"I was out with this one girl — she was really pretty, " says Easy Rider, bending forward confidentially across the table as he relates the details of his date. He and the woman, 35 years his junior, went out to dinner, then for a walk, and then back to his apartment (one of three he owns in Miami Beach). "Then she asks me: 'How much money do you have?' "
The wine comes. It's a steamy Sunday evening, and as the sky melts into pinks and oranges, Lincoln Road begins to fill with the beautiful people — the casually elegant, the high-heeled, the tight-skirted, the well-cleavaged. Easy Rider surveys the scene with satisfaction, waiting for the server to leave before continuing his tale. A tidy man with a small, athletic frame and a crop of respectably graying hair, Rider — not his real name — fits into his 55 years like a hand in a tailored glove. He is friendly and unfailingly polite, and he speaks in an easy, disarming manner. When he swears, he swears elegantly.
"It fucking blew my mind," he continues after the waiter leaves. "Here's this girl — 20 years old, beautiful, but I don't know... she wanted money to sleep with me. I was polite, I didn't mind — but I just walked her back to her car."
"So I could have fucked her for $500," he adds philosophically. "So what?"
You might think Rider is cursing his fate, bemoaning a date gone awry. Not so: The point of his story is not that the date was a failure; it's the opposite. When that beautiful 20-year-old stepped into a cab and vanished forever, Rider — who, mere months ago, hardly would have dared to dream of a date like that one — was only momentarily put off. He'd soon be out with another beautiful 20-something, and then another, and then another.
In fact Rider has his choice of young, vivacious women to date these days. There are so many he can barely keep up. "Bottom line: amazing," he says, mouthing the last word slowly, like more fine wine on his palate. "It's almost too good to be true."
It wasn't always like this. The spark that ignited Easy Rider's romantic life came three months ago, when his Palm Beach neighbor and morning walking partner told him about a dating website tailored to rich older men, one that had changed the neighbor's life. Rider, until then nearly Internet illiterate, signed up and created a profile, listing his annual income between $100,000 and $250,000 and a net worth of $5 million to $10 million. Choosing Easy Rider as his screen name, he wrote a blurb about himself: "Smiles are important, as is an ability to share." He was immediately flooded with e-mails. Overnight he had become a sugar daddy.
The idea that the rich might use their wealth to attract the young and beautiful is hardly new. Centuries before Anna Nicole Smith and billionaire hubby J. Howard Marshall titillated the public imagination, ages before Andrew Cunanan murdered five people, including Gianni Versace, in what many people believe was the killing spree of a spurned sugar baby, the sultans of the Ottoman Empire kept harems of hundreds of women who had been purchased or presented as gifts at the sugary halls of the Topkapi Palace in what is now Istanbul. From the pages of the Old Testament through to modern history, men have kept concubines, a tidy word for women supported in exchange for sexual favors.
It's good to be king, but even the sultans didn't have the Internet. The ongoing migration of courtship and kink online has made it possible — in theory, at least — for any guy with a paycheck and a PC to try his hand at being a sugar daddy. At the same time, for a woman with a sweet tooth, sugar has never been easier to find.
The number of online dating services marketed specifically to wealthy men and young, beautiful women has exploded in the past five years. Sugardaddie.com, the site that streamlined Easy Rider's love life, is one of the most popular. The company occupies a small suite in an unmarked, half-constructed building on Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami. The office, located on an otherwise vacant floor, is marked by a single piece of paper, taped crookedly to the door, that reads, "Suite 200."
Inside, five middle-aged, bedraggled-looking men sit at desks, typing at computers and talking through headsets. A glass partition separates one small office from the rest of the room. That office is also spare; it consists mainly of a long wooden desk, an executive chair, and a computer. It belongs to Steve Pasternack, the website's founder.
Pasternack is a beefy man with a deep voice and eyes that always seem to be looking somewhere else. He wears a suit to work every day — in stark contrast to his employees on the other side of the glass — and he acts and speaks the part of the smooth CEO, extending his meaty arm, adorned with an expensive-looking watch, for a firm, friendly handshake.
