I picked her up on Ohio street just off Michigan Ave. She was dressed in a tasteful, somewhat underplayed yet stylish manner. She was model tall, but not model thin, and strikingly attractive. One of those friendly fares who calls you ‘Sweetie’ and asks how you are. Though I’ve always claimed to not like being addressed this way by strangers, from her it seemed sincere and appropriate. She was instantly comfortable in the cab, smiling and politely asking if she could smoke. She lit her cigarette, settled back in her seat, and began poking at her smart phone. She received a phone call, and it was apparent from her responses that the person was a stranger to her. However, unlike most people receiving a call from a stranger, this was not a wrong number. She was adeptly engaging and friendly as she dominated the conversation. I heard her ask the caller where he was, and she told the caller she was in downtown Chicago. She then said ‘it’ would be $350. In response to the caller’s next statement she said, “I can work with that.” She then went on to say that she only needed him to text his first and last name, and she would be on her way when she received the text. As I dropped her off at her desired location, a trendy, south loop luxury apartment building, she smiled, called me sweetie again, and said if I was still in the area in 15 minutes she could use a ride. She then asked for my name and number, which I provided.
Fifteen minutes later I arrived again at her building to pick her up. She was just returning to her building, and smiled upon seeing me. She pointed toward her door and then pointed back at me. I nodded to indicate I understood that she needed to go inside but would be coming back out. About five minutes later she entered the cab, giving me the address of a downtown Chicago hotel. I took her there and she paid me cash, leaving a generous tip as she had at the first drop-off. As she exited, she said she should be done in 20 minutes, and she confirmed that she had my correct number.
What line have I just have crossed? I’m now transporting prostitutes? Who am I to judge anyone? She’s out here doing the same thing I am-serving the public to make a living. Though my service, unlike hers, is legal. On her cell, I had also heard her tell someone she had to make rent this evening, which she said was $1500. Given that amount, and the stylish rental location where I dropped her, she was apparently living well. But at what cost? Anyway, so goes another night in the big city.
On a related note, five years ago I visited Amsterdam. Friends and I stopped in the McDonalds, in the ‘red light’ district, for a bite of lunch. This part of the city, traversed by picturesque canals, has many brothels where prostitutes openly offer services. A friendly woman sitting at the table next to us said ‘hello,’ noticing we were travellers, and welcomed us to the city. Making conversation, she said she was on her lunch break and was waiting for her husband and 5-year-old son to join her. When asked where she worked, she said she was a sex worker. When asked if she felt safe doing her job, she smiled and said she was perfectly safe. She said the police were always nearby and the laws protected her from mistreatment. She said she emigrated here from eastern Europe, where she grew up in a poor family. Unable to be educated there or find employment, she said she came to Amsterdam for a better life. She said she now makes more money than her parents or siblings, and her salary allows her to have her son in a good school. She said she has healthcare benefits, for she and her family, and commented that she is frequently tested for STD’s. She said she has paid vacation time and maternity leave. She assured us she has never been mistreated while doing her job. So what does all this mean when comparing Dutch versus American society? What do you think?.