Search Results for: Fortune

The Making of a Black Fortune

Portrait of a young, well-to-do African American woman, c. 1890. (Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

Shomari Wills | Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires | Amistad | January 2018 | 6 minutes (1,450 words)

At the turn of the century, Robert Reed Church was 60 years old. He now walked with a cane. His eyes were still fiery and bloodshot, and he remained fear­less and quick-tempered. A decade earlier, in 1889, he had begun to draw up plans for a park and arena for black citizens in Memphis. As their construction neared completion, he wondered how white Memphis would react to his project. His life had been filled with attacks by Confederates, racist police officers, and segregationists for daring to strive as a black person. Many winters earlier, he had been pelted with rocks by racists for having had the audacity as a black man to be the only man in Memphis with a sled. What would they do when he opened a $100,000 arena?

As a young man, he had dealt with white men with his fist and gun. Now, gray and wrinkled, Church decided to exert a skill he had acquired with age: diplomacy. In 1900, a group of ex-Confederate soldiers decided to throw a reunion for Confederate veterans in Memphis. As they struggled to raise $80,000 to build a temporary auditorium in which to hold the affair, they received an unexpected donation of $1,000 from Church, a former slave. “I never gave a cent in my life, so cheerfully or gladly as I gave that check to the veterans’ entertainment fund,” he said afterward. He had learned that goodwill could be bought when he had helped bail out Memphis from bankruptcy. He hoped that $1,000 would be enough to protect his arena from the same resistance as his pool hall, which a white mob had burned down when he was a young entrepreneur.

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How One Porn Mogul Made His Fortune and Ruined Everything

Despite riches, power, and respect, some people are never satisfied. A poor North Carolina kid named Michael Thevis turned paperback smut and peep show machines into a million-dollar empire, and he shaped America’s porn industry right as laws started to relax around the ownership and production of sexually explicit material. When Thevis crossed into arson, threats, and murder, he brought himself down for good. At The Daily Beast, crime journalist Jeff Maysh gets access to Thevis’ diaries and letters to tell the full story of “The Scarface of Sex” for the first time.

Rival peep machine manufacturers emerged, included those run by Leon and Mike Sokolic, Art Sanders, and Bill Walters. Before now, the most Thevis had ever done to intimidate a rival was let off a stink bomb at a store in Baltimore. Not all competitors rolled over so easily. Nat Bailen, who manufactured a peep show machine for cartoons, started to sell his units to sex-shop owners who used them for porn. In 1970, a customer named Harry Mooney in Michigan asked to lease 50 machines from Thevis—an order so large he couldn’t meet it in time. Instead, Mooney bought his machines outright from Nat Bailen. As he would do so often, Thevis turned to Underhill.

“Something,” Thevis told him, “has to be done with Bailen.”

On April 26, 1970, Underhill drove from Atlanta to Louisville in his yellow station wagon, where he met a paid accomplice, Clifford “Sam” Wilson. In the dead of night, they broke into Bailen’s factory, carrying burglary tools and five-gallon containers of gasoline. They built a bonfire using his furniture and paperwork. When Wilson found some paint cans, he told Underhill, “Let’s really screw this guy,” and poured paint over the desks and carpets. There were four-foot-tall flames licking at the windows by the time the goons fled. Reeking of gasoline, Underhill found a pay phone at the Kentucky Turnpike, and called Thevis at the Central Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.

“Veni vidi vici,” Underhill said—I came, I saw, I conquered.

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Larry Ellison Is Spending a Fortune to Save American Tennis

Longreads Pick

The Oracle billionaire takes over Indian Wells.

Published: Jun 4, 2015
Length: 10 minutes (2,660 words)

Who Poisoned The Orkin Fortune?

Longreads Pick

Atlanta’s Rollins family has long been known for two things: throwing great parties and spawning the Orkin pest control empire. Forbes investigates the $8 billion family feud that has brought their name back into the headlines.

Source: Forbes
Published: Oct 20, 2014
Length: 11 minutes (2,935 words)

The Inside Story Of How Greenpeace Built A Corporate Spanking Machine To Turn The Fortune 500 Into Climate Heroes

Longreads Pick

How a “bunch of commies” are forcing the world’s biggest corporations to stop destroying rain forests, overfishing, and burning fossil fuels.

Though they too wore business suits and what looked like P&G employee badges, they didn’t work for the consumer-goods giant. They were from Greenpeace, and they’d come to save tigers.

Wordlessly, the nine activists made their way past the security desk and headed for two rendezvous points — one, in a 12th-floor office suite in the iconic building’s north tower, the second, in an office just opposite, in the east tower. There, the two groups jimmied open several windows, attached rappelling gear to the window-washing stanchions, and climbed out into the chilly air.

Author: Aaron Gell
Published: Jun 4, 2014
Length: 30 minutes (7,570 words)

Billie Bob’s (Mis) Fortune

Longreads Pick

Less than two years after Billie Bob Harrell Jr. took the $31 million lottery jackpot, he took his own life.

He sat in his easy chair one evening and looked at his Quick Pick and then at the Sunday newspaper. Harrell studied the sequence of numbers again and began to realize the wildest of notions. He and wife Barbara Jean held the only winning ticket to a Lotto Texas jackpot of $31 million.

Harrell, a deeply religious man, knew he had a godsend from heaven. After being laid off from a couple of jobs in the past few years, Billie Bob had been reduced to stocking the electrical-supply shelves of a Home Depot in northeast Harris County. He was having a damn hard time providing for himself and Barbara Jean, much less for their three teenage children.

Source: Houston Press
Published: Feb 10, 2000
Length: 17 minutes (4,375 words)

The Island that Disappeared

A remote corner of the island of Providencia, Colombia. (Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images)

Tom Feiling | The Island that Disappeared | Melville House | March 2018 | 10 minutes (2,711 words)

“Tank’s empty,” said the attendant at the island’s only gas station, who I found dozing in a hammock strung up between the pumps. It wasn’t a problem, he assured me — any cargo ship leaving San Andres for Providence knew to bring gas. One would be arriving the following day — probably. I used the little fuel I had left to scooter back to Town for something to eat. I found nothing open bar a white-tiled, fluorescent-lit box opposite the mayor’s office, where I bought a hot dog bursting with salty, molten fat and topped with broken crisps. There were a few more options for the handful of Colombian tourists staying in the chalets at Freshwater Bay, but they weren’t cheap.

The following morning I headed to what looked to be the most popular of the three little supermarkets in Town for a look around. The wooden shelves were laden with tins of spaghetti and meatballs from Ohio, pork and beans from Medellin, tomatoes from Nebraska, and Spam from Brazil. In the vegetable aisle were some pitifully shriveled onions, garlic, and red peppers, which had been flown in from Costa Rica, and some Chilean apples. The only things that hadn’t been imported were the shelves, which had been coated in thick layers of gloss paint to keep the termites at bay. Read more…

The Friend That Got Away


Beverly Donofrio | Longreads | March 2018 | 11 minutes (2,860 words)


A year or two after we graduated, my best friend from college went through a breakup with a two-timing cad who nearly broke her. I knew from conversations that there had been epic fights and that she’d kept a journal through the worst of it. I was trying to be a writer in the middle of my own epicly bad relationship and asked if I might borrow her journal to read. I thought there might be some knowledge, some insights, and perhaps even some good lines I might ask to use in the novel I was planning but never actually getting down to writing. Katherine handed me her spiral notebook, one hand on top, the other on the bottom, like a Bible for swearing on, and asked me to promise I’d take good care of it. And I did promise.

And then I lost it. Katherine hid her disappointment well.
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The Best Food Is Somewhere Else

A handicapped Chihuahua dog is dressed up as a taco truck
A handicapped Chihuahua is dressed up as a taco truck that covers his harness. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)

My favorite food truck in Austin was closed last Sunday.