There are dozens of sugar daddy websites — SugarDaddyForMe.com, WealthyMen.com, MillionaireMatch.com – but Pasternack, who started Sugardaddie.com in 2002, beat most of the others by about three years. There are 200,000 paying members on his site, Pasternack says, and women outnumber men 6-to-1. The oldest member is Richdaddyboy, an 87-year-old Londoner, "elderly but virile," his introduction states, in possession of some £260 million. The second-oldest member lives in Florida; he likes boating, fishing, and movies, and describes himself as "a very young 82." There are sugar mommies too: The eldest is a 68-year-old jazz singer in Nevada who is looking, she says, "for the last love of my life."
Membership costs $20 per month, with discounts for extended packages. Pasternack declines to say how much his company pulls in. "That we kind of like to keep quiet about," he says, "but you can say I've been very happy with the site."
Like any dating site, users create profiles and exchange e-mails or chat online. Anonymous self-descriptions are easily fudged, of course, so much of the Sugardaddie.com staff's time is devoted to screening new profiles and handling customer complaints, which tend to involve either lying or prostitution. Not surprisingly, the line between asking for a little sugar and expecting payment for sex is thin.
"One [woman] was like totally drugged out when I met her," Mr. Chips, a member in his 40s, tells New Times. (Except where their first and last names are given, the names of all individuals in the story have been changed to protect their privacy.) He's been on two dates since joining the site, and found both disappointing. "She answered the door naked, and she just stayed naked the whole time I was there. I watched her blow dry her hair for about half an hour, while she just listed all the things she wanted. She told me her hair extensions were like three grand or something.
"The other girl, we went to a sports bar and had burgers, and she told me she wanted 12 grand a month," Chips continues. "I thought that was rather excessive."
Pasternack insists he and his staff don't allow prostitution on the site. "Prostitution is strictly a business transaction, where you pay for someone by the hour or by the night. There's no relationship other than money exchanged for sex. A sugar daddy relationship is about caring for each other... If they came there and say, 'Buy me Prada and I'll have sex with you, they're gone. But if they say, 'I like nice things... '
"We're all sugar daddies," Pasternak says with a confident smile. "It's just a question of to what degree."
Liedra Lawson, a self-described career sugar baby, literally wrote the book on the subject: Sugar Daddy 101: What You Need to Know if You Want to Be a Sugar Baby. She also moderates what is likely the largest online hotbed of sugar daddy discussion, a Yahoo group called Sugardaddies101. It boasts more than 2,500 members; hundreds of messages are posted on topics like what to do if a sugar daddy defaults on an allowance and how to set up bank accounts to which sugar daddies can easily wire money from abroad.
Miami, she says, is Sugar City: "Believe you me, I could blackmail some people; you'd be surprised what there is in the Miami area.... In Miami it's almost a badge of honor for a girl to say, 'My sugar daddy did this for me'; it's acceptable if you're an emerging model. In Miami you'll find that a girl has to have a rich boyfriend, or else she'll turn to hooking."
Lawson's book is more than just a how-to guide: It's a manifesto. In an interview, she says women should be realistic and practical: "Be smart about it; have the guy be a business for you. I talk about women bettering themselves with this relationship... I'm the kind of person who for my birthday I had my guy put $6,000 in my account. You have to ask for more than the bling bling." She calls Anna Nicole Smith the "queen sugar baby... She was just smart enough to get him to marry her and leave her his millions."
Still, the road to being a successful sugar baby isn't always smooth. I met Dolly, the living embodiment of the no-nonsense sugar-search, after I posted an ad on Craigslist. She agreed to meet at a Dunkin Donuts in Aventura.
