Cruisin for urban legends

Rumors of a little-person prostitute sends this writer on a Watt-Auburn corridor adventure

Confession: I’m a little obsessed with little people. Unlike my fixation with Natalie Portman or Chipotle burritos, though, this one isn’t sexual. Honest. But it still feels kind of dirty; I would never tell my mother.

So when I discovered the urban legend that Sacramento has its own little-person prostitute, I knew I had to meet her.

Look, before you fire off an angry letter to the editor, rest assured: I know that prostitution is terrible and is by no means the glamorous life Pretty Woman made it out to be.

But don’t pretend you’d look the other way if you spotted a midget twirling a pink feather boa on the side of Auburn Boulevard or Watt Avenue. (I don’t know if this prostitute actually owns a pink feather boa, but that’s just the way my fantasy goes.)

Recently, I got a tip that she dons sassy costumes somewhere around the Watt-Auburn corridor. Another friend told me that her drug dealer saw the little lady as far north as Watt and Roseville Road. Going off of those tips, I mapped off an area to search.

I live near Watt Avenue, so I took off northward on my bicycle, figuring two wheels would make it easier, both to cover distance and also to talk to people on the street.

Do you know what the best thing is about asking a random stranger if they’ve seen a particular prostitute? It’s the wide-eyed, “What the hell?” look they shoot back. Like this one blond, mid-40s dude I spotted outside a gas station near Country Club Plaza. He had two days of scruff and wore a red flannel.

“Why? You looking for her?” he asks. I didn’t appreciate his accusatory tone.

Red-flannel guy says he and his drinking buddies have spotted her further north, but that he hasn’t seen her in a couple of months.

I pedal on, past beat-up apartments and cracking shopping centers. Gas stations are the only new development this side of town has seen in years.

(Attention, owners of the new Don Quixote’s Mexican Grill: D.Q. wasn’t Mexican. Look it up.)

(Attention, Sacramento County: Would it kill you guys to sweep the broken-glass shards and rusted nails out of the bike lane every once in a while?)

Just south of Business 80, I talk to a woman dressed in a baggy red T-shirt and blue jeans. The conversation doesn’t go well, mostly because I feel weird asking her about a prostitute’s whereabouts. I must have come off as creepy as those balding, mustachioed guys who show up alone at Miley Cyrus concerts.

Riding around, it soon makes sense why Darlene—that’s the name I’ve given my mysterious friend—frequents this area: There are several sub-$50-a-night motels straddling both sides of the thoroughfare.

Since my random-person-on-the-street tactic isn’t working, I try the hotel lobbies—a term used loosely, since most of them are closet-sized glass enclosures adorned only with fax machines and musty smells—and ask a few front-desk workers.

Get this: The clerk at one motel not only has never seen or heard of Darlene, he also reacts as though “that kind of thing” never happens in the area around his fine establishment. Seriously? Just minutes before, I saw a woman dressed in a napkin-sized skirt shuffling along a crosswalk, her boob popping out of her toddler-sized tube top before she leaned into the open window of a waiting pick-up truck.

The other motels offer little help, too. If anyone has seen Darlene, it hasn’t been for some time.

I retire home for the night.

A few days later, I take light rail to the Watt Avenue station at Interstate 80, this time by foot.

An auto-shop employee says he saw Darlene just two nights ago near a convenience store down the road. That’s how people in this area give directions: not with streets, but by gas stations and convenience stores. I trek southward back over the freeway.

At said convenience store, I get good information from a guy leaning on one of those giant furniture-blowout-sale signs. He crams microwave popcorn into his mouth while sharing his knowledge:

Darlene hits the streets around Watt-Auburn at about 11 p.m., he says. Quickly, she finds a “date”—$300—and then is done for the night. The info seems legit, probably because this guy’s wearing a Tool rock-band shirt and a gold chain, which makes him reputable in my book.

“Hey, for five dollars I can tell you her name,” he says, spraying half-soggy popcorn bits onto my fleece.

A tempting offer, yes, but I don’t think SN&R reimburses those kind of expenses.

Later that evening, my roommate and I take her car and cruise the Watt-Auburn corridor. First, we grab coffee at 7-Eleven, noting that the neighboring Golden Corral buffet offers a shrimp special seven days a week. We make plans for a roommate night out.

After a half-hour of driving through the area, there’s no sign of Darlene. It’s probably for the best, because, after cruising for that long, any cop might snag us just for driving up and down the avenue.

I’m dubious that “No, I’m a writer working on a story” holds up in court.

And I would have been too tongue-tied to ask Darlene any meaningful questions, anyway. I’d be as useless as if Natalie Portman showed up at my doorstep, Chipotle in one hand and a pink feather boa in the other. (Natalie, if you’re reading this: veggie burrito, fajita style; corn salsa, hold the sour cream.)

My roommate has to work early next morning, so we give up.

Later that week, I e-mail the Sacramento County sheriff to see if Darlene has been picked up by the vice squad.

“She’s a legend,” a department spokesperson writes back. “However, as far as I know, she has not been arrested recently. If you find her, let me know; I’m seeking visual confirmation myself!”

See? Even cops dig little people. That makes it OK.