21-year-old entrepreneur brings new late-night food option to Chapel Hill

By Rachel Crumpler

Will Gerstein is anxious and exhilarated. His whole family flew in from Wisconsin to witness his big moment — what he spent countless hours of the past year working toward.

With emotions high, he’s thinking, “What if it doesn’t work, and I’ve just wasted a year?”

But he’s also confident that this is something Chapel Hill, specifically UNC-Chapel Hill students, need. Being a 21-year-old sophomore at the university, he would know first hand. 

What do all college students need? Late-night food to satisfy both savory and sweet cravings.

Gerstein’s pop-up restaurant, Buckets at Chapel Hill, provides just that. 

It’s 9 p.m. and customers start to arrive at Buckets. The public food hall with multiple vendors is located on Franklin Street outside the Blue Dogwood Market. Guests scan a QR code that takes them to an online menu, and they place their orders right from their phones.

Inside, Gerstein and his employees cook and assemble orders of chicken and waffles, boneless wings, chicken sandwiches, and waffle sundaes. Food is brought out hot in styrofoam boxes adorned with a sticker of a basketball net.

Some people take their food to go, while others stay and enjoy their food sitting at one of a dozen outdoor patio tables lit overhead by string lights. It’s an energetic environment with music, chatter, and laughter.

As long as the food is served promptly and customers are satisfied, Gerstein says even five orders a day is a success. But he has done a lot more orders than that. And in the weeks since opening, it’s only gotten better.

“Every single night is busier than the night before,” Gerstein said. “We are on a straight upward trend right now.”

Bringing his restaurant experience to Chapel Hill

From the day Gerstein got to campus in fall 2020, he dreamed of opening a restaurant in Chapel Hill. But this wouldn’t be his first venture in the food industry.

Behind Gerstein’s youthful face and smiley disposition is the experience and business acumen ordinarily seen in someone much older.

In his senior year of high school, Gerstein founded Bucket Wings in his home state of Wisconsin amid the pandemic. He got the idea for his business after he placed an order at his local pizza place and a worker told him it wouldn’t be ready for three hours — a long wait time driven by the COVID-19 shutdown of most restaurants in his small town. 

Gerstein decided to quit his minimum wage job at Subway to start a takeout centered wing joint using a few thousand dollars he had saved. He rented a commercial kitchen, which allowed him to tap into the marketplace demand.

Why chicken wings? Because it’s Gerstein’s favorite food, and he considers himself the “wing king.” Plus Buffalo Wild Wings, the closest wing restaurant, was a 40-minute drive away.

Now, he’s drawing from his prior experience running a restaurant to bring another late-night dining spot to Chapel Hill.

He started seriously pursuing the idea of opening a place in Chapel Hill toward the end of his freshman year. After being on campus, he realized how few late-night dining options existed. And the ones that did — Time-Out and Cosmic Cantina — did not satisfy his cravings for wings.

“I have a huge advantage because I am the target market,” Gerstein said. “I am a college kid. I am who I am selling to and that is why if I want something, usually it sells pretty well because every other college kid thinks kind of similarly.” 

Buckets exceeds the expectations

Gerstein hasn’t let his prior business success blind him from the harsh realities of opening a new restaurant. He says he is acutely aware that, “Franklin Street is where restaurants go to die,” particularly those without an established reputation.

The street’s high turnover rate has recently claimed restaurants like Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe, Lula’s, Lotsa Stone Fired Pizza, and Peño Mediterranean Grill. Determined to not have his venture become another lost restaurant, Gerstein created a very intentional plan for his business.

He put a year’s work into developing his menu, finding suppliers, designing the branding and marketing, and finding the perfect location. 

Most location options required a permanent, long-term lease with high rent rates. But then he discovered Blue Dogwood Market, which would allow him to use the same model he used in Wisconsin of renting out a commercial kitchen. 

One afternoon, last fall, on the outdoor patio, Gerstein met with Blue Dogwood Market owner, Sarah Boak, and presented his plan, a late-night pop-up that would operate from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. three days a week.

After being sold by Gerstein’s competence, planning, and experience, Boak was immediately on board. Gerstein’s young age never concerned her. In fact, she was thrilled to provide an opportunity to a student entrepreneur and for the first student-run business at Blue Dogwood Market.

They worked out an arrangement for Buckets to operate at Blue Dogwood Market for a five-week trial period that began on Feb. 11.

“Buckets has been cool because it’s brought in brand-new clientele — a lot of students,” Boak said.

The past weeks have shown Gerstein there is demand for his food, and he’s seen a high customer return rate. Buckets fulfilled around 200 orders in one night, for an average of an order a minute — a pace Gerstein said his staff can keep up with and should expect as normal volume. 

Anjeline Lynch, a senior at UNC, has visited Buckets twice in two weeks and there’s still more on the menu she wants to go back for.

“I wish Buckets had been around for more of my college experience,” Lynch said.

Wings with a purpose

With the trial period nearly up, Gerstein plans to extend Buckets’ time at Blue Dogwood Market until the end of the school year and collect data to see if the demand remains stable. 

In addition to students, Buckets also has the support of a few UNC athletes participating in Buckets’ “Athlete Giveback Program,” such as sophomore field hockey player Kiersten Thomassey. 

Without knowing how successful Buckets would be, Thomassey jumped at the opportunity to use her name to give back when Gerstein approached her with the idea over winter break. For every buffalo chicken meal named after her that is sold, 8% of the revenue will be donated to Thomassey’s chosen charity.

Whether or not Buckets becomes a permanent restaurant in the fall, it does have the support of one particularly well-known figure, UNC men’s basketball coach Hubert Davis. Davis even agreed to have a Buckets meal named after him. Gerstein said Davis was the quickest to respond and said what Buckets was doing was incredible. Davis answered Gerstein within five hours of him sending a request for him to get involved, and before Buckets was even an official restaurant.

“If Hubert Davis believes in me, that says something, that means that I’ve got something good,” Gerstein said.

Edited by Sabrina Ortiz and Julia Rafferty

Debate in Roxboro rages over the necessity of… a crosswalk sign?

By Katie Bowes

 “I’m gonna go ahead and tell you what I did today!” said Cheryl Cavalier when she pulled up to her friend Kim Brann’s house on a July 2021 afternoon in Roxboro, N.C.

 Kim burst out in laughter when Cheryl told her what happened on the way to her house. 

