August typically is the month of hurricanes and a treacherous stock market. It’s when coworkers jet off to the Cape Cod homes you didn’t know they could afford, and when the mosquitoes win. It was always the airless, miserable nadir of the summer, even before Covid-19 and the looming fears of an ugly, lawless election. Now, we must contend with those, too.
So, maybe, you find yourself up at 2 am, casually cruising for Airbnbs in Maine. Or you’ve looked up the weather in Tulum, Mexico, or bought your first car solely for road trips. This month’s issue of The Highlight is an acknowledgment of this primal instinct to escape, on full display some five months into a pandemic with no foreseeable end. Filled with stories meant to take you far from the current moment, the Escape Issue is as much about the reverie of a good story as it is about literally leaving a way of life behind.
Maggie Parker was looking for just that — refuge from a troubled family life, a way over the hurdles that seemed to hamper women in sport — when she left her Michigan home as a teenager to ride bulls. A curiosity because of her beauty, an outcast because of her gender, Parker would find trouble wasn’t limited to the 2,000-pound bulls waiting for her in the chutes across the rodeo circuit. Our cover story isn’t just one of escape; it is escape, as Steven Leckart takes us into the rough-and-tumble world of rodeos, where winning means conquering a beast before it kills you, and crowds clamor for more.
After Phil Nichols’s father abandoned his family, he sent his son a letter; inside was a lone penny, and nothing else. The family never heard from Robert Ivan Nichols again. Or rather, not for decades, until a deceased 76-year-old named Joseph Newton Chandler III was found to be someone other than who he claimed, writes Katya Cengel. Groundbreaking DNA testing and genealogical research was called in to help solve the mystery, but the case of Robert Nichols would offer no pat answers. The story is about secrets, and the right to move on from them. Can anyone escape their DNA?
Also in this issue: Workers reflect on how receiving unemployment allowed some to find relief from the grind; nightclubs were fantastical places, until the coronavirus revealed that their strength — the kinetic energy of bodies, lots of them — was also their vulnerability. And finally, a dreamy comic explores the ways the pandemic prompts a renewal of the senses as we search for meaning in small things, from scenic beauty to video games to the night sky.
She wanted to ride with men in one of the world’s most dangerous sports. She had a lot more than her competition to be worried about.
by Steven Leckart
Robert Ivan Nichols simply disappeared from his average, 1960s Midwestern life — until, using DNA, sleuths uncovered the truth. But were they digging where they shouldn’t have been?
by Katya Cengel
“For the first time in my life, I had money in my savings”: Workers on the relief of the $600 benefit
How Covid-19 unemployment benefits changed these workers’ lives.
by Michael Waters
Farewell (for now) to dark rooms, flashing lights, sweaty bodies, and escapism.
by Lavanya Ramanathan
Covid-19 made my world small and bleak. But I still found solace in the quietest places.
by Christine Mi