Archive for: April 2017

Meet One of the Only Feminist Bookstores in the U.S.

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BookWoman owner Susan Post looks through her cell phone behind the check out desk of the feminist bookstore. In 1975 Book Woman opened its doors in Dobie Mall, and 40 years later is one of just 13 feminist bookstores in the world.

 

By Sarah Jasmine Montgomery, Vedant Peris, Kris Seavers and Sunny Sone

 See the full story here.

The day after the presidential election, the first customer to walk into BookWoman recounted an emotional morning to owner Susan Post.

“She said, ‘We got up this morning and my daughter had been watching the election and she saw my expression and she said, ‘Mom, what happened?’ and she said, ‘We lost,’” Post said.

The woman got her daughter to school and then headed straight for the comforts of the quaint bookstore, which sits under a purple banner on North Lamar Boulevard.

“The first thing she wanted to do was come here because she knew she’d feel better,” Post said. “She ended up picking up a book for her daughter. She said, ‘I’m going bring her a book about a strong women. We didn’t lose. We’re just more aware now of what we are up against.’”

 

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BookWoman is not limited to solely feminist texts – the store sells materials related to the LGBTQ rights movement and, above, t-shirts supporting a local author.

 

 

BookWoman is one of only 13 bookstores left in the United States that self-identifies as a feminist bookstore. It’s also one of 18 independent bookstores in the greater Austin area, where, like the rest of the country, there is an all time high number of bookstores. It seems that people are now interested more than ever in buying books locally, even with the successes of national chain retailers and declining numbers of book sales.

BookWoman in particular has situated itself from the beginning as a political and activist space, and Post said the community’s need for her books is just as important now as it was when the store opened in the 1970s. In the months since the presidential election, Post said she has seen an increase in her sales and an interest in activism — not only in rallies and protests, but within the space of her store.

“People are still continuing to gather and to work and to protest,” Post said. “Instead of just signing a petition, people are showing up and expressing how they feel about the political climate.”

One recent BookWoman event featured two black women poets, Sequoia Maner and Sheree Renée Thomas, as part of an ongoing series in partnership with Torch Literary Arts, a nonprofit with the mission to “support the work of black women and girls through creative writing.” More than 15 people crowded between the shelves to hear the open mic and feature poets, who touched on subjects including #BlackLivesMatter, sexual assault and LGBT issues.

Ray, a woman who attended the poetry event and preferred not to share her last name, said BookWoman serves an important need for a space that people can find representations of their beliefs — as well as opposing views.

“I think that’s really important, especially now with so many people not being sure how to become politicized,” Ray said.

A book published last year by Kristen Hogan, the education coordinator at the University of Texas at Austin’s Gender and Sexuality Center, features BookWoman and other surviving feminist bookstores to explore how the stores have historically countered racism and created networks of diverse feminists. The book, titled “The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism & Feminist Accountability,” explores the radical history of feminist bookstores, and how modern journalists seem to gloss over these histories.

“Feminist bookstores have been not simply spaces to gather but sites of complex conversations among staff and collectives and, in turn, with readers about feminist accountability,” Hogan writes in the book.

 

BookWoman itself began as a passion project of the Common Woman Collective, a group of Austin women who dedicated themselves to ordering books and finding a place to host a storefront. Post helped DeeDee Spontak, a carpenter, and other members of the collective fix up three donated rooms at the corner of 21st and Guadalupe streets. In 1975, the store opened its doors with a red and yellow hand sewn sign that said “Common Woman Bookstore.”

Post said business boomed from the early to mid ‘70s, when customers flocked to the store to buy books they literally couldn’t find elsewhere.

“There weren’t a lot of books published by women, or publishers were turning down more radical things because there might be nudity or their might be lesbianism or there might be activism,” Post said.

 

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Liquid Gold

Liquid Gold

By Michaella Marshall, Bella Tommey, Sydney Rubin & Alessandra Rey

By Sydney Rubin

By Bella Tommey
By Bella Tommey

The Sweet Life

By Alessandra Rey

AUSTIN, Texas — In the fifth grade, Josh Parker joined his classmates on a field trip that changed his life forever.

