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Metro moments

The value of productivity-free conversations in a busy city

An Rong Xu/The New York Times/Redux

Metro moments
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A New York moment:

In Manhattan, seating at coffee shops is often hard to find, and I’ve grown accustomed to asking people at a table with a free seat if I can join them. On Monday I (and my new sidekick for the summer, World Journalism Institute graduate Esther Eaton) sat with an elderly man from the Bronx named George, who was sipping his coffee by himself.

Eaton and I were planning to go over notes for the day, but somehow we got into a conversation with George. He had stories to tell about growing up in the city, back in the days when his family would get morning and evening newspapers. He told us about the screenplay he has written, which is waiting for a producer (we swore not to divulge the premise of the movie). We talked for probably half an hour.

In a city that puts a premium on busyness and extreme productivity, having a conversation with this elderly gentleman, for no reason, somehow felt like the most purposeful part of my day. Now we know that we are both regulars at this coffee shop, so we can keep tabs on each other and our writings. Last year this was how I met my neighbor across the street, and we’ve exchanged theology books over the ensuing months—productive, wasted time.

Worth your time:

If you’ve seen recent documentaries like They Shall Not Grow Old, you’ve experienced the technological transformation of old, sped-up footage from the early days of film returning to the right, natural speed.

New York’s Museum of Modern Art now has a great 11-minute video showcasing “the IMAX of the 1890s,” film that is startlingly crisp and clear at the right speed (see at about eight minutes in, for one example). The technology came from the Biograph Co., which developed its large-format film in order to avoid violating Thomas Edison’s film patents.

This week I learned:

I was wondering who the woman was in the control room in a brief shot in the fantastic documentary Apollo 11. Of course the internet has the answer. JoAnn Morgan, a 28-year-old instrumentation controller, had a fascinating job at NASA blocking Russian interference in launches. Morgan was the only woman in the control room that day, and had some Hidden Figures–type stories of her own.

A court case you might not know about:

A Manhattan judge sentenced a former Oklahoma State basketball coach to three months in prison for taking bribes from players. Several other coaches from different schools pleaded guilty in related cases that revealed corruption in college basketball.

Culture I am consuming:

I’m rereading the Harry Potter series in preparation for seeing the Broadway play with a young friend in July. I read the books as a kid when they first came out, but don’t remember much because I would swallow them whole in about 24 hours, skipping sleep if necessary.

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at

Emily Belz

Emily is a former senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and also previously reported for the New York Daily News, The Indianapolis Star, and Philanthropy magazine. Emily resides in New York City.



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