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Outside, telephone poles stand like tilted crosses along the two-lane blacktop, and a red light blinks at Louisburg's major intersection. Every day, this stretch clogs when the school bells ring, David says. Women with orange flags usher the yellow buses through, making other cars wait.
"On average, you could be sitting there [at that intersection] 3 to 4 minutes," Robert says. "I shit you not."
Growth can be measured in hamburger and pizza places, Robert says. In car washes and churches. In the number of by-the-book cops who won't drive a drunk man home.
Weeknights, the bar closes at 10. After that, the only option is Tanner's on 142nd Street.
"David, he came out of the tree! They got him," Billy says suddenly. He grabs a stack of breaded chicken fingers from the buffet and heads out the back door. The two men grab their mugs and follow as Billy descends a wooden ramp and heads toward a raccoon that has emerged from the underbrush. Billy kneels and shakes a strip of meat in front of the animal, who saunters up to Billy and takes the food, reaching forward tentatively at first and then almost burrowing into the stash Billy holds against his oversized purple T-shirt.
Billy runs Cedar Cove Feline Conservation Park, an animal preserve a few miles south. He used to care for more than 25 coons. Then, in 1979, he switched to tiger farming. Years back, he lost an index finger to a tiger at feeding time. Last week, he got a diagonal gash across his nose for, he says, leaning too close to a raccoon while strumming his guitar.
The coon lashes out for more food. Suddenly Billy stands, his middle finger dripping with grease and blood. "He got me. It's OK. It's nothing," he says.
He pulls out his keys and jingles them at his side.
"I'm taking off, Zeke. I'm leaving you," he says. Robert chuckles, watching as Billy jogs away from the underbrush, the raccoon chasing him across the yard. -- Ben Paynter
Overland Park Marriott
Most weekday afternoons, business travelers gather inside Pitcher's, the bar in the Overland Park Marriott. Today Mötley Crüe is on the radio at low volume. The guy behind the bar is Kurt Gress. He wears a gold cable bracelet on his wrist. A bottle opener sticks out of his back pocket.
Gress can relate to being in a strange place; his dad was an executive for AT&T, so the family moved around a lot. Gress managed restaurants for 13 years before giving up his stressful job to pour drinks at the Marriott four nights a week from 3 p.m. until midnight. He loves it. "It's not even really like work," he says.
The people who pay $160 a night to stay at the 390-room Marriott like Gress because he's personable. He amuses them by making bottles levitate and napkins skitter across the bar like crabs.
"Guys! Can I get you another round?" Gress calls to three pale men in business casual sitting at a table. They order three more Fat Tires. They discuss software problems before the two men who live in the area get up and go home, leaving Mark, from Portland, Oregon, all alone.