The Weekender, July 3, 2019

1) “Subway Got Too Big. Franchisees Paid a Price” (New York Times, 14 minutes, June 2019). The subhead: “Sabotaged meatballs. The wrong soap. Franchisees say supervisors manipulated inspections — then took their stores. A company ‘hit man’ says it’s true.”

Manoj Tripathi couldn’t shake the feeling that someone had a vendetta against his Subway sandwich shop. A franchisee for nearly two decades, he had done everything he could to keep his restaurant, in a strip mall in Northern California, in perfect condition. But lately it seemed like someone was out to get him.

It was the middle of 2017, and inspectors sent by Subway’s regional manager were finding a new problem to cite each month: a handprint on the glass door, the wrong brand of bathroom soap, cucumber slices that were too thick, he said. They seemed to be little things, but with each write-up, Mr. Tripathi’s grip on his store weakened. If he racked up enