Letter of Recommendation: Digging a Trench

By the time I entered the backyard with a shovel, the pool had evaporated. The shovel ricocheted off the stony earth, stinging my hands like a shanked fastball. I went to the hardware store and returned with a pickax. Because I’d never swung a pickax, I’d never seen, in my peripheral vision, my shadow looking like a prospector’s. That shadow made me feel a little insane, as if I expected to strike gold in my backyard. The pickax hit the ground with a satisfying thunk, tearing a deep hole in the earth. I continued to dig deeper, chopping roots and cracking stones under the spot where the pool had been. Eventually I uncovered a white PVC line that belonged to a long-lost sprinkler system. Brushing the dirt away with my hands, I found the PVC undamaged.

I followed that white PVC line farther into the yard, digging a trench about two feet deep and two feet wide along a curve that approached a row of dead Pyracantha. I found digging a trench to be repetitive and physically demanding work, similar to going on a long run, except where I might breathe through a cramp or troubled thoughts while running, here that same discomfort and confusion seemed to rise through my arms and into the pickax, which discharged as I drove it into the dirt. I didn’t realize how hungry, thirsty and exhausted I’d become until it started getting dark and I had to stop. That night I dreamed of digging the trench the way I dreamed of waves after being on the ocean all day. More feeling than vision, my dream rose and fell, hinged as it was to the pickax.

The next morning, I picked up where I left off, swinging with the same rise and fall, inhaling as I stretched skyward, exhaling as I drove the pickax into the ground. I’d dug holes before, to plant trees and post fences, and I’d chopped wood to heat the house in winter, but those jobs took place in one spot. Their focus was stationary, whereas the trench had a vector that carried me into the unknown.

Hours spent digging felt like days and days like weeks, though not because of boredom or drudgery. Time simply passed at a compressed rate. This relativity extended to my position — there in my tiny backyard, in the wider desert, atop the spinning planet. I’d step out of the trench feeling as though I’d traveled a great distance, only to drink from the hose attached to my house. Though I still feared for my kids and missed my Navy friend, I had to move on. Now I began to wonder if the river that my character had come to was not an obstacle after all but the point of the story itself.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/16/magazine/letter-of-recommendation-digging-a-trench.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

After a Hip Fracture, Reducing the Risk of a Recurrence

The decline in initiating treatment with any of the many medications known to reduce fracture risk is widely attributed to the outsize publicity given to the very rare risk of jaw necrosis and an uncommon fracture of the femur among patients who take bone drugs for many years. Yet the risk of a second hip fracture is far greater than either of these side effects, Dr. Bauer said. (The Food and Drug Administration just approved a new and different drug, Evenity, which builds bone, but it may have its own risks, this time a small increase in the chances of having a heart attack or stroke. Also, it is very expensive and may not be covered by insurance, and licensed only for postmenopausal women with a high risk of fracture.)

[Read more about a new osteoporosis drug that builds bone.]

In Dr. Desai’s study, treatment rates among those who broke a hip were even lower for men than for women, although men are nearly as likely to break another bone, including the other hip. In general, without preventive treatment, 15 percent to 25 percent of patients who suffer an osteoporotic fracture will experience another one within 10 years.

And with people living longer, hip fractures are increasingly likely. A report, published last year in the journal Osteoporosis International, revealed that, after a decade of declining rates of hip fractures, since 2012 the rates have plateaued in the United States, most likely because so many older adults, and their doctors, have turned their backs on bone-protecting medication. Among people enrolled in Medicare alone, Dr. Desai and co-authors wrote, this plateau “may have resulted in more than 11,000 additional estimated hip fractures between 2012 and 2015.”

The side effects associated with bone drugs “have gotten more hype than they should have,” Dr. Desai said in an interview. “People worry about them and with preventive therapy, they don’t see the benefits right away.”

However, Dr. Bauer wrote, “hip fractures represent only the tip of the iceberg; timely evaluation and consideration of drug treatment are appropriate for many other individuals at high risk of fracture.”

Many people at risk of breaking a bone because of osteoporosis are reluctant even to take vitamin D and calcium, nutrients critical to forming healthy bones. In a new national study reported recently by Dr. Spencer Summers, orthopedic surgeon at the University of Miami, to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, fewer than one person in five known to have osteoporosis met the daily recommended intake of both vitamin D and calcium.

More than 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, and another 44 million are at increased risk of developing it. Osteoporosis, which means porous bones, is a chronic, progressive disease of increasingly fragile bones that can break from a relatively minor insult, like falling from a standing height.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/15/well/live/after-a-hip-fracture-reducing-the-risk-of-a-recurrence.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

How France Became a Dangerous Place to Be a Jew

Faced by these fractures, France has hesitated to question its system. The lone-wolf explanation of violence, its attribution to psychotic episodes rather than Islamist networks breeding in the Cités, spared the nation self-examination. It was easier to speak of a single delirious mind than a delirious anti-Semitic mind, even if the core of the delirium was often this: Jew as devil.