 Steve Cavalier, Cheryl’s husband, met his wife at Brann’s house, and after hearing the story, shook his head as if to say, “Lord have mercy!” 

 Cheryl took them both around to the back of her truck to show them a little scratch on the bumper — she had run over the crosswalk sign in front of the Person County Public Library (PCPL). 

 Standing at the intersection of East Barden and South Main Streets is a 4-foot-tall neon yellow metal sign with a picture of a stop sign, a pedestrian figure and a message reading: “State law: Stop for pedestrians within crosswalk.”

 It’s hard to miss, yet it’s still covered in scratches and tire marks, and can occasionally be found lying on the side of the road after a bad run-in with a vehicle. 

‘Flopping in the air’

 On the day of the incident, Cheryl had exited onto West Barden after leaving Rolling Hills Garden Center. She was driving her husband’s Chevrolet Silverado, as opposed to her typical minivan. In the bed of the truck was a magnolia tree she had just bought as a birthday gift for Kim, her colleague at Libby’s Tax Service in Roxboro. 

 As she made her way onto East Barden Street, home to the parking lots for the PCPL, everything seemed normal. Cheryl turned the radio down so she could focus on driving.

 As she came to the stop sign on East Barden, Cheryl waited for any potential foot traffic with the crosswalk sign in sight, before confidently turning left onto South Main Street. She wasn’t thinking of the width of the truck she’s not used to driving — or the blind spots she’s not used to checking.  

At once, Cheryl could hear several loud thwacks coming from underneath her truck. It was the crosswalk sign hitting against the undercarriage, running the entire length of the truck. 

“Then as I look back, I see the sign flopping in the air after I hit it,” she said, “ and I said, ‘Okay well at least I didn’t break it all the way down.’” 

The sign is used to this kind of treatment. Roxboro City Manager Brooks Lockhart said the sign has been completely replaced, base and metal sign included, four times in the three years since it’s been installed, costing taxpayers around $2,300 overall. Lockhart has personally witnessed the crosswalk sign get hit by FedEx drivers on their way to the post office — he knows how the sign suffers. 

Roxboro resident and PCPL librarian Amber Carver said she doesn’t completely understand the need for the sign on South Main Street. The security cameras for the library also give view to that part of the road, meaning Carver has watched people brush, bustle or batter the sign several times in the almost three years she has worked there. 

Carver said she and her coworkers are confused as to why the sign is there in the first place, as that particular spot on South Main Street does not see much pedestrian traffic. 

“Most people aren’t mad about it,” said Carver, “Most people are just like, ‘Why is this even here?’” 

‘An effort to meet safety concerns’

Understanding what should be a straightforward sign is knowledge afforded to very few. 

The Roxboro City Council has the responsibility of defining speed limits, and collaborates with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to look at proper signage and upkeep for roads within the city limits.

However, traffic concerns are brought to the city council by citizens frequently, whether at in-person meetings or online. 

Roxboro City Council member Tim Chandler responded to comments on Person County resident Tim Bowes’ Facebook post about the crosswalk sign, where another resident, Janice Hall, said the sign was “stupid” and “not needed.”

Chandler said the sign was, “implemented to try and control speeding issues where children are often playing,” and was, “unanimously approved by city council in an effort to meet safety concerns that were presented by citizens.” 

South Main Street’s speed limit is already set at 20 mph, so after numerous complaints about speeding from residents, the city council voted on a traffic calming measure adapted from the Federal Highway Administration. Their policies recommend other options to promote safety when lowering the speed limit has been exhausted.  

One of the FHA’s first recommendations is to narrow a roadway. When drivers see a large, open road, they naturally speed up. A restriction placed in the roadway — like a crosswalk sign — can be a natural way to encourage drivers to slow down. In this sense, the sign serves two purposes.

Lockhart and the city council both said they have seen the number of complaints significantly decrease since its installation, even if it requires constant replacement. In their minds, then, the sign is still necessary.

Edited by Morgan Chapman and PJ Morales

 

UNC’s best-kept secret is its table tennis club

By Zachary Crain

Tucked in a corner at the bottom of the Student Union at UNC-Chapel Hill are four tables.

Usually, students play pingpong here, if they’d like to rent a game. But now, a group of students play eight-play table tennis here, and they bring their own paddles.

A few more members sit in scattered chairs, partly watching while attempting to study with the backdrop of an entrancing show. Two more rest a few feet away from the courts, leaning against pool tables covered by well-worn green billiard cloth. 

This fluorescently lit corner is home to a team culture and community that differentiates itself from other club sports at UNC-Chapel Hill. 

At a predominately white institution, all but four of the 33 members of UNC-CH’s club table tennis team are Asian or Asian-American, with seven of them being Chinese international students.

One of the players, sophomore Warren Winfield, leans against a pool table and explains the rules of the game while he spoons away at a Frosty. In tournaments, they play games to 11 points — the best of five wins the match. But now, everything rests on a single game. 

When a game commences, slow contortions on the serve and return quickly evolve into rapid-fire instinctual reactions. Players pinch their paddles in a penhold grip – an Asian-style grip in which the player holds the racket with its head turned down – then back away from the table and spin the ball out of sight and onto their opponent’s side.

The atmosphere is simultaneously relaxed and competitive. Some games are filled with compliments and conversations, others with trash talk and animated reactions. All include laughter. 

“It’s definitely a unique culture, and it’s really hard to describe,” Jasper Ou, junior president of the club, said. “It’s just a nice way to de-stress. I know that some sports clubs are super intense about it, and I don’t think that was ever our goal.” 

Ou leans against a pool table and watches. When he disappears for a moment, a few players come over and make sure it’s known: 

“He’s the best player we have.”

Meet the players

Ou’s journey with the sport started during a 2006 visit to his grandparents in China on a day he was too young to remember.

His parents took his older brother, Jonathan, to a table tennis community center and he immediately fell in love with the sport. A few years later, Jonathan was competing in the Junior Olympics. However, Jasper’s approach to table tennis was more relaxed growing up, and it still is to this day.

“I didn’t ever practice a lot; it was mainly just my dad and my brother,” Ou said. “The passion came during COVID.” 

Ou said that since there wasn’t much else to do during the pandemic, they would unpack the table in the garage and play against each other.

Before he came to be president of the table tennis club, Ou transferred to UNC-CH after his freshman year. It wasn’t immediately clear that he would find an Asian-American community in Chapel Hill. 