At just 11 years old, Parker learned how to tap trees for sap and produce a completely natural maple syrup; an interest that turned into a passion and eventually a career.

“It was something I was really excited about,” Parker said. “Where I come from, hockey is really important. But after late winter there isn’t anything to do. Producing maple filled that gap for me. It was just an amazing process.”

This passion led the young entrepreneur to fill out a 47-page application for ABC’s “Shark Tank,” a television series where aspiring business owners pitch their million-dollar ideas to a panel of highly successful investors and CEOs.

“Every young entrepreneur in the country dreams of going on Shark Tank,” Parker said. “It’s kind of the epitome of what the American dream is at this level.”

After Parker’s appearance on “Shark Tank,” his company grew and he gained the interest and support of American businessman and investor Mark Cuban.

 Since its start, Parker’s Real Maple has continuously doubled in size each year, prompting him and his wife to move from New York to Austin to increase sales in a quickly expanding market.

“I grew up in a town with 2,000 people, two hours from an airport, and an hour from the nearest Starbucks,” Parker said. “The climate and the people here are amazing.”

Since moving to Austin, Parker has his eyes set pitching his products to Whole Foods.

Austin is also home of Parker’s wife, Alessandra. After taking a year off from her studies at the University of Texas, she began working for a presidential campaign in Washington D.C., where she met a talkative boy in the lobby of her hotel.

“He didn’t tell me about his business,” Alessandra said. “It’s a funny story. I actually found out through social media that he has a business and I thought to myself, ‘But he’s so young.’”

Alessandra is now the director of marketing for Parker’s Real Maple and is also expecting their first born.

“We’re in a very happy place,” Alessandra said. “It’s all very exciting. We’re honing down on what the mission of the company really is.”

Parker is excited to watch his company grow in the upcoming years and to develop it into a brand that is beneficial to other young entrepreneurs and society as a whole.

“It’s so much more than putting maple syrup in a barrel,” Parker said. “It’s about creating a product that is better for you and making a greater impact in the world around us.”

For those looking to turn their great idea into a small business, Parker said the most important thing to keep in mind is self-discipline.

“Being self employed means that you can sleep in,” Parker said. “You have to really enforce yourself to have a list of non-negotiables that you don’t change, like waking up as early as possible.”

Parker’s Real Maple is just one example of what creativity and ambition can do to any business idea.

“You’re never greater than the opportunity that you have at that moment,” Parker said with a toothy smile as sweet as the company’s products.

 

Witches Are Among Us

Story by Selah Maya Zighelboim
Photos by Elise Cardenas and Yelitza Mandujano
Video by Elise Cardenas
Audio by Julie Gomez

“You can’t throw a rune without hitting a witch in Austin”

Kristi Lewis’s first forays into witchcraft began with dead animals. When she found pieces of bone or other animal remains on hikes, she would wrap the animal in wire the to preserve it and honor its characteristics.

“I was just drawn to the idea of rebirth in a way, that death isn’t the final end-all,” Lewis said.

In November, she started selling jewelry inspired by her pagan beliefs full-time through Etsy and pop-up shops. One day when she was vending her jewelry at Independence Brewery, a woman saw her and pulled her children away, warning them to stay away from witches. Another woman and witch herself, Jessica Beauvoir, approached Lewis and invited her to join Austin Witches Circle, a creative collective for “witches, pagans & magical folk.”


“[Austin Witches Circle] is an opportunity for local witchy folks who make things to try and make a living selling or supplement their livelihood doing something they love,” Beauvoir said. “It also helps bring people together. We are always interacting with each other and being inspired by each other.”

Three to five times a month, Austin Witches Circle puts on markets where witches and non-witches can sell goods such as potions, amulets and jewelry. They also host occasional workshops and spiritual events like Sabbats, festivals that mark dates of seasonal or agricultural importance.

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Austin Witches Circle allows dark-art vendors to sell their crafts without judgement or skepticism they would receive at other art markets around town. When Beauvoir began selling teas and herbs around Austin, she faced some difficulties finding the right place to sell them. She founded Austin Witches Circle to bring together people with similar interests in witchcraft and art.

