Truckers Delight?
January 24, 2011 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Travelling on I81 in central Pennsylvania there are several large, sleazy billboards advertising places to get a "massage." From the billboard, it's hard not to get the impression that you will get more than a massage at the advertised establishment (the billboard gives an address.) What's going on here?
posted by to Travel & Transportation around Pennsylvania (21 answers total)
What's going on is exactly what appears to be going on.
posted by anildash at 7:26 AM on January 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

Massage with a 'happy ending', I assume. I see the billboards fairly frequently along the interstates throughout the southeast as well, though usually way out in the sticks where there isn't much else going on. For all of the billboards, the actual building always seems to be some little shack by itself near the off-ramp.
posted by jquinby at 7:28 AM on January 24, 2011

Response by poster: What's going on is exactly what appears to be going on.

Prostitution is not legal in Pennsylvania. These are billboards on a large and well travelled interstate (federal) highway.
posted by at 7:28 AM on January 24, 2011

Are you asking why they haven't been shut down?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:30 AM on January 24, 2011

Response by poster: Are you asking why they haven't been shut down?

Maybe the answer to my question is that prostitution is tolerated in central PA or is somehow difficult to prosecute?. I've seen these billboards over several years on this route.
posted by at 7:32 AM on January 24, 2011

I understand that prostitution is not legal, but I used to travel that highway a lot, and stopped at the truck stops near there pretty regularly. I've never frequented any of those places, but the truck drivers who did never seemed unclear about exactly what was going on there.

The people who buy those billboards are presumably relying on the thin veneer of legality that papers over a business that does involve some significant degree of illegal sex work. Just like billboards advertising radar detectors (which also used to be common on that stretch of highway, at least a dozen years ago when I'd drive there) also rely on a purported legal purpose of informing people about police activity, rather than enabling people to break speed limit laws.

I can be a pretty innocent/naive guy, but I'm surprised at your "shocked, shocked!" reaction here.
posted by anildash at 7:32 AM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've seen those.

The fact that they're advertising this way is not sufficient evidence to arrest anyone, which is why they're still up. As massage is, in fact, a legal service, and the billboards don't actually advertise anything illegal, the cops are going to need to run a sting operation to shut these places down. There isn't apparently a lot of prosecutorial interest in doing that, so up they stay.
posted by valkyryn at 7:32 AM on January 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

There's a long and proud history of openly advertising illegal things with a wink and a nod - think of all the head shops that sell "tobacco pipes."
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:33 AM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

A quick google search for related news shows that massage parlors in PA are frequently raided. My assumption, again, is that these places skirt the law fairly closely (lots of winking and nodding) until they're raided, shut down, and then they open again, and so on. Could be that the local DA has more important things to prosecute than a massage parlor in the middle of nowhere.
posted by jquinby at 7:34 AM on January 24, 2011

It's not even just in the middle of nowhere. There were two such "spas" not far from the Pittsburgh International Airport (just outside of Pittsburgh), operating for years and years. All of a sudden, the local and county police raided them both one day, and shut them both down.

I have a feeling that it is just inertia from the local DA, until something in particular draws attention to them.
posted by dforemsky at 7:42 AM on January 24, 2011

it wouldn't be hard for a place like that to avoid arrest. They'd just have to go by 'referral' or something, you need to referrals from repeat customers, or something like that. Although it would be hard if your customers were truckers.

