Heads or Tails
“Heads we get head, tails we won’t even go,” Gully said. His eyes darting around the truck in an attempt to get a small glimpse of reassuring eye contact.
I hadn’t really understood what he said, but I nodded anyway, then drew my attention back out the window to watch the blinking billboards for DUI lawyers, strip clubs, and other nicotine-stained Reno tourist traps pass by.
With a flick of his thumb, Gully sent a quarter flipping through the air.
“We’re going to a whorehouse, boys!”
It was March 4th, 2009. The date is historically noted for being the day the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for crimes against humanity in Darfur. But to me, its significance represents a day that a gang of hooligans set out on a quest to commit their own crimes against humanity – in sunny California ... with a few stops along the way.
My fellow travelers on this 1,875 miles cross-country voyage included:
JD - a childhood friend, who in his youth had achieved Eagle Scout, but in later years traded in his scout’s honor for a PBR slammin’ lifestyle;
Gully - also a childhood friend, who ‘til this day has no kids, but was a born dad. Not in a wise paternal kind of way, but possesses undeniable dad-like attributes. The guy can fix anything from a tractor to a bathroom sink, and he’s been sporting New Balance 452s with his Carhart carpenter jeans since he learned to walk – steal-toes if he’s working or going out on the town;
...and their weird friend Duke - some guy from our hometown who went to another school. He typically hung around with a group of guys who on more than one occasion tried to jump me at parties. Of course, they had their reasons, I mean, the last time it happened it was because I was wearing a tennis armband as a fashion accessory (a 20teens trend that never really caught on). I’d have beat me up too.
Driving a gas-guzzling Ford F150 extended cab with a 2-car hauler truck bed, we were heading from Iowa to California to pick up a 5-ton auto body frame straightener. JD’s uncle had purchased the device on Craigslist.
The miles we drove through the farmlands of Iowa and Nebraska aren’t worth mentioning, but once we hit the wild landscapes of Wyoming and Utah, we were finally able to discover How the West Was Fun – Mary Kate and Ashley weren't lying. There were even real-life tumbleweeds a’ blowin!
Then we entered Nevada. The ashtray of America. It’s legal to smoke in casinos and since every grocery store, dive-bar, and gas station has a slot machine, I guess everywhere is considered a casino.
“It’s coming up in two exits, watch for it!” Gully said. The giddy in his voice bore a striking contrast to his fatherly demeanor.
Twenty miles outside of Reno, Nevada stands; The World Famous Mustang Ranch. This wholesome establishment is billed as Nevada's first licensed brothel. A result of the ranch’s founder, Joe Conforte, leading a push for county officials to pass a brothel-licensing ordinance in 1971.
His success in getting the legislation approved led 10 of the state’s 17 counties to follow suit – cementing legalized prostitution into the foundation of the ashtray state.
Other historical happenings at the whorehouse: the murder of the world-class boxer Oscar Bonavena in 1976. He was a former friend of Joe’s and probably had been having an affair with Mrs. Conforte. Joe's bodyguard shot him dead at the ranch. Rest in power, king.
Update: In 1999, Joe Conforte was convicted of tax fraud, racketeering, and other crimes, but he fled the country. He [probably] died in 2019.
Stepping into the building, my eyes took a moment to adjust, as did my brain. In a dimly lit room, the main light source came from a red glow of a neon sign positioned behind a finely shellacked bar.
I’m no detective but: bar, stage, pole, 70’s nightclub sofas, sweaty businessmen in cheap suits talking to hookers – we were in the parlor of a cathouse, baby!
The theme was hard to pin down. While the dated furniture looked like it was stolen from an old bowling alley, the decor was leaning more toward an Italian villa theme, and the ceiling was embellished with a Mexican restaurant-style mural of clouds, trees, birds, and whatever.
A handful of women were spaced strategically around the parlor. Some sat at different sides of the bar, some posed seductively on chaise lounges, some chatted up patrons. Also strategically, the girls were as diverse as the cartoon kids printed on the sack of the kid’s meal at Burger King.
There was a skinny blonde with big fake tits, a ginger who sat all alone deepthroating a jumbo creamsicle, a curvy Latina, two twin-looking Asians, a forgettable brunette, a gothic dominatrix and...
“Hey! How are you guys?”
A Lisa Turtle look-alike appeared out of the shadows. She was dressed in a dark red corset and whatever other lacy stuff Christina Agularia wore in the Lady Marmalade video.