Weitzmann cites a psychiatrist who examined Kobili Traoré, the man accused of defenestrating a Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, in 2017. His report found that the sight of Halimi’s mezuza produced an immediate association “with the devil” that amplified “the frantic outburst of hate.” A judge recently classified the murder as an anti-Semitic act after French authorities had been hesitant to do so.

An exploration of the French intelligentsia’s cultural paralysis — its tendency to find excuses for, or alternative explanations of, anti-Semitic violence — stands at the core of the book. Weitzmann recounts in great detail the case of Mohammed Merah, the 23-year-old killer of three Jewish children and a rabbi at the Ozar Hatorah School in Toulouse, as well as of French soldiers in the preceding days. These soldiers happened, like Merah, to be of North African origin — testament to the fact that French integration can still work.

Merah, later killed in a shootout with police officers, came from a dysfunctional family, plagued by domestic violence, petty crime and drug trafficking. His father, born in Algeria, was unstable, a sometime supporter of Algeria’s radical Islamist Salvation Front, the father of 15 to 20 children (nobody knows precisely). Merah had the odds stacked against him.

That, of course, is also the case with plenty of people who don’t end up spraying bullets through Jewish children or young soldiers. Still, Merah is widely portrayed in French media as a victim of France’s social and racial prejudice. Neocolonial anti-Muslim racism and discrimination lie behind the killings. “Do not generalize!” becomes the watchword in the aftermath of the attacks, Weitzmann writes. Yet Merah had been in Waziristan, he had received training there, he had told police negotiators during the long siege leading to his death that in Waziristan, he was instructed to “kill everything,” but fearing he would be seen as just “another crazy terrorist,” he decided to “just kill soldiers and Jews” — the French soldiers who fight Muslims in Afghanistan, the Jews who oppress Palestinians and run the world.

“Hate” is at times a sloppy, frustrating and repetitive book. It aspires to reportage without much of the hard-won, on-the-ground reporting needed to undergird that ambition. It often reads as awkwardly translated French — “the souvenir of the guillotine.” It can veer close to psychobabble — “Any system that pretends to authenticity must give way to psychopathy and violence, if only because it is the best way to communicate.” But it is redeemed by often illuminating intensity as it grapples with an unresolved French and European quandary.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/11/books/review/marc-weitzmann-hate.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Cheerleader Who Blew the Whistle on the N.F.L. Soldiers On

In a statement, he added: “Last year, the league office worked with clubs that have cheerleaders and encouraged them to review their programs to ensure that they were both appropriate and lawful. Since then, it is our understanding clubs made changes, which include providing additional security for public appearances, providing revised social media policies and providing more organizational support for cheerleading directors.”

Davis did not expect empathy from the N.F.L., but longtime squadmates were another story. After an initial flurry of “atta girl” text messages from members of the Saintsations, the Saints’ cheerleading team, she was deleted from cheerleader chat groups. Few of them called when Davis’s younger brother, Justin, was given a diagnosis of Stage 4 colon cancer last summer. Friends who were planning to visit Davis in Florida, where she was staying after she left the Saintsations, canceled their trip.

“They were texting me: ‘How could you do this? This is going to make us look bad,’” Davis said.

People hearing about her story from a distance have been more supportive. Scores of women, including some former N.F.L. cheerleaders, have thanked her for sticking her neck out and pushing for equal treatment. Many of these women saw her on “Megyn Kelly Today,” “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” or, most recently, “The Scarlet Letter Reports,” a Facebook Watch show hosted by Amanda Knox about women who have been publicly shamed.

Davis never imagined she would become a whistle-blower. But her dismissal by the Saints — ostensibly over a photograph she posted on Instagram that the team deemed too risqué, as well as accusations that she fraternized with a player — changed her attitude.

Her complaint exposed rules for cheerleaders that she said belonged to a bygone era. Davis said cheerleaders had to avoid contact with players, in person and online, even though players were not penalized for pursuing such engagement with cheerleaders. The cheerleaders had to block players from following them on social media and could not post photographs of themselves in Saints gear. They were told not to dine in the same restaurant as players, or to speak to them in any detail. If a Saints cheerleader entered a restaurant and a player was there, she had to leave. If a cheerleader was in a restaurant and a player arrived afterward, she had to leave.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/08/sports/cheerleader-bailey-davis-saints-nfl.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Woven Into the Fabrics of France

There has never been a fashion show inside the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, or in the piazza splayed in front of it, the way there have been in French cultural landmarks like the Louvre, the Palais de Justice and the National Archives.

But there might as well have been. It is embedded on the psychographic style map of the city, its two towers as defining a silhouette as the New Look, its image practically a brand in itself.