Though there is no requirement to be a witch to vend at Austin Witches Circle’s markets, Beauvoir says the vendors’ crafts share underlying themes, such as alternative spirituality and reverence for nature. According to Beauvoir, no specific belief or practice makes a person a witch.

“I think what makes a witch is when they identify with that word and figure out what it means to them,” she said. “I wouldn’t say there is any one characteristic that all witches share.”

Beauvoir uses herbalism to practice her witchcraft.  She identifies a secular chaos witch, meaning she uses her belief itself as a tool. Beauvoir says believing in something is what gives it power, so her beliefs can adapt depending on her needs. If she wanted to cast a spell that required belief in a particular deity, she would believe in that deity for the duration of that spell.

According to Cedar Stevens, another member of Austin Witches Circle, Austin has a large witch and pagan community, and though most witches are women, though there are some men as well. Many witches are quite discreet. 

“You can’t throw a rune without hitting a witch in Austin,” Stevens said.

Stevens, a former atheist and scientist, now identifies as a witch and as “Wicca-ish.” She followed a trail of books from native plant landscaping and gardening, to agriculture, to herbal medicine and eventually to magical herbalism. Stevens was skeptical about magical herbalism at first, but found it to be her calling and soon started selling oils and incenses based on plant magic through her store, Natural Magick Shop.

Witchcraft is a practice, not necessarily a belief. Witches create from materials provided by the earth. They can choose to believe in pagan spirits or gods, something else or nothing at all.

According to Chris Godwin, acting clergy at a pagan congregation, Hearthstone Grove, witchcraft is the practice of pagan beliefs.

Godwin’s congregation practices Druidism, the second largest pagan religion in the United States after Wicca. Godwin’s Druid congregation focuses on traditional Irish gods and practices. They recite prayers in Gaelic, and rituals feature fires where congregants place offerings such as alcohol. Their community practices a kind of witchcraft that focuses on herbalism. Godwin says he’s skeptical of the efficacy of witchcraft, so he doesn’t practice it often.

“[Witchcraft] is kind of like prayer,” Godwin said. “It’s for when you have no agency left, and you must find some form of agency, some way to express and get out of the psychological state of being in need or being frustrated.”

Lockhart Area Music Association welcomes Austin transplants who revitalize the city’s economy

Story by Bryan Rolli

Photos By Tess Cagle

Video Filmed and Edited by Kailey Thompson

Graphics by Tess Cagle

The sultry 12-bar blues shuffle wafts from the back of the wine bar out onto the humble main street. Inside, a ragtag bunch of guitarists enter and exit the stage at their whim, trading chunky riffs and slithery solos as the rest of the band provides a sturdy backbeat. Patrons sip wine and dance in the middle of the dusky room, roaring with excitement as the group whips up a fine frenzy on an otherwise sleepy Sunday afternoon.

One could mistake the scene for Austin, Texas’ Sixth Street, home to many of the city’s venerated dive bars and live music venues. Yet the band is playing a weekly blues jam at Desiderata Estates, a humble bar located on Main Street in Lockhart, 35 miles south of the Live Music Capital of the World. It’s one of seven venues that constitute the Lockhart Area Music Association, which seeks to revitalize the city and provide a sanctuary for musicians who can no longer afford to live in Austin.

Read and view the rest here.

Safety Training Bill Could Prevent Texas Construction Worker Deaths

Story and Photos by: Itzel Garcia

 (link) Construction Safety Audio: Katie Keenan and James Grachos

Captions by: Jane Morgan Scott

Safety

In March 1st, Workers Defense marched for the safety and prevention of construction workers’ lives, in their annual “Day of the Fallen.”

House Bill 863, by state Rep. Ana Hernandez (D-Houston), attempts to provide safety training for construction workers in Texas that could potentially prevent workers’ deaths and in-work accidents.

“This is something that provides an industry standard, is going to re-do sick days, is going to create fewer missed hours due to worker’s injury,” Matthew Hall, a staffer for Rep. Hernandez, said. “In the long run, it makes good economic sense, good business sense… Both for the state and frankly, private contractors.”

State Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) filed Senate bill 467, a similar bill to HB 863, but it has not moved since it was referred to the Business and Commerce committee. Two other similar bills, House Bill 423 by Rep. Hernandez and Senate Bill 1389 by state Sen. Gallegos (D-Houston), were also filed in 2011 and 2013. However, none of the bills were passed. Senate Bill 1348 was left pending in State Affairs, and House Bill 423 did not advance to a hearing.

The bill comes after Texas continues a steady climb in worker’s deaths and injuries in the workplace, according to data from the United States Department of Labor. From 2003 to 2014, Texas took the top spot for workers’ injuries and deaths.

Though, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, a federal act, was created to administer safety training, Texas does not require sub-contractors to provide safety training, according to Hall.

In 2015, according to a news release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, several construction occupations recorded their highest fatality total in years, including construction workers (highest since 2008); carpenters (2009); electricians (2009); and plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters (2003).

“There’s no state law that requires contractors to provide minimum state safety training, and that can be pretty problematic,” Hall said. “When you have just one federal agency requiring safety standards, that’s just one federal agency, their man power may be very limited.”

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Protesters held signs with the names of workers who have died while on the job.

House Bill 863 would make state contractors responsible for their subcontractor’s safety training records.

“We train our workers. The training requirements is not the problem; it’s the paperwork requirements,” Jon Fisher, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas, said. “Sometimes the general contractor doesn’t even know all the sub-contractors on the site because they’re a subcontractor for another subcontractor.”

Non-profit organizations fighting for workers’ rights and unions disagree.

“We look out for every worker, whether they’re in a union or not, and we think everyone should be protected,” Joe Cooper, of Plumbers and Pipefitters, said.

At the Capitol, protesters of all ages, from all backgrounds, stood in solidarity for construction worker safety.

House Bill 863 was left pending in the committee of Business and Industry, and so far, has not advanced since the bill’s public hearing.

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The march began at the J.J. Pickle Federal Building on 8th Street, and the protesters marched down Congress Ave. to the Capitol.

The Tea Shop

By: Mackenzie Palmer, Peyton Yager, Kathryn Miles, Taylor Gantt

After battling cancer, Monstsho Jarreu Thoth knew he needed to find what was truly important in his life. He quickly turned away from the bar scene and visited a local teahouse called Tea Spot at the Spider House Café. Little did he know that day he would make a complete lifestyle change.

“I was fed up with the normal goings on of people in our age range, and especially in Austin with alcoholic centered people, this is often taking place in predatory and self destructive environments,” tea pourer Monstsho Jarreauthoth said.

The owner of Tea Spot So-Han Fan merged his business skills with co-owner Christopher Caballero’s tea inventory and started their own teahouse, Wei Long Dong. They quickly hired Monstsho Jarreauthoth.

“Tea has the quality of clarifying one’s sobriety,” Thoth said.

Wei Long Dong is Austin’s newest authentic Chinese community teahouse. Wei Long Dong translates into “lofty dragon cave” in Mandarin to emphasize the Chinese culture.

In the search for a new path, Thoth explains he could never repay the teahouse enough for saving him from his other life.

 

 

“In part it was a means of healing myself,” Thoth said.  “It also let me come to find myself more after the ordeal.”

Thoth firmly believes that their tea space can merge communities together through their many activities such as tea pouring, listening parties, parties, dance classes, and even yoga.

“Wei Long Dong is ideally going to be a place of safety and refuge for people on the outskirts and people who are marginalized by society,” Thoth said.

Thoth explained his job is to not just educate customers on their teas but to also teach them how to interact with other people in a sober and clarified mindset.

“I think people come here to experience feeling safe as themselves and to learn from other people’s understand of the world,” Jarreauthoth said.

 

 

Wei Long Dong is home to over 130 teas all straight from mainland China, the birthplace of teas. These teas come directly from Chinese farmers where the recipe passed down from generation to generation.

“Our teahouse has the heirloom of tea plants,” Thoth said. “They are higher caliber leaves than you might find in a grocery store or even other tea shops in Austin.”

Wei Long Dong provides authentic tea and a welcoming atmosphere, but also customers can gain health benefits from regularly drinking the tea.

