Author Archives

Aaron Gilbreath
Aaron Gilbreath has written essays and articles for Harper's, The New York Times, Kenyon Review, The Dublin Review, Brick, Paris Review, The Threepenny Review, and Saveur. He's the author of This Is: Essays on Jazz, the personal essay Everything We Don't Know, and the forthcoming book Through the San Joaquin Valley: The Heart of California. @AaronGilbreath

Can Coastal California Adapt to Climate Change?

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Climate change isn’t a future condition for many Californians. Right now, coastal residents sweep water from their garages. San Francisco tourists slosh through seawater at the Embarcadero. Condemned houses perch above crumbling cliffs in Pacifica, and a solitary sidewalk runs past the space where apartments once stood. So what will the most populous state in the U.S. do to protect the communities, train tracks, and roads that line its coast? For The Los Angeles Times, journalist Rosanna Xia goes deep into this enormous, developing crisis, mapping specific points from Del Mar to Pacifica to understand what’s at stake, and to listen to residents debate what to do. People talk about building bigger seawalls and building beaches with new sand, but each strategy has its limitations and undesirable consequences.

Then there’s what scientists and economists and number-crunching consultants call “managed retreat”: Move back, relocate, essentially cede the land to nature. These words alone have roiled the few cities bold enough to utter them. Mayors have been ousted, planning documents rewritten, campaigns waged over the very thought of turning prime real estate back into dunes and beaches.

Retreat is as un-American as it gets, neighborhood groups declared. To win, California must defend.

But at what cost? Should California become one long wall of concrete against the ocean? Will there still be sandy beaches or surf breaks to cherish in the future, oceanfront homes left to dream about? More than $150 billion in property could be at risk of flooding by 2100 — the economic damage far more devastating than the state’s worst earthquakes and wildfires. Salt marshes, home to shorebirds and endangered species, face extinction. In Southern California alone, two-thirds of beaches could vanish.

The state has both no time and too much time to act, spiraling into paralyzing battles over the why, who, when and how. It’s not too late for Californians to lead the way and plan ahead for sea level rise, experts say, if only there is the will to accept the bigger picture.

Returning after mudslides and wildfire. Rebuilding in flood zones. The human urge to outmatch nature is age-old. We scoff at the fabled frog that boiled to death in a pot of slowly warming water — but refuse to confront the reality of the sea as it pushes deeper into our cities.

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Bivalves of the Heart

During my first trip to Seattle, everyone told my parents and I to eat at Ivar’s. When we did, this beloved local seafood chain served us wild salmon cooked on a native cedar wood plank, and the the Pacific Northwest stole more of my Arizona heart. The Ivar’s water glass featured an Indigenous salmon design, so I shoved the glass in my hoody pocket and took it home to the desert I was now planning to escape for the PNW. The salmon, like the restaurant, was the most Pacific Northwest thing I could cling to besides memories. I drank from that glass during the six years it took me to finish college before moving to Oregon.

For Eater, Northwestern and journalist Tove Danovich explores her own intimate relationship with Ivar’s to tell the chain’s history and examine its enduring allure to locals and tourists. Founded in the 1930s, Ivar’s now has a total of 23 little seafood bars and sit-down restaurants around the state. Founder Ivar Haglund pulled all sorts of cheeky gimmicks to get publicity, from advertising clam broth as an aphrodisiac to describing the freeway above his “Ivar’s Acres of Clams” restaurant as “Acres of Parking.” As with so many beloved chains, the appeal is as much about flavor as it is the role the place played in our lives.

Hanging onto a relationship with [my step-father] has sometimes felt precarious, a loose knot that I don’t want to test by pulling too tightly. I’ve never visited both him and my mom in one trip, even when they both lived in Seattle. I knew I’d feel guilty for taking time away from one by visiting the other. And when they lived so close, going to Seattle without seeing both of them felt like a snub, too. So instead, I didn’t go at all — not to Seattle, and not back to Whidbey Island, either.

An assignment to report a story about Ivar’s seemed like an excuse to see them both. Sure, I could have woken up early, driven to Seattle, eaten my fill of fish and chowder, and been back to Portland before bedtime. But instead I made a week out of it. I asked my mom if I could visit her on Whidbey after I stopped for a meal at the Mukilteo Ivar’s. Then I asked my stepdad if I could stay with him in Seattle while I visited Ivar’s on the waterfront. Of course, he said, anytime.

