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Welcome to the Leisure Issue of the Highlight

How amusement parks captured the American imagination; grappling with the grim history of a coastal Georgia retreat; choosing between a hobby and an income; and more. 

Tania Guerra for Vox

In June, as vaccination rates reached ever higher and the Covid-19 delta variant still felt like a faraway threat, an estimated 66 million Americans took a flight — to visit family, to lay on the beaches of Hawaii or Puerto Rico, to attend a wedding.

Leisure was an aspect of American life that slipped away for many in the cloistered existence of lockdowns and working from home. This summer, however, it returned in full force. Bars and restaurants — and even music venues — filled with joyful noise; tourists flocked to national parks; Bruce Springsteen returned to Broadway.

For the August issue of the Highlight, we look at American leisure in all its facets. When amusement parks, such as Disney World reopened, superfans came out for everything they missed: coasters, characters, but most of all, nostalgia. In our cover story, theme park journalist Arthur Levine explores just what it is about amusement parks that continues to capture the imagination — despite an occasionally spotty history, despite a dwindling number of parks, what they represent is an aspirational vision of America.

Also in this issue, photographer Philip Keith traveled to Martha’s Vineyard to capture the joy of Black travelers who descend on the island year after year. As beaches, pools, and vacation towns across the nation enforced segregationist laws and policies decades ago to limit just who had access to rest, relaxation, and fun itself, Martha’s Vineyard, and its town of Oak Bluffs town, in particular, became known so widely for its welcoming atmosphere that travelers came from New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and beyond. Today, the elite — from Henry Louis Gates Jr. to former president Barack Obama — and others flock to the island to simply be themselves.

Hobbies are quintessential leisure activities, but more than ever, Americans have a difficult time separating, say, a passion for dancing from trying to land TikTok sponsorships or a love of crafting from launching a busy Etsy shop. We love to monetize our hobbies. From the vantage point of her potter’s wheel, writer Marian Bull examines her own complicated relationship with leisure and making a living doing it.

St. Simons Island, on the Georgia coast, is a sleepy Southern summer destination known for golf courses, marshy landscapes, and shady weeping willow trees. But as Nneka Okona writes, it is also home to a legacy: Dozens of Igbo people bound for the island to become part of the slave trade in the 1800s instead chose to jump into the waters. Word of their bravery has been passed down for generations; today the story looms large in pop culture, from Black Panther to the iconic film Daughters of the Dust. But who gets to experience respite in St. Simons, Okona asks, knowing that it is the one place that the Igbo sacrifice goes unrecognized?

And finally, Doree Shafrir writes about returning to the piano decades after giving it up, only to realize how much the perfectionism of her youth stymied her attempts to sit back and enjoy the music.


Liao Pan/China News Service via Getty Images

The story of amusement parks is the story of America

With all of its sparkle and chipped paint.

By Arthur Levine


Philip Keith for Vox

“It’s the freest place I’ve ever been”: How Martha’s Vineyard became a Black summertime sanctuary

For generations, forces worked to curtail Black freedom and joy. The Vineyard proved a safe place.

By Vox Staff


An illustration of a woman working on a potter’s wheel, surrounded by ephemera. Allegra Lockstadt for Vox

The complicated reality of doing what you love

I lost my hobby and gained a revenue stream.

By Marian Bull


An illustration of an eerie Georgia creek at night with people’s faces reflected in the water. The author of the piece is looking down at her ancestors’ reflections in the water. Nokwanda Themba for Vox

A vacation town promises rest and relaxation. The water knows the truth.

On the Georgia coast, leisure and a grim history of slavery coexist.

By Nneka M. Okona


An illustration of a woman playing piano and a larger figure in repose. Sol Cotti for Vox

My nemesis, the piano

Learning to not be perfect, one note at a time.

By Doree Shafrir

The Highlight

The summer that wasn’t

Features

How your favorite jeans might be fueling a human rights crisis

First Person

My nemesis, the piano

View all stories in The Highlight