BRANSON MO NEWS: If you can imagine Las Vegas, a county fair and the TV show Hee Haw mashed up and spread out along an old Ozark highway, then you’ll have an idea of what the main strip of Branson in southern Missouri looks like.Miles and miles of all the miniature golf, bumper cars, fudge shops, custard stands and music theaters that a vacationing family could hope for. Shannon works as a waitress in one of those places – a Branson restaurant – and says she loves being part of the action. “I love to hear where people are coming from,” Shannon says. “You get to know someone even with five minutes of talking. Where are you from? Why are you here? You kind of get to escape.” Branson became internationally famous in the 1990s for nightly shows by performers like singers Andy Williams and Tony Orlando and comedian Yakov Smirnoff. The town of 11,000 was hit hard during the Great Recession, but it’s bounced back and now welcomes more than 8 million tourists a year. Yet that growth has not rubbed off on the large number of Branson workers like Shannon, who scrape by living in extended-stay motels. At the end of the day, Shannon comes home to a musty motel room where she and her three children, ages 13, 12 and 8, live. She asked that her last name not be used to protect their privacy. The room has a single king-size bed where they sleep together, and their kitchen consists of a mini-fridge and a microwave. Trash bags filled with clothes cover most of the floor space. In lieu of a washing machine, Shannon uses the bathtub to do the laundry. She and her children have been staying in motels like this for the last six years. The extended-stay motel trap that many Branson …
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