When I arrived, he seemed glad to see me even though lately I’ve noticed there’s often been a month or more between our phone calls. Am I overstaying my welcome by not doing my reporting then heading out the door? I offer to meet him for lunch at Ivar’s but he doesn’t eat much meat or dairy anymore and he has to work. “I understand,” I say. I’m surprised by my disappointment. I join the gulls at the Ivar’s Pier 54 seafood bar, a party of one.

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Exploring The Paris Underneath Paris

Peter Kneffel/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

There’s so much to see in Paris that it’s easy to miss the over 200 miles of tunnels, rooms, and dead-ends that lay underneath. For 600 years, the city extracted stone from quarries beneath itself, creating a kind of subterranean mirror-image, or “invisible city,” that provided shelter during WWII, storage for the dead in the famous Catacombs, and that now attracts urban explorers. The New Yorker has an excerpt from Robert Macfarlane‘s book Underland: A Deep Time Journey that takes the author underground for a guided tour of a cramped, terrifying wonderland. His anonymous guides are part of a subculture who respect, explore, and document the catacombs, people Macfarlane calls cataphiles. Loose ceilings, standing water, suffocatingly narrow passage ─ urban exploration is not for the faint of heart. On their first night exploring underground, the group shimmies through a narrow foot-and-a-half-wide hole in a wall and finds a place to spend the night.

I pull through and find myself in a low-ceilinged room, five feet high at its highest, with chisel marks visible on the stone. The main chamber has a stone table thick with white candle wax. In its center stands a plastic bong, bubblegum pink and shaped like a foot-long penis. Oyster shells have been arranged around it. The floor is covered in small spill-heaps of gray powder: the spent waste from carbide lamps. Leading off the chamber is an open doorway to a neighboring room, off which another room leads. We explore the rooms: a dozen or so, roughly organized around a supporting central trunk of stone.

“People will probably come to use the party space later in the night,” Lina says. “If we want any sleep, we should get as far from it as we can.”

So we set up camp in a distant room. Its ceilings are low, three or four feet high at the most. We move about it on hands and knees. The air swirls with rock dust, which I can taste on my tongue and feel on my eyes. The upper city seems very distant. I crawl to the back of the room and find that it extends into a low cave-like space, a couple of feet high and wide enough for a body. I settle down for the night there, oddly comforted by the sense of enclosure. Sixty solid feet of stone extend above me. We talk for a while in the candlelight, struck into closeness by the oddity of our dormitory. Then silence falls as tiredness does, with stealth and force.

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The Unstable Business of Higher Education

AP Photo/Toby Talbot

When a college closes, its property gets sold off, employees get paid out, and, as Alia Wong writes at The Atlantic, “customers are told to move on.” But for many students and faculty, personal connections to their college makes losing their school different from losing other businesses. How do they deal with the loss? And how can small colleges avoid this fate? Through the story of 57-year old Newbury College in Massachusetts, which closed this May, Wong explores the threats facing many American liberal arts colleges.

Students I spoke with described a grieving process after hearing the news that went from shock to panic, curiosity to nostalgia, heartbreak to acceptance. Stefan, who’s from the Denver area and had finished her finals early last December, was on a cruise celebrating her 21st birthday when news of the closure broke, oblivious due to her lack of reception. Upon returning to shore, her phone lit up with texts from her friends and bosses. Stefan, who’d held a host of roles on campus during her three years at Newbury—an athlete on three sports teams, an RA, and a work-study employee in admissions, to name a few—started applying to other colleges as soon as she got home. She proceeded to spend her entire winter break obsessing—and often crying—over her next steps. “Every day I was like, Oh my Godwhat am I going to do?!” Stefan recalled. “Newbury was my home away from home.”

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No One Knows Why Gunshots Are Terrorizing the Malibu Mountains

AP Photo/John Antczak

In 2018, Tristan Beaudette was fatally shot while sleeping in a tent with his daughters in a scenic campground. Police and California state park officials had ample evidence that something nefarious was happening in this rugged part of southern California before Beaudette’s death, and they kept quiet. Rumors filled the vacuum, and theories circulated. Was Beaudette’s death premeditated, random, or was it connected to an armed survivalist who was blamed for the string of fatalities and bizarre shootings that plagued the area? At GQ, Zach Baron tells how this terrifying constellation of random unsolved violence has cast a shadow over the Agoura Hills/Calabasas area.