Tea is most notable in preventing cancer and triggering the neurotransmitter dopamine, which induces happiness, motivation, sexual potency, and sleep.

Co-owner Christopher Caballero owes his success of the Wei Long Dong to the Austin community’s immense support. The teahouse is willing to accommodate any of their tea drinkers and welcome all newcomers.

“We like to provide to everybody that would be interested in participating in our teahouse and the success of our business is ridden on that,” Caballero said.

The teahouse’s hours are everyday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and offer three tastings everyday.

Written by: Peyton Yager

http://weilongdong.weebly.com/

No business for show business in Texas

Audio by: Karla Benitez and Ceci Gonzales
Story by: Grant Gordon
Visuals by: Ashika Sethi

 

Audio Story

Three separate bills introduced to the Texas State Government earlier this year are threatening the already reeling Texas film industry.

These bills each propose the abolishment of the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, a series of tax incentives that underwrite up to 20 percent of production costs of films, television shows and video games made in Texas. This comes after the incentive program was already cut by about two thirds in 2015, from $95 million to $32 million. 

 

  Paul Stekler is a documentary filmmaker who sits on the Advisory Board of the Austin Film Society. He said filmmakers in Texas are already choosing to move to states with more generous incentive programs, such as Georgia, California and Louisiana. “If they want to kill the movie industry in Texas, eliminate the incentives,” Stekler said. “Simple as that.” Stekler blames the budget cuts on a lack of interest in the film industry from Texas legislators. He said that these legislators associate the film industry with Hollywood liberalism, but he sees it a different way. He said that every dollar of film incentives creates several more for the state through tax revenue from employment opportunities that the industry generates. “When I look at the incentive program, I think job creation,” Stekler said. Kyle Cavazos is one potential employee of the film industry who left to find work elsewhere. Although he graduated from the University of Texas in 2016, Cavazos works in Los Angeles as a freelance camera assistant and production assistant, working on commercials, short films and more. “The opportunities in Texas are much smaller than what you can find out here,” Cavazos said. He said that strong incentive programs have a huge impact on production locations, even if you can’t tell as a production employee.  “You don’t necessarily see firsthand what’s happening because it mostly results in films and movies and media just not being made,” Cavazos said. “It kind of just disappears.” Cavazos said that a lot of filmmakers are moving to Atlanta because of strong film incentives. In 2008, the state of Georgia enacted a program that offers up to a 30 percent tax credit to certain productions, and the industry has grown accordingly. In 2015, production companies spent $1.7 billion on almost 250 projects, more than six times the amount spent when the incentive program was enacted in 2008, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  

 

Unlike Atlanta’s budding film industry, Austin has gone in the other direction with less film incentives.

“If Austin isn’t doing anything to entice people to shoot there and make it cheaper for them, then people will just not shoot there,” Cavazos said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Stekler echoed this sentiment.

“There are winners and losers in terms of incentive programs in different states,” Stekler said, “and if somebody can make a movie in a different state for much less money than Texas, they’re going to go someplace else.”

While Austin has grown significantly in population in the past three years, its film industry that has already seen a sharp decline will fall even further if the incentive program is abolished.

“There are so many states and countries with incentive programs that if you don’t have an incentive program, you’re making the entire industry a loser,” Stekler said.

 

The Perfect Blend of Coffee and Conversation

The Perfect Blend of Coffee and Conversation

By Noelle Darilek

A tall, black magnetic poetry post, Edison light bulbs dangling from the ceiling over a long wooden table, mismatched, plush chairs and sofas, a black and white mural of various celebrities, and a gallery wall featuring a selfie section, are just a few things you will find at The Factory, an Austin coffee shop, instead of WiFi or laptops.

While most Austin coffee shops are filled to the brim any day of the week with students and adults sitting behind laptops and phone screens, studying, working, or browsing through various social media channels, The Factory aims to set itself apart from the others.

Wallace Kusumo, co-owner of The Factory, sits in a bar chair under the Edison light bulbs wearing a blue and black checkered button up and rectangular black-rimmed glasses.

