From granite to HBO: How a southern boy transitioned to LA

By Virginia Phillips Blanton


He broke the mold

The trade offs were immense when Herman Phillips IV packed up his 2008 Honda CR-V, abandoning White Oak, South Carolina to traverse the country, running down a dream. Magnolia trees for palm trees. Crock-Pot mac ‘n cheese for authentic street pho. Acres of land for a rent-controlled shoebox. The boldest compromise was leaving the family granite business for a production assistant job at HBO.

Dora and Herman “Grady” Phillips III had five children. Hannah Brown, Ruthie, Mary Grace, Sarah and Hunter were raised in a town of 50 people. “Our parenting philosophy was to bring our children up in fear and admiration of the Lord,” Grady said.

“There was no part of my life untouched by religion,” Herman said. He couldn’t read “Harry Potter” because it was considered a satanic influence. Any film he watched was vetted through biblical movie reviews. Church on Sunday was clockwork.

“I always dreaded a Sunday morning in my house. I would dread the process of getting ready, putting on my tie and pushing everyone out the door. We had to drive an hour to church and an hour back. It was the most boring drive. We would listen to a sermon on the way, stay the entire service, then listen to a different sermon on the drive back,” Herman said.

He started going by Herman instead of his given name, Hunter, when he was 16. “It was too much of a stereotypical, southern boy name. I realized it wouldn’t be very good branding for who I wanted to be,” he said.

He chose filming over hunting

Phillips Granite Company was established in 1933. Herman always felt pressured to take over the family business and play the role of a good, Christian, southern gentleman. When he was 9 years old, he told his dad he wanted to be a filmmaker.

“I had two choices: to either embrace the expectations and lie to myself and others or leave it all behind and reinvent who I was supposed to be,” he said.

“I remember the first duck, quail and dove Hunter shot. I could read that it wasn’t a passion for him like it was for me. But he enjoyed us being together. We still hunt together when he comes home,” Grady said.

The one thing Herman gleefully shot as a boy was footage. He started writing little scripts when he was 7 years old. On a personal YouTube channel, he uploaded reviews of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” His parents allowed this online presence because he spoke with a brown paper bag over his head with eye cutouts to maintain privacy. When he was 13, his mother took him to be an extra in “The Hunger Games” franchise.


Growing up, Herman felt like he didn’t fit in with his White Oak, South Carolina community, but after working on HBO’s “Insecure”, he finally found his niche.

Adversity didn’t stop him

The first time Herman visited California was to tour colleges. Grady and Dora accompanied him. They passed out Bibles on the street in between tours of the University of Southern California and Loyola Marymount University. Even then, they sensed their son’s magnetism toward Los Angeles.

Granite weathers away slower than other rocks. But it can bear abrasions. Herman’s acceptance to the University of Southern California validated every unacceptance he felt in his hometown. “But when USC didn’t offer me any scholarships or financial aid whatsoever, everything seemed to collapse around me. I don’t think I’ve ever been that distraught, before or since. It’s still hard to think about,” he said. The reality of $60,000 a year sunk in. He enrolled in the University of South Carolina’s Honor College.

“He was very much a gentleman about it. He understood why he couldn’t go,” said Dora.

Herman’s career momentum kick started at a Philips’ family reunion, of all places.The  It was the summer before his first semester at the University of South Carolina. He was deflated about settling in South Carolina. He had no idea his mentor was floating in a sea of nametags. Hello, my name is: Ben Patrick. A production sound mixer who resided in LA, Patrick connected Herman with Jim Kleverweis, a producer at HBO. One coffee with Kleverweis and a conspicuous email correspondence landed him a summer job working on the television series “Insecure,” directed by Issa Rae. Herman worked every college summer in some entertainment capacity in LA

“People have their cliques, their respective groups, their fraternities and sororities. I had never felt like I had found my people, my tribe, until I stepped on a film set. Once I did, it washed over me. ‘Oh, this is what it’s supposed to be like,’” he said.

The City of Angels summoned him. The summer before his junior year of college, an assistant director on “Insecure” encouraged him to drop out and continue working with them. Heeding the advice, he loaded extra credit hours onto his schedule and plunged into his honors thesis, graduating a year early. His exodus from the East Coast began five days after graduation.

Neighbors warned him: “Traffic is going to be terrible,” and “They do it different out West.” The difference is what drives him. Jack Kerouac style, he sped through 10 states to his new home. The road trip was a formal education for his narrow worldview.

He grew but never changed

LA has not watered down his southern mannerisms from sweet to unsweet tea. The phrases yes ma’am, no ma’am, yes sir and no sir remain in his vernacular. “He’s found great success in his first few years in LA, but that hasn’t changed who he is. He’s still the same old Herman,” said Matt Francis, his best friend.

“One of the reasons he wears facial hair is to cover up the fact that he’s only 21. On Monday, he had to drive 40 miles to be on location at 5 a.m. He woke up at 3:30 a.m. and got organized. Hunter is very organized. Everything is working in his favor,” said Dora.

A wide shot of his West Coast life doesn’t fit a single still. His White Oak routine was stagnant. He facilitates physical production for the upcoming HBO series “Euphoria” with rising talent Zendaya. He was recently  asked back onto production for a fourth season of “Insecure.” He grabs coffee for the directors and actors, wires mics and escorts actors to the camera. Everything is time-sensitive.

There is a familial structure on set that comforts him when he feels uprooted from his immediate family.

“We’re all just a bunch of weirdos trying to make it for ourselves. We’re all here for the same reason, because you feel like you’re contributing to something bigger than yourself. A film can change people’s lives in ways you don’t even realize. Making something beautiful is why it all works,” he said.

Juggling a 65-hour work week, he has a standing call with his parents on Sunday afternoons, followed by another with his grandmother. Last spring, Grady and Herman went skydiving together. Herman jumped first.

“Once we were out of free fall, my tandem partner told me to look up. Hunter had jumped out first and we were the ones below him. How’d that happen,” Grady said.

The life Herman Grady Phillips IV lives isn’t guided by a predetermined headstone. “I’ve taken my family name and turned it into something totally different than what the name means in the South. Even though I may not be the fourth generation Phillips making granite, I represent the fourth generation of my family as entrepreneurs.” Etch that on his grave.


Edited by: Victoria Young

UNC-Chapel Hill students stand out as color-coordinated twins

By Chapel Fowler

Under Armour Havocs, with high tops and white laces. Golf caps, bought five years ago when the 2014 U.S Open came to their hometown of Pinehurst, N.C. Google Pixel 2 XL smartphones, with identical plastic cases.

Matthew and Luke Wheeler have fallen into this habit for years. As identical twins, it’s easy for them to buy and wear the same thing. And it makes gift buying a breeze.

But, when it comes to the Wheelers’ accessories, there’s one blatant difference: the color. Everything of Matthew’s is green. Everything of Luke’s is red.

