The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Hannah Dreier, Jeremy Miller, Katherine LaGrave, Wes Ferguson, and Omar Mouallem.

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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1. The Last Days Inside Trailer 83

Hannah Dreier | The Washington Post | October 17, 2021 | 4,400 words

Hannah Dreier spent a month on the ground reporting this story about a California couple on the verge of being kicked out of FEMA housing, their refuge in the wake of 2018’s devastating Camp Fire. With the clarity and compassion that are the hallmarks of her work, Dreier bears witness to what it means to suffer on the front lines of climate change, to grapple with a thinning social safety net, and — after all that — to stare down homelessness. She portrays the couple’s frustration and anger, as well as their love and resilience. But why, Dreier asks, is this happening at all? Doesn’t the government owe the displaced more, and better, than this? It’s a pressing question: More Americans will be soon displaced by fires, floods, and extreme weather. This is a quiet, intimate story, and seemingly small in scope, but don’t let it fool you — it offers a terrifying glimpse into the future. —SD

2. The Enumerator

Jeremy Miller | Harper’s Magazine | October 19, 2021 | 5,535 words

Out of financial necessity during the pandemic, reporter Jeremy Miller becomes a census enumerator in Richmond, California, for $25 an hour. In August 2020, after five months of lockdown and with little training, he sets out as a “fully deputized agent of the federal government” to follow up on those who have not completed their census forms. This piece is fascinating for Miller’s insight into trying to communicate with members of a community living in lockdown. His attempts are often futile, scary, and yet unexpectedly endearing. How many people live in the United States? With a broken census process that’s a hot target for political manipulation, no one will ever really know for sure. Some, wary of their immigration status, evade or avoid participation, understandably suspicious of government interest. —KS

3. A Very Big Little Country

Katherine LaGrave | AFAR | October 13, 2021 | 3,766 words

Ever heard of Westarctica? Neither had I. Comprising 620,000 square miles of Antarctica, since 2001 it has been “ruled” by His Royal Highness Travis I, Grand Duke. This is a micronation — a political entity whose members claim they belong to an independent state. What they lack in legal recognition they make up for in enthusiasm. Members bestow elaborate titles upon themselves and engage in heated discussions about how to govern. Westarctica is not alone: There are nearly 100 active micronations around the world. While physical landmasses have been claimed, these micronations largely exist online. Westarctica started as “a basic Yahoo website with a god-awful teal-blue background, project name, and email address.” There is a fun fantasy vibe: Westarctica’s legal tender is ice marks, “with banknotes featuring McHenry, penguins, and the Westarctican coat of arms.” However, micronations also have serious statements to make. Obsidia is a feminist-only nation with a two-pound rock as its territory and is “intent on using awareness to increase visibility for ‘femme / feminist / LGBTQ people and explore concepts for an ideal governance.’” Since 2018 Westarctica has also developed an important mission in becoming a nonprofit focused on fighting climate change. So take a dive into LaGrave’s fascinating article — and literally discover a whole other world. —CW

4. Eat, Prey, Love: A Day with the Squirrel Hawkers of East Texas

Wes Ferguson | Texas Monthly | October 15, 2021 | 2,033 words

Birds fascinate me. When I saw Wes Ferguson’s piece at Texas Monthly, I took a tern for it immediately and I have no egrets. Much more than a delightfully nerdy history of falconry and an overview of the sport in Texas, Ferguson lets us shadow falconer Charlie Alvis as he hunts with Calypso, his three-year-old red-tailed hawk. Alvis, who has a clear and deep respect for Calypso and birds in general, took up falconry in part as a way to cope with the death of his young son. Forging a deep bond with the bird has given structure and purpose to Alvis’ life. A general warning, gentle reader: This story contains violence. Hawking is hunting, after all. “Every squirrel she kills is gradually fed back to her.” —KS

5. How a McDonald’s Knockoff Became the Immigrant Dream

Omar Mouallem | Vice | October 15, 2021 | 4,044 words

I’ve always been fascinated by restaurant chains. It’s less the food than the minutiae: iconography; decor; how far a branch or franchise owner can stray from the standards and practices of corporate decree. (For years, a McDonald’s in Brooklyn kept a neon sign in its window that said MICKI DEES. It’s gone now, but I still think about it all the time.) Omar Mouallem’s piece on Burger Baron, a chain only in the loosest sense of the word based in the Canadian province of Alberta, is a doozy. “To begin with, the logo—a colourful fat knight with double-Bs in his shield—often appears on signs as a crudely drawn copy of the original,” writes Mouallem, who made a documentary about the chain that aired on Canadian television this year. “The mascot sometimes looks emaciated or downright mutilated, if he appears on the sign at all. The restaurants themselves range from drive-thru burger shacks to sprawling steakhouses.” But even if you come for the spectacle, you’ll stay for the surprisingly touching story of how Burger Baron became a lighthouse for the Lebanese immigrant community in and around Edmonton. Does it mean I ever want to try the mushroom burger? Reader, it does not. But I can still love this story. —PR