Four times a year, as the couture and ready-to-wear shows dawn in Paris, town cars and editors and retailers shod in stilettoes or Stan Smiths would crisscross the quais from the Tennis Club de Paris to Bercy, Austerlitz to the Pompidou.

Each time, they would swirl past the towers and rose windows of the cathedral on the Île de la Cité, the nexus of a diagonal from the Sixth Arrondissement headquarters of Sonia Rykiel to the Fourth Arrondissement home of Azzedine Alaïa, all around it other showrooms and ateliers like pearls on a string.

When it burned, so did one of the poles by which the fashion world orients itself, and not just geographically.

The tragedy at Notre-Dame pierced viewers around the world, and leaders of all kinds have responded with emotion and support. For the French, there’s a more visceral connection between French fashion and French monuments that has to do with definitions of the country’s culture and how it is disseminated around the world.

To designers of French brands, whose identity is wrapped up in the history of Paris, Notre-Dame is not just an example of gorgeous architecture (though it is that, and designers often cite various buildings as catalysts for their imagination), nor is it just another tourist draw that helps bring their customers to France (though it is that, too).

It is, in a more abstract sense, part of their own patrimony, an example and embodiment of the values they hold dear and that define their work at its best: beauty, artisanship, handwork, heritage, the emotion that can be evoked by creativity. A concrete — or rather, stone and wood — example of the worth that resides in these concepts. A character in the myth of Frenchness written by Victor Hugo and Disney.

And for anyone trying to capture that elusive quality of Frenchness and give it form — which is, let’s face it, part of the promise of French fashion, especially those brands that are synonymous with that je ne sais quoi (Dior, Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Chanel and Hermès) — Notre-Dame was an essential reference. Just as it was shorthand for the sagas that surround it, be they of Joan of Arc, Napoleon or de Gaulle, which also provide the elements of a sartorial vocabulary all designers share.

That is why over the years it was so often used as a backdrop in glossy magazine features, an image that could immediately telegraph place as well as aura and association. As the photos of flames went round the world, so many designers joined the chorus of mourning.

“While it was burning, a part of all of us was smoking away with immense sadness,” Anthony Vaccarello, the creative director of Yves Saint Laurent, said on Tuesday. Earlier he had posted a photo of the burning building on Instagram with one simple word: “sad.”

He was not the only one to demonstrate solidarity on social media. “Sadness for what is happening right now at Notre Dame, a place which holds a big space in my heart,” posted Riccardo Tisci, the Burberry designer who was creative director of Givenchy for 12 years. Diane von Furstenberg and Clare Waight Keller of Givenchy likewise took to Instagram to express their emotions.

In a text, Nicolas Ghesquière, the artistic director of Louis Vuitton women’s wear, called the cathedral a “testament to human strength, inventiveness and faith.”

And Peter Copping, the former designer of Nina Ricci, who is British but based in Paris, wrote in an email that when he moved to the city, Notre-Dame “was the first place on my list to see. It is a huge part of the fabric of Paris — a city I love, that I have made my home and is very special to me.”

Little wonder that the titans of the two largest French fashion and luxury groups — Bernard Arnault of LVMH and François-Henri Pinault of Kering — were among the first business leaders to pledge millions of euros to the restoration of the cathedral. (Together their donations total over $300 million.)

For those who aspire to be guardians and stewards of French savoir-faire, what better way to prove it? Especially at a time when luxury itself is under attack, the windows of its gilded emporiums broken by the so-called Yellow Vest movement, a symbol of elitism and division rather than culture.

Now, of course, Notre-Dame’s famous buttresses and centuries-old lines have been warped by disaster. But if there is one thing that fashion knows, it is that the designs of the past can be given new form, and new life.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/16/fashion/notre-dame-paris-fashion.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

How to Break Your Single-Use Plastics Habit

Some days, I feel like I can’t escape disposable plastics. My favorite deli wraps sandwiches in it, smoothie-cart staff serve drinks in clear cups and the office cafeteria keeps buckets of single-serve condiments and plastic utensils on display. These disposables, known as single-use plastics, are cheap, relatively strong and hygienic to use. But they cause problems around the globe.

In 2016, the world generated 242 million tons of plastic waste, according to The World Bank. North America, which it defines as Bermuda, Canada and the United States, is the third largest producer of plastic waste, totaling more than 35 million tons.

The sheer amount of waste isn’t the only problem. Plastics don’t biodegrade but can break down in the sun into smaller fragments known as secondary microplastics, which are harder to detect and clean up. Microplastics can enter the food chain and appear in everything from tap water to table salt, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Plastic bags end up in the bellies of sea creatures again and again. Styrofoam containers take up to 1,000 years to decompose, according to the U.N.E.P., although other estimates say it can stick around forever. It’s also expensive to clean up: The U.N.E.P. estimates the total economic damage to marine ecosystems is at least $13 billion every year.

