By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
"They" were Ned and his friends, who, Aphrodite says, had sugar babies of their own. "All his friends had girls just like me. None of the girls really talked to each other. [The men] are so insecure when you're with them, they're so paranoid; secretly they know that you're only with them because of the money. God forbid you're secretly plotting. So none of the girls talk."
Eventually Aphrodite broke things off with Ned and moved back to her family. She figures she has stashed away about $30,000 from the experience (and donated $9000 to a children's charity). Aphrodite, who spent time on the beauty pageant circuit, says that behind the scenes, similar stories are playing out all the time. "Beauty queens, actresses, models ... that's the lifestyle a lot of these girls live. And they live it in secrecy."
Before he discovered the Internet, Easy Rider had to look for sugar babies the old-fashioned way: by leaving the house. Most of the usual pick-up spots in South Beach were no good for an older man. "In those places, you have to be very careful if you approach a young girl, or she'll get the wrong idea ... and there are so many other people there." Instead Rider frequented places where an older man looking for a young woman might get a warmer reception. There was always one standby: hotel bars.
With its moonlit couches, shimmering pools, and the ever-present rumble of the ocean nearby, the Shore Club is a place where the old and the young, the rich and the beautiful, can mingle freely in an environment safely hostile to anyone without money to burn.
Beatriz, who sells cigars and cigarettes from a wooden box that hangs from her neck, sees plenty from her post in the hotel courtyard. "Muchísimas," she says, smiling, "everybody knows about it. The cocktail waitress," she says, waving her hand toward the hotel's darkened interior, "she gets offers from tons of men, all the time. Me too!" One night a man from Denmark walked up to her to buy a cigar and, while he was at it, offered to take her to Hawaii on a cruise, she says. She declined. He asked how much money she made. "$500 a week," she answered. "He said, 'I'll give you $2500 to come with me,'" says Beatriz. "Five times 500."
"Oh yeah, you see 'em, old guys with young girls," the bartender pipes in, pausing for a moment from wiping a glass to wave a vague hand toward Collins Avenue. "We had a barmaid who went off with a millionaire. He brought her to Switzerland, bought her her own beauty salon."
The bartender advises me to seek out a friend of his, Travis, a few doors down at the Delano hotel. "He's got this woman, she's in her forties, who buys him all kinds of shit."
I find Travis standing in front of the Delano, looking like the Secret Service — walkie-talkie in hand, a coil rising from inside his jacket to his ear, his face a stern mask as he watches the guests piling out of limos and hired cars. The expression breaks when I ask about his sugar mama.
"Yeah, well, yeah," he says, shuffling his feet, looking down, then out at the cars, and then at nothing at all. "She doesn't live around here.... It's really just basically a sexual thing," he says, his face breaking involuntarily into a grin and then, just as suddenly, becoming a mask again. Standing six feet tall, with clean, chiseled features and well-cut black hair, Travis could easily pass for 30 years old, though he's actually 22. "She just ... she takes care of me, you know?" Some guests arrive, much to his relief, spilling out of their limo like cream from a saucer.
On the street, a man and a woman stroll by holding hands. She can't be more than 25 years old — ridiculously beautiful, bare-shouldered in an expensive green dress that swooshes playfully around her improbably long, slender legs. He is at least 60, portly and somewhat hunched over his stomach, as if suffering from chronic indigestion. They make their way slowly down the street, turning into a parking lot and walking to a white Mercedes-Benz. They get in the car and disappear into the night.
Amid the revealing pictures and canned profiles on WealthyMen.com, a Web site based in South Beach, Hester's stood out. For one thing, two of the pictures she had posted were of jellyfish, and her interests included postmodern critical theory and French existentialism.
She agreed to talk for this article, emphasizing that she considered the whole sugar baby thing an act. "This isn't me," she wrote. A day later, Hester wrote again, saying she didn't want to meet after all. "I'm embarrassed," she wrote, "and I don't really want to talk about it."
In the end, she agreed to meet for a beer at Churchill's.
Hester is 24 years old, with long auburn hair, big hazel eyes that never look away first, and an air of mystery — aided, no doubt, by a soft British accent ("trans-Atlantic," she calls it). Tattooed in white on one of her arms is the phrase My heart is always broken.