"Billy in Hell," reads one of the signs carried by Phelps' Topeka troops. Another reads "God Hates You."
Phelps isn't actually here, but James Hockenbarger is, wearing a Chiefs sweatshirt and carrying a sign that warns "Repent or Perish."
"You won't hear any truth in there. All the truth is out here," Hockenbarger says of the proceedings inside the stadium. Graham, he says, has "an $85-million-dollar-a-year business." He goes on: "That's all this is to him, a way to make money. He used to preach the hellfire and brimstone, but now he'd rather have his eyeballs poked out than say anything about hell."
So how 'bout them Chiefs?
"They're not having a good season," he says.
Things get sort of heated when the Phelpsies and a couple of tourists get into an argument and start tossing Bible verses at each other. Then a truck with a huge picture of Kansas congressional candidate Kris Kobach rumbles out of the parking lot, past the sign-holding crew. The rain has dampened the corners of Kobach's mouth in the picture so that he appears to be drooling. An ambulance rounds the corner, all sirens and lights, and some of the sign wavers get excited. They wonder openly whether Graham himself has dropped dead.
"Is it him, is it him?" asks a large woman in a blue raincoat with a sign thanking God for September 11.
But it's a false alarm. Billy's still going strong, even in the downpour.
Rebecca Phelps-Davis is under an umbrella, talking to her father on a cell phone. After she ends the call, she explains that her pops couldn't be here because he had another picketing engagement in Topeka to attend.
"Billy Graham is one of the main false prophets of the day, probably worse than [Jerry] Falwell or the others, because of all the presidents he's had the ear of and failed. It's not looking good for him when he dies," she says.
We'd heard rumors about a small-town sheriff being a bike Nazi, so we decided to don our spandex and pedal over.
Over the past five months, Lawson Police Chief Norm Hemmerling has become notorious among Kansas City's bike geeks. For some reason, the cycling-averse lawman recently decided to start enforcing a 1970 statute that makes it illegal to ride or push a bicycle on the town's main drag. But the town's a popular destination for some area pedalers, including Ed Chasteen, a 68-year-old retired William Jewell College sociology professor who uses long rides as therapy for his multiple sclerosis. Last month, Chasteen rode to Lawson and was eating at a café when Hemmerling told him to move his parked bike or get ticketed. Chasteen refused, and Hemmerling had a deputy cite him.
Sheez! What's Hemmerling got against bikes, anyway? We decided to find out, riding to the town and finding Pennsylvania Avenue empty except for a blue sedan, which crept up behind us slowly.
The driver began honking. We pulled over, and the car pulled up beside us. The driver's face was flushed and slightly contorted. It was Chief Hemmerling!
"I tried to comply with Ed and his childishness. Now the first thing I see is a biker riding down the street," Hemmerling said. "You got 8- or 9-year-old boys and girls that can follow the rules. Why can't you?"
We identified ourselves as the Pitch reporter who had called him for an interview earlier in the week, but Hemmerling barked a series of rapidly delivered commands: Step back from the car. Produce identification immediately. Step back now.
Hemmerling got out. His khaki shorts and brown loafers revealed a gleaming sock tan.
Hemmerling shook with rage as he wrote out a warning ticket. But he got nervous as we reached behind for something. "What do you got back there?" he barked. The crack law enforcement official then leaned over for a pat-down and suddenly froze when he hit something.
It was a granola bar.
Whew. Lucky he didn't find the bicycle pump in our other pocket, or he might have really freaked.