Plastics show up in other unexpected places. Choosing paper cups for hot brews seems helpful to the environment. The truth is, not so much, said Kendra Pierre-Louis, climate reporter for The New York Times.

“Even paper cups are lined with plastic,” she explained. That plastic, known as polyethylene, makes the cups liquid-proof but is hard to reprocess for recycling. And even though the cups get tossed in recycling bins, they still end up in landfills, as shown in an experiment with Starbucks cups reported on by The Denver Post.

A good way to reduce your waste contribution is by assembling a kit of reusable stand-ins and popping it into your commuting bag or office desk drawer so it’s always within reach. Wirecutter, the product review site owned by The New York Times, has tested many reusable options, suitable for everyday use. Here are some things you can do to reduce your own plastic waste.

Avoid basic disposables with smart alternatives

Several states are considering plastic bag bans, and even if you don’t live in one, Wirecutter has recommendations for reusable totes and grocery bags that are durable and can fit in a purse or glove box for smaller shopping errands. But forgoing plastic shopping bags isn’t the only way to make an impact.

Rethinking your drink routine can also prevent unintended landfill waste. Brew your own coffee at home or bring a travel mug into your favorite coffee shop. (Wirecutter has loved the Zojirushi SM-SA48 Stainless Steel Mug for four years because it keeps beverages hot, has a leakproof design and the body won’t burn your hands.) Some coffee shops, including Peet’s and Starbucks, even offer a small discount if you ask them to pour your beverage into your clean travel mug.

Well-meaning people and media have vilified plastic straws in recent years — you can probably thank a viral YouTube video of an olive ridley sea turtle for that. But omitting plastic straws alone won’t save every marine creature or the environment. And remember: children, the elderly and some people with disabilities rely on plastic straws when drinking is difficult.

For those who don’t need a plastic straw to enjoy their next drink, a reusable straw can be handy. Wirecutter recommends Klean Kanteen’s steel straws, which come with a removable, curved silicone tip for easy drinking and cleaning, as well as the translucent, wider GoSili Reusable Silicone Straws.

If you get a period and have no medical condition limiting your use of menstrual products, forgo tampons or menstrual pads in favor of a menstrual cup. They’re reusable, they can save you money and you need to pack only one (although menstrual products aren’t a major contributors to plastic waste). The ones we recommend are made of silicone, but they should last for years.

To keep everything within reach, we recommend a small packing cube or bag organizer, which can fit in a commuting bag or purse.

B.Y.O. to-go containers

Leftovers from date night make their way into flimsy plastic containers that are prone to leaking when tipped over, can’t be reheated without melting and are a pain to clean if you want to recycle them later. A reusable food-storage container with an airtight lid prevents spills, is reheatable and is easier to clean, too. Wirecutter testers have recommendations for both glass and plastic sets, although each have their drawbacks.

Ms. Pierre-Louis is partial to glass containers, like our pick, the Pyrex 18-Piece Simply Store Food Storage Set. But glass is heavy, and some restaurants may refuse to pack meals in your own containers because of health concerns, Ms. Pierre-Louis noted. If you do order takeout, decline the restaurant’s complimentary napkins and plasticware.

“The best way I’ve found to reduce my waste is to simply cook food at home and bring it to work and eat it,” Ms. Pierre-Louis said, adding that she keeps reusable cutlery at her desk. You can also store a ceramic dinnerware set at the office for mealtimes.

And although you may not be able to use reusable containers at restaurants, your local grocer may be more obliging at the bulk aisle of coffee beans and mixed nuts. Just ask them to weigh your container beforehand to ensure you’re charged for the precise amount you buy.

Consider your personal circumstances

Of course, not all of these solutions work for everyone. Alice Wong, founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, said in an email interview that creating a reusable-goods kit is a privileged idea, as not everyone can afford to create their own kit, nor would it be convenient for all.

“The bag that hangs on the back of my wheelchair contains a lot of stuff already that I use for my personal care,” Ms. Wong said. “Getting stuff out of my bag and back into my bag requires assistance and when you already have to ask wait staff or strangers for help, this just adds to the overall labor and scrutiny from the public.”

Some people with disabilities and chronic illnesses also depend on disposable plastics to reduce contamination or to live in a world not designed for them, such as ventilator tubing, face masks and even straws. Ms. Wong said people disinfect and reuse what they can, which is a form of sustainability in the disability community that often goes unrecognized.

“We’re not some subset of hungry, hungry plastic-using hippos,” she said. She recommends that people find ways to extend the usage of single-use plastics without putting their health at risk.

If you aren’t ready to give up specific single-use items, you have other ways to help the environment. Cigarette butts are the largest source of single-use plastics in the environment, according to the U.N.E.P., so quitting smoking can have an impact. Plastic drinking bottles are another leading source, so quenching your thirst at a water fountain or with a reusable water bottle also helps. You can also choose to support policy initiatives in your community that encourage residents to recycle and hold corporations accountable for their own environmental waste.

