the other hookers, younger than Miranda but not any prettier, saunter by in robes, which jolts me a bit; I feel like an overdressed prude on a really casual Friday.

Miranda probably dressed up so wholesomely just for me. She chats openly about being safe and serving clients, and sounds a bit like a women talking about the joys of a rotisserie on an infomercial.

But as she laughs and asks about my life, I do see more clearly why my lawyer companion could befriend a prostitute. I could hang out with Miranda myself, maybe lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, and then shopping for strappy Nine Wests at the mall. She's gotten to me. I'm gal-pal fantasizing.

We say fuzzy goodbyes and I spend the night in a Beatty Holiday Inn, thinking things through. I still feel sorry for wives who have to deal with this situation, but not necessarily for the women who offer sex for money. The interplay of pimps and hookers is rotten, but the environment in Nevada seems pretty good. Some women do choose prostitution as a well-paid option, and to fill a need, and don't feel like victims at all.

Yes, big-shot johns possess money and power, and their assignations include the rush of glamorous babes and extra risk. But men of all means like to feel good, and many will pay what they can for immediate, non-emotional pleasure. Getting past the hormonal imperative of sex, non-demanding, non-judgmental attention is alluring -- whether from a cajoling streetwalker in thigh-high boots, a friendly, legal prostitute like Miranda, or a thousand-dollar-an-hour, kittenish escort/singer/author like Kristen.

Anyway, I noted some of Miranda's words of wisdom. The lady does know her stuff.

Good attitude: "I'll find something good about anybody. If he's overweight, I'll say, "Sweetie, you're my big ol' teddy bear."

Good hygiene: "If he's sweaty I say "Want to shower together, hon'?"

Code of ethics: "Most of the fellas are married, but better to come here than have a mistress."

Household hints: "When a guy's really small you get creative. If he's really big, Epsom salts work wonders."

According to the Pahrump Valley Times, Angel's Ladies closed a few months ago, perhaps because of the rising cost of gas. I hope Miranda earned her business degree. And if she's reading this, maybe we could do that lunch sometime.

Lea Lane is author of Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips (Fodor's).