It's just shy of midnight, and more women are sitting at the bar than dancing at one of Kansas City's older strip clubs. Sally is behind the bar, joking with the few regulars who are here, pouring shots when they're called for. There are only a few customers now, and this is as quiet as a Friday is likely to be.
Sally doesn't dance and doesn't plan to start. Not that she's a stranger to strip clubs. When she was a little younger, she went to them with friends because the clubs stayed open later than most bars.
Tonight, as on most nights lately, the patrons and dancers are talking about her family.
"He's just against anyone having fun," says one dark-haired dancer on the way outside to smoke a cigarette.
"Bartle's the guy who passed that law about open coolers on the river, right?" asks a man at the bar. "What the hell's his problem?"
Sally doesn't answer. The man they're talking about is Matt Bartle, a Republican state senator from Lee's Summit who has spent his political career trying to close the doors of every adult store and strip club in the state. Though he doesn't know it, one of his relatives would be among the people losing jobs if he managed to shut down the industry.
Sally has asked The Pitch not to reveal her identity because, right now, her family doesn't know that she has been serving drinks at this club on the outskirts of the metro for almost a year. She's not a member of the senator's immediate family, though she says their paths might cross at a family reunion. (Bartle did not return calls for this story.)
"They're all very conservative," she says of the Bartle family.
A week ago, Sally sent a letter to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon asking him to veto Missouri Senate Bill 586 that Bartle, in his final term, at last pushed through this year. She says closing topless joints and nude cabarets would make life dangerous for the workers left behind.
"I don't want to lose my job, but that's just part of it," she says. "I don't think he needs to tell people what they can and can't do. We should have more freedom than that."
On a sweltering June afternoon, a tavern in Columbia serves as the meeting place for 40 or so men and women who together employ almost 3,000 people, all of whom might be out of work by the end of the summer.
Among them are Dick Snow and Joe Spinello, competitors under any other circumstances. Snow owns Bazooka's Showgirls, a nude revue and adult arcade on Main Street in Kansas City. Spinello operates the Shady Lady, a topless bar in KC's Northeast neighborhood. Both men are veterans of the adult industry. Snow started out in Colorado in the 1970s, where he owned an adult theater during the Deep Throat era — the golden age of pornography. Spinello's parents owned the Shady Lady beginning in the 1930s, when a different name was painted on the door and live country-and-western acts shared bills with cabaret dancers. He spent 20 years working for Anheuser-Busch before returning to the family trade.
They've come to this Columbia bar to rally Missouri members of the Association of Club Executives, a national trade organization for adult-bookstore and strip-club owners. Snow is the state chapter's vice president. The first item on today's agenda is to make sure everyone knows why Missouri is about to have as many rules regulating nipples as it does guns. The second is to prepare for the possibility of a long and probably expensive legal battle.