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A version of this article appears at Wirecutter.com.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/16/smarter-living/wirecutter/stop-using-single-use-plastics.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

How to Make Friends While Traveling Solo

Experiencing another culture on your own terms, at your own pace, with a budget of your own choosing can be an incredibly rewarding and insightful adventure. But while some may find such a journey liberating, others might worry about safety or a period of solitude in a strange, unfamiliar place. Humans, after all, are social animals.

Prospective solo travelers should know that, despite its label, solo travel does not have to mean you’re alone all the time. There are local communities to safely interact with as well as fellow globe-trotters in a similar position.

A 2016 report from travel research company Phocuswright found that a whopping 72 percent of hostel guests in the United States were traveling alone. Airbnb saw similar a trend in its data, with cities like Ho Chi Minh City, Cologne, and Johannesburg experiencing more than a 130 percent increase in individual bookings in 2016.

With solo traveling growing in popularity, it’s clear there are options to socialize with other travelers — it’s just a matter of putting yourself in the right position to do so. Here are some tactics you can use to meet and befriend people abroad, from tried-and-true methods to innovative new apps and technology.

Go on ‘free’ walking tours

The word free is in quotations because, assuming your tour guide is at least half-decent, you should tip them at the end (many earn the majority of their income on commission). But these walking tours can be worth every penny. Not only will the guide give you an informed and hopefully entertaining view of the locale, but you’ll have a chance to interact with other tourists and possibly come away with a new friend.

The leisurely pace in between stops gives you the opportunity to chat with fellow tour-goers, who you may discover are also traveling alone or as part of a small group they’re willing to let you join. Prominent cities often have multiple specialized tours — street art or local cuisine, for example — which provide additional chances to meet people and further learn about the place hosting you.

Several tour companies, like Sandeman’s New Europe or Free Tours by Foot, have outposts in popular cities and are generally safe options for the solo traveler. But don’t count out smaller or independent tour companies that may be better tailored to specific destinations. Visit the company website and read reviews left by travelers to make sure everything checks out. You can also look at ratings on separate websites like TripAdvisor for a more comprehensive view.

If you’re staying in a hostel, the staff often has relationships with tour companies in the city. A hotel receptionist or concierge would also have recommendations.

Use Airbnb to go on unique experiences hosted by locals

Airbnb may be known more for its lodging arrangements, but it also wants to give you something to do at your destination. Airbnb Experiences connects travelers with local guides who lead guests on paid activities ranging from city tours to bar crawls and hobby and skill classes. Launched in late 2016, Experiences quickly became a popular feature.

So what’s the appeal? Similar to walking tours, Airbnb Experiences can be a fun way to mingle with fellow sightseers while gaining firsthand knowledge from experienced locals. And while you do have to pay upfront, costs usually cover expenses like transportation, food, drinks or equipment. Each booking page includes information from the host on what items they’ll provide, as well as what items you should bring, like activity-specific clothing or extra cash (for souvenirs, for example).

Since Experiences is embedded on the standard Airbnb platform, you’ll want to show the same caution when booking activities as you would with booking housing. Make sure to read through the description and photos carefully and pay attention to the Experience’s rating and reviews (Airbnb has neat little trophies visible on the page if the Experience has been rated five stars by a certain number of people.) If you have any questions or concerns, Airbnb will put you in touch with the host through its messaging system even if you haven’t booked the activity yet.

Connect with like-minded explorers on social travel apps

Prefer to cut out the middleman and connect directly with other travelers? Try your hand at the crop of social networking apps specifically designed for travel. Travello, free on iOS and Android, allows you to discover other travelers nearby, match itineraries for planned trips and join groups based on similar interests. You can also create a feed by posting photos and updates.

Tourlina, also free on iOS and Android, is exclusively for women and operates a lot like a dating app by swiping on potential travel companions with similar itineraries and timing. Women can also use the dating app Bumble’s BFF feature to meet platonic companions in the area. Other social media apps are 0ol options, with region-specific Facebook groups and subreddits to engage with travelers, expats, and locals in your destination of choice.

As with any first encounter brokered through social media, use caution when meeting people in real life. Meet in public spaces and consider video chatting beforehand. Travello also has a block/report feature if anyone conducts themselves inappropriately, resulting in an immediate ban from the app.

Stay in hostels

In a world of hospitable hotels and authentic Airbnbs, why do travelers elect to stay in hostels? Two reasons, really: Hostels are cheap and sociable. You’ll find college-esque dormitories with common lounge rooms and kitchens, and sometimes a bar or cafe.

It’s an ideal environment to meet other travelers, and hostel staffs are well aware of this — some will lead city tours or pub crawls designed to foster interaction between hostel mates. Others might host game nights in the common room or arrange family dinners.