Dolly, 34, is tall and has long limbs, bleach-blond hair, and an unavoidable bosom. Her lips are big, her ever-mascaraed eyelashes long. Up close, there is something tough about her; she looks at once like Barbie and someone who could tear Barbie apart, limb from limb, and enjoy it. Her laugh — loud, harsh, and uninhibited — is that of someone who has laughed her way through a lifetime of troubles.
Dolly grew up poor in a rough part of North Miami. "I was a little hoodlum!" she says. She got pregnant at age 16, married the father shortly thereafter, and then had another child a year later. From the beginning, her husband was abusive. After he tried to strangle her, she says, she left him. At age 19, she shacked up in a hotel room with two children she could barely afford to take care of. "So I danced," she explains.
She became a stripper, working at a club (which she declines to name) in Broward County. ("I would never do stripping anywhere near my home," she emphasizes. "That's something you can't explain to kids.") She didn't like the work, but it paid $400 to $500 a night and, she learned, came with other benefits. One day an older Venezuelan customer offered to pay for her divorce. She accepted. From that point on, Dolly lived her life as a sugar baby.
Since then, she has gone out with any number of men, most of them rich. "One guy gave me $20,000 for a three-day visit. He actually wanted somebody to stomp on him and all those things," she says, giggling. "But I'm not going to do that. I'm not stupid; I know I don't have to do that." When she was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer, her current sugar daddy — a screenwriter and gynecologist — offered to pay her medical bills. Then, while she was recovering at his mansion, he flew into a rage and tried to kick her out of the house. "He's crazy, absolutely crazy," she says, laughing wickedly.
Easy Rider was married once. He was young, still in law school, and it didn't work out. "I was probably too selfish for marriage. Marriage requires a lot of give and take," he explains. He and his wife divorced after only a year.
Law school, however, turned out to be a more successful endeavor. Rider embarked on a career in international banking, which took him around the world. He has lived in New York and London and owns a house on an island in East Asia ("A small plane takes you there," he explains). He had a Thai girlfriend as well. The two of them lived together for almost four years. She talked about getting married, but the idea never appealed to him.
When his mother fell ill — "87 is 87," says Rider — he returned to his hometown, Palm Beach, to take care of her. He involved himself in civic life, charities, and local politics. There was only one thing missing.
Three months in, Easy Rider is learning the subtleties of his newfound sugar daddyhood. "I think there's a certain etiquette," he explains. "Let's say you're communicating with someone early on. Normally, if you say something that's not quite right, you get a second chance. But online, the women I talk to, they get hit on a lot. If there's anything I write that she doesn't like — bang! — she's gone."
So far, he reckons he has gone out with about a dozen women. "Almost without exception they've been younger than 30... and articulate enough." The majority of those dates were low-key affairs — dinner and, perhaps, a little shopping. He won't disclose the more successful of his outings — "A gentleman never discusses such things," he says disdainfully — but he's unequivocally happy about how things are going: "Mr. Pasternack probably has all the money he needs. But I'll tell you, I'm happy to pay him."
Not that it's all blooming flowers and morning dew. "Here's where it gets touchy," Rider says. "Some of them were really a business arrangement; they wanted money up front, and I'm not really into that. It didn't hurt my feelings; I'm an adult... but a couple of girls I met, there was nothing spoken about money.
"There's this girl I've been seeing, she's quite special, almost doesn't want anything," he says. As if imparting a secret, he adds, "She drinks cranberry juice."
Aphrodite was only 15 years old when, by accident, she became a sugar baby. A precocious 17 now — she says she's "30-something in my head" — Aphrodite was 14 when she had her first relationship, with a 23-year-old.
A year later, the same year she received her home-school diploma, she was seduced online by a man named Ned. The two exchanged e-mails for months. He sent flowers and then money — lots of it. When they finally met (she lied to her parents about where she was going that night), she was "not pleasantly surprised; he wasn't ugly, but... " She trails off. Ned bought dinner. During the meal, he kissed her, and she kissed back. "I almost felt obligated," she explains. "At this point, he had sent me $2,000 or $3,000. To a 15-year-old, that's a lot of money."