There is reason to suspect the area is still very dangerous. Local news outlets report that sheriff’s deputies have responded nine different times to claims of gunfire in the area. In September several Caltrans employees who are working on Calabasas Road, a few miles from the campground, discover the skeletal remains of what the coroner ultimately determines was a man; investigators can make out no further identification. One journalist in Malibu, Cece Woods, begins writing on her website The Local Malibu, accusing the LASD of orchestrating a cover-up related to the rash of shootings in the area in order to protect its reputation. “The city of Malibu never put out a public safety announcement, and I believe it’s because they don’t want to make the sheriffs look bad,” Woods tells the Hollywood Reporter. In the fall, in an unusually close runoff, the incumbent sheriff is defeated in an election that turns partially on the department’s handling of the case.

Meanwhile, there is someone, or multiple people, in the hills around Malibu Creek State Park, breaking into unoccupied buildings, stealing food and other supplies. In late July, the Agoura Hills/Calabasas Community Center is burglarized; in September, it’s a commercial building owned by the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District. In October, Spectrum Development, an engineering consultancy, reports a third break-in: Surveillance footage from the site shows a man stealing food while carrying a rifle and wearing what sheriff’s deputies call “tactical gear.” The next day, residents report an ominous massing of SWAT vehicles, patrol cars, and other tactical units near the Spectrum Development offices. The manhunt, which begins at rush hour, lasts through most of the day, but the suspect is not found. That night, residents report again hearing gunfire.

Two days later, the Water District building reports a second break-in on its property; two days after that, a maintenance worker is driving through a park about a mile south of the Malibu Creek State Park campground when he meets a man who asks him for a ride out of the canyon. The park worker, noting the man’s resemblance to the suspect in the prior burglaries, refuses; instead he drives off and calls the sheriff’s department, prompting the second massive manhunt in the area in one week. Three helicopters hover over the park for most of the day, before darkness falls and the manhunt is called off.

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How College Professors Are Fighting for Their Lives

Amy Roh/The Hastings Tribune via AP

A PhD might help land someone a teaching job, but it does not afford them a livable wage. Rather than a respectable salary, professors at many universities and private colleges earn a small hourly wage, often less than the legal minimum wage. They have no health insurance, have to float classroom to classroom, receiving their semester schedules right before the term starts, and teach at multiple schools, often racing between campuses, to cobble together an income. Others sleep in their classrooms or cars, unable to afford rent on their adjunct wage. For Splinter, Hamilton Nolan spends time at Miami Dade College, one of the largest colleges in the US, to see how their dedicated adjunct educators have unionized, and whether their efforts can earn them and adjuncts around the country any financial and emotional stability.

…The long term trend in higher education has been one of a shrinking number of full-time positions and an ever-growing number of adjunct positions. It is not hard to see why. University budgets are balanced on the backs of adjunct professors. In an adjunct, a school gets the same class taught for about half the salary of a full-time professor, and none of the benefits. The school also retains a god-like control over the schedules of adjuncts, who are literally laid off after every single semester, and then rehired as necessary for the following semester. In the decade since the financial crisis, state governments have slashed higher education funding, and Florida is no exception. That has had two primary consequences on campus: students have taken on ever-higher levels of debt to pay for school, and the college teaching profession has been gutted, as expensive full-time positions are steadily eliminated in favor of cheaper adjunct positions. Many longtime adjuncts talk of jealously waiting for years for a full-time professor to die or retire, only to see the full-time position eliminated when they finally do.

So what do adjuncts’ daily lives look like?

“I would work morning, noon, and night. That is my problem—to be able to make a living, that’s what I had to do,” says Renee Zelden, who adjuncts at both Broward and Miami Dade Colleges. “I teach more than full-time faculty.” Indeed. This summer, Zelden is “only” teaching five classes at two schools—fewer than her usual six to eight classes at three schools per semester. Most schools cap adjuncts at four classes per semester, hence the multiple institutions. The gas money Zelden spends to commute from her home to Miami can eat up more than the $50 she is paid for a single hour of class, so she must be sure to get multiple classes on the same day just to make teaching worth her time. Fifty dollars for an hour-long class sounds decent, until you break down the time it takes to prep for class, commute, teach, and then grade papers for 25 or more students. “If I figured it out, I’d be afraid I’m only making like five dollars an hour,” says Zelden, “so I don’t want to figure it out.”

