Day Fifteen: Planet Hollywood ($70)
Only since the advent of the Internet has it been possible to achieve huge fame, while also retaining total anonymity.
The most ready examples of that phenomenon are found in the ranks of the sex bloggers: the (usually) young (usually) women who write about their private lives for the titillation and education of the masses. A few -- Belle de Jour; Girl With A One Track Mind -- have received lucrative book deals and subsequently been "outed" -- but the majority of others continue to plug away in glittering obscurity.
One blogger in the latter category is The Las Vegas Courtesan (NSFW, obviously), who is precisely as her nom de plume suggests: a call girl living and working in Las Vegas.
I'm slightly ashamed to say that, before landing in Vegas, I'd never heard of The Courtesan's blog -- or her Twitter account -- which is a shame because they both make fascinating reading, going way beyond voyeuristic insight into the life of a sex worker. Of particular note is The Courtesan's mission to tour and photograph every brothel in the state of Nevada. "I sometimes feel bad taking a tour and then telling the girls I'm not interested in anything more," she told me when we met. (Given that her profession is still illegal in Las Vegas, I'm not going to tell you where we met: save that it was the bar of a Strip casino.)
What I will tell you is that The Courtesan is everything she claims to be: blonde, young, very attractive and a real-life escort. I mention that because having spent a couple of weeks in Vegas, it takes me by surprise when something -- or someone -- is actually as advertised. She was also willing -- providing I didn't write anything that might blow her cover -- to tell me anything I wanted to know about living in Vegas, and working as an escort.
There wasn't much I didn't want to know.
The Courtesan started her career as a stripper, which might not surprise you to learn. What might be surprising is her reason for making the switch to selling sex. "I was way more stressed as a stripper than as an escort" she explained. "A good stripper isn't supposed to take rejection personally: I get that you might not be every guy's type, and you just move on to the next one."
"But if you get turned down by twenty guys in a night, it's hard not to take that personally -- they don't want to even give me $20; what's wrong with me?. As an escort, you might only get rejected once a night."
Another surprise is the typical user of The Courtesan's services. The cliche of the fat, old pervert isn't entirely a myth -- "at least they tip well" -- but actually the largest demographic of clients is 20-something-year-old young men. "The guys go out with their friends to strip clubs, get a bunch of dances and then leave disappointed. Then they get in a cab and the driver suggests they call an escort."
This unofficial network of cab referrals -- each of which delivers up to $200 commission to the driver -- is the reason why you can't get a cab outside your hotel on a Saturday night. "You stand outside Spearmint Rhino some nights and there are like 200 cabs, waiting. But you stand outside the Cosmopolitan and there are none."
Speaking of referrals; I'm far from the only visitor to Vegas who has wanted to punch in the face the next person to flick a flyer in my face on the strip, advertising "hot girls, delivered to your door". What the fuck is the deal there? Are they legit?
"Yes, they are. There are about ten companies who employ passers on the strip..."
"Passers? Why are they called passers?"
The Courtesan looks at me like I'm an idiot. "Because they pass out flyers"
"Yeah, a lot of people assume they're illegal [immigrants] but they're not. They carry their green cards with them because they get hassled so much. Also, what they do is legal. There have been court cases about it, supported by the ACLU -- it's a free speech issue."
The more The Courtesan talks about passers, the more I start to feel a grudging sympathy for what they do. High-minded First Amendment issues aside, they're simply reflecting the supply and demand reality of sex work. And -- The Courtesan argues -- are actually doing customers a service. "At least they all work for real agencies who keep records. It's way safer than paying for a girl you meet in a bar -- who could be anyone. That's when people get robbed."
Another amusing aside: the "hot girls to your door" tagline often falls foul of the maxim 'if something seems too good to be true, it probably is'. On countless occasions, girls have arrived at a client's door and found him totally unprepared. "They say 'oh, I didn't think anyone would show up', even though they've called the number on the card and given all of their information. I'm like, what did you think was going to happen? Who did you think was paying for those guys to stand on the street, or for the phone lines or the people to take your booking?"
Then again, as another anecdote demonstrates, there are no shortage of idiots who come to Vegas to pay for sex. The Courtesan relates the story of Hubert Blackman who paid for an escort from 'Las Vegas Exclusive Personals' and then sued the company when the escort left in less than an hour. In addition to the return of his $275, Mr Blackman claimed $1.8million in damages for "the tragic event that happened". The tragic event in question being the performance of an "illegal sex act" that Mr Blackman was shocked -- shocked! -- to have received. Rather than lending Mr Blackman a sympathetic ear, Las Vegas police threatened to arrest him for admitting to paying for sex. A court in New York later threw out his civil case. Because he's a fucking idiot.
Still, what The Courtesan does is illegal and, yes, she has been arrested and, yes, she has been thrown out of casinos. "There are some places on the Strip I won't even step into any more. They have facial recognition systems that spot you as soon as you walk in the door. It's just not worth trying." I look across the bar and into the casino; there don't seem to be any security guards watching us, but who can tell?
"I'd like what I do to be legal here," she says, "but not [Mayor Goodman's proposal for] a red light district. I don't want to work out of a house -- the girls there only get half their money. I just want to carry on doing what I do, how I do it, but with a safety net. I'd like to be able to get a health card."
Certainly no-one seems happy with the way the law treats escorts now. "When I was arrested once, I got talking to one of the cops, who used to work on vice. He told me he changed departments 'because of the way the law treats girls. It's not like they killed someone. Nobody gets hurt'."
Well, nobody except the occasional girlfriend: apparently couples are another big demographic for The Courtesan -- particularly those visiting Vegas to have experiences they'd wouldn't dare consider at home.
"Have you ever visited a couple and had the wife or girlfriend lose her shit?" I asked. That is, after all, the risk with threesomes: that someone ends up yelling or crying.
"Oh God, yes. It's weird how many times I've gone to a couple and it's obvious they haven't thought it through at all. They have no idea what they want. And, yeah, I've had wives and girlfriends who have started crying. There's a post about one of them on my blog."
Finally, I ask Vegas Courtesan what it's like living in Vegas, although obviously she's hesitant to volunteer specifics. It's hopefully not giving too much away though, to say that she has lived in the town for a decent chunk of her life. Is it as weird as it seems?
"Making good friends is hard," she says. "Vegas is a really just a small town; people come and go all the time. You'll get to know someone and then one day they will just suddenly leave - looking for a better life in California or somewhere else. It's hard; the people you meet often are from out of town, and then they're gone."
But for all the risk of arrest and the transience of friendships, The Courtesan claims she still loves it here.
"It's a 24 hour town. If you want to buy windshield wipers at 1am on a Saturday, you can."
Just don't try getting a cab from outside the Cosmopolitan.