September 2, 2004
Cook County-- A man can become the mayor without running for election, without getting a special appointment, without making campaign promises.
Out of nowhere a big white sign that says "Peanut City - Population 2" comes into view while traveling west on highway 78 between Nashville and Adel.
No city limits signs. No traffic lights. No law enforcement. A city in name only, about an acre in size, and not found on any road map.
Stop at the boiled peanut and fruit stand and you'll meet Billy Martin, the man who created Peanut City. "Population two. I'm one of them and she's in the house, the other one," says Billy referring to his wife, Jewel.
Billy became the city's de facto Mayor. "It's all I can do to run Peanut City, and sometimes I have problems running it," says Billy with a laugh.
A steady stream of people visit the Mayor, not to complain, but to buy his boiled peanuts. Some customers, like Keith Owens, have been buying them for at least 28 years.
"You don't know a good boiled peanut until you try one of these," says Keith as he waits for five bags. What makes Billy Martin's peanuts so appealing? His secret is the fresh well water to boil the peanuts.
\People have been known to drive a hundred miles for a bag Billy Martin's peanuts. "To be honest, I don't want to share mine," says Andrea Durden. She bought three bags. "Everybody has their own bag so we don't share," says Andrea with a laugh. Billy gladly shares his peanuts and really enjoys sitting around and visiting with people. As long as you sit and talk, he'll feed you free boiled peanuts. "You're not going to eat enough to hurt me," says Billy.
The boiled peanut and fruit stand often becomes the community's newsstand. "If you stay long enough you'll learn a lot," says Billy.
Bobby Kent visits regularly. "Thirty years or better," says Bobby, while cracking open a peanut. Sitting, talking, eating boiled peanuts. "Get your batteries re-charged, kind of, you know," says Bobby.
Billy likes to talk with people, finding everyone interesting, regardless of where they come from. "Most everybody is different. So, you got to like everybody to like part of them," says Billy.
He finds people exciting, with life-long wisdom shelled out on occasion. "You make your life for yourself. I mean you can make it anyway you want. I try to make mine good," says Billy.
Billy Martin certainly has made a good life in the hot, un-air conditioned peanut and fruit stand. "I've enjoyed this life better than anyone I've had."
Creating his own city, creating an enviable reputation known far and wide. "I'm happy. Why change now?"
In a place that's more than it's cracked up to be.
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