For the past two years, this has turned the Wheelers into campus celebrities of sorts at UNC, where they’re both sophomore computer science majors.

They call it “color coding.” You can call it whatever you want. Just know it’s not for you, or professors, or attention, or anyone or anything else.

“We don’t necessarily do it to help other people,” Matthew said. “I do it because I like green.”

“And I like red,” Luke said.

The contrast is most evident when they’re together, which they almost always are. Matthew in green shoes and his green hat; Luke in red shoes and his red hat.

Color-Coded Beginnings

Their color preferences go back to elementary school, when the Wheelers had a brief and unsuccessful run in a rec basketball league. But ahead of the season, their parents let them pick out shoes. Matthew chose green, and Luke chose red.

They’ve been wearing color-coordinated basketball shoes ever since. The Wheelers were longtime Nike customers, but when they outgrew their last pair, they couldn’t find new ones of their preferred size and color. Thus, the switch to Under Armour.

“In middle school, people started mentioning, ‘Oh, just remember them by their shoes,’” Matthew said. “So it kind of gave us an excuse to say, ‘Hey, I want green shoes.’”

“It was a self-fulfilling system,” Luke said.

At West Pine Middle School, Matthew and Luke took an extracurricular class called Future City. In the program, students work on designing and creating their own miniature city dioramas. Their teacher, Ms. Hippenmeyer, had trouble telling them apart — even with the shoes.

So she came up with nicknames: Mint Matthew and Lava Luke.

The Wheelers still use them to this day. They even have them printed on clothing — thanks to a longtime tradition of their high school speech and debate team.

Every year, juniors at Pinecrest High School are tasked with getting gifts for departing seniors. When Matthew and Luke were seniors in 2017, a junior named Caleb printed their nicknames onto red and green T-shirts for them.

The words are in a collegiate font, white and bold and in the center of the shirts. Matthew and Luke keep them in their closets on the fourth floor of Cobb Residence Hall, where they room together. The shirts have very specific washing instructions, so they don’t get much use — except for special occasions, like the first day of classes.

“It usually spikes during the start of the school year,” Luke said. “People say, ‘Are you doing Mario and Luigi?’ Those kind of things. And then people just get kind of used to it.”

As Matthew is quick to point out, that Mario and Luigi nickname doesn’t even hold up well. Both sets of brothers have the same initials — M and L — but their colors are swapped. Mint Matthew doesn’t line up with the red Mario, and Lava Luke conflicts with the green Luigi. (The Wheelers are also identical twins; Mario and Luigi are just fraternal).

“For people who aren’t going to know us well, it’s fine,” Luke said. “But if you’re going to know us, it probably helps to not think that. If you remember us as ‘Mario and Luigi — but not,’ I guess that works.”

Campus Celebrities

Save for a few recitations, the Wheelers have had near-identical class schedules. Matthew and Luke’s colors usually don’t matter in large, impersonal lecture classes. But they have helped people differentiate between the two in smaller ones — except for a Spanish class last semester, where they think their professor was colorblind.

The coordination extends to basically everything the Wheelers do. Sophomore Casey Quam remembers the twins introducing themselves as Mint Matthew and Lava Luke on the first day of LFIT 110, a beginning swimming course. They wore red and green swim trunks and goggles the entire semester.

“It was definitely something neat to tell friends about, and we never forgot who was who,” Quam said. “It’s been fun to see them walking around campus since then and see that they’ve kept it up.”

Matthew and Luke’s commitment to green and red isn’t hard and fast, though. They only own a few T-shirts in each color and one pair of gym shorts. No pants or socks. Matthew’s been trying to find a green jacket. Luke can’t track down a red Yankees hat for the life of him.

Their usual coordination — just hats and shoes — pales in comparison to sophomore Benjamin Davis, who has dressed head to toe in yellow since the first day of his freshman year.

Ironically, Matthew and Luke lived just one floor under Davis last year at Graham Residence Hall. They’ve never met, but Davis(known as the Yellow Guy) said the Wheelers’ color choice is “amazing.”

“I think it’s beautiful,” he said. “I love that we have this culture where everyone can just have their own individual thing and somehow get recognized for it.”

Colors aside, the Wheelers are huge fans of video games. Luke plays “Overwatch” on UNC’s official team within Tespa, a college esports organization. Matthew is a bit more casual, sticking to some “Super Smash Bros” or “Dungeons & Dragons” on the side.

Looking (and Color-Coordinating) Ahead

Ideally, they’d work within North Carolina and in the same area after graduation. Both aspire for a job in programming, like their older brother John, or even better, in video game design.

If their offices have a formal dress code, Matthew and Luke have a solution: green and red ties, just like they wore in speech and debate tournaments. Even if they don’t live or work near each other, they still think the coordination can live on.

“It’s just our favorite color,” Luke said. “So it’s technically independent of the other one.”

Until then, they plan on rooming together and wearing their respective colors for the rest of college. They’ll keep walking around campus, almost step for step, and eating similar food in Lenoir Dining Hall: burgers, chicken nuggets and especially fries.

Matthew and Luke haven’t heard any negative comments yet. More frequently, a student will approach them and admit: “Hey, I’ve got to at least talk to you once.” Some will swear they’ve seen the Wheelers, who are sophomores, around campus for the last three years.

Matthew and Luke both find that claim hilarious. As they laugh and smile, they reveal the braces they wear. When those braces were put on about two years ago, each twin was offered a selection of rubber band colors.

You’ll never guess what Mint Matthew and Lava Luke chose.

Edited by Johnny Sobczak

When buying ice cream supports kids battling brain cancer

By Molly Horak

Allison Nichols-Clapper frantically rushed into the room. Her body racked with fear, but she pushed the feeling down. She needed to be strong.

It had been a few days since she had last seen Howell Brown III. He was a regular where she worked at Maple View Farm. When she received the call letting her know that he was in the hospital, she dropped everything.

This was it.

She met Brown several years earlier after working with Kids Path, a hospice for terminally ill children and their families, and Sam’s Wish Fund, a program that grants wishes to terminally ill children. A mutual friend introduced Nichols-Clapper to Brown, who was living with stage four brain cancer.

The two instantly clicked. They spent holidays together, ate ice cream together at the store and were even invited onstage together at a Kenny Chesney concert.

And suddenly, they weren’t. Brown died in August 2017. It was one week shy of his 15th birthday.

“When he passed away, I felt so broken-hearted,” she said. “There were times when I didn’t want to get up and get out of bed, but I knew that I had to because that’s what he would have wanted me to do.”

A day doesn’t go by that she forgets to think of Brown. But Nichols-Clapper can’t slow down: There are other children that need her. As a leader for Team Tumornators, a group working to raise money for the Angels Among Us 5K to benefit the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University, Nichols-Clapper is dedicated to helping children and their families as they battle brain tumors.