She needn’t be so negative. Other Florida adjuncts who have figured it out told me that, factoring in all of the time they spend on teaching and related work, they make as much as seven dollars an hour—less than Florida’s minimum wage.

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Those Limits Were Not Hindrances: An Interview with Megan Pugh

Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

During his 40-year career, Leon Redbone was a musician for whom the past was never past and the persona was as important as the music. But what about his real name? And where did he come from? “That’s a memoir question,” he told one journalist. “I don’t answer memoir questions.” For the Oxford American, poet and prose writer Megan Pugh spoke to Redbone’s family and acquaintances to paint the most robust, reliable portrait we have of this compelling musical mystery. The story, “Vessel of Antiquity,” came out in the Spring 2019 issue with tragically fitting timing. Redbone died on May 30th, just a few months later.

While “Vessel” solves certain mysteries, it deepens the more important ones. While tryiing to understand what drew this expatriated Armenian to America’s musical past, the author captures the essence of the person — hilarious, kind, driven to live as his authentic self — and captures the sound and meaning of the music as only the best writers can. With incredible narrative skill and poetic sensibility, the story seeks the truth without taking the fun out of Redbone’s painstakingly constructed identity; more proof that poets often make the best prose writers. Pugh spoke with me about writing and Redbone via email.

***

How did this story start for you? Were you a fan of Redbone’s?

I wanted to understand why Leon Redbone’s live performances were so astonishingly good, and so moving. I saw him play in San Francisco in 2008 and 2011, and after both shows, I emailed a dear friend — a historian living across the country — about how urgently we needed to discuss the wondrous things Leon Redbone was doing with time: not just playing the old tunes, but also talking about long-dead musicians as though they were alive, whistling along to recordings, noting the presence of an onstage trashcan that seemed vaguely like the dustbin of history. (In hindsight, “discuss” probably meant “listen to me be very excited while I repeat all the details I can remember.”)

Years passed, Redbone retired, and no one had published the kind of serious, career retrospective he deserved, something that did justice to his art. When I reached out to Redbone’s publicist, Jim Della Croce, in 2017, he encouraged me to write one. Over a series of phone calls, Jim also told me wonderful stories about spending time with Leon. The piece began in fandom, with plenty of solitary research, but it moved along because so many people who knew Leon Redbone — friends, band members, family — were so generous with their memories.

Some of the best music stories start with that sort of passionate fandom, the urge to understand and honor someone wondrous. But part of Redbone’s legacy is the mystery he creates about himself. Did the people you talked to put limits on what they’d say about his origins?

Yes. Redbone was a very private person, and his friends were loyal— as friends should be. When I asked the blues singer Paul Geremia if Redbone had ever talked about his family’s history, for example, Geremia simply replied: “That’s personal.” Other folks, even if they’d known Redbone for years, understood that they weren’t supposed to ask about his life before he’d become Leon Redbone — or that if they got close to asking, he’d avoid the topic. Dan Levinson, who played clarinet with Redbone, remembered asking “something like ‘Are you fluent in any other languages,'” to which Redbone would reply, “‘Yes, all languages.'” Those limits never struck me as hindrances — they were information. And I was interested in other information, too: how Redbone worked, what it was like to be out on the road with him or in the recording studio, whether my developing sense of him seemed right to people who’d know.

I should be clear that by the time I became a Redbone fan, it was pretty easy to find his birthplace and given name (Nicosia, Cyprus, and Dickran Gobalian): George Gamester had written about them in the Toronto Star back in 1986. Those details led me to others. But as I learned more about the Gobalian family’s history — Redbone’s father survived the Armenian genocide, and “Leon” was the name of the last king of Armenia — I worried about what to include. Should I follow the example of the pianist Tom Roberts, who told me that when people tried to talk with him about Redbone’s origins, he’d just plug his ears and sing? So many people had been careful not to violate Redbone’s privacy, and I wanted to be careful too. I sought advice from friends — one a professional philosopher, another a longtime journalist. They told me that this information would not harm anyone; that I was going to share it in a respectful context; that it might generate interest, knowledge, and understanding; that I’d talked about this history with Redbone’s wife, Beryl Handler, and younger daughter, Ashley; that this is how profiles work. But I ran the details by the family one more time anyway, just to be sure.