Popular booking sites include Hostelworld, Hostelz, Hostels.com, and Hostelbookers, and all feature reviews and detailed information about available amenities and each hostel’s location. Novice solo travelers may want to consider staying near the city center for a convenient and safe option. During your research, pay attention to which hostels struck a chord with solo travelers in particular — those likely facilitate group activities and also provide good security for individuals. Female solo travelers can also often stay in female-only dorms.

Hostels are perhaps the quintessential way for young people to travel, but you’ll find all types of ages and backgrounds in one. And though the image of the lone backpacker bouncing from hostel to hostel has endured for decades, the data suggests the trend is more popular than ever.

Aric Jenkins is a staff writer at Fortune magazine, based in New York City. He has been featured in Travel + Leisure, Time, Newsweek, and Vibe, among others. You can follow him on Twitter or read more of his work here.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/16/travel/how-to-make-friends-while-traveling-solo.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Zone 1 or Group E? Making Sense of the New Boarding Rules

For airlines, time on the ground is money. Financially speaking, planes only earn revenue for their companies when they are in the air, ferrying paying passengers. Which is one strong incentive to speed up boarding, deplaning and turnaround time.

That is why airlines continue to tinker with boarding procedures. United Airlines remodeled its boarding processes last fall to discourage passengers from lining up and clogging the boarding area. In January, Delta Air Lines expanded from having six numbered groups determine the order of boarding to eight color groups. Southwest Airlines is testing front- and rear-door boarding and deplaning at airports where the weather allows.

Boarding hierarchy didn’t matter much until about 10 years ago, when airlines began charging for checked bags. As the propensity to carry on luggage grew, so did the overhead bin wars. Early boarding, now aligned with frequent flier status and more expensive tickets, largely means avoiding them.

“Southwest maintains one reason it doesn’t assign seats is that it leads to faster boarding,” says Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and the founder of Atmosphere Research Group. “The problem is, at other airlines, you now have customers with frequent flier status who expect early boarding and have been educated for more than a decade that they’re special.”

That doesn’t stop airlines from toying with boarding plans and dangling line-jumping shortcuts, as the following chart on domestic boarding procedures suggests.

Alaska Airlines

Boarding by: Groups A through E. A and B have frequent flier status or premium class seats, C is in the back half of the main cabin, D is in the front and E is for “Saver” seats, which are the cheapest, largely nonrefundable and do not allow advance seat assignments.

What’s new: Alphabetical group boarding was adopted in 2018; Group E was added in early 2019 with the low-price fares.

Preboarding: Families with children under the age of 2, active duty military, first class.

How to line-jump: n/a, other than preboarding groups.

Carry-on policy: One personal item and one carry-on, measuring 22-by-14-by-9 inches maximum, are free. When overhead bin space runs out, bags checked at the gate are free.

American Airlines

Boarding Groups: Groups 1 through 9. Group 1 is first and/or business class and active-duty military; 2 through 4 reflect frequent flier status; 5 is for tickets purchased with extra legroom; 9 is for the lowest price “Basic Economy” where seats cannot be selected more than 48 hours in advance.

What’s new: Boarding was last updated in March 2017.

Preboarding: Members of the airline’s invitation-only ConciergeKey program. Families with children under the age of 2 may ask to preboard.

How to line-jump: Holders of most of the airline’s AAdvantage credit cards board with groups 4 and 5 (annual fee $99). Travelers may also buy priority boarding for $9 to $74 each way.

Carry-on policy: One personal item and one carry-on up to 22-by-14-by-9 inches free. When overhead bin space runs out, bags checked at the gate are free.

Delta Air Lines

Boarding Groups: Groups one through eight are classified by color on a spectrum running from purple, for the highest-status frequent flier members, to navy blue for Basic Economy, the lowest fare, which offers seat assignments only after check-in.

What’s new: The color system was adopted in January, expanding to eight boarding groups from six.

Preboarding: Customers needing extra time and active military members.

How to line-jump: Delta SkyMiles American Express credit card holders get priority boarding in the first Main Cabin group, or fifth group (annual fee $95).

Carry-on policy: One personal item and one carry-on up to 22-by-14-by-9 inches free. When overhead bin space runs out, bags checked at the gate are free.

Frontier Airlines

Boarding Groups: Zones 1 through 4. Zone 1 fliers have paid for a carry-on bag. Zones 2 through 4 go from the rear of the plane to the front.

What’s new: n/a

Preboarding: Anyone needing a wheelchair or other boarding assistance; unaccompanied minors.

How to line-jump: Flyers purchasing amenity bundles known as the Works or the Perks get priority boarding and free checked and carry-on bags. A passenger purchasing a carry-on bag gets Zone 1 boarding. Families with children under the age of 3 board after Zone 1 but before Zone 2. Holders of the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard get Zone 2 boarding (annual fee $79).