From there her story is like a fairy tale gone bad. Ned eventually convinced Aphrodite to move to Georgia, where he lived, paying for her to study interior design (thereby providing her with an excuse for leaving her parents' home), putting her up in a second house he owned, and buying her a car. Aphrodite convinced a friend to go with her: "I was like, 'Hey, it's a free apartment, and there's a free car there.' "
Over the course of about eight months, she figures, Ned gave her more than $60,000 in cash. "Everything I could possibly want... I got a $1,400 dog because I thought it was cute... I was not a cheap hooker — I used to say that."
The only problem was Ned. "He was very controlling: 'You wear what I want you to wear, we have sex when I want to have sex.' God forbid it should be entertaining for me... As soon as they think they're losing you, it's Abusive 101. 'Don't wear your hair like that, don't wear this, don't wear that.' You're a walking accessory, a walking Barbie doll."
"They" were Ned and his friends, who, Aphrodite says, had sugar babies of their own. "All his friends had girls just like me. None of the girls really talked to each other. [The men] are so insecure when you're with them, they're so paranoid; secretly they know that you're only with them because of the money. God forbid you're secretly plotting. So none of the girls talk."
Eventually Aphrodite broke things off with Ned and moved back to her family. She figures she has stashed away about $30,000 from the experience ("I donated $9,000 to [a children's charity]," she adds). Aphrodite, who spent time on the beauty pageant circuit, says that behind the scenes, similar stories are playing out all the time. "Beauty queens, actresses, models... that's the lifestyle a lot of these girls live. And they live it in secrecy."
Before he discovered the Internet, Easy Rider had to look for sugar babies the old-fashioned way: by leaving the house. Most of the usual pick-up spots in South Beach were no good for an older man. "In those places, you have to be very careful if you approach a young girl, or she'll get the wrong idea... and there are so many other people there." Instead Rider frequented places where an older man looking for a young woman might get a warmer reception. There was always one standby: hotel bars.
With its moonlit couches, shimmering pools, and the ever-present rumble of the ocean nearby, the Shore Club is a place where the old and the young, the rich and the beautiful, can mingle freely in an enviroment safely hostile to anyone without money to burn.
Beatriz, who sells cigars and cigarettes from a wooden box that hangs from her neck, sees plenty from her post in the hotel courtyard. "Muchísimas," she says, smiling. "Everybody knows about it. The cocktail waitress," she says, waving her hand toward the hotel's darkened interior, "she gets offers from tons of men, all the time. Me too!" One night a man from Denmark walked up to her to buy a cigar and, while he was at it, offered to take her to Hawaii on a cruise, she says. She declined. He asked how much money she made. "$500 a week," she answered. "He said, 'I'll give you $2,500 to come with me,' " Beatriz says. "Five times 500."
"Oh yeah, you see 'em, old guys with young girls," the bartender pipes in, pausing for a moment from wiping a glass to wave a vague hand toward Collins Avenue. "We had a barmaid who went off with a millionaire. He brought her to Switzerland, bought her her own beauty salon."
The bartender advises me to seek out a friend of his, Travis, a few doors down at the Delano Hotel. "He's got this woman, she's in her 40s, who buys him all kinds of shit."
I find Travis standing in front of the Delano, looking like the Secret Service — walkie-talkie in hand, a coil rising from inside his jacket to his ear, his face a stern mask as he watches the guests piling out of limos and hired cars. The expression breaks when I ask about his sugar mama.
"Yeah, well, yeah," he says, shuffling his feet, looking down, then out at the cars, and then at nothing at all. "She doesn't live around here... It's really just basically a sexual thing," he says, his face breaking involuntarily into a grin and then, just as suddenly, becoming a mask again. Standing six feet tall, with clean, chiseled features and well-cut black hair, Travis could easily pass for 30 years old, though he's actually 22. "She just... she takes care of me, you know?" Some guests arrive, much to his relief, spilling out of their limo like cream from a saucer.