“It’s definitely unique in that aspect; I think it’s really helpful,” Ou said. “I can’t speak on behalf of other Asian people, but I haven’t really found that large of an Asian-American community, so this is nice, honestly. That’s the best way I can put it.” 

Team member Yi Pan discovered the sport as a primary school student in China. When she arrived in Chapel Hill as a sophomore, some 7,000 miles away from her home in Shanghai, she wanted to find someone to play with. 

Pan joined the club team and found more than a few partners. 

“It’s cool, I didn’t expect to make American friends when I first came to UNC,” Pan said. “I thought that was very tough. We didn’t have much to talk about. But table tennis kind of united us.” 

At the nearest table, Daniel Xie is engaged in a battle with his friend and roommate, Daniel Wei. Xie didn’t practice much growing up, save for the odd game with his dad and sister, but in high school at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, high-pressure games at community tables and on the club team created his obsession. 

“That competitive environment just got me into pingpong,” Xie said. “I would play three hours a day, not even exaggerating. I’d be in the pingpong room all the time trying to play, trying to get better. It was really fun for me. I liked to see that kind of improvement.”

Today, Xie is drawn to the sport by trick shots. For him, it’s an adrenaline rush seeing his work pay off.

He shows his improvement now while playing against Wei.

One shot lands and Wei falls down to the ground. Another one lands and Wei tells him just how lucky he is. A few more and Xie wins the match.

The club’s dynamic

One of the group’s shared memories includes the two-hour drive to Charlotte for the sectional tournament, some hours of table tennis and then taking three different cars back to campus. One of the groups stopped nearby for pizza while another drove to Cary so they could eat at a restaurant called Noodle Boulevard. 

On the way back, one group sang karaoke, another played road games and another slept. Each of them had woken up early, after all. Either way, the team said this is their favorite memory together.

It was during this same trip that Ou won the individual title and led UNC-CH to its first National Collegiate Table Tennis Association team championship in club history. 

At the end of February, there’s another road trip to look forward to: the regional tournament in Atlanta.

The most immediate realization upon journeying down to watch the club is the camaraderie and closeness between its members. In every strike and friendly taunt, point, given pointer and giggle, it’s there. 

Sometimes, they show their closeness by talking in the club’s GroupMe chat. Sometimes, in friendly banter and boasts after winning points. Sometimes, they show it just by hanging out, playing music, studying and talking in their locker room at the Student Union.

“You’ll usually find me here all the time,” Ou said. “You’ll find them all just hanging around here.”

For Ou, it isn’t clear exactly where it comes from. It could be from the group’s shared heritage or from the laid-back approach of the club. To him, some inexpressible aspect of the club is unique.

Edited by Casey Griffith and Nick Battaglia

 

Sounding her way through OCD: a Berklee student’s journey to songwriting

By Brooke Dougherty

It’s been hours. Brielle Hassell’s right hand feels like it’s slowly turning to brass. She can’t pull her arm away from the doorknob despite how hard she wills it.

Her thoughts loop in an eternal cycle. Her brain tells her to open the door. But every time she tries, she feels like she’s doing it wrong. She must start from the beginning.

The world moves on around her, but Brielle stands frozen. She’s aware of her surroundings but trapped inside her mind. 

Brielle was only 11 years old during this catatonic episode when her obsessive-compulsive disorder reached a peak. She began exhibiting symptoms two years prior. 

Nobody saw it coming. She had always been a sweet and carefree child.

Even now, at 24, OCD is a part of Brielle’s daily life as a student at Berklee College of Music. Her journey to pursue songwriting has been riddled with setbacks.

But she has never shied away from a challenge.

The diagnosis

Mental health wasn’t heavily discussed in the mid-2000s and Brielle’s parents weren’t equipped to understand the severity of her symptoms. 

Brielle wasn’t properly diagnosed with OCD until she was 12.

“Most people believe [OCD] is essentially just being a little too perfectionistic or being a neat freak,” Brielle says. 

The reality is debilitating. OCD dictates the food she eats and regulates the length of her daily tasks. 

“As hard as it was not having anyone know about what I was dealing with, I almost find it worse for so many people to think they know what OCD is and not take it seriously,” she says.

To avoid being treated differently, Brielle’s fought to hide her diagnosis from prying eyes. 

But sometimes she wishes people understood its severity.

From a glance, you wouldn’t be able to tell that her OCD constantly affects her. 

She stands tall at 5’9 with baby-blue eyes. Her golden hair matches her favorite color, sunny yellow. Like many students, she loves black coffee. She perpetually strums her ukulele with ease. 

She’ll talk to you about being an avid Taylor Swift fan. Swift’s songwriting skill has always been a major source of inspiration to her. 

As she’s grown older, Brielle has learned to mitigate the severity of her episodes by creating mental hacks. She’s found that singing and writing music about her experiences make her diagnosis easier to digest. It came naturally to her, almost like breathing.

“My grandma says I was humming to melodies when I was still an infant,” she says. 

Brielle is aware that she lost literal years of her life that she’ll never get back.

To this day, she can’t quite relay what happened that time when she was in that peak unresponsive state. She knew people would talk about her. Some would even laugh. But she wasn’t able to form the words to explain herself back then. 

But she’s found the words and works to make each day a better one. The thing that’s always kept her going is music. It has become a much-needed avenue to express herself.

Betting on Berklee

“I think I want to audition for Berklee,” Brielle offhandedly mentioned to her mom, Karen, in the kitchen.

It was the spring of 2019. Music was on the backburner during her time at Wake Technical Community College. She attended classes during the day and looked for local open mic opportunities at night. Crafting her thoughts into lyrics gave her a sense of purpose. 

Brielle had considered transferring to music school for a while, but she didn’t want to get her hopes up.

“Are you sure you’re ready for that?” 

Karen was worried, a sentiment that most of the family shared.

With Boston being 700 miles away, Brielle wouldn’t have any friends or family nearby. The city is prone to freezing temperatures and snowstorms. The academic workload would be arduous. What if Brielle had a paralyzing episode and her family wasn’t there to help? 

Brielle admits their concerns had merit and that they meant well. Berklee is expensive and her musical abilities were self-taught. 

She had achieved a 4.0 during her community college career. But Berklee, thought of as the Harvard of music schools, was a whole different ballgame.

Self-doubt flooded Brielle’s mind. 

But what if it was her one chance to prove her commitment to pursuing music professionally?

With or without her family’s support, she knew she had to try. 