Carry-on policy: One personal item is free. Carry-on bags must be no larger than 24-by-16-by-10 inches and cost $35 at booking and run up to $60 at the gate.

JetBlue Airways

Boarding Groups: Groups A through E. A is for travelers purchasing an “Even More Space” seat; B through E groups stagger passengers seated throughout the plane to minimize congestion.

What’s new: In November, JetBlue introduced biometric self-boarding gates using facial recognition technology on international flights at New York’s Kennedy and Washington, D.C.’s Reagan airports.

Preboarding: Customers with disabilities; Mint (premium class); and Mosaic (high frequent flier status) fliers.

How to line-jump: To join Group A, purchase an “Even More Space” seat, which has extra legroom and varied prices but recently cost about $100 one way on a $300 round trip between New York and San Francisco. Passengers traveling with children in car seats and strollers and active military personnel board between Groups A and B.

Carry-on policy: One personal item and one carry-on up to 22-by-14-by-9 inches free.

Southwest Airlines

Boarding Groups: Open seating for Groups A through C, each with a boarding position numbered 1 through 60. Passengers line up by number (assigned, with some premium exceptions, by order of check-in) in their alphabetical group.

What’s new: At four airports in California — Burbank, Long Beach, Sacramento and San Jose — Southwest is experimenting with speeding up boarding and deplaning by simultaneously using front jet-bridge entries and rear doors that require the use of stairs.

Preboarding: Customers who have a specific seating need to accommodate their disability, or need assistance in boarding or stowing an assistive device.

How to line-jump: Business Select fares, which vary but can be double the lowest, nonrefundable fares, guarantee a boarding position between A1 and A15. Others can pay an extra $30 to $50 one way for a position from A1 to A15. Paying $15 to $25 one way for upgraded boarding 36 hours before the flight doesn’t guarantee A-list status, but will improve your boarding position. Children ages six or younger and a guardian may board before Group B.

Carry-on policy: One personal item and one carry-on up to 22-by-16-by-10 inches free.

Spirit Airlines

Boarding Groups: Zones 1 to 4. Zone 1 passengers have purchased carry-on bags; Zone 3 fliers are toward the back of the plane; Zone 4 fliers are toward the front of the plane.

What’s new: n/a

Preboarding: Passengers with disabilities and those traveling with children under the age of 2.

How to line-jump: Active military members board with Zone 2. Fliers can also purchase Shortcut Boarding for about $10 one way to get into Zone 2. Holders of the Spirit Airlines World Mastercard get Zone 2 boarding (annual fee $59).

Carry-on policy: Passengers are allowed only one personal item. Fees for full-size carry-on bags depend on the route, but recently ran $27 at the time of booking, and $65 at the gate for a flight from Chicago to Las Vegas.

United Airlines

Boarding Groups: Groups 1 through 5, that queue up through two boarding lanes. Group 1 through blue and all others through green.

What’s new: The airline changed its boarding in September 2018 to two boarding lanes from five to ease congestion at the gates and shifted group definitions to make them more balanced.

Preboarding: MileagePlus Premiere 1K customers, the highest frequent flier status; families traveling with children ages 2 and under; customers with disabilities; and active military members.

How to line-jump: United Explorer MileagePlus credit card holders board in Group 2 (annual fee $95).

Carry-on policy: One personal item and one carry-on up to 22-by-14-by-9 inches free for most fliers. When overhead bin space runs out, bags checked at the gate are free. Basic Economy fares are allowed a personal item but must pay to check a full-size carry-on.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/12/travel/airplane-airport-boarding.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

When Trash Is a Journalist’s Treasure

Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.

Talk about your plenty and talk about your ills,

One man gathers what another man spills

— “St. Stephen,” The Grateful Dead

Around two years ago, a reporter who had just joined The Times, Sheera Frenkel, told me she had heard that trash pickers in San Francisco were congregating at the dumpsters of tech companies because the food they threw away was high quality. I was intrigued by this and over the next year, whenever I had a free evening, I hung out near the dumpsters of Twitter and smaller tech companies, talking to trash pickers and the homeless.

Recyclers came for the plentiful cardboard and cans, but I never found evidence that tech companies were throwing out particularly good food on a mass scale. In fact it was the contrary: I discovered nonprofit organizations — like Replate, founded by a Syrian migrant who had studied at the University of California, Berkeley — that collect uneaten food from tech companies and deliver it to homeless shelters and soup kitchens across the San Francisco Bay Area.

But my informal investigations got me interested in the world of trash picking and eventually led to my recent article about Jake Orta, an Air Force veteran turned full-time trash picker who lives three blocks from the well-fenced house of Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder.

Trash picking is nothing new in San Francisco. Generations have collected everything from furniture and appliances to lumber from the city’s sidewalks and dumpsters.