On the street, a man and a woman stroll by holding hands. She can't be more than 25 years old — ridiculously beautiful, bare-shouldered in an expensive green dress that swooshes playfully around her improbably long, slender legs. He is at least 60, portly and somewhat hunched over his stomach, as if suffering from chronic indigestion. They make their way slowly down the street, turning into a parking lot and walking to a white Mercedes-Benz. They get in the car and disappear into the night.
Amid the revealing pictures and canned profiles on WealthyMen.com, a website based in South Beach, Hester's stood out. For one thing, two of the pictures she had posted were of jellyfish, and her interests included postmodern critical theory and French existentialism.
She agreed to talk, emphasizing that she considered the whole sugar baby thing an act. "This isn't me," she wrote. A day later, Hester wrote again, saying she didn't want to meet after all. "I'm embarrassed," she wrote, "and I don't really want to talk about it."
In the end, she agreed to meet for a beer at Churchill's. Hester is 24 years old, with long auburn hair, big hazel eyes that never look away first, and an air of mystery — aided, no doubt, by a soft British accent ("trans-Atlantic," she calls it). Tattooed in white on one of her arms is the phrase My heart is always broken.
"I've never dated anyone with money," she emphasizes almost immediately. "All my boyfriends were philosophy students, artists, that sort of thing." Hester recently came to Miami from London, where she was a student and artist. She lives in a cavernous warehouse near the Design District, where giant paintings stand hulking in the corners. In progress is an eight-by-five-foot work, essentially a board covered in flowery wallpaper and large crisscrossing blobs of red paint. "Your Intestines," she calls it.
The space isn't cheap. Having always dated older men, and frustrated by the ever-present obstacle of money, she joined WealthyMen.com on a whim. "I feel like I've been working hard for a long time," she explains, "and I'm not getting anywhere... Sometimes it's necessary to do things you don't want to."
But she didn't get much further than that. The men who wrote to her — as many as ten a day, she says — were all the same: uninteresting, inarticulate, sleazy. One suggested he might help her out in exchange for fulfilling certain unnamed fantasies of his. "He was old — in his 60s, and not his early 60s. I wasn't looking for such an exchange."
Within a week of joining, she quit, disgusted. "It's selling your soul, selling your engagement," she says. "It's self-destructive — you kill something in yourself."
Easy Rider comes down to South Beach on weekends, but his home is in Palm Beach, where he owns a half-million-dollar condo. Rider takes me for a spin around the island in his car, a 2004 Jaguar XJVDP ("They say," he says casually, "that it's one of the best models"). He points out Palm Beach's amenities with a mixture of appreciation and amusement. "There's our Tiffany's," he says, cruising along Worth Avenue. "Look at that place," he adds, pointing to a men's clothing store. "There's a table in there with about 50 cashmere shirts, all the colors of the rainbow. You can just rub your hands through them — they feel so nice."
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In the nearby Gucci courtyard, dozens of statues of children, their skin a dark shade of bronze, stand frozen in play — running, catching balls, skipping rope. Among them, an elderly man and woman sit together on a bench. The man extends five red roses to the woman, but his gaze misses her, falling instead on a sculpture depicting a boy and girl, standing under an umbrella over which falls an eternal drizzle. The old man sits there, his roses thrust one way, his gaze pulled another by that spectacle of young love.
I ask Rider how things are going with the young woman he seemed to like so much, the one who drinks cranberry juice. He answers vaguely: "Fine, fine... I would like to have her stay part of my life," he says absently, staring out over the water. He's got a date this weekend, he says — "A perky little blond."
He asks how the story is coming, what sort of people I've met. He becomes especially interested in Hester, the 24-year-old who was so embarrassed at having signed up for a sugar daddy.
"Do me a favor," he says as he drops me off at my car. "Give her my number. And put in a good word for me."