Where Have All the NYC Prostitutes Gone?

In a recent post I recounted my days of having to go to mid-1980s Times Square at 1am as part of my first job out of college (no, I was not a wipe-down boy at a porn theater. In fact, I do not even know if that job exists). Now, I’d like to tell you about another part of my daily journey, which was certainly an eye-opener for a young, naive handsome Brooklyn boy — prostitutes. And now in 2015, it has left me wondering — where have all the prostitutes gone?


Hello ladies.

I would enter Manhattan through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (the toll was $1.50. When they raised it to $1.75 I was outraged by the expense and I started taking the free Brooklyn Bridge. The toll now is a stunning $8. The U.S. Inflation Calculator tells us $1.50 in 1984 is worth $3.45 now. So “stunning” is the right word.). On my left, the massive construction site that would become Battery Park City. On my right, the Twin Towers. I wish I had paid more attention to them. I would continue up West St. and turn up 42nd St. for two reasons — first, my job requirement at 42nd and 7th (I’m going to make you click on that link!). Second, the remnants of the elevated West Side Highway still stood from 42nd to 57th St., and I hated driving underneath it. Anyway, I would always get stuck at the traffic light at 42nd and 11th Ave. And that’s when the fun would begin.

There was always a horde of prostitutes on the corner. Some nights they were all blonde. Other nights they were all black. I guess whichever pimp got there first claimed the corner for the evening. They would swarm my car, offering a plethora of services. I particularly remember one toothless woman and what she was selling. I always politely thanked them as I declined their generosity, telling them that I, too, was on my way to work. We forged a kinship. A disturbing kinship.

After the Times Square unpleasantness, I would continue to my final destination — 54th St. and 6th Ave. I would park my car on 6th and 55th. There too, one could always find a prostitute. But they were not of the swarming, never-went-to-the-dentist variety. These were classy, mink coat-wearing ladies of the evening. I guess it was because there were two hotels within spitting distance — the Hilton and the Warwick. They never bothered me, figuring I couldn’t afford them, which I couldn’t.

I would switch jobs in the late 80s and work the night shift. I would drive home down 9th Ave where I would encounter a very different kind of streetwalker at 14th St. Those were the days when the Meatpacking District was just a district for meat-packing. Nobody trendy would dare show their face around those mean streets. However, prostitutes had no problem. But not your run-of-the-mill ladies. In fact, they were not ladies at all — they were transvestites. So I guess a different kind of meat-packing was going on (sorry).

Hello, um, ladies?

Hello, um, ladies?

As the 90s rolled on and then-Mayor Giuliani took on quality of life issues, the prostitutes went away. There is obviously still prostitution going on, but where are all the prostitutes? Are they only on Craigslist and Backpage?

This would count as a good change for New York. Street prostitution brings, among other things, crime and drugs, which no one wants (well, except criminals and addicts). But like the current Times Square, it is another example of the whitewashing of New York. What was once an edgy city is turning milquetoast. What is New York if you can’t get into a little trouble? It is Des Moines. A very, very expensive Des Moines.

Even though it is not really appropriate in this case, I’ll say it anyway because it is so true — sigh. I hate this city.