Friday, September 2, 2011

C'est Si Bonn

It was not among the most important stories in the paper, though it was among the most unique and entertaining. Seems the always disciplined people of Germany, at least in the city of Bonn, have devised a plan to capitalize on the legal presence of streetwalkers in their midst. Similar to receipts obtained from parking meters, hookers must now pay for their ambling along the city’s red light district thoroughfare (

Legal prostitution intrigued my friends Brian and David during our college sophomore year, so much so they decided to fly to the notoriously liberated Dutch city of Amsterdam during spring break. I agreed to join them, but my parents, who had no qualms about sending me to Israel, Italy and France for eight weeks two summers earlier, would not sanction (read that, pay for) the trip. They would, however, fund a romp in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as my brother Bernie had spent a spring break or two there.

It was too late to sign up for one of the college group trips. No problem. Bernie advised simply flying down to San Juan and finding a pensionne or guest house in the Condado Beach area. It would be much cheaper than a hotel, he assured me. Armed with his guarantee, I took a taxi from the airport to the Condado Beach district. With my heavy bag in hand (back then suitcases did not come with rollers), I started my search about noon under the hot Caribbean sun. Two hours later, I had exhausted all the possibilities. I was desperate, thirsty, hungry, and more than a little annoyed (and concerned) I had listened to my big brother.

Not one room was to be had anywhere within the Condado Beach area. Around 2:30, I realized I’d have to expand my search. Just outside the eastern edge of the district I spotted the Bell Inn Hotel. It was blue on the outside, kinda dark on the inside. When I asked, the clerk behind the desk said there was a room available, $40 for eight nights. As happy as I was to hear I would be paying hundreds less than I had expected, I asked to see the room first. As I walked up the stairs to the second floor, a Great Dane dog stirred in the lobby. The room was small, neat, with a private bath. I paid the $40.

After resting, I dressed to meet friends in the casinos along the main drag of the area. Now, back in 1968 San Juan was an open city, meaning the stretch of pavement between the La Concha Hotel and the Condado Beach Hotel was a virtual meat market of all shapes and sizes. One particular lady of the night attracted our attention. Overweight, she stood out in a hot pink pants outfit. We couldn’t comprehend how anyone could find her appealing.

Around 2 am, as I was returning to my room a few dollars poorer for my wagering, my eye caught a man leaving the Bell Inn Hotel with the pink pants-suited lady on his arm. Oh yeah. I immediately understood The Bell Inn Hotel normally charged by the hour, not the week. In renting me the room, management had set me up as the legitimating customer should the police decide to question if the Bell Inn was a true hotel.

No matter. They didn’t bother me. I didn’t bother them. They changed the sheets every day. Hot water spewed out of the shower. I came home a happy man.

Next year I chose San Juan without argument as my spring break destination. I immediately went to the Bell Inn Hotel. Closed. No matter how hard I banged on the door, no response. In the intervening 12 months, San Juan had cleaned up its public act. Not a hooker in sight. My renewed housing search again failed to find any vacancies. After two hours I returned to the Bell Inn Hotel. Almost 20-year-olds aren’t supposed to cry, but I was ready to let go a good sniffle when I spotted the Hotel Lux across the street.

Yes, there was a room, actually a mini-suite with a bedroom and sitting room. Mine for $60 for eight nights. A 50% increase in price, but well worth it, in my eyes at least. Not so worth it to my friends, who, upon seeing the modest Hotel Lux convinced me to move out and stay with them at the luxurious El San Juan Hotel near the airport. I will admit I felt safer there, but somehow think my stay at the Hotel Lux would have been more colorful.