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In Philippine town, the U.S. airmen are long gone, but the tawdry streets remain

In Angeles City, the Clark Air Base servicemen have been replaced by lonely old men lured by young girls selling sex for the price of a burger and fries.

August 16, 2009|John M. Glionna

ANGELES CITY, PHILIPPINES — At a club called Koko Yoko, balding men with bulging bellies sit at an outdoor bar, sipping beers and leering at the young girls who pass on the model's runway gone wrong called Fields Avenue.

Many of the girls weigh barely 90 pounds, their high heels pushing their almost adolescent bodies at perverse angles. There are cross-dressers fooling no one, calling out to men with tattoos, Popeye forearms and gray hair on their backs.

"Lady boy!" they squeal. "Lady boy!"

Some men pass by with girls one-third their age, swinging their hands together like a couple on a first date. Others cavort with three girls at once, the women all clutching their client like daughters competing for Daddy's attention.

Fields Avenue, the main pedestrian drag in Angeles City, is a legacy of the time when this row of run-down bars was the romping ground of restless young American airmen stationed at Clark Air Base.

The U.S. base closed in 1992, and the often-randy airmen have gone with it. But the girls, the sex, the round-the-clock raunchiness remain. Only the customers have changed.

A thriving sex tourism trade attracts foreign customers by the thousands in search of something they cannot find back home: girls young enough to be their granddaughters selling sex for the price of a burger and fries.

Once populated by men in their early 20s who started each day with 100 push-ups, the place is now home to older men who need help pushing themselves out of bed in the morning.

Most are bused up from Manila, an hour away, on golf and sex package deals. This is no quasi-innocent boys' night out. Rather, it's a single-minded realm of weary-looking loners on a resolute hunt that smacks of feeding an addiction.

Many are ex-military men reliving former glories, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper wannabes, some gathering at the local American Legion post before embarking into the night.

There is a one-armed man, a retiree with a walker and another dapper gentleman who strolls along in a dress shirt, twirling an umbrella, whistling a private tune.

Many head to the bars with the red-light special called "The Early-Release": Buy your girl 10 drinks and she's yours, no questions asked.

Nobody asks questions here. Nobody gives their name. Credit cards are a joke; who wants to leave behind any economic traces that they ever set foot here?

A young dancer in tight red hip-hugger pants and matching sports bra acknowledges that Fields Avenue may not be pretty, but the money is good. She rolls her eyes at two overweight men who pass by looking like large reptiles dressed in children's clothing.

Sure, the sex is disgusting, she says. But at least it's over quickly.

Outside Koko Yoko, the doorman, a 33-year-old paraplegic, perches on a wheeled wooden pallet. He says his father was an American who once served at Clark, his mother a local girl. He contracted polio when he was 11 and has worked here ever since.

The street, he says, takes care of him. Soon, an idle stripper climbs onto his back, rubbing her crotch into the back of his neck.

Nearby a saggy-faced Australian lights a cigarette. He's been in Angeles City for about a month, his last stop on a sex circuit from Bangkok to Manila after getting laid off from his electrician's job in Sydney.

In Thailand, he says, the girls didn't speak the language. Manila hookers were too streetwise, the bars too spread out.

But this is Easy Street. He can sit atop his bar stool and ogle hundreds of passing girls fresh from the countryside who perfect the tricks of their trade before moving on to The Show in Manila.

The Australian signals a street vendor and buys some knockoff Viagra. He says he prefers the girls working one street over, who cost only 500 pesos, or about $10, apiece.

"Anything goes here," he says, lighting another cigarette. He leans over to offer a bit of Fields Avenue inside information: "You can get a young girl here to do anything if you promise to marry her."

All along Fields Avenue, the come-on banners with their Web addresses advertise good pay (up to $10 a day) for hostess jobs. But applicants must speak Korean, Japanese or Chinese.

A balding man pulls up on his motorcycle, greeting several other men loudly in German. They already have their catch, and girls jump on the back as the cycles roar off.

At the Tourist Assistance Booth, Odysius Garche says the older customers are better behaved than the U.S. airmen were. "I just tell them: 'The girls are inside. Go make your own deal.' "

Nearby, a chubby American with glasses eats a hot dog. He says he's a bar manager, but offers no details.

He came to Angeles City from California, to follow up on a chat-room hookup. He ended up on Fields Avenue, drinking late with the dancers, hearing their stories.

"This is clean fun," he says. "There's no sex shows. These girls are not slaves. They have minds of their own."

Behind him, women call out from the doors of bars with names like the Doll House, Club Lancelot, Treasure Island, Club Cambodia, the Blue Nile and the Amsterdam.

Suddenly, a group of twentysomething men storms past, laughing and arm-punching. The news spreads and girls pop their heads out the doorways to catch a glimpse of boys their own age.

One calls after them with a deal she hopes they can't refuse:

"Free!" she says, laughing.

--

john.glionna@latimes.com

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