Pandering for Fun and Profit

Welcome to Sonya's world, where the clients are grateful, the money is good, and the risk is minimal

Monday. A work day. Sonya is up at 6:00 as usual, strolling toward the pool. Her toes curl on a cool, pebbly patio as she strips down to a black bikini. Her belly is flat and the cut of her swimsuit shows off her youthful legs. The single mother swims 50 laps, also as usual, then wraps a white towel around her frosted blond hair and goes inside. In the kitchen she consumes two cups of espresso, some toast, and the daily paper. She may be the Miami Herald's most ardent reader, scrutinizing every section: "Local," where her clients sometimes appear in news stories; "Real Estate," where she's invested much of her cash; "Classified," where her money-generating advertisement has appeared for the past two years.

She skims down the "Announcement" section to the category situated between Tickets and Legal Services. There, in Entertainment/Adult, lies her competition: Tina, and Lili & Vivian, and Heavenly Bodies. Yes * Yes * Yes, moans one ad; "Barely Legal" teases the next. Another listing, pushing the boundaries of taste at the conservative Herald, advertises "Cuntry Girls." Sonya's ad is there, along with the phone number she's currently using. (She changes the number regularly for security reasons.) "Babe-A-Licious," it reads, "#1 in Kendall and C. Gables."

She leaves the paper on the counter and glides into the living room. Carrying her coffee and some work papers, she sets up shop on a carpeted staircase. A pile of stat sheets rests before her, each containing information about her employees: every girl's real name and age, real address, working name, and contact numbers.

Physiques are detailed: eye color, height, weight, measurements. The sheets also note special attributes about the girls, such as celebrities they resemble or services they are willing or unwilling to perform. If a girl is able to meet a client at his home or office, how far is she willing to drive? The most reliable girls' sheets are on the top of the pile; they'll get the most work.

A legal pad becomes Sonya's ledger for the day. On the top of the first page she scribbles time and date, followed by a list of all the girls who are on call. She says she has supervised as many as 100 girls at a time. Today, however, she's listed just ten. When a client calls, she will write down his name and note the time of the appointment as well as the girl with whom she will pair him.

At 7:00 she turns on her cellular phone. It rings immediately. "Hello," she coos to her first caller. "How can I help you?"

"Yes," says the confident voice of a mature man. He's an occasional client she knows to be a divorce lawyer. "I'm interested in seeing a young lady this afternoon. Do you have anyone available in the Coral Gables area?"

"Yes, we do." Sonya's voice is sweetly seductive. "Who is it you're interested in meeting?"

"Someone who is intelligent," he says, "and someone who isn't Latin. I need this to be confidential because I'm married."

"It's strictly confidential," she says. "Not a problem." Then she thumbs through her stack of girls. The phone rings again. Caller ID shows the number of another client. She puts the first man on hold and takes the call. A third call comes in from the mechanic who's working on her BMW. "Oh, shit," she mutters, putting both clients on hold, "I've got to pick that up today." When she returns to her initial client, she has selected for him a strawberry-blonde who works out of a hotel on South Dixie Highway. A rendezvous is set for the early afternoon. She presses the "flash" button on her phone and returns to the second client.

As the proprietor of a successful escort service, Sonya will spend the next several hours taking phone calls. She says she has worked her telephone like this seven days a week, ten hours a day, for the past two years. The long hours, she explains, are necessary to keep up with the volume of calls generated largely by her tiny five-word, one-phone-number classified ad.

Escort services usually make the news only indirectly. For instance when federal prosecutors charged jury foreman Miguel D. Moya with pocketing $500,000 to fix the 1996 trial of drug kingpins Willy Falcon and Sal Magluta, they alleged he spent some of the bribe money on escort services. Last year's phone-sex scandal at the State Attorney's Office included the accusation that one secretary discussed the possibility of opening her own escort service. In 1991 former FIU provost Steven Altman resigned as the president of the University of Central Florida after it was revealed he patronized escort services in Orlando and (while on university business trips) five other cities, including Miami. Later that same year self-help guru Dr. Wayne Dyer was named in records seized by police during a raid on a Fort Lauderdale escort service that was -- surprise -- a front for prostitution.

Although escort services traditionally maintain a low profile, the industry is thriving. Escort advertisements appear in the BellSouth Yellow Pages and in most local daily and weekly newspapers. Their presence in the Yellow Pages is jarring. Printed in the same format as ads for plumbers and tire warehouses, the escort advertisements shout their services in sterile black type: "Open 24 hours!" and "VIP for South Beach." Victoria's Connections is "Always Open." A AAchen is "sophisticated" and "trusted."

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