But yeah, like others said, the DA probably doesn't care.
posted by delmoi at 7:47 AM on January 24, 2011

There's a string of those along I-94 between Jackson and Chicago. They've been there for years. As stated above, the places are typically at the end of a ramp in the middle of farm country, where folks could pretty much care less what's happening (no schools, churches, or even communities close by)... with reduced funding police have better things to do than try and entrap someone at a palor..

go get a massage, have fun!
posted by HuronBob at 7:50 AM on January 24, 2011

It's massage. Why do you care which body parts people get massaged?
posted by w0mbat at 7:51 AM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I grew up in Scranton, PA. I can remember local news stories these places being periodically bused for prostitution. It seems like an open "secret". Now I live in CT and there are lots of 24-hour spas that seem to offer the same service.
posted by elvissa at 7:58 AM on January 24, 2011

Response by poster: I can be a pretty innocent/naive guy, but I'm surprised at your "shocked, shocked!" reaction here.

actually, my reaction is "shocked, shocked" in the Casablanca sense. But I guess I'm surprised it would be so out in the open for so long.

posted by at 8:04 AM on January 24, 2011

Prostitution is certainly not tolerated in Central Pa., culturally speaking, and there has been a small pushback against gentlemen's clubs. Cases in point:

"A Dauphin County jury convicted a New York woman this morning of promoting prostitution at the now-closed Chinese Massage business at the Harrisburg Mall in Swatara Township."

Landlord, owner reach settlement over bikini-clad dancers at bar in Hershey

Several years ago, the unfortunately named Lickdale (which has access to 81) closed down a house of questionable dancing. Locals were outraged--not wink and nod outraged, but morally OFFENDED--at its presence.

There is a strong Mennonite/Pa. German presence in Central Pa., and strip clubs and massage parlors go against local sensibilities, if we're talking about longtime residents. It may or may not be relevant to note that tattoo parlors also come under local suspicion. (City attitudes may vary.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:15 AM on January 24, 2011

A friend of a friend of a relative worked at a place like this. The oddest thing to me was that she had to do her own laundry (eew) probably in order to skirt some regulation. The way it was explained to me was that there was never any explicit conversation and it was just obvious to the workers when one was expected. Also, the official rate did not change but if the customer did not tip extra they were not welcome back. In short, they were trying to make it difficult to bust a single operator for a single incident.
posted by soelo at 8:29 AM on January 24, 2011

I'm glad someone asked this. I drove through Scranton PA for the first time last year and was wondering the same thing. In New York they seem to be limited to small ads in the sports section of the local paper. I found the use of giant billboards along the highway to be both amusing and, well, gutsy.
posted by freakazoid at 9:28 AM on January 24, 2011

I grew up in Hershey, and I know exactly the bar being referenced above. It surprises me not a bit to hear either that there's sketchiness going on in that bar or that the township is pissed about it. They've shut down more than one bar there before for similar stuff.

But it's been my experience that there's a pretty big difference between what goes on east of the Susquehanna/south of the Appalachians than what goes on west/north of there. Head up US-15 and there's about half a dozen adult bookstores and strip joints just in the 60 miles between Harrisburg and Lewisburg. There's also quite a few up and down I-81 both east and west of Harrisburg.

Still, you're right: attitudes are way stricter than in my current town, which has four strip clubs operating publicly in prime commercial real estate just on the north end of town. I assume there are more elsewhere, but I don't actually keep track of these things. But the cops have been rigorously cracking down on the actual sex trade here too. Makes the news pretty regularly.
posted by valkyryn at 9:36 AM on January 24, 2011

I have wondered this exact thing, so thanks for asking. (I mean, not surprising that this service is available for truckers, yes surprising that there are giant billboards openly advertising it.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:20 PM on January 24, 2011

Burhanistan: that is true of most of these places, except the ones advertising along highways, which clearly derive a major amount of customer support from travelers. However, there's no reason to assume said travelers are mostly truckers.

Nothing much to add here, except that IME these bordellos usually get closed down in the months immediately preceding an election of someone with influence over the police - DA or mayor or such. Outside of campaign time, they operate relatively unscathed, for the most part. And obviously the longest-lived ones are doing something different from the ones that get nailed (so to speak) by law enforcement, be it bribes, blackmail, or simply knowing how to play the game (avoiding full sex seems to run lower under radar, for some reason, and obviously avoiding new customers in August of even numbered years might be wise, if feasible).

The dog & pony show of morality legislation.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:59 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

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