As night falls on a west Oklahoma City truck stop, the chatter rises on the citizens band radio. A trucker, lonely for more than conversation, waits for word on Channel 19.
A woman giggles and clears her throat before making her pitch.
She is a commercial lady - truck-stop lingo for someone pursuing the world's oldest profession.
"Anybody looking for some commercial company? Go to one-seven. " The woman switches to the less-used Channel 17. So do at least two other voices of the night.
"Did we make it? " a male voice asks.
"Yeah. " "Where are you at? " With a hint of caution in her voice, the lady of the airwaves advises the man to switch to another channel before dealing.
"Did you make it? " she asks.
"Yeah," he responds. "Where are you at? " "Where are you at? " He responds with a truck stop name. "Where are you at? " The same truck stop, she answers. "Where are you at? " "I'm by the fuel line," he responds.
The dealing continues. The commercial lady wants more proof of her potential customer's identity.
"What kind of truck are you in? " "A Freightliner. " "What color? " "White. " "Flash your lights. " The lights on a tractor-trailer flash on and off as a security guard strolls by a gas pump area a few feet away. He walks on, apparently unaware - or unconcerned - of the sideline business being conducted. The deal goes awry, but another voice is ready and waiting on the CB's channels.
It's the nocturnal world of trucking, prostitution and drugs, where police throw up their hands and truck stop owners tolerate the unmanageable. It's a society full of familylike ties and jargon, where reputation is everything, where feuds can erupt at the slightest provocation.
Truck washer Denver Smith's spotted mutt lies upside-down on the bed. Another mutt hobbles between the narrow gaps of furniture in the smoky, half-packed room, a room serving as a temporary home for Smith and his wife, a room facing the Truckstops of America near Interstate 40 and Council Road.
It's called the "TA," a place to wash, sleep, and find "lot lizards" - nickname for truck stop prostitutes.
Smith's whiskey-filled eyes swim out the open hotel window toward the lumbering trucks. Surely a lizard will be along.
Although he's avoiding prostitutes these days, his curiosity forces the look. If nothing else, he says, you can hear them on the CB. He'll sell the used radio real cheap, by the way. It's legal.
Legal just like that 12-gauge shotgun that protrudes from between the mattresses.
Smith, see, has been threatened by the 250-pound husband of a local prostitute. It's a tale to be resumed later.
Radio Against Radio Truck-stop prostitution is blatant, but police say they can do little to prevent it. The same technology that gives officers the edge in busting other criminals with sting operations also helps truck stop hookers avoid getting caught.
At most, officers say they can try to keep the activity from spiraling out of control.
Some commercial girls have radios in their own cars; others use truckers' CBs; still others camp out in hotel rooms with radios tuned in.
"This is a very tight-knit group of people," Oklahoma City police vice detective Mark Wenthold said. "When we try to run a sting, we can make only one or two arrests before they get on their radios and shut everything down. " Commercial girls won't deal with a person unless he can show he is driving a rig, so officers must get truckers' assistance to even start a sting operation.
"If you say you are in a car or if they see you are in a car, 99 percent of the time they won't talk to you," Wenthold said.
But they will talk if it means staying out of jail.
Officer Jimmy Parsons, who patrols several northwest Oklahoma City truck stops, said he'll cut a deal with commercial girls who can lead him to bigger arrests. The women point out where drugs are being sold, where other hookers are working - anything to help out.
He keeps photos of the women, with criminal histories and intelligence cards attached. The petite woman in one photo is 20 - she looks like a shy high school cheerleader. Another woman has two photos - with and without a wig. The wig, however, doesn't change the woman's hardened, bitter glare.
"They use so many names it's the only way to know who you are dealing with," Parsons said.
The officers say some of the women deal in drugs themselves, often working to support drug habits. And some truckers have a penchant for speed and other eye-openers to help make their long stretches more interesting.
So some prostitutes become informants, Parsons said. But burn the police and it's off to jail.
Truckers Who Steer Clear Not all truckers participate. Many, like Karl Norberg of Poteau, are offended when approached by prostitutes at truck stops. Norberg has called the sheriff on such women, only to be disgusted by law enforcement's lack of enforcement.
"Truck drivers have a bad enough name already," Norberg said.
For Norberg, it came to a head one sunset back in June when a commercial girl approached him at a Logan County rest area along I-35. The lizard, he said, had the audacity to solicit him with his wife sitting in the rig.