This particular truck is a neighborhood mainstay. (DM me if you are wildly curious about my taste in trucks. I’ll reply in the form of a koan, like a fortune cookie. May we all selfishly hoard the best things in life for as long as we can keep them secret.) It’s open every day; it’s been there for years. It is usually up and running, rain or shine, weather be damned. But last Sunday it was closed.

Look, it’s a truck. It was purposely designed to drive off into the sunset. But this one is supposed to be a food truck only in name. It was present and closed, crucially, as opposed to absent and lost to time. (Although the window was boarded up, and the grain of the wood was ominous.) It could disappear, but it doesn’t. It’s been stationary for at least five years.

Did someone die? Was someone sick? It might’ve just been a peculiar forecast situation, but I just don’t really know. And the not knowing hurt.

Apparently, I metabolize (get it?) disappearing restaurants differently than people who know insider things about roving food options. If the limited-edition dishes at a truck or a pop-up are insanely good, I figure the foldable version was always intended to serve as a low-overhead test kitchen. If there are regularly lines snaking around the block, I just assume the plan is to size up locally, secure a larger space, and graduate gracefully into sustainability and permanence. Good food is good! I like good things to stay.

But no! This is only a thing sometimes! It’s true that a number of temporary dining operations start out as low-risk test runs to prove or disprove long-term viability, but now a great many more are specifically designed to flame out. There are city-block queues of eaters out there who live for limited time offers, for trick candle food that’s here one day and gone the next. They’re tickled by the vanishing acts that fill my stomach with so much dread.

The entire point of pop-ups is to expire. That limit then feeds into a ticking time-bomb of popularity that is as temporary as a wet nap at a hipster barbecue. To get to the bottom of this evaporating attraction, GQ sent Ryan Bradley to eat his way across Los Angeles to help us all digest why pop-ups and ephemeral dining experiences have become the fastest-moving craze in food:

As attention spans shortened and experiences became the new status symbols, disappearing restaurants gained more cultural capital than their stodgily static alternatives.

This shift has created entire multimillion- and even billion-dollar real estate interests (malls, mostly) with spaces devoted to pop-up restaurants at New York’s South Street Seaport, Platform in Culver City, and Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, among others. A company based in San Francisco, called Cubert, manufactures purpose-built pop-up stalls. High turnover is now a virtue. Which means the latest food trend isn’t an ingredient or a cuisine; it’s a length of time. The most successful pop-up operations are those that can burn brightly, then quietly (and quickly) disappear to make room for something new.

Chefs have adapted to the churn. Time was, an accomplished chef would rarely up and leave a restaurant for something else. Now it happens all the time. Michelin-starred chef Dan Barber decamped from his idyllic Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the Hudson Valley for an international jaunt making luxury meals out of food waste. Chad Robertson, of San Francisco’s cultishly loved bakery Tartine, has done so many collaborations that his sourdough starter is everywhere from New York to Stockholm, as iconic as a gurgling blob of yeast can be. René Redzepi has taken Noma (and its dedicated fans) on the road from Copenhagen to Sydney, Tokyo, and Tulum. At Lalito in New York, Gerardo Gonzalez hosts regular pop-ups that often turn into dance parties you see on Instagram the next day and wish you’d been at. I recently ate ramen from Oakland’s Ramen Shop without having to leave Los Angeles, which was honestly very convenient. A few years ago, Google hired a whole crew of chefs to run a “world” café pop-up for the tenth anniversary of Google Translate. And last summer, Jessica Koslow, of L.A.’s now iconic breakfast-and-lunch spot Sqirl, started cooking out of the Food Lab, that space in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport built specifically for pop-up restaurants. And eaters, well, we lined up around the block, flew halfway around the world, and paid premium prices just for a chance to say we were there.

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