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Open Road: Nevada at Night

Travelers know Nevada as a wide-open 24-hour-a-day anything goes kind of place. One service that's available in this state that's definitely not legal anywhere else in the United States is prostitution. Though bordellos have been going in Nevada since there was a Nevada it wasn't until 1970 that the business was legalized. You may ask, "What does this have to do with travel?" The biggest customers for prostitution in the state are traveling men. Hal Cannon of the Open Road went to Wells, Nevada to visit the most common business traveler here, truck drivers.

Nighttime in Nevada: Donna's Ranch
by Hal Cannon for the Open Road

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Donna's Ranch: "How about it out there, drivers? Over here at Donna's Ranch tonight we have got a bunch of hot, hot, wet and wild ladies. So come in."

CB 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: "You got a copy there Donna's Ranch."

Donna's Ranch: "Who's this?"

Copperfield: "You got Copperfield on this end."

Donna's Ranch: "You coming over?"

Exit 351 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.

Hal: "So What brings you to Donna's?"

Copperfield: (Pause) "Cherry Rose."

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: "I didn't know what to expect. I had no clue whatsoever. Walk in there and you're very nervous. But I found they put you at ease right away. I've only been with Cherry, but a lot of them are basically in it just for the money. Her...she's different."

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.

Cherry Rose: "Come on back."

bed 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.

Cherry Rose: "Maybe we can hang some dominance equipment in here."

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.

Cherry Rose: "Oh Lord, I love it here. This is great.

Hal: "Now what do you love about this life? Can I ask you?"

Cherry Rose: "Yeah, I'm a real people person. I was the baby of the family, I've got to be around people all the time. And I need adult interaction too, so there's always the girls around here, so you always have people around, and then I'm just a big flirt and I love, I adore men, I think you guys are big teddy bears."

Hal: "So is it hard to be sexy all the time?"

Cherry Rose: "Well, of course, your body gets tired, this is a lot of wear and tear on it, know what I mean? And, you know, my face breaks out from all the makeup, and different stuff like that. On the average you get maybe five or six hours of sleep a night. You get woke up in the middle of the night, couple times a night, because we're a 24-hour house, you know."

Hal: "Now, a lot of people, a lot of women especially think that women that do your profession are being taken advantage of. Do you feel that to be true?

Cherry Rose: "No, not at all. Not at all. the guys that come in, I give them my standards, I give them my rules, what they can and can't do. I don't let guys be rough with me or anything like that. It's amazing how willing the guys are to cooperate. Everything's agreed upon up front, I'm getting paid. You know, whether or not I develop some kind of an emotional bond." with this guy, you know when I'm in the room for the hour or something like that, you know, what can I say?"

martini 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.

Cherry Rose: "We get poked once a month for AIDS. It's about as safe as you're gonna get for sex. Oh he's talkin' to me, interviewing me in my room."

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.

Mom: "You'd be surprised how many come in "Mom, I have to talk to ya." And I have to take them back in the back, uh, they've lost their wives, they've had wrecks with their kids in the cars, and I take 'em back and I talk to 'em and explain to them. It's life and this is what's gotta be goin' and you gotta go on honey and stuff you know."

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.

Hal: "Now, she seems like a sweet person. Does it ever frustrate you that you can't be with her all the time?

Copperfield: "You know, you sorta get, she's the only working girl I've ever been with and it's...well, you sorta get attached to her. It's hard some times because you can't be with her all the time. It's one of those things you have to live with, you're on the road and she's doing her thing and you're doing yours.

Hal: "Do you get to visit with her, which is nice?"

Copperfield: "Yeah. She doesn't always have a lot of time but you accept that."

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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