“We wanted to create a place to hang out from the beginning, really creating a place where you can forget about work or about your studies for a bit while you’re here,” Kusumo said. “I think The Factory is about hanging out and connecting with people, talking, socializing.”

Two months after opening in October, Kusumo and his wife and co-owner, Wendy Wu, decided to take it a step further. The couple added the rule of no laptops in December, becoming the first and only laptop-free coffee shop in Texas.

“The more people get into it, especially first timers, they kind of like it. It’s a really calming, tranquil and peaceful space,” said Kusumo.

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Graphic by Courtney Runn

 

Studies show that in today’s technology influenced world, people tend to suffer from what is called “communication overload.” One study done by Dr. Keri Stephens, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, along with her team of graduates and undergraduates, noted the different elements of communication overload.

Communication overload consists of aspects such as the piling up of messages, being overwhelmed with information, having a lot of distractions, and feeling responsible to respond to someone. Stephens describes the term as having to do with the pressure people put on you, or that you think they put on you, to communicate with them and be available.

Stephens quoted one student from the study that said, “If I didn’t have technology, when I went home I could sit in peace instead of always being available.”

The study also noted that 76 percent of technology increased communication overload. Stephens said that when she meets with people the face-to-face conversation is most important. She doesn’t carry her phone with her or take calls.

Co-owner Wu said, “We see so many coffee shops these days dominated by computers and laptops when you just want to hang out with your group of friends or relax. When you look around you barely have anywhere to sit at a coffee shop.”

Looking to create a fun, social, and creative environment, The Factory was named after Andy Warhol’s New York City studio, “The Factory.” The café features plush chairs and couches positioned towards each other to encourage conversation instead of looking at screens.

“I think they definitely tried to make it an inviting environment instead of just setting it up as a place you can go sit and study,” said Isabel Mayne, a sophomore nursing major at the University of Texas and a regular at The Factory. “They want to make you feel comfortable and have fun.”

Mayne visits The Factory once a week on average. She leads a YoungLife group and says that The Factory is a great place to meet with girls one-on-one to get coffee and talk without any distractions.

Stephens notes the influence of cell phones on physical space, saying that if it’s there and you know that it’s there, you’ll look at it when you get a call or text message and it will ultimately impact your communication with that person.

Mayne talks about how social media and cell phones can play a large role in impacting her daily life. “I think that it’s really easily accessible, so it’s the first thing I turn to when I have five free minutes or when I get bored,” she said. “It’s easy to do something mindless and I think that’s what most people use it for too.”

When designing the coffee shop, Wu wanted to pick décor that people can talk and share ideas about, while also inspiring others with the space. A few pieces include a hidden bookcase door leading to the restrooms, two plush swings that hang from the ceiling, and several colorful art pieces featured on the walls.

“We don’t really want to label ourselves as a coffee shop, but as a hangout place where people have something to drink to enjoy themselves and at the same time have great food,” Wu said.

Half of Americans used at least one social media site in 2011 according to a Pew Research Center Report. Today, that number has risen to nearly 70 percent. The report also found that while young adults continue using social media sites at high volumes, in recent years, social media usage by older adults has also increased.

“I hate feeling the need to check my social networks and email on a regular basis,” said a student from Stephens communication overload research study. “With a constant stream of information, I feel unpleasant pressure to constantly check my networks for fear that I’ll miss something if I ignore the information.”

Due to problems like these, Wu notes that when The Factory first decided to implement the no laptop rule, there was resistance from some. “We want our customers to know the reason behind it. Most do understand and we have customers that come up and thank us that they have a place to hang out,” Wu said.

Stephens believes that today people look for excuses to disconnect from technology. If something, such as driving or being in class, provides an excuse to not be available, it might be a draw for people. She also says, “It’s not necessarily an age dependent thing. I see people at all ages that want an excuse to disconnect.”

While some Austin coffee shops may offer no WiFi after certain hours, The Factory began with absolutely no WiFi during all open hours.

“We are not necessarily creating a new concept of coffee shops,” Wu said. “We’re more bringing it back to the way it was before the Internet and when a coffee shop somehow became a study place versus a fun, chatting, social place.”

Video by Meredith Knight and Armando Maese