Superheroes unite at Maple View Farm

On a Wednesday afternoon, Hannah Riley and her son Ridge Riley walked down the fourth-floor hallway of Duke University Hospital. Chemo day.

Jessie Curtis and her son Brody Curtis also made the trek down the same hallway. Chemo day for them, too.

Both boys suffer from inoperable brain tumors: Ridge Riley is 5 years old and was diagnosed in September 2015; Brodie Curtis is 6 years old and was diagnosed around the same time.

The families connected instantly.

“We were both moms alone in this journey, and we both felt that there weren’t other people who understood what we were going through, who understood the fear of waiting for a scan, the pain of seeing your child in pain or the uncertainty about the future,” Riley said. “No one else really got it. And, having [Jessie] there, we were and are each other’s support systems.”

The boys, along with Jake Ingham, Dominick Lawrence and Brown have become the face of Team Tumornators. Each have adopted a superhero persona to represent their strength as they battle the biggest villain of all: their tumors.

On a frigid Saturday morning in early February, the boys were the stars of the Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast event at Maple View Farm, a fundraising event to raise money for the brain tumor center.

Families, college students and friends huddled for warmth as they waited in a line that wrapped around the parking lot. Children, wearing their favorite pajamas, gleefully pressed their noses to the glass counter, incredulous that their breakfast would be a sundae covered in cereal, donuts and waffles.

Everyone was smiling. The joy in the air was palpable.

“Brain tumors touch us more than we know,” nurse Lucille Rice said.

Arms crossed across her chest, Jan Oldenburg bounced from foot to foot. She did anything she could to stay warm as she stood with her husband and son Thys Oldenburg in the Maple View Farm parking lot. The wait was nothing, she said. She would do a whole lot more to express her gratitude to the research team at Duke University.

In October 2017, Thys Oldenburg was severely injured during a football game at Orange County High School. He suffered a brain bleed. For six weeks, he was in a medically-induced coma.

Thys Oldenburg was treated by the Duke Department of Neurology, Jan Oldenburg said. While not directly affiliated with the brain tumor center, she feels what families are going through and wants to support in any way she can.

“It’s been over a year [since Thys Oldenburg’s injury occurred], but it’s great to be out here supporting a cause so near and dear to our hearts,” Jan Oldenburg said.

A few feet away, just inside the doors of Maple View Farm’s serving parlor, Lucille Rice slowly spooned her sundae as she milled around and chatted with friends.

A nurse at Duke University Hospital, Rice never thought that “brain tumor” would be a word that regularly comes up in conversations. But 25 years ago, a boy in her daughter’s kindergarten class was diagnosed with a brain tumor and began receiving treatment at the hospital.

Her daughter’s friend died at 7 years old. To honor his memory, their elementary school in Durham began participating in the Angels Among Us 5K. For years, Rice said, her family would spend the day with current patients and survivors, showing their support.

Years later, tragedy struck again. Her close friend, Alan Stephenson, was diagnosed with a tumor near his brain stem.

“Brain tumors touch us more than we know—if you had told me 15 years ago that Alan would have a brain tumor in his lifetime, I would have looked at you like you were crazy,” Rice said. “And, then he was diagnosed, and the whole world turned upside down. It was absolutely one of the scariest times of my life.”

Stephenson survived. But, many others don’t.

“I’m one of the very lucky ones. I made it through,” Stephenson said as he stood at the Team Tumornators table in the corner of Maple View Farm’s store. “Now, I try to do all that I can to give back. There’s a long road to go, but every step counts.”

Allison Nichols-Clapper tastes sweet support

Sugar pounding through their veins, kids clad in superhero costumes and fuzzy pajama bottoms wove through the crowded picnic tables. They laughed and smiled. Two professional entertainers were dressed as Batman and Wonder Woman and posed for pictures with event-goers. A group of students from UNC-Chapel Hill passed a football back and forth.

Riley stood, watching her son play with his friends. Seeing the outpouring of support gets her through difficult times.

“It’s days like ice cream for breakfast that get your mind off of it. You get out of the house and are doing something fun,” she said. “Watching your kid smile and play feels so normal for a split second. And, that’s all us parents want, for our kids to be happy and be kids.”

At one point, Nichols-Clapper stepped to the back of the room. Tears filled her eyes. She wasn’t sad, rather she was overcome by the sheer number of people who showed up.

“There was this moment where I felt so overwhelmed but not overwhelmed from stress—the kind of overwhelmed where you just want to run through and hug everybody standing in that line and just thank them and tell them that just purchasing ice cream is such a big thing to these patients and their families,” she said. “Whether they’re there because it’s ice cream for breakfast or they’re there because they know what we’re doing, just knowing that they came means so much.”

Edited by Erica Johnson

‘We lost the interesting stuff’: Maintaining Franklin Street’s character

By James Tatter

On the most historic street in Chapel Hill, the premier restaurant owners had a warning for the newcomers.

“If I don’t tell you anything else in your whole life, it is ‘Do not get into the restaurant business,’” said Greg Overbeck, one of the operators of prominent local eateries like 411 West and Lula’s.

When Carolina Coffee Shop on Franklin Street went up for sale in 2017, a group of former UNC-Chapel Hill students felt impassioned to revitalize the old haunt and sought advice.

There was a couple of athletes, Heather O’Reilly, an Olympic gold medalist soccer player, and David Werry, a Morehead-Cain scholar and UNC men’s lacrosse player. There were the Schossows — Clay, one of “America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs,” according to BusinessWeek, and his wife Sarada, a primary care provider. And there was Jeff Hortman, a screenwriter and a content advisor for Universal Media in Los Angeles.

The restaurant novices were bound together by the idea of returning the nearly century-old campus institution to its old glory. The eclectic group sat outside of Squid’s, a seafood restaurant owned by Overbeck and his partners in the Chapel Hill Restaurant Group.

They knew the risks that came with purchasing a restaurant on this sliver of road: Rent soars, parking is scant and the market is oversaturated.

Franklin Street — the landmark that underlines the small-town feel of the nationally acclaimed university — is starting to lose touch with its community, and losing the old Carolina Coffee Shop would hurt.

Overbeck told them what they already knew.

“We tried to talk them out of it,” Overbeck said. “Do. Not. Do. That.”

But the advice was ignored.  Though, he couldn’t blame them, because he was once enticed by the same stretch of street.

The History

The original builders found sawdust in 1813 when they dug up the lot for the building that now houses Carolina Coffee Shop.

The building, one of the first retail buildings on the street, was constructed on the site of an old mill. It would still be another 100 years before the iconic part-bar, part-diner coffee shop would be conceived.

UNC was just forming within a swath of forest, and the mill supplied timber to the growing construction project next door that was the first public university in the United States.

Carolina Coffee Shop opened in 1922 as a soda fountain.

Now the oldest continuously operating restaurant in North Carolina, the shop can trace its historic roots, from the dirt road in the woods to Chapel Hill’s most prominent street.

Overbeck remembers visiting Chapel Hill for the first time as a member of his high school choir from Charlotte in 1969. The 100 block of Franklin Street had no traffic lights and only three crosswalks. Cars had to stop if anybody wanted to cross that main stretch.

“Chapel Hill at that time was very bohemian, there was a real counter-culture, almost hippy-ish,” Overbeck said.

Retail outlets including record stores, clothing shops and bookstores dotted the road. There weren’t many restaurants, but when Overbeck arrived as a UNC student in 1972, he recalled it being an interesting place to go to school.

“We had the mojo,” Overbeck said.

The Problem

Sitting in a booth at Carolina Brewery, about four blocks west of the Carolina Coffee Shop, Anne Archer recalls how West Franklin Street was shunned during her childhood in Chapel Hill.

“No one came up here,” Archer said.

During her childhood, the university was just beginning to grow into the international research institution that it is today. Basketball was big, the community was small and Chapel Hill was the peaceful village that hosted the school.

“The university today is a monster compared to what it was,” Archer said.

Crooks Corner, a notable southern cuisine restaurant, opened on the west side of Franklin in 1978. It started a rush of restaurants that populated the blocks between Crook’s Corner in the west and Carolina Coffee Shop in the east.

Mickey Ewell operated Spanky’s Restaurant at the busiest intersection in between. He employed Overbeck and Pete Dorrance, brother of the famed North Carolina soccer coach, Anson Dorrance IV. The two lived together and were joined by Kenny Carlson when he moved down from Connecticut.

After years of grunt work at Spanky’s, Overbeck, Dorrance and Carlson decided to go out on their own. With the blessing of Ewell, the boys started Squid’s.

The group eventually came back together and started the Chapel Hill Restaurant Group. They now own eateries across the Triangle area, including Lula’s (formerly Spanky’s) and 411 West on Franklin Street.

In the meantime, the street had evolved from a retail hub to a restaurant hotspot. A few prominent groups stood out and helped usher other owners onto the block.

But it quickly became too crowded. Choked of parking and swelled with rivals, businesses began to fold. Overbeck remembers lecturing his wife for shopping online for clothes.

“Honey, you’re not supporting local business,” Overbeck said.

But he thought about the new Franklin Street, abound with corporate outlets and chain restaurants.

“We lost the interesting stuff,” Overbeck said. “It’s almost ‘anything goes.’”

Archer has heard from her childhood acquaintances about what they think of these changes.

“Friends that don’t live here anymore, they just squawk about how it has changed,” she said.

The Future

Today, Overbeck is pessimistic about the future of Franklin Street.

“If we drove down Franklin Street right now, I’ll bet I could point out ten restaurants that won’t be there in the next year,” he said.

But still, amidst the constant closing of local establishments, a few survive.

Sutton’s, that’s the heart,” Archer said, listing off the spots she remembers from her childhood. “That’s been around since forever. Four Corners… Probably Sutton’s is the only place that’s left over from that bygone era, and Carolina Coffee Shop.”

The fortunate few places that persist on Franklin Street have a character that echoes through the generations of UNC students and Chapel Hill locals that have frequented them. The drugstore counter at Sutton’s is one example.

“With Suttons, there used to be a few ladies who worked behind the counter and they were always there,” Archer reminisced. “The camaraderie of people sitting around the counter, that’s one of those threads that keeps that place alive, keeps the personal feel to it.”

The businesses that persevere are the ones that become a destination for students and locals, as much as a place to eat.

When Hortman came back to Chapel Hill from Los Angeles, he remembers being attracted to Carolina Coffee Shop because of his memories of it as a gathering place and a campus lounge of sorts.

He had to save it.

And that is what keeps Franklin Street alive with the spirit of two-and-a-quarter centuries worth of students.

Some restaurants come and go. But the rest of the places that can cultivate the culture of Chapel Hill beat the chains, living to tell the tale of a street that has defined the town and the campus since it was nothing but a sawmill and a stretch of trees.

Edited by: Diane Adame 

‘Fighting the government with absolutely no weapons:’ Our immigration policy

By Cee Cee Huffman

Misael did not sleep on Nov. 8, 2016. He spent his Nov. 9 drive to his early college high school crying.

“Not for me,” he said. “I thought of all of the innocent people that were going to go through so much suffering through this one thing. How many families were going to be tore up, how many hearts would be shattered, how many lives would be lost.”

He said everyone at school was shocked that Donald Trump had won the presidential election. They were afraid. They were sad. Misael’s teacher could see that he was panicked. She offered to take him to the bus station right then and there.

“I’ll drive you to Moore Square right now and buy you a ticket, so you can go back to Mexico right now,” she said.

He couldn’t understand why she would say that to him.

“Because you’re acting like everything’s lost already,” she said. “If you think that everything’s lost already, might as well go back right now.”

He said that was the cold, hard slap in the face that he needed to keep going.

Getting by

Misael came to America on a plane when he was 6 years old with his dad and sister. His dad had finally won parental custody, and they were going to live here with Misael’s aunt and grandparents so his dad could have help raising them.

“They assume that we’re here to take their jobs, we’re here to take their money, and we really aren’t,” Misael said. “You come here and you try to make a decent living for yourself. If you mess up, you go back.”

When President Obama introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Misael and his sister signed up. They explained where they were, who they were, gave them their fingerprints and had their pictures taken. They received social security numbers so they were able to work and, most importantly, they were put at the back of the line for deportation.

Misael’s not quite American, but he’s not quite Mexican, either.

His dad got married during Misael’s last semester of high school. His sister was 16, so she now had legal status. Misael was 18 and without legal status, but he kept pushing forward.

He got the opportunity to work for the county school system for nine months translating documents from Spanish to English for teachers. He was the youngest full-time employee the county ever had while still finishing high school.

He became anxious when that was over. He said Mexican families share bills, groceries — everything. He got a job at an immigration attorney’s office as an interpreter. It was chaos. There was no one to clean, vacuum or take out the trash. Misael went in extra early every morning to do all of that himself, without being asked.

“You have to take pride in where you work,” Misael said. “We’re a lawyer’s office. You can’t have a mess.”

He started working Saturdays and Sundays. He was going to jails, talking to clients and explaining the bail process. He saw firsthand all of the holes in the American immigration system.

“You’re basically fighting the government with absolutely no weapons,” he said.

Misael started working for his buddy installing windows and doors. He had never done hard labor like that before.

“I’m a heavy guy,” he said. “So to get up on those 40-foot ladders – I remember it was the middle of January, 20 degrees, and I was sweating like it was mid-July.”

He was the only one who spoke English, so Misael got access to all of his buddy’s accounts. Misael was his right-hand man, but his friend would disappear for days or even weeks at a time. Misael couldn’t take that stress.