It’s interesting that you sought a philosopher’s counsel, because a project like this presents the clear ethical issues you describe, but it also begs other questions about how sharing this personal information influences listeners. If his identity and performance were, as your story says, as important as his music, does knowing Redbone’s other identity change the experience of his music?

That’s a tough one, and I wouldn’t want to presume to answer it for other people. I’m still moved by Redbone’s work for the same reasons I’ve always loved him — his sly panache, that voice, the way he breaks the rules of time — but research and writing have deepened my experience and helped me understand it. Yet there’s so much about Redbone I don’t know, including how appropriate it is to think of his life before he was publicly Leon Redbone as an “other identity.” I like that uncertainty. I like that he kept audiences focused on his art.

His death, though, and the poor health that preceded it, have changed what I hear. On some level, his records were already raising the dead, but I wish this didn’t now include him. I never met him, but it felt oddly intimate to have so many long and sometimes heartfelt conversations with people who cared about him enough to try to help some woman they’d never met write an article. I suppose that process amplified the feelings of simultaneous closeness and distance that I love in his work — the past brought back, the past you’ll never quite get. But also, I’ve just been thinking about these people — who know him not just as an artist, but as a person whom they’ve lost — a lot.

You also mention how no one had published a serious career retrospective before. Was the limited number of secondary sources a challenge?

I don’t want to imply that there was a lack of writing about Redbone. There’s quite a bit, and I found it incredibly helpful to read many, many profiles, record reviews, and interviews from the 1970s on — especially since, by the time I began working on the piece, Redbone’s health was too poor to allow for an interview. What I read didn’t do what I wanted to do, but that was okay — it meant that there was room. And though no one else was writing about Redbone’s career at length when he retired, the folks at Riddle Films premiered a wonderful documentary short, Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone, last year, with stories about Redbone’s emergence on the Toronto scene and some beautiful, more recent footage.

Some of my favorite prose writers are poets, including Hanif Abdurraqib and Denis Johnson, and after seeing the way you articulate ideas and use language — I had to read this with a pencil to mark the margins of the pages — I wasn’t surprised to learn that you are, too. How do your poetry and prose inform each other? What challenges does writing in two forms present? 

That’s nice to hear, thank you! Both genres, for me, involve a kind of obsessive attention. Both come from a desire to find a language for something at times when that language might not be immediately evident. Whatever I’m writing, I tend to enjoy thinking about the ways that — to borrow from Kenneth Koch — one train may hide another, or one experience may haunt another. I tend to feel very attached to the sentence, as a form, and the kind of wonderful fragmentary play at which many poets I admire excel never comes easily to me. But I’m mostly okay with that. I like sentences.

All the Obstacles in a Mother’s Way

AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

In Issue 71 of The Dublin Review, Dominique Cleary shares the myriad ways coworkers, family, and strangers overstepped their bounds by giving her mothering “advice,” and ultimately the way in which she was forced to choose between her job and raising her children. Spanning the time before and after she gave birth, each section is titled with a different offender — boss; male colleague; husband; mother — so that the essay’s structure recreates the neverending, exhausting cycle of obstacles put in womens’ paths, and the ways society tries to undermine female autonomy. People tell Cleary how to dress, how to structure her days, how her career will tank and how breastfeeding will cause her breasts “to sag before their time.”

Getting from Monday to Friday was like swimming the length of an Olympic-sized pool without coming up for air. I hated having to wait to see my children at the end of the day when they were tired and cranky. I was missing their milestones. First words and first steps were reported to me by the staff in the crèche, along with more perfunctory accounts of what they had eaten, whether they had napped and for how long, and the number and consistency of their bowel movements.

Under the Parental Leave Act my husband and I were entitled to eighteen weeks unpaid leave each for each child under the age of eight: seventy-two weeks in total. My husband didn’t want to avail of his rights. Men weren’t taking parental leave – not back then, anyway. He would lose traction at work, as well as income.

The leave was designed to be taken in large chunks, but it could also be taken piecemeal with the agreement of the employer. I sounded my boss out and made a formal request to take every Wednesday afternoon off, unless a case of mine was listed in the Four Courts on that afternoon. I could afford to do it this way, and it would ensure that I’d be present at my desk every day of the week.