Brielle began preparing for her audition months in advance, working harder than she ever had before.

“I asked my mom if she would come with me to the audition,” Brielle says. “But I wasn’t sure if she would be available or see the importance of the event.”

Brielle’s determination was palpable as the audition date drew near. 

“I certainly didn’t want to set my daughter up for failure. But, I also didn’t want her to not chase her biggest dream out of fear and then have a lifetime of regret or wonder for not pursuing it,” Karen says.  

So, in November, Karen set aside her apprehensions and sat next to her daughter on a flight to Boston. 

The everyday fight 

Getting accepted into Berklee was only the beginning for Brielle.

While other students finish their work and meet up with friends, Brielle studies in the library until dusk. Her afternoons are spent practicing piano in the music room. She’s worked with the college’s Accessibility Resources to establish accommodations.

Nobody sees the late hours and vulnerable emails sent to her professors. She hopes they’ll understand that she is trying her best. 

Some days are better than others. 

Her grades have improved since her first semester, a testament to all her hard, patient work behind the scenes.

Breaking down doors 

Brielle often wonders what her life would have been like without OCD.

But she’s thankful that music has given her life a purpose. 

“It’s challenging up here, but the best things are. I’m constantly learning and growing,” Brielle says. “My goal is to graduate from here with a Bachelor [of Music] in songwriting. From there, I hope to become an established songwriter in the music industry.”

“It took a while for everyone to see my vision, but everyone’s been much more supportive and excited for me since seeing how well I’ve done.”

The odds may be stacked against her, but you won’t catch her wasting a single second. She does it all for the little girl frozen behind that door.

Now, when Brielle comes across doors she can’t open, she kicks them down.

Drive-thrus banned from Franklin St. yet UNC students crave Cook Out

By Caroline Bowersox 

If there’s one thing a college student loves, it’s a late-night meal. The beauty of greasy, salty, high calorie food after a long night of studying or bar hopping is unparalleled. In Chapel Hill most restaurants only stay open until midnight, leaving UNC-Chapel Hill students hungry when 2 or 3 a.m. rolls around.

One restaurant may exist as a beacon of hope. Cook Out is a North Carolina-based fast-food chain with a drive-thru that stays open until as late as 4 a.m. on weekends. So tired from studying for hours in Davis Library that you can’t fathom cooking a meal for yourself? Cook Out has your back! Tired of rushing to Cosmic Cantina before it closes at midnight and being stuck with eating another burrito? With an expansive menu offering hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, barbecue, quesadillas, wraps, many fried side dishes, and more than 40 different milkshake flavors, Cook Out has several options that can satisfy whatever your taste buds are craving. 

If only opening a drive-thru in Chapel Hill wasn’t so difficult.

Why isn’t there a Cook Out in Chapel Hill?

In 1998, Chapel Hill enacted an ordinance that barred new drive-thrus from being built without applying for the Special Use Permit beforehand.

Drive-thru restaurants have successfully been implemented in the Carraway Village shopping center and on Fordham Boulevard, but these locations are miles away from the university’s campus. According to Josh Mayo, a transportation planner for the town of Chapel Hill, it is unlikely that the town’s government will allow a drive-thru to be built in the 500 or lower block of Franklin Street, the section of the street that is closest to the campus.

“If I was going to put a fast food drive-thru on Franklin, that wouldn’t be in harmony with the area,” Mayo said. The town government values the walkability of Franklin Street, and putting in a drive-thru would disrupt that. 

The Special Use permitting process can take many years. The Dunkin’ Donuts franchise on East Franklin Street has been in the process with the Town Council to have its drive-thru plans approved since 2019.

 “It’s kind of long, it’s expensive, you have to get consultants and plans drawn up, and you have to have someone present in front of the council, and a lot of time and effort goes into it, so there’s a bit of a barrier there,” Mayo said.

As of 2021, there are no Cook Out locations in the entirety of Orange County, forcing Chapel Hill residents to travel into Durham (enemy territory!) for their late-night munchies fix.

“Bring Cook Out to Franklin Street!”

One night in the spring of 2018, Spencer Zachary was holed up in the library with some friends. The sophomore political science major was supposed to be studying for final exams, but instead he was focused on developing Chapel Hill’s next great business idea.

“I was just trying to pass an hour or two while studying,” Zachary said. That night, he created a Change.org petition titled “Bring Cook Out to Franklin Street! 

“It kind of just started as a joke,” he said, “But every good joke starts with a little bit of inkling of truth that maybe it could actually happen.”

Spanky’s Bar and Restaurant, located at the intersection of Franklin Street and Columbia Street, had recently closed its doors, leaving a prime piece of real estate available just a short walk from campus. Zachary saw an opportunity to provide what many UNC-Chapel Hill students had long yearned for: a walk-in Cook Out.

Zachary didn’t expect his petition to get many signatures. But as the semester went on, the petition amassed over 1,500 signatures. Students commented things like, “Now this is the change we all need,” and “Every college campus needs a Cook Out.”

After his petition picked up steam, Zachary was featured on the Carolina Insider podcast. Eventually, Cook Out, Inc. got word of the petition and posted about it on Twitter.

At the heart of it all was a nostalgia seeking, small town kid from Western North Carolina. “In the town that I grew up in, it was almost like going to Cook Out was a small event,” he said, “Everyone would pile in a car and we would go get Cook Out.”

Considering that Cook Out is special to the state of North Carolina, it is difficult to see why UNC-CH doesn’t have its own location.

 “It’s definitely a part of North Carolina lore that the big three restaurants are Cook Out, Bojangles, and Krispy Kreme,” Zachary said, “It’s like the Holy Trinity.”

A relationship built on milkshakes

When Emma Smith was a sophomore at UNC-CH, she and her best friend made a habit of staying up into the wee hours of the morning to study. After combing through page after page of biology homework, the two had a tradition to drive into Durham, for Cook Out milkshakes. Smith would always mix-and-match the flavors to make a chocolate banana pudding milkshake, and they would sit and talk for hours.

“Cook Out is sort of a liminal space,” Smith said, “That combination of talking with your best friend and being there late at night makes time fly by so fast.” 

After a year or two of making regular Cook Out trips together, the pair started dating, and have been together for three years now. Smith frequently jokes with her partner about the times they talked for hours over milkshakes in undergrad. “We should’ve known we were supposed to be together,” she said.

Smith’s relationship status has changed since her nightly Cook Out trips sophomore year, and her milkshake order has been updated too. “I get a caramel Butterfinger shake now,” she said, “The flavor is a game-changer for me.”

Edited by Katie Bowes and Jorelle Trinity

Community and friendship unite the UNC table tennis team

By Zachary Crain

Tucked in a corner at the bottom of the Student Union, down a few sets of stairs or a 2 o’clock turn just past Wendy’s, sit four tables.

Usually, students are able to rent a table and play ping pong here. But today, eight students brought their own paddles.

A few more sit in scattered chairs, part-watching while half-attempting to study with the backdrop of an entrancing show. Two more students rest a few feet away from the courts, leaning against pool tables covered by well-worn green billiard cloth.

This fluorescently lit corner is home to a team culture and community that differentiates itself from other club sports at UNC.

Despite being at a predominately white institution, all but four of the 33 members of UNC’s club table tennis team are either Asian American or Asian, and seven are Chinese international students.

One of the players, sophomore Warren Winfield, leaned against a pool table and spooned away at a Frosty while explaining the rules of the game. In tournaments, they play games to 11 — the best three-games-of-five wins the match. But now, everything rests on a single game.

When a game begins, slow bends on the serve and return quickly evolve into rapid-fire instinctual reaction. Players pinch their paddles in a penhold, back away from the table, and spin the ball out of sight and onto their opponent’s side.

The atmosphere is simultaneously relaxed and competitive. Some games are filled with compliments and conversations, others with trash talk and animated reactions. All games include laughter.

“It’s definitely a unique culture, and it’s really hard to describe,” junior Jasper Ou, the president of the club, said.  “It’s just a nice way to de-stress. I know that some sports clubs are super intense about it, and I don’t think that was ever our goal.”

After Ou chomps down on a Wendy’s chicken sandwich and disappears for a moment, a few players come over and make sure it’s known:

“He is the best player we have.”

From playing abroad to UNC

Ou’s journey with the sport started on a day he was too young to remember in 2006, on a trip to visit his grandparents in China.

His parents took his older brother, Jonathan, to a table tennis community center, and he immediately fell in love with the sport. A few years later, Jonathan was competing in the Junior Olympics. But compared to now, Ou’s approach to table tennis was much more relaxed growing up.

“I didn’t ever practice a lot, it was mainly just my dad and my brother,” Ou said. “The passion came during COVID. We just couldn’t really do anything outside, so we just unpacked the table in the garage and played with each other.”

Yi Pan discovered the sport as a primary school student in China. When she arrived in Chapel Hill as a sophomore more than 7,000 miles away from home in Shanghai she just wanted to find someone to play with.

Pan joined the club team and found more than just a few partners.

“It’s cool, I didn’t expect to make American friends when I first came to UNC,” Pan said. “I thought that was very tough, we didn’t have much to talk about. But table tennis kind of united us together.”

On the nearest table, Daniel Xie is engaged in a battle with his friend and roommate, Daniel Wei. Xie didn’t practice much growing up, except for an occasional game with his dad and sister. But in high school at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, high-pressure games at a community table and on the club team sparked his obsession.

“That competitive environment just got me into ping pong,” Xie said. “I would play three hours a day — not even exaggerating. I’d be in the ping pong room all the time trying to play, trying to get better. It was really fun for me, I liked to see that kind of improvement.”

Today, he’s drawn to the sport by trick shots, which are “crazy-ass” moves in the middle of the point.  Xie said it’s an adrenaline rush seeing his work pay off and inching him closer to being the best.

You can see it now as Xie plays against Wei.

One shot lands and Wei falls down on the ground. Another one lands and Wei tells him just how lucky he is. A few more, and Xie wins the match.

Ou transferred to UNC after his freshman year, and it wasn’t immediately clear if he’d find an Asian American community in Chapel Hill.

“It’s definitely unique in that aspect, I think it’s really helpful,” Ou said. “I can’t speak on behalf of other Asian people, but I haven’t really found that large of an Asian American community, so this is nice, honestly. That’s the best way I can put it.”

The team’s special bond

The closeness of the club’s members is immediately obvious when watching them play together. In every strike, friendly taunt, point, given pointer, giggle and Wendy’s product eaten — you can see the closeness is there.

One of the special shared memories the players have is their journey to Charlotte, North Carolina for the sectional tournament. The drive consisted of two hours driving down, three different cars, and many hours of table tennis. One hour was spent stopping nearby for pizza and another driving past Chapel Hill and down to Cary, North Carolina because Ou wanted to eat at a restaurant called Noodle Boulevard. In some cars people were singing karaoke, others were playing road games and others were sleeping. 

Winfield said this tournament road trip brought the players closer together. 

“Got to meet a lot of new people and bond with the people,” Winfield said.

All the players say this road trip is their best memory with the team.

During the trip, Ou won the individual title at the tournament and led UNC to its first National Collegiate Table Tennis Association Carolina Division team championship in club history.

At the end of February, there’s another road trip to look forward to — this time to the regional tournament in Atlanta, Georgia.

Sometimes, the players reveal their closeness by talking in the club’s GroupMe chat. Other times it’s found in the friendly banter and boasts after winning points. Sometimes, they show it just by hanging out, playing music, studying, and talking in their locker in the Student Union.

But always, that closeness is there.

For Ou, it isn’t clear exactly where it comes from. It could come from the group’s shared heritage, or maybe their laid-back approach. To Ou, some impossible-to-put-your-finger-on aspect of the club is that it feels special, just unique.

“You’ll usually find me here all the time,” Ou said. “You’ll find them all just hanging around here. I think it’s really nice, actually, that we can all just have a place that we can all just collectively hang out in. I don’t know. I think it’s just really nice.”

Edited by Sabrina Ortiz and Julia Rafferty

Painting, snowscape, blue journal: substitute teacher for life

By Patricia Benitez

Eth Hyman is speed walking down the school hallway, dodging the traffic of students walking in the opposite direction. Tom Heggie is the substitute teacher in science class today, and Hyman can’t keep from smiling at the thought of his familiar presence.

As Hyman enters the classroom and finds his seat, Heggie saunters to the front of the classroom where a snowscape painting rests on the ledge of the whiteboard. 

The buzz of gossip quiets as the students lean forward in anticipation and lay their phones face down on the desks. 