But these days garbage picking is juxtaposed with the extreme wealth that has pushed up housing costs in San Francisco to the point where a family of four earning less than $117,400 is eligible for low-income housing.

I met many trash pickers over the past two years. Some were reluctant to give their names. Others moved away. I was introduced to Mr. Orta by Nick Marzano, an Australian photographer who documents trash picking in his nonprofit magazine, Mission Gold.

Taciturn and mission-driven, Mr. Orta is a Texas native who in addition to serving in the military spent time as a cook, but fell into homelessness and substance abuse.

During a particularly rainy San Francisco winter, Jim Wilson, our bureau photographer, and I wandered the slick streets of the Mission and the hills around Dolores Park with Mr. Orta as he scoured garbage bins for things he could sell.

There are parts of San Francisco, like Nob Hill and Pacific Heights, that have long been known for mansions and luxury hotels. Mr. Orta’s neighborhood is in full-blown transition, an uneasy blend of crumbling tenements and freshly painted restored Victorian homes; grocery shops catering to the Latino working class and boutiques selling “small-batch chocolates,” designer sunglasses and fine leather shoes.

In the early evening, when Mr. Orta begins his rounds, Wi-Fi-equipped buses swing around tight corners, ready to disgorge tech workers from Silicon Valley.

In a city where nearly everything can be done with an app, Mr. Orta does not have a phone. So coordinating with him was difficult. We set a time to meet at his apartment and hoped he would be there. Often he was not.

When his beloved Dallas Cowboys lost to the Los Angeles Rams in the playoffs in January, Mr. Orta could not be roused from his small studio apartment.

He is not a class warrior, nor is he particularly opinionated about politics or income inequality. He was not aware he was searching the bins of Mr. Zuckerberg’s house until we told him who owned the place.

And I found him to be ambivalent about trash picking, which he has been doing full time for six years. On some days he described it as an addiction. He was excited about what he might find on his treks through the city.

On other days he said his dream was to go back into the food business.

“I want to get a food truck and make Texas-style brisket,” he told me one night as he pulled a suitcase with a missing wheel that he had just retrieved from a garbage bin.

“This,” he said looking back at the suitcase, “is not my ultimate goal.”

Follow the @ReaderCenter on Twitter for more coverage highlighting your perspectives and experiences and for insight into how we work.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/reader-center/mark-zuckerberg-trash-picker-reporting.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Letter of Recommendation: Spuds MacKenzie

How much money I spent on that vintage sweatshirt, or when I returned to the store a year later to buy another, isn’t important. What mattered to me, then and now, was the feeling of insouciance that it dislodged. Spuds, much like those Vineyard Vines-wearing boys who competed against me in drinking games, emanated a lightness of being that I neither fully understood nor was able to embody, but at times seemed so close I could feel it. If the beer itself tastes like coming home from my Women in World Politics seminar and contemplating apartheid while I wash my hair, then Spuds MacKenzie feels like later that night, unencumbered and unbothered, at the apex of my semiannual foray into a hallway game of flip cup.

I enjoyed college, but it took me a few years to realize that I wasn’t having that much fun. I graduated from a majority-black high school, then found myself on a campus that prided itself on its lacrosse and sailing teams and steak-and-lobster dinners. Whiteness never appealed to me, but the confident, entitled recklessness it could provide did: I wanted to borrow some of the blitheness that my classmates enjoyed, pour it into a Solo cup and head out into the night, too. Spuds is an extension of my lifelong fascination — envy, even — with the unalloyed levity and audacity found in a certain type of white, straight masculinity: early Beastie Boys, Ferris Bueller, 2011-2013 Justin Bieber. But to revere those figures is too dicey, an endorsement of something I don’t even like; Spuds, on the other hand, inspires guiltless admiration, in part because he transcended the human form. It’s not hard to imagine a man version of Spuds, with the drinking and the girls and the parties, eventually veering into troubling territory, spawning disappointment, outrage and a sea of web reactions. But you can’t cancel a dog.

Spuds’s charm is in his absurdity — it’s fun to participate in a fantasy where the weather is always warm, the parties are always fun and a panting dog is the handsomest man in the room. (In 1987, People revealed that the actor who played Spuds was actually a female dog, resulting in a national mini-outcry.) The whole thing is ridiculous — but not dissimilar to the way that spending $43 on a tattered sweatshirt is ridiculous, or chugging fermented malted barley to impede your ability to throw a Ping-Pong ball into a cup is ridiculous, or whiteness itself is ridiculous. But those are things, I suppose, that all unlock a dose of freedom more intoxicating than any light beer. And, if given the chance, who wouldn’t choose to chug that down? Life’s a party, if you’re lucky.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/09/magazine/letter-of-recommendation-spuds-mackenzie.html?partner=rss&emc=rss