He learned how to drive trucks. He hauled logs for a while before moving on to paper.

Misael does anything he can, and he does it better than anyone else.

An unexpected wake-up call

He was lying in bed, relaxing after his long day as a temporary truck driver for a paper company. He’d been getting up at 2 a.m. every day to start his route. His day finally ended at 6 p.m.

He was just about to fall asleep when there was a knock at the door. He jumped out of bed and made himself presentable. It was two policemen.

“Which is weird, because I respect my town’s policemen,” Misael said. “Historically they haven’t been very humble, but they had never messed with me.”

The two gentlemen came into his house without invitation.

“I don’t need any explanations,” the officer said. “I’m just looking for a cellphone.”

Misael didn’t have the cellphone the officers were looking for — the cellphone they said they had tracked to his house, the cellphone a woman had lost at the Food Lion earlier that day. They told him it would be a shame if they had to go check the tapes and come back.

He was scared. He lives in a 287(g) community, meaning that the very same police standing in his house could deport him or his family if they felt they had any reason at all.

Misael said no one in his house had been to the Food Lion that day. Maybe they could ask the neighbor. The officers walked out, but Misael wanted to talk to his neighbor himself. His neighbor told him they were searching the whole block.

“Then why did he tell me it was in my house?” Misael asked. “Why didn’t he tell me the same thing he told you?”

The officers probably saw that Misael was flustered when he opened the door. They saw Misael’s surprise and could have sworn he was guilty.

“He saw a young, Hispanic kid and he thought, ‘This kid’s got it,’” Misael said.

He was angry. Not because he didn’t understand why the officers would do that to him, but because they didn’t respect his dignity. It’s a recurring theme in his life.

Still, Misael said everyone deserves to be respected.

He said he’s tired of feeling like a stranger somewhere he’s lived his whole life. He said that, even though his dad and his sister will stay here, he thinks about what it would be like to go back to Mexico.

“How wonderful it would be to walk down the street, ride a bus, go to the library, go to a restaurant and not stand out because of my race,” Misael said. “Here, everywhere I go, people look at me. I stand out. You feel like an outsider everywhere you go.”

“Is there else anything else you want to add?” I asked.

“People need to start paying attention to what’s going on,” Misael said. “For their sake.”

Edited by Charlotte Spence.


Finding Faith: One student’s experience with weight-loss surgery

By Karen Stahl

Faith Newsome’s heartbeat increased as she gazed at her family crammed around her. The bare, gray walls stared back at her.

“Tell him to get the IV out,” she told her mom. “I’m scared. I don’t want to do this.”

Her mom, Shannon Newsome, looked at Faith’s thin gown hanging on her body and the cap containing her thick, brown curls. She knew her 16-year-old daughter faced death if she did not undergo the surgery.

“Think about how hard you’ve worked to get to this moment,” Shannon said. “If you give up now, what was it for?”

Three hours later, the doctor made it to Faith’s room. Her mother, wracked with nerves, gave her a kiss. Within minutes, Faith was asleep.

She had always been larger than her peers. On her first birthday, she hit 30 pounds. When kindergarten came, she walked into school at 110 pounds with a smile on her face and her brown curls tied in a bow.

By the time she turned 15, Faith had reached 273 pounds.

Just a few months before her surgery, she sat in the Campbell University gymnasium, supporting her brother at the North Carolina Science Olympiad competition. The gymnasium was built in the 1950s, and the seats seemed smaller than average.

She shifted her weight as the side handles on the seat pressed uncomfortably into her thighs. Her mom had brought up weight-loss surgery a couple weeks before, but she resisted.

Now, unable to fit in the gymnasium seat, she knew what she had to do. She turned to her mom.

“Call Duke,” she said. “I’m going next week.”

Promising herself

Faith’s eyes fluttered open. Her family sat in the room, this one larger than the bare, gray one where she had fallen asleep.

“Did you text my friends that I’m okay?” she asked Shannon, who was hovering over her.

“That’s what you’re worried about right now?” she responded.

At the suggestion of the doctor, Faith decided to get up and walk around to avoid blood clots. She slowly lowered herself to the ground. Her abdomen felt heavier than before the surgery, despite the fact that the surgeon had reduced the size of her stomach.

A commercial for a Ruby Tuesday hamburger came on the TV while she walked around the room.

“I’m going to throw up,” she thought.

She knew her appetite would come back eventually, but minutes after the operation, waves of nausea washed over her. All she could think about was not rupturing her stomach.

It was June, which meant two months of recovery before returning for her junior year of high school. With newfound confidence in her body, she decided this was the year to try an organized sport.

Tennis tryouts were approaching, and she would make a full recovery before the season started.

For the first time, Faith promised herself she would be there.

Tumbling down

She hit the ground without warning.

Faith was goal-oriented, and the instructions were easy enough – run to the cone at the end of the relay track, put on the oversized adult clothes as quickly as possible, run back down the track and tag the next teammate.

She took a deep breath at the starting line, trying to release the pressure that came with being the slowest child in her class. Her weight made field days increasingly anxiety-inducing, and the other kindergartners had already made it clear that Faith was not their most valuable player.

And they were off. Sweat poured down her temples as she lunged forward with every step.

“Why does she have to be on our team?” one of the children shouted from the sideline.

Breathing heavily, Faith kept running. She made it to the cone. She quickly grabbed the oversized T-shirt and slid it over her damp curls then pulled the pants over her shorts and bolted for the end of the track.

Her determined panting underscored a sudden snag of her pants on her shoe. Before she knew it, she was tumbling into the grass in the middle of the track.

She got back up with determination and hiked the pants up. She felt the scrape on her knee as she crossed the finish line back with her teammates, putting them in last place.

Faith sat behind the line and placed her flushed face in her hands. Her mom quietly ran up.

“You just tripped,” she said. “If you wouldn’t have tripped, you would’ve done great.”

Faith fiddled with a piece of grass on her shoe.

“I know, Mom,” she responded. “If I wouldn’t have fallen, I’d made it. I really feel like I would’ve made it.”

Lunging forward

Sweat poured down her temples as she lunged forward with every step. She was determined to be faster than her 5K time from the day before.

“Show yourself what you can do now,” she thought.

It was nearly five years post-surgery, and her 190-pound frame propelled itself on the pavement. Her familiar panting filled the warm September air. This time, Faith’s brown curls were damp with sweat, but she was not in last place.

“She always tries to get me to run with her,” her friend, Olivia Manning, said. “I’m not a runner. So I let Faith handle that.”

Faith’s head was clear. The crippling anxiety that plagued her as child melted away. She was no longer faking sprained ankles in elementary school gym class to get out of physical activity.

Now, she listens to her body and its needs. She pushes herself beyond her boundaries.

“She is going to stick with it until she gets it,” said Jonathan Newsome, her dad. “No matter what it is.”

Faith is no longer the girl begging to rip the IV out of her arm in fear. Faith is no longer retreating.