They know Heggie never starts class with assignments. Instead, he pulls out a blue journal from the outer pocket of his leather suitcase. He flips through the pages and begins to read his philosophy of life, a poem by Emily Dickinson. 

“If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain;”

He pauses to meet engaged eyes. 

“If I can ease one life aching, 

Or cool one pain, 

Or help one fainting robin 

Unto his nest again, 

I shall not live in vain.”

He doesn’t need the journal anyway. After years of reciting this poem, he knows it by heart.

Heggie isn’t like most substitute teachers. While most only teach the same students once and never see them again, Heggie teaches at the same schools several days a week to form relationships with students. 

For more than 20 years, Heggie has welcomed students into classrooms with a spirited “Yooo baby!” and hugs. Now 84 years old and 6 feet, 2 inches tall, Heggie doesn’t fit the typical appearance of a substitute teacher either. 

When class ends, Hyman approaches Heggie’s painting. 

Heggie chats with Hyman as he always does. Before Hyman leaves for his next class, Heggie hands him the snowscape as a gift. “This is for you,” says Heggie.

“Are you serious?” says Hyman with a smile. 

Hyman still has to trudge through the rest of his classes. But he knows Heggie cares about him, and that is enough. 

“You’ll need them someday”

In high school, painting became Heggie’s escape valve. He has ADHD, which is an asset when he paints. His brush diverges from one corner of the canvas to another until the pigments all harmonize into one. 

Heggie was also a talented athlete. When it was time to apply to colleges, he wanted to pursue football. After all, he was tall with broad shoulders and a malleable personality, ready to learn the techniques of any sport. But when Syracuse University offered him a football scholarship, Heggie’s mom, Evelyn, protested.

“You’re going to hurt your hands,” she said. “And you’ll need them someday.”

She knew that Heggie’s ability to connect with people wasn’t in athletics. It was in his art.

“You’ll find a way,” she said.

And so he did. 

“Art can help children feel hope in times of suffering”

Heggie believes art can help children stop, even if just for a moment, and feel hope in times of suffering. 

So when he retired at 63, he spent his summers at a camp for grieving children. He formed a bond with a 5-year-old boy in the program, Sterling, who loved to play the drums.

But Sterling’s spurts of rhythm and joy were short-lived. His younger sister, Maleika, was dying.

Heggie decided to create a timeless symbol of her. He spent days in his studio illustrating a colorful book about Sterling’s story and dedicated it to Maleika. 

Sterling read Maleika the story once before she died. Later, Heggie painted her as an angel for her family. 

Sterling thanked Heggie with a long hug, just like the ones Sterling once gave Maleika. 

That was more than enough for Heggie. After all, Jane, his wife of 59 years, taught him that everyone needs a hug to have a successful day.

“I will make you a promise”

“Do you have to leave us?” asked one of Heggie’s art students. His year as a teacher in Staten Island had come to an end. 

Heggie had just graduated from college and, at the time, teaching was an interlude before starting his career as an advertising illustrator. 

He wasn’t prepared for the trials he would face as a teacher that year. The students attacked each other with scissors and screamed vulgar language that Heggie had never heard before. They were accustomed to indifferent teachers. 

But Heggie refused to tolerate their violence. Instead, he talked to students individually and invited them to share their frustrations with him.

By the end of the year, the students were begging him to stay. They even collected money to buy him a cake.

Heggie knew the value of a dollar. When his dad broke his back, 14-year-old Heggie weeded fields alongside migrant workers to provide for his family. So he didn’t take their appreciation for granted.

“I’ll make you a promise,” he said to them. “I will teach again.”

And he never forgot his promise. When Heggie retired, he started substitute teaching.

“You really don’t know how much we miss you”

At the beginning of the pandemic, when schools closed, Heggie didn’t anticipate being out of the classroom for so long and missed the students. Charlotte Murphy, one of his students, missed him too.

In March, Murphy visited Heggie’s house to pick up a custom painting. She wanted to support him in any way she could. Though she only planned to stay for a few minutes, Murphy conversed with Heggie for hours, taking in his caring presence during a time of heightened loneliness and isolation. To Heggie, listening to people’s stories is a privilege, one that must be nurtured and never taken for granted. 

When she stopped to admire one of Heggie’s paintings, he took it off his wall and handed it to her, insisting that she take it for free.

“That’s kind of you,” she said. “But your paintings are valuable.” As a fellow artist, she knows the value of his paintings. 

“Mr. Heggie,” she said as she was leaving, clutching his painting close to her chest. “You really don’t know how much we miss you.”

Now that schools are open again, Heggie is back in the same classrooms, with his journal and a painting showing the students how much he cares. 

Edited by Ellie Crowther and Simon Tan

Opinion divided: Quad tents push students into opposing camps

By Bethany Lee

A new space

Perched between a fire hydrant and a water grate, this spot is her hub. She’ll watch lectures, hang out with friends, hit her vape, and almost always sip on a specialty Starbucks drink she found the recipe for on Twitter.

Isabella Chow has sat in the same place on the quad for the four years she’s been at UNC-Chapel Hill: directly in front of Bingham Hall, on the raised brick lining the quad sidewalk. For Chow, it’s the perfect spot to relax and admire the campus.

At least, it was.

Chow’s view changed when UNC-CH erected outdoor study spaces around campus, like a beachfront property that suddenly looks out the window at a brick facade. 

“They’re so ugly,” Chow said, looking up from her toffee nut iced coffee to wince at the giant canopy in front of her. “It’s this big, ugly structure in the middle of the quad.”

University Response

The university installed outdoor seating in 2020 to provide students with low-risk study spaces while COVID-19 occupancy and mask restrictions are in place. More spaces were added a year later, bringing the count to 15 outdoor seating areas with over 850 seats.

The tents are not difficult to find. From pretty much anywhere on campus, students can look up and see a white canvas tent with chairs and tables underneath. Not designed with aesthetics as the first priority, the tents are like KN95 masks: useful, but not beautiful.

From the inside, curb appeal is easier to ignore. Between the velcro carpet and steel-barred canopy, students tumble past. Birds flick between trees, a pod of dining hall employees laughs beside the flagpole. Occupants eat lunch or do schoolwork in the shade.

Tent Lovers Anonymous

On sunny days, Cassia Sari sets up a spot underneath the large tent on the main quad. If she’s lucky, she secures a table where the shadow parts enough for her to sit in the sun.

“I usually try to go to the big metal one because it overlooks Wilson Library, so I can see how beautiful the campus is,” Sari said. “I don’t think it really distracts from the beauty of the campus.”

