You wouldn’t have known from the long line of people waiting to check in that the Showboat Atlantic City Hotel and Casino would be closing in just one week. My partner Rob and I arrived at the Mardi Gras-themed casino a few minutes after 4:00, when check-in began, and already guests had formed a long line along the gaming floor. Many were traveling both light and heavy: They had backpacks and pillows from home and bags with bottles of liquor, even though a sign in the self-park garage said guests were not allowed to bring their own alcohol into the hotel. 

Jesse Smith is a writer based in Philadelphia.

The pigeons scuttle into a corner when Conrad Mullins enters his backyard loft. He lunges for a bird and they fling themselves up, battering around. His arm snaps out and he grabs one right out of the air. He quickly secures its feet between his fingers and cups its tail with his palm, and then presses it against his stomach to prevent it from flailing and hurting itself. He turns it over in his hands. “Beautiful, beautiful,” he murmurs. “I’ve got a good feeling about this guy.”


Two days from now, nearly 500 pigeons like this will race across the Nevada desert, back to the lofts like this, to which they have been trained to home.

The bird in Conrad’s hand seems resigned if not calm. “Here, hold it,” Conrad says. I take the bird’s feet, then its… More…

When I first visited Paris many years ago, I’d assumed the old racquet sport of Jeu de Paume was a mere historical footnote, as extinct from the city as the monarchical elite who once played it. Like most tourists in Paris, I’d come to associate “Jeu de Paume” with contemporary art (from the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, near the Louvre) or the French Revolution (which was stoked by the 1789 Serment du Jeu de Paume at Versailles), but it never occurred to me that actual Frenchmen might still be playing the Ur-tennis game that peaked in popularity 400 years ago.

Hence my fascination when, on a warm day in Paris earlier this year, I discovered a thriving Jeu de Paume club along a quiet street in the 16th arrondissement. Watching French businessmen bashing the felt-and-cork ball across the elegantly sagged net with asymmetrical wooden racquets, I felt as… More…