“I’m Kahlua, what are your boys’ names?” Her voice was surprisingly normal, not bawdy or vivacious like you might expect.
Our responses could have been creative alter-egos like Dixon Bolls or something, but instead one-by-one, we each stuttered through our names – our real names – which was only fair because she gave us hers.
“Let me show ya around,” Kahlua said gesturing to a hallway off the parlor.
What followed was a tour of the establishment's most expensive suites:
Jungle Room - this room featured a jacuzzi, like all of the rest of the rooms, but this jacuzzi is surrounded by thematic plastic plants. The fake foliage was complemented with real taxidermy. A brown cowhide rug on the floor in front of the bed, a stuffed peacock above the armoire, and a wall decorated with both a zebra skin and a mounted antelope... Hakuna Matata
Princess Suite- This room was decorated with a few gaudy gold embellishments. It was also handicap accessible with a roll-in double shower.
British Campaign Room - I don’t know, it had a light brown leather couch and was poorly named because unlike Brexit, group collaboration was encouraged in this room. “Four girls or more could fit on this four-post bed,” Kahlua rightfully pointed out.
Pool deck – A portion of the tour passed through the outdoor pool area. The pool had been drained, and so had the color from my face after seeing Kahlua in the unforgiving daylight.
During the tour, Kahlua was astonishingly casual in her commentary on anal, oral, and all things amoral. JD and I reacted like giggling schoolboys who found their first nudie mag in the woods. Duke and Gully tried to respond like real grown-ups but were as convincing as two wobbly little rascals stacked atop each other under a trenchcoat.
Before looping back to the lobby, Kahlua had one more thing to show us. She directed us down a corridor that opened up into a small foyer, aka the saddle room.
On a brushed-gold platform, where you might expect to find a throne, was a horse saddle. A wall of dildos served as a stimulating backdrop for the elevated saddle.
Kahlua - or Lua as we had come to know her by this point- hopped up and straddled her legs around the equestrian apparatus. She reached down and picked up what looked like an atari joystick and handed it to Duke.
I’m not sure if she pressed a button or if she pull-started it like a lawnmower, but suddenly the saddle began to vibrate, as loud as a washing machine in its spin cycle. Over the noise, she explained to Duke that he could choose a toy from the wall and she’d attach it to a port in the saddle. Duke could then operate it with the joystick – to control the rubbery member like an erotic Crazy Daisy.
Concerned that it was going to cost us money we didn’t have, we squirmed our way out of the room and back to the front end of the brothel – where it was time to get down to brass tacks.
Kahlua kindly explained the next steps…
The lineup show – all of the girls would parade out in a line and we could have our pick.
The negotiating room – after you make your choice, the girl (or girls) will lead you into a private room where you can discuss your desires, her rules, her prices, time limits, etc. Technically, the girls are private contractors and set their own prices – the brothel cannot legally set it for them.
Wam, bam thank you, ma’am.
“So should we line up the girls?” Kahlua asked.
Ohh, Kahlua… none of us had more than $200 in our bank accounts.
Three of us backed away like Homer in that hedge meme. Duke however puffed up his chest and offered to buy Kahlua a drink.
She ordered a toxic blue cocktail in a skinny glass. 17-year old Duke ordered a bottle of Miller Light. The two made less than a minute of small talk before Lua gave him a friendly side-hug and slinked away.
The bartender slammed down a $53.00 bill right in front of ol' Duke.
Good one, Duke.
Our boyish snickers rolled into guttural laughter as we ran through the parking lot to the truck.
“What was that?” JD laughed, turning the key in the ignition.
The second we rolled away, the truck engine began making a hissing noise. Was it God showing his disgust for our playdate at the devil's playground?
We pulled onto the expressway. The hisses became gargles, the gargles became growls, the growls became roars. Sky daddy was angry.
Coasting to the nearest exit, we rumbled to a stop.
A bit of smoke leaked out as Gully popped the hood. After some tinkering, he determined that a gauge was shot (or something, I don't know car stuff) and that we’d probably need to find a place to stay for the night then find an auto parts store in the morning.
We found a nearby Motel 6, crammed into a single room, caught some z's, then wolfed down a few continental breakfast bagels – and pocketed a few extras for the road of course.
Keeping with the pocketing trend, we headed to a used car parts store where Duke took it on himself to pocket a new gauge – procuring the part with a five-finger discount.
Before noon we were back on the road well on our way toward more shenanigans in the sunshine state.