Not only does Sari disagree that the tents interfere with the campus’ beauty, she thinks they’re essential to keeping students safe. Also, Sari thinks studying there is better than sitting in the fluorescent flooded rooms in a packed library.

While the tents work best in warm weather, even on a cold, rainy day, Sari can be found underneath a side tent by Murphey Hall.

“It just depends on the way that you’re looking at it,” Sari said.

Rough and Tumble

In late January, on-campus students returned from a long weekend to a frightening sight; the tents had fallen.

Winter storm Izzy had blown through Chapel Hill, dumping snow and ice everywhere it went. The buildup proved too much for the tents to bear; they collapsed in droves all across campus.

For weeks, students walked past study station graveyards: broken canvas scattered around overturned tables and chairs. Some thought it meant the end of the tents.

Construction workers were soon spotted rebuilding the spaces. A few tents were brushed free of debris and reinstalled. Others had to be reordered after the snow ripped them apart.

Stephanie Berrier, the interim director of marketing and communications for the UNC Facilities Department, said the tents were not built to withstand adverse weather. Though subject to fire and safety codes, the tents are temporary.

To each, their own

To Sam Dalsheimer, the outdoor seating areas are “pretty okay.” He sits in the enclosed tents behind Lenoir Hall eating Mediterranean Deli spinach and chickpeas when the weather is too cold or rainy. 

“They’re very nice when it’s raining, but that’s about it,” he said.

Sam prefers eating in the tents to eating inside the dining halls, where students sit elbow-to-elbow without masks. A big reason for Sam’s habits is his 1-year-old daughter, Margot, who he wants to keep safe as the pandemic continues. 

Hope for the future

For many students, the end of the tents would mean the end of the pandemic. Stop Zoom classes, end the mask mandate and take down the tents.

Hannah Kaufman, a sophomore, was on campus for a few weeks before the university closed residence halls in the fall of 2020. She hardly remembers a time before the tents. Although she has used the seating areas to study with friends, she’s ready to see them go.

“Of course, COVID is not anywhere near done, but I think for me the tent is a reminder of the really stressful, restrictive semester that I had last year,” Kaufman said.

Pack it up

The end might be closer than she thinks. Although mask mandates are indefinite and Zoom is ever-present, the tents will officially be removed after Spring Commencement, according to Berrier.

Kaufman imagines what the quad must look like when the tents come down. It’s the image she’s seen on advertisements for UNC, ones that don’t include masks, social distancing, or giant canvas tents. The open quad was covered with students, everyone exactly where they were supposed to be.

“I’ve seen beautiful pictures of the quad from years ago on a summer day. Everyone’s sitting outside talking with their friends in little groups,” she said. “I guess I’m just kind of hoping for that.”

 

Edited by George Adanuty and Tajahn Wilson

‘My buddy’: Rehabilitated turtle offers more than a cautionary tale

By Elizabeth Sills

A tiny, bloody flipper protrudes up through a cracked shell. The meager arm is illuminated by a blinding light. It’s only barely visible poking up into the air.

Based on the rest of the scene at Atlantic Beach, one would assume that this fin belonged to one of many dead sea turtle hatchlings scattered across the sand.

The culprit appeared to be an off-leash dog. The dog was intrigued by the small dark ovals moving around the shore, likely from a nest that was unmarked and had been missed by volunteers. So, the dog did what dogs do. It investigated.

When concerned condo residents noticed the carnage, they called the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.

Shattered bits of egg shells add a faint crunch under the soles of aquarium volunteers, who followed the turtle tracks. The small boomerang-shaped indentations in the sand lead them to an area under a  light source. But there are no baby sea turtles to be found beneath the light or its surrounding shadows. They had been eaten by ghost crabs.

All except one.

One turtle, the one with the tiny wing, survived, setting in motion a long rehabilitation journey, one that exemplifies the dangers of light pollution to North Carolina’s coastal wildlife.

An emergency surgery

The loggerhead was found by Michele Lamping, a turtle specialist at the Pine Knoll Shores. She assumed it was dead. Then, she saw the flipper move.

It was still attached to its yolk sac, a lima bean-sized bag of fluid that provides vital nutrients to hatchlings while they develop inside the egg. The yolk is connected to the membrane of the eggshell, and turtles typically remain connected to it for a few days after hatching.

The turtle was driven 11 minutes to the aquarium veterinary offices and delivered to chief veterinarian Emily Christiansen. Christiansen performed minor surgery, involving one small suture in the egg to preserve the yolk sac. However, there was no security this would keep him alive.

“I was very surprised that little hatchling survived,” Christiansen said. “He’s not the first one that’s been brought to me in a vulnerable state.”

From there, it was up to Lamping to facilitate the healing process. The turtle was transported to the Pine Knoll Shores rehabilitation facility, which resides in the center of the aquarium.

“(Christiansen) brought it back to me on Monday, the only survivor of the nest,” Lamping said. “But there were two human errors. One, letting the dog off the leash. Two, light pollution. That has not been fixed.”

The consequences of light pollution

Light and dark signal to animals when to eat, to sleep, to mate, to hunt and to migrate.

Light pollution, an artificial brightening of the night sky that causes disruptions in natural cycles, is an evolving issue on the North Carolina coast. Atlantic Beach has the highest amount of light pollution per square foot in the state. It can be caused by anything from hotel room fluorescents to street lamps to people donning headlamps while fishing at night.

When the time comes for baby sea turtles to hatch and scamper across the beach, their inclination is to head toward the luminous horizon of the ocean. But things get complicated when beach-front condos fire up their “No Vacancy” signs and tourists swing phone flashlights around during nighttime beach strolls.

“We say it’s misoriented, not disoriented,” Matthew Godfrey, a sea turtle biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, said. “Disorientation means you’re just going in random directions, whereas misorientation means you’re directed to go the wrong way.”

Following this false sense of security leaves hatchlings stranded on the dunes and suffering from dehydration. Or they become roadkill after wandering too far off the beach. Or they become dinner for a ghost crab.

Based on these odds, the fact that the loggerhead hatchling survived is miraculous.

“It’s actually a pretty rare scenario where they’ve got a turtle in there for light pollution,” Godfrey said.

A happy, yet bittersweet, ending

Loggerhead turtle swims.
The loggerhead turtle hatchling, now nearly a year and a half, swims around his tank at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.

