On a warm evening in early June, patrons in summer khakis filled the restaurant patios of Boystown, the north-side gay bastion marked by rainbow pylons and suggestively named bars. Just up the block from Whole Foods, Nikki Taylor Donahoe, 19, sat atop some firewood bundles stacked in front of the Circle K convenience store at Addison and Halsted. The store parking lot is familiar terrain; Donahoe and her friends have been congregating there nearly every afternoon for a while now. Donahoe has a moon-shaped face and a strong, broad torso. Her dramatic makeup creates deep shadows around her cheekbones. Her gaze is at once piercing and sunken. Dressed in a tight tank top and a pair of hoop earrings embellished with the word Barbie, she surveyed the passing scene like a queen holding court. "It's a cycle here," she said. "Boystown doesn't change. Same shit happens every day: getting high, getting drunk, making money."
Like any teenager, Donahoe is prone to complain about her brittle hair, her weight, and her lack of cash. But youthful vanity is the least of her worries. That night she was trying to figure out how she was going to pay for the motel room she'd been using since she'd lost her apartment several weeks earlier. She needed the room not only for sleeping but for her work as a prostitute.