My boss reacted with a low-grade vibration of disapproval. He cited ‘business exigencies’ and ‘inconvenience’, but in the end he let me take a small part of my entitlement in that way. I suggested I could take the rest of my entitlement in short blocks during court recesses. Months went by without a reply and I found the uncertainty stressful. Meanwhile, an employment agent called me out of the blue and offered me a job interview with a competitor. He made it sound like I was being headhunted, but I suspected that attempts were being made internally to move me out of the way. The thought of starting from scratch somewhere new was exhausting, so I declined the opportunity.

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Murder in the Name of Drug Prevention

AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

Under Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, drug dealers routinely get assassinated on Manila’s busy streets. Dead bodies get dumped in the bay and on city sidewalks, with signs reading, “I’m a pusher” hanging from the deceased’s necks. Those who resist, including clergy, have been shot in broad daylight. For Virginia Quarterly Review, Adam Willis examines the president’s brutal war on drugs, and how this Catholic nation seems torn between support and outrage. Many Filipinos applaud Duterte’s efforts to curtail the drug trade, while many Catholics have actively started resisting them and his violent, dictatorial rhetoric, risking their own lives in the process.

In the Philippines, the church has emerged as the most prominent voice of dissent against a drug war that has claimed, by some estimates, more than twenty thousand lives. It is also under perpetual assault from a president intent on contesting the very essence of Philippine Catholicism. Having framed his 2015 campaign as a referendum on the legitimacy of the church, Duterte has forced religious leaders to choose between coveted political capital and their moral mandates. It is a familiar dilemma, exacerbated by deep historical fissures between conservative and liberal clerics, and it has heightened pressure on the church’s most prominent prelates. In particular, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the country’s most influential church authority, who splits his time between duties on behalf of the Vatican and leading packed services in the cathedral of Intramuros—the Catholic heart of the Philippine capital—has been criticized by activists and clerics alike for his deferential approach to dealing with Duterte. Such soft-pedaling, they argue, seems blind to the country’s suffering and risks degrading the moral integrity of the church. Meanwhile, Jun and a small crop of the church opposition have reoriented their lives around a mission to document the drug war while helping to seek accountability for those responsible.

In a country where vigilante executions have become commonplace, this work is perilous at best; Catholic leaders who speak out are often inundated with death threats, sometimes from Duterte himself. In the last year and a half, three Filipino priests have been killed under mysterious circumstances. One was ambushed in his car after negotiating the release of a political prisoner; another, while saying blessings on a group of children, was shot dead by a motorcyclist; a third was murdered at the altar in front of parishioners just before Mass. In 2017 and 2018, such violence against clergymen prompted more than two hundred priests and religious leaders to petition for licenses to carry firearms.

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Big Problems and Big Paychecks in West Texas Oil Country

ames Durbin/Midland Reporter-Telegram via AP

The Permian Basin in West Texas is named for rocks laid down during the Permian geologic period, which include rich gas and oil deposits. The region has experienced many oil booms. The current one is the biggest. For Texas Monthly, West Texas native Christian Wallace spends time among the pumpjacks, documenting the boom times and examining damaging side effects. Like so many locals, Wallace’s life has been intimately linked with the area’s fluctuating oil market, and you get the sense that he cares deeply about the people and place when he asks the hard questions.

Most West Texans are grateful for the recent uptick—making a good living in the dusty Permian has never been easy—but even so, locals are faced with a host of new concerns. For one, the cost of living has inflated so quickly that, for many residents, it has outpaced the gains. Those without jobs in the oil patch are especially hard-hit, and industries outside the oil field face severe staffing shortages: Dumpsters overflow without garbage truck drivers to empty them. Students are late to class because there aren’t enough bus drivers to pick them up. Law enforcement is stretched thin while crime rates—drug use, sex trafficking, theft—rise along with the influx of temporary laborers. Hospitals are short on physicians. Schools can’t keep enough teachers in their classrooms.

And there are other very real concerns: driving on the highways alongside gigantic tankers and equipment haulers can feel like a suicide mission. Even some of those who are fiercely pro-oil have grown worried about the strain on the region’s limited natural resources—especially water—and the environmental toll of the proliferation of sand mining, the flares burning methane and benzene, and all the trash that litters the region.

Though Texas and the U.S. will reap serious profits from the sweat poured into the Permian, what lasting benefit will the region have to show for all of this when the boom ends?

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