Now, nearly a year and a half later, the loggerhead is no longer a tiny, fluttering black hatchling. He’s a full-fledged juvenile, spending most of his day in a large white tank. He paddles within the tank’s turquoise interior. Occasionally, his brown spotted shell emerges at the surface and he pokes his head up for some gulps of air. When he does, he makes his way around the perimeter of the tub, nodding a quick hello to Lamping and Shannon Kemp, the aquarium’s communications manager, before diving down to glide along the floor.

Over the hum of the tank machinery, Lamping moves through the maze of temporary turtle homes. She spends the majority of her day in this room rehabilitating turtles. It’s a large space full of water tanks, each housing various sick or injured animals, the majority of which are turtles. Her job as hands-on rehabilitator encompasses a variety of important tasks: cleaning tanks, administering medication, monitoring body temperature and convincing animals to eat.

“There’s poop on your leg,” Kemp notices, pointing to the bottom of Lamping’s right pant leg.

“There’s always poop on my leg,” Lamping replied with a laugh.

That’s part of the job, she admits. And minor details like rogue turtle feces can be overlooked in the name of protecting vulnerable, usually endangered, animals.

This particular animal’s improbable genesis allowed him to claim the illustrious title of education ambassador for the aquarium. When he’s not being examined by Lamping or munching on lettuce, he receives visits from elementary schoolers and eco-interested tourists. He is a rare living example of the consequences of light pollution.

Lamping said that it’s likely this stalwart will be released sometime in May. He will be strong and healthy enough to return to the North Carolina waters and begin his lifelong migration journey.

It will be a bittersweet farewell. The pair have spent nearly every day of the past 18 months together. As she says this, the loggerhead resurfaces, pivoting his body to face Lamping head-on.

“I will miss this turtle. I love this turtle,” Lamping said, leaning over the side of the tub. “This turtle’s my buddy.”

Edited by Isabella Braddish and Maddie Ellis

How UNC students get themselves trapped after late-night studying

By Hannah Rosenberger

Patrick Dickinson had one minute and two multiple choice questions left on a timed assessment for his public policy class when his friend, Mikayla Cummings, popped her head back into their fourth-floor study room at the Health Sciences Library. 

“By the way,” she said, “we’re locked in the library.”

Dickinson didn’t even read the last two questions before clicking random answers and hoping for the best so he could shut his laptop and follow her back downstairs. 

A few minutes earlier, Cummings had taken the elevator down to the ground floor, ready to head out for the night. But she was stopped by a sign stating that unfortunately, the doors were now locked, and she would have to call UNC-Chapel Hill police to be released. 

The library didn’t look closed. There were some empty study rooms – but that wasn’t unusual in a space like the Health Sciences Library, where it’s always easy to find a seat, especially late on a Wednesday night. The lights were all still on, except for one dark fixture above the circulation desk. They hadn’t even heard the customary 30-minute warning announcement. 

The only indication that Cummings was now bolted in with the books was the absence of circulation supervisor Ernest Peters at the desk by the front door, telling her good night. 

Peters works evenings in the Health Sciences Library, making his rounds through the six floors of the library every hour or so. As he keeps track of the number of people in the building, he does his best to remind those deep in the thralls of their medical textbooks that it’s almost closing time. But he can’t always catch all of the straggling students before he shuts the doors for the night.

“It usually happens at the beginning of the semester, people don’t realize what’s going on,” Peters said. “And then they get locked in, and they have to call the number on the door and then (UNC-Chapel Hill police) comes in and gets them out of here.” 

‘Pushing it to the limit’

Just a few weeks after he and Cummings were shut in at Health Sciences, Dickinson was in a study room on the seventh floor of Davis Library when the warning announcement played over the loudspeaker: the library would close in 15 minutes.

Several floors below, the crowd of nighttime students began to rouse from their homework-induced dazes of concentration. Flocks of people pushed open the exit doors as the ground floor slowly emptied. A few last-minute loiterers jogged down the bottom few steps from the second floor as a librarian held the side door open. 

But Dickinson didn’t budge from his seat. He had an assignment to submit, and he wanted to get it over with before heading back to his room for the night.

“I was pushing it to the limit,” he said. 

He hit the button to call the elevator at 9:57 p.m., and just as he heard the rumble and ding of its arrival, he also heard the disembodied loudspeaker voice announce that the library doors were now locked.  

Dickinson’s elevator stopped on every floor to pick up another person or two. As the dozen or so students who had shoved their way in during its descent tumbled into the lobby, there was already a security officer waiting outside the doors to release the dawdlers.

UNC Police Sgt. James David said campus police get calls to let students out of the libraries — usually Davis — at least a few times a week. For years, there’s been a huge whiteboard sign by the circulation desk with a message — “Locked in? 862-8100” — written on it in slightly faded black Expo marker, for just these occasions.

“People will walk by, and they’ll laugh,” said DeMarcus Taylor, who works at the Davis Library circulation desk. “They’re like, ‘Oh, can you imagine getting locked in?’ But it happens.”

The number of lurkers lingering at the library until closing time has been higher so far this semester. Staff hours across most campus libraries have been limited because of COVID-19 employee shortages.

Pre-pandemic, the Undergraduate Library was open 24 hours a day for those dedicated souls who had the stamina to cram for their midterms at 4 a.m. Even last semester, the Health Sciences Library normally shut its doors at midnight — not 8 p.m., like it did on the night Cummings and Dickinson were locked in. Even Davis Library is usually open until 2 a.m., not 10 p.m.

“Seeing the swarm of people come out of the elevator from like now to 10,” DeMarcus said just a few minutes before Davis closed for the night, “It’s a whole lot more than at 2 a.m.”

‘Kind of our luck’

Half an hour later, Cummings and Dickinson watched through a double set of sliding doors at the Health Sciences Library as a security officer fumbled with a massive keychain. 

Dickinson had already gone to the bathroom and trekked back up to the fourth floor to grab a pencil he’d left behind before the officer arrived. Cummings could see the hazard lights of her boyfriend’s Toyota Camry parked across Columbia Street through the glass.

The dozens, if not hundreds, of keys jangled as the officer tried to find the one that opened the back door by the café. Eventually, the right key clicked into the lock.

Cummings and Dickinson made their way back out into the world, and with a nod, the officer left.

“It’s kind of our luck,” Cummings said. “Of course that’s what happened.”

Edited by Morgan Chapman and PJ Morales