Nighttime in Nevada: Donna's Ranch
I'm barreling down I-80 eastbound, in the cab of a sixteen wheeler -- 35 tons pushing us over the last hill into Wells. A crackling CB comes in range with the voices of prostitutes at Donna's Ranch flirting, trying to lure truckers in for a visit. I'm with a Canadian trucker whose CB handle is Copperfield.
Copperfield will pull off at exit 351 tonight. In fact, he passes through twice a week delivering meat and poultry between Calgary, Alberta and Los Angeles. He has a good reason to make this place his second home.
Copperfield met Cherry Rose, one of the working girls at Donna's, several months ago. After years on the road he was getting lonelier and lonelier. And then one day he heard something different than the usual truckers' gripe over the CB. He'd never been to a brothel before and it took him several months to build up the nerve to stop.
Copperfield lays his arms across the big steering wheel and looks off dreamily. We exit the freeway and his headlights follow the signs leading off onto a lonely dirt road. It takes us to a big parking lot full of trucks and two neon outlined buildings, one Donna's Ranch and the other, their competitor, the Hacienda. We walk to a locked door and ring the bell. A buzzer lets us in.
It feels like an old neighborhood tavern, and it is old. First called Alice Woods Sporting House, it catered to workers building the transcontinental railroad in the 1860's. In the twenties, world heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey's wife Maxine was the madam here and cowboys and sheep herders lined the bar. Today it's called Donna's Ranch and it serves an average of 50 long-haul truckers each day. The barmaid, a solidly built woman, introduces me to Cherry Rose and Copperfield joins the other truckers for a drink.
I have to admit I'm a bit nervous as Cherry Rose agrees to take me on a tour of the cathouse. We walk down halls, through doors I have to duck through. It's haphazard but homey. We pass a coffee cup hall of fame, through a Jacuzzi area and then visit an all-red fantasy room -- a big round velvet bed reflected from ceiling mirrors above.
We end up in her room sitting on her bed. She's wearing very hot pants, a bikini top and shawl and she puts her hand on my arm. I struggle to remember we are both professionals. It's definitely time to interview Cherry Rose about why she's chosen the life of a prostitute.
I think about Copperfield sitting at the bar and I wonder how he feels right now. How does love with the meter running work for these people? Cherry Rose speaks with warmth about her regular customers though she won't mention any by name. She jokes that Donna's is far more discrete than the White House when it comes to these matters. She also speaks with pride about other standards -- regular health checks and strict use of condoms. In fact, since that law went into effect, not one brothel prostitute has contracted AIDS.
An older woman wearing a house coat enters the room checking up on us. It's the madam of the house, the manager, or as everyone calls her, 'Mom' and she is Mom in many ways. She cares for the house, the girls. She gives them their allowance. But she's also Mom to many of the truckers.
Despite her motherly demeanor, Mom can be a bear when she needs to be. After all, this is a brothel, and she occasionally has to deal with drunks, loonies, and jealous lovers. There are no men on staff -- Mom's the only bouncer here. As I return to the bar I join Copperfield and he offers to drive me back to the exit closest to my ranch so I can pick-up my truck.
I'm not sure I could accept that but then again I've been surprised by what I've found at Donna's Ranch. Sure, I've met truckers who were groping dolts and women hardened by the life. But I also met a loving Cherry Rose and a Dudley-Do-Right trucker named Copperfield and for them this style of love seems to work. After all, life gets pretty lonely out there.
On The Open Road, I'm Hal Cannon for The Savvy Traveler.
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