Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sex shop yields to electric scooters

For years -- decades even -- I cringed every time I walked by the Crystal Massage parlor on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. How often was that, exactly? Well, not infrequently. The establishment sits (sat) between where I live and where I work.

As often as I walked by the place, I only walked into Crystal Massage once. That was to deliver flowers.

I'll get back to that. It's why I always cringed.

So I walked by this weekend and was surprised to notice the shutters have been taken down and the windows now reveal ranks of colorful electric scooters arrayed inside.

Yep. Electric scooters and half-naked mannequins.

Half-naked mannequins because... Um. Well, I don't know, maybe the place is haunted?

So what happened? Turns out that in the middle of last year, according to Natalie Orenstein's report in Berkeleyside, the city decided to Crack down on massage parlors suspected of prostitution. Rather than put up a fight, the business threw in the towel, and the neon went dark sometime in late summer or early fall. I guess I hadn't noticed, I was too busy cringing every time I walked by.

The scooter shop? A new location, apparently, for Green Choice Moto. The scooters are for rent by the hour. The place wasn't open when I walked by, and their web site was a little confusing about the exact hours. Then there are the half-naked mannequins ... but heck ... at least the place doesn't remind me of the most humiliating moment of my life as a flower delivery dude.

It was nineteen eighty something, or maybe it was '79. I was in college, and the afternoon hours offered by University Flowers (at a location that's now a tax preparation place) fit my schedule nicely.

The pay wasn't anything to brag about, but you got to drive around on your own without a boss looking over your shoulder. Once in a blue moon somebody would even give a tip. (OTOH, if I forgot to throw away a candy wrapper dropped in the van I'd get a no-holds-barred scolding from the boss, who seized on any evidence of a detour through a hospital gift shop as grounds for twenty minute lectures on employee malfeasance.)

To whom did University Flowers deliver? Homes, hospitals, mortuaries, and -- yes, you guessed it -- "massage" parlors.

So one afternoon my list includes a delivery in the 2400 block of Shattuck Avenue, a dozen yellow roses in a green glass vase if memory serves, and when I get there I realize -- oh crap, it's this place again.

Crystal Massage, with the shaded windows and the neon sign.

I park the van. I get out of the van. I put up the collar of my jacket. I pull the flowers out of the nice nest of little sandbags we used to make sure the arrangements didn't fall over while driving the van. I look both ways to make sure nobody I recognize from a class is strolling down the sidewalk. I duck into the recessed doorway and I knock.

The previous times I'd delivered to this place someone had come to the door more or less immediately. They'd taken the flowers and I'd been on my way. I was expecting the same that afternoon.

But no.

Nobody came.

I knocked again, harder. Still nobody came. And again.

Finally, gingerly, I tried the door. It was unlocked. I opened it. Slowly. Hoping that somebody, anybody, would jump to it, relieve me of the yellow roses in their green glass vase, and let me get the heck out of there.

I mean, think about it. I'm twenty. I'm carrying flowers. I'm knocking on the door of a "massage" parlor.

What kind of a dork brings flowers to a "massage" appointment?

Nobody, of course. But anybody could have reasonably mistaken me for the dork who was having a twenty year old college dude deliver his yellow roses to a "masseuse" for whom the dork was apparently carrying a big, blazing torch.

I stepped inside.

The place was pretty dark. Yes, there were red velvet curtains. Through the red velvet curtains there was a table, or a desk. I cleared my throat. I called out a soft, "Hello?" Tentatively. I didn't want to ... interrupt anything. I tiptoed further into the red velvet murk, and gently, silently set the dozen yellow roses in their green glass vase on the table.

Then I turned tail and ran for the van.

In 2001 the city had shut down a different "massage" parlor that was sure-as-death-and-taxes operating as a brothel. The Golden Gypsy on Telegraph Avenue had been in business for a quarter century or so. Here from Will Harper's farewell report of 3 Oct 2001, in the East Bay Express,
In April, Berkeley Police Chief Dash Butler received an anonymous letter from a woman who described herself as being from "a prominent Berkeley family." Her husband, she wrote Butler, was "an executive [at] the Port of Oakland" and he was paying for sex at the Golden Gypsy. She knew that to be a fact because she had hired private investigators to follow him, and her hired gumshoes had gone to the Gypsy and paid for sex themselves. Doctors at the adjacent Berkeley Family Practice Medical Group, which has a parking lot between the two businesses, also were complaining about encounters with clients from the Gypsy. A female employee of the medical clinic wrote zoning officials that Gypsy clients had once asked her and a colleague, "How much did we cost and how much for a 'blow job.'"

[...]

On July 27 around noon, Berkeley police detective Stan Libed, dressed in plainclothes, rang the door at the Gypsy after obtaining a search warrant. Unbeknownst to the people inside, another undercover cop had already infiltrated and been escorted to one of the building's private rooms and been asked to shower and disrobe. The door swung open and, according to the police report, the blond greeter directed Libed "toward a half dozen scantily clad women and asked me to chose [sic] one." Libed chose a five-foot, 26-year-old Asian woman using the name "Jennifer."

Shortly after picking out Jennifer, the detective yelled, "Police!" Immediately, nearly twenty cops rushed the building. [...]
Good times, eh?

The Golden Gypsy was a dump, really, and, yes, I'd delivered flowers there too back in the day. The building has since been razed, and the property redeveloped as an apartment with street-level retail. The ground floor is currently occupied by a franchise chiropractic operation.

Why not? You feel better afterward, and there's no need to get tested for STDs.


Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Bike parking fail
Endeavor's farewell flight over Berkeley
The blurry line between Landlord and Supreme Power



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