Faith is lunging forward with every new task that comes her way.

“Surgery is what gave me my voice,” she said. “Make the most of your time here. Show yourself what you can do.”

Edited by Joseph Held

House Shows: Providing greener futures for lesser-known artists

By Madeline Pennington

“Do you think spirit colors are a thing? Because I think mine is green.” Grammy-nominated musician Courtney Hartman calls to the crowd of the grungy Chapel Hill bar. In response, the audience of college kids, donning their wire-framed glasses and Doc Martens, whoop and holler in affirmation.

Hartman grins bashfully as she strums the intro to the next song on her set list. The energy is youthful, and electric. However, just two days ago, her show was much different.

February 3, 2019- while the rest of America gears up for the Super Bowl, Courtney Hartman taps her bare foot on the hardwood floor as she goes through the motions of her soundcheck. Her stage, a living room in Huntersville North Carolina,. her audience- about four rows of six chairs. In a room so small, Hartman contemplates whether she should even use a microphone. She croons part of a verse into the mic, and then does it again sans mic.

The scene begs the question- why would a Grammy-nominated artist choose to play a house show?

Founder of Passion House Concerts, Matthew Seneca, believes his concerts give artists a more intimate, low-stakes environment to play at in addition to their other tour dates. He adds that his shows attract artists because he keeps none of the profits.

Hartman feels similarly. Though house concerts come with their fair share of challenges, she enjoys experimenting with her set list and sound during these shows.

Low production, High quality

For both the artist and the audience, a Passion House concert is a unique experience that prioritizes music above all. Seneca seeks to strip away the bells and whistles of a traditional concert venue, put the audience as close as they can get to the performance, and give the artist creative freedom with their set.

As Hartman sound-checks, Seneca bustles about his kitchen setting out bowls of snacks and cases of seltzer. He finishes his spread with a basket of his mother’s homemade scones.

Though Seneca tries to refrain from putting out too much of a spread that could distract from the musician’s performance, part of him can’t get over the feeling that he’s just inviting friends over to his house to hang out.

He isn’t the only one supplying food either. Often, some of his more dedicated concertgoers offer to bring snacks as well. For the Hartman show, one concertgoer brings a platter of barbecue sliders and encourages the room to indulge.

A sense of community nurtures each guest as they enter Seneca’s home. Seneca greets each person with a handshake or a hug and thanks them for coming. He then directs them to the Donations basket in his foyer, reminding each guest that all profits go directly to Hartman.

Seneca and Hartman look like yin and yang, chaos and calm. While Seneca bounces from person to person, chatting amiably, Hartman is a still image. In the same way Seneca seems to energize people with his presence, Hartman calms.

Seneca recalls how it has always been this sort of dynamic with Hartman. They met two years ago at the Swannanoa Gathering in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Swannanoa is a folk arts summer workshop where musicians of all ages and skill levels go to take varied guitar and songwriting classes.

In the Summer of 2017, Hartman is an instructor at the gathering. After Seneca sees her perform, he becomes mesmerized with her skill. He describes her as a “quadruple- threat,” noting how her songwriting, singing, guitar playing and composing skills are unmatched with most other performers her age.

During their lunch break at the camp, Seneca sits with Hartman and approaches her with the idea of playing a house concert. He hands her his business card and they part ways, losing touch over the next two years, until Hartman finally reaches out wondering whether Seneca’s offer still stands.

Washing away the Past

In the two years in which Hartman and Seneca lose touch, Hartman pilgrimages to “The End of the Earth,” the northernmost peninsula in Spain. It is during this pilgrimage where she writes almost every song she plays during her Passion House Concert set.

She notes how this pilgrimage began as a way to force herself to write, but ended up as a way to find her way back to herself. She arrives at the Camino Finisterre, bathes naked in the river as is tradition, burns her old clothes and immediately goes to write what is the first song in her set list for her 2019 tour.

She tells this story to the crowd of twenty-something people in Seneca’s living room as she softly picks an  acoustic melody on her guitar. The audience is enraptured in the performance, in Hartman’s skill, her demeanor, her energy.   The beauty of the Passion House concert is how intimate the performance feels. Every twitch of the musician’s hand, every dimple- revealing smile- the audience catches it all.

These minute details keep audiences coming back to Seneca’s house in the suburbs. The appreciation from the audience and ability to really connect keeps Hartman playing house shows, while love of the music keeps Seneca opening his doors every few months.

Small Venue, Big Impact

After each show ends Seneca wonders if he’ll be able to do it again. Can he convince people to take a chance on mostly lesser-known artists and drive out to his house? Sometimes the answer is no.

Before the Hartman concert, Seneca was devastated because a good amount of his audience who had reserved tickets could no longer come.

That’s all just a part of the process though. Despite lower attendance than expected, Seneca’s love for music fuels him to continue his concert series.

While packing up her equipment, Hartman peers at the electric green walls in Seneca’s living room. “I’ve always loved the color green. It’s so hopeful. It’s my hope color.” she muses.

The concert catches Hartman at a turning point in her career. She’s just left her Grammy-nominated band Della Mae, and is venturing into the unknowns of a solo career. House concerts like her show at Passion House make her hopeful for the trajectory of her career.

No matter how many people come to see her play, what matters to Hartman most is the way she makes each individual feel. Whether she’s playing a bar or a living room, Hartman spreads hope with her music.

Seneca wonders where she may perform on her next tour. Hopefully, the walls of the venue will be green.

Edited by Nick Thompson

Fewer immigrants take on American names as more embrace birth names

By Mary Glen Hatcher

The night before seven-year-old Lufan Huang left China, she stuffed a small backpack with her sweater, some playing cards, a few snacks and a dictionary of English names.

She needed to choose a new identity. 

With her mother by her side, she pored over the book on the plane, tracking each syllable with a tiny finger.

Elizabeth, she thought, might be nice – after all the blonde, blue-eyed girls she’d seen on TV.

“No,” her mother hesitated. “You’ll be like everyone else in America.”

Her mother suggested Jessica, but Lufan wanted something a bit edgier, more androgynous. She wanted to be cool.

So on a chilly, November morning in 2004, Jessie Huang walked off the plane into New York City.

Finding a new you

The practice of adopting a new name is not foreign to American immigrants.

For centuries, people have immigrated to the United States for a fresh start. A vast majority of them come to find new jobs that lead to better lives and more opportunities for their families.

But starting a new life is tough, and starting a new life in America as a non-English speaking minority is tougher. For many, choosing a westernized name is a head start – if you can assimilate quickly, you can deter suspicion and possibly some discrimination.

Your transition in this new country might be a little easier.

“My parents weren’t of the educated class, so for us, coming into a new country, we tried really hard to hide ourselves and not be as noticed,” Jessie Huang, now a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, said.

“Knowing now what it would have been like if I hadn’t chosen an American name, seeing other people get teased, I think it was a form of survival. I think, even then, my parents knew it was a form of survival,” Jessie said. 

Accommodating peers

For others, the choice to take an American name might come out of embarrassment or under the small burden of feeling pressure to accommodate others.

Irene Zhou, also a senior at UNC, emigrated from China with her family when she was less than a year old. She remembers being overwhelmingly flustered in grade school when teachers and peers couldn’t pronounce her legal name, Si Yang.

“As a kid, you feel like everything is a bigger deal than it is, but it really did feel like the worst thing that ever happened to me,” Irene said.

A shy girl by nature, Irene was uncomfortable with confronting people or speaking up to correct their pronunciation. “I just remember thinking, ‘I don’t want this to happen again,’ and it was bound to happen again unless I did something.”

She would later steal the name Irene from a girl in her third-grade art class. It’s been with her ever since.

Embracing origins

But the trend that has imprinted itself on the lives, name tags and coffee cups of first- and second-generation immigrants across the country might be disappearing.

According to a 2010 New York Times report, the number of formal immigration name changes has been declining over the past few decades.

Some researchers cite the decrease as evidence the United States is becoming a more multicultural society. Other explanations point to the complexity involved with changing multiple official documents or that the motivations to change one’s name – blending in, assimilating with American culture – are not as potent as they once were.

For Hoi Ning Ngai, whose family left Hong Kong for Brooklyn in 1978, having an additional American name never really stuck for her, but she doesn’t regret not having one. After several failed attempts to become a Nancy, a Victoria and a Samantha during her childhood, Hoi Ning decided to embrace her birth name.

“I felt most places I was the minority,” Hoi Ning said. “So if I’m already in that category, what’s the difference if I’m a bit more of a minority in terms of the name?”

While she admits her choice has left her frustrated at times, Hoi Ning said keeping her name has allowed her to reflect on the opportunities it provides for bridging cultural understanding.

“I think the name itself does open the door for conversation in some ways,” Hoi Ning said. “It’s been a nice turn for me to acknowledge whatever awkwardness there is surrounding me being different and turn it into an opportunity to educate on the meaning and background. I feel like that’s given me a little more control over the situation.”

Finding individualism in heritage 

A new generation of Asian-Americans might also agree.

A few years ago, after their parents gained U.S. citizenship, both Jessie and Irene had the opportunity to legalize their American names.

Both decided against it.

Irene said her decision was inspired by her parents, who chose not to take English names when they immigrated.

“They always told me I should never change myself to make others’ lives easier – it’s not an accommodation that anyone should have to make,” Irene said.

“I think throughout the years as I’ve become closer to my Chinese heritage, as opposed to trying to fit in to the American community, my English name Irene has lost meaning, and my sense of individualism has gotten stronger,” Irene said.

Although both of Jessie’s parents legally changed their names, she felt confident in her decision to keep hers, especially after immersing herself in a supportive Asian-American community at UNC.

“I’ve always felt a really strong tie to my name, so I didn’t want to legally erase it,” Jessie said.

“Even though I’m applying to jobs right now, and printing out my name on a resume can feel foreign, I still would never want to change it. It’s like this silent reminder to myself of where I came from.”

Edited by Sara Hall

Faster than a speeding bullet: The competitive sport of flyball

By Savannah Morgan

Bullet lifts his hind legs off the flyball box in anticipation. A human teammate holds and steadies him, keeping him from sprinting forward. His front paws press firmly on the mat-covered ground. His dark eyes focus on his owner, Gary Gundacker, who waits beyond the jumps at the end of the 51-foot lane. It’s just a practice drill on a laid-back Saturday afternoon, but Bullet loves this game and is raring to go. He barks, perks his ears and braces his hind legs back against the box. Finally, the human and dog teammates are in place.

“BULLET!” Gundacker calls.

The steadying hands release their grip, and Bullet sprints forward like a horse on Derby Day. He flies over one, two, three, four jumps and past the cones marking the start/finish line, where a treat and a head pat reward him for his good work. Bullet has just completed half of a flyball run, an exercise that helps young dogs learn the relay process of the game.

What is flyball?

Flyball is a dog sport involving two teams of four dogs and two parallel, 51-foot lanes. Each dog is required to sprint down its lane, jumping over four hurdles as it goes. When the dog reaches the end of the lane, it jumps onto an inclined ramp attached to a spring-loaded box, triggering the release of a tennis ball. The dog must catch and carry the ball, turn while jumping off the box and make its way back down the lane and over the hurdles to the start/finish line, where it can drop the ball. Upon the first dog’s return, the second dog is released, and the process continues until all four dogs have returned to the finish line. In a tournament, the first team of dogs to finish wins the heat.

‘Hillbilly Flyball’

Three flyball clubs — DogGone Fast, New River Rapids Flyball and TurboPaws — practice together in an old industrial-sized chicken coop located in Holly Springs, North Carolina. The flyball teams that practice there lovingly call it “Hillbilly Flyball.” The chickens are all gone, and flyball equipment fills the space instead. Black rubber mats cover the red dust ground to prevent the dogs from slipping as they speed up and down the lanes. The white jumps are spaced 10 feet apart along the mats. They are scarred by years of dirt, scratches and accidental run-ins. Collapsible gates, tennis balls and L-shaped pieces of wood with bright green and blue pool noodles duct-taped on the edges are scattered around. Black boxes covered with black sandpaper sit at the end of the lanes. The dogs alternate as they practice, getting to complete runs or work on trouble spots.

“Flyball is like the kegger of dog sports,” laughs Laura Kroeger, who organizes the chicken coop practices. “I love the friends and team aspect of it. It’s like a big party.”

From across the chicken coop, Cris Lane adds, “It’s also sort of like being in the National Guard because you just get so committed to your club.”

Continuing the legacy

Bullet’s owners and handlers, Gary Gundacker and Barbara Klag, are flyball veterans. They started two dogs, Sally and Jesse, in the sport about 20 years ago. Jesse went on to win the highest flyball honor, the Hobbes, which is awarded for accumulating 100,000 points. Gundacker and Klag are so dedicated to the sport that they moved to North Carolina from New Jersey about 12 years ago for North Carolina’s many flyball clubs and tournaments. They joined the DogGone Fast club, and their dogs have been running and having fun ever since.

Bullet has been playing flyball for seven years. Gundacker and Klag brought him home from a sports dog breeder in Las Vegas. He is a mix of Malinois, Border Collie, Border Terrier, Jack Russell and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. His shoulders reach about 15 inches off the ground when he’s standing, making him average-sized compared to the dogs he practices with. Bullet’s chestnut-colored fur is short and, in some places, wiry. Black fur mingles with the brown on his back and through his long, thick tail — growing darkest and most wiry at his shoulders, lightest and softest on his toned hind legs. Soft, dark hair grows along his nose and is fused with white patches.

“I liked the name Bullet,” Gundacker said. “It’s the name of the dog on the Roy Rogers Show, which I liked to watch growing up.” He pauses and then adds with a wink, “And you know, I look a little like Roy.”

Bullet started flyball training early, when he was just about a year old. Now dogs have to wait until they are 15 months old to start training. The North American Flyball Association (NAFA) determines the rules for flyball training and tournaments. Training a dog for flyball usually takes about two years. Trainers break down the game into digestible portions, teaching the dog one obstacle at a time.

Teaching the game

“First you have to teach the dog to have fun with you before you can introduce jumps or other obstacles,” Kroeger said. “The next step is to teach recall — getting the dog to run back to you as fast as possible.”

Then the dog can begin learning jumps. Getting the dog to jump over all four jumps without going around them or hitting them is a crucial part of the game. The handler must also determine what the dog will run for. Some dogs want to be rewarded with treats, while others prefer a toy or game of tug with the handler. Bullet likes to be rewarded with treats and balls when he completes a run. Once the dog can run up and down the lane, return to the owner and complete all four jumps, he or she is introduced to the box.


After a dog learns to complete a full run with little to no mistakes, the handler can begin entering it in tournaments. The club puts together as many teams of four as possible. The smallest dog on each team is called the “height dog” because its jump height determines its team’s jump height. Jump heights range from 7 inches to 14 inches.

Tournaments usually take two days, and the winning team of the tournament is the team that wins the most races by being the fastest. On average, a single dog will run the course in four to seven seconds. Bullet usually runs a time of 5.4 seconds. A good time for a team run is 18 to 20 seconds, but the record is 14.433.

“Bullet isn’t the speediest dog, but he does the job that needs to be done,” Gundacker said.

Teams are also given points for the runs they complete, but the points are for dogs’ individual flyball records and don’t impact which team wins the tournament. If a team completes its run in less than 24 seconds, the dogs are each awarded 25 points. Flyball dogs accumulate points over time and win awards for high point totals. In 2016, Bullet received an ONYX award for garnering 20,000 points over his career. He competes in one or two tournaments every month.

“It’s a game for him,” Gundacker said. “He likes working with us and pleasing us. And it doesn’t hurt that he gets some treats here and there.”

Edited by Paige Colpo. 

Three ways Orange County recycling creates more trash

By Megan Cain

It Starts at Your Stove

It’s taco Tuesday inside the little yellow house on the corner.

Jess Griffin stands next to the stove, sipping a margarita out of a Solo cup. She empties the ground beef from its foam casing into the pan. The meat cracks and sizzles alongside the sautéed garlic and onion.

Without a second thought, Griffin tosses the plastic wrap covering the meat into the garbage. She begins to do the same with the foam casing until her housemate, Nadia Parashkevova, stops her.

“Isn’t that recyclable?”

Griffin side-eyes her housemate. Parashkevova has always been an Earth nut. She flips it over, noticing the chasing arrows on the bottom.

She throws it into the recycling bin with little bits of meat still clinging to the bottom. She does the same with a glass jar of salsa. But she ties two unrinsed cans of black beans in a grocery bag to avoid drippage.

Then, the two proceed with their evening, unaware of the trouble they’ve caused.

Who is an Expert

“Just a little extra effort can go a long way,” the solid waste planner for Orange County, Blair Pollock, said.

Pollock started Orange County’s recycling program in 1987 and says he forgot to leave.

Since his arrival, the county has cut its waste from 1.36 tons to about half of a ton of landfilled trash per person.

They can do better, he says. Especially when it comes to his three no-noes.

What Not to Do 

Contamination by food waste is the first.

“Somebody is working on the other end of that line, and during the summer, after sitting in the hot sun for a few days, that dirty can is going to be pretty rank,” Pollock said.

Just a light rinse of your containers, particularly the plastics, goes a long way.

Plastic can’t be heated to 1000-degree temperatures like glass and steel, so food and liquid remnants can complicate the sorting plant process or contaminate clean pieces, creating more trash.

Pollock’s second no-no? Plastic bags.

Bagging your recyclables might keep them from dripping, but with more than 140,000 tons of recyclables coming into the sorting plant each year, there isn’t enough time to open each bag.

“They don’t know if you put the dead cat in there, the dead goldfish or the bag of kitty litter, so they’re not going to open it,” Pollock said.

Bagged recyclables take the scenic route to the landfill. And all that effort was wasted.

Finally, don’t put your garden hoses or hangers in the recycling bin. These items can jam the belts and pulleys at the sorting center.

Other non-recyclable materials get mixed in too, but are less destructive than the big three.

Solo cups aren’t recyclable in many places, including Orange County, but they often find their way to recycling bins. Looking at the bottom of one, you’ll see a number six, which stands for polystyrene. It’s made from natural gas.

Pollock says as long as practices like fracking keep natural gas prices low, there isn’t much of a market for these materials to be recycled.

When Solo cups and other non-recyclable materials end up in recycling bins, they go right to the closest landfill, wasting energy and resources.

Recycling right makes a difference. If the container isn’t listed as an acceptable material on the label on your cart, don’t put it in there.

Even if it’s not on the label, it might still be recyclable. Large plastics, tires and scrap wood are among the materials accepted at five waste and recycling centers across Orange County.

What Happens Next

Just a few days later, it’s the most exciting day of the week. It’s trash day.

Taco Tuesday’s remnants sit in a brimming blue bin on the curb, anticipating pickup.

Black liquid oozes from the cans into the plastic grocery bag. Leftover margarita from the Solo cup seeps into Griffin’s notes from last semester. The salsa jar remains intact, for now. The smell of 3-days-old juicy, beef-soaked plastic foam wafts from the bin.


The contents of the bin and the rest of the county’s recyclables are picked up and dumped into a massive pile at the Orange County landfill.

A bulldozer packs these materials by the ton into a tractor-trailer that drives it all down to the sorting center in Raleigh.

There, the bag of cans and the Solo cup will be thrown away, perhaps along with the notes, depending on how badly they have been damaged by the margarita.

Some unlucky worker will have to deal with the hamburger tray and everything contaminated by its stench.

The glass jar is the only thing that’s going to be melted down, turned into usable material and sold back to companies.

How You Can Do More

But the loop isn’t closed yet.

If your favorite brand doesn’t use recycled material in its packaging, Pollock advises that you call and request for them to.

“If people will do that, and oil gets to $100 a barrel and natural gas gets to $5 a therm, then we’ll have recycling nirvana,” Pollock said.

According to Pollock, you contribute to the first arrow by recycling. But many consumers forget that they can serve a vital role by closing the loop and buying products made with recycled material.

“I know I tend to be a finger-wagger about this, but the good people of Orange County truly are doing a great job. We’re consistently at the top of the heap when it comes to waste reduction per person,” Pollock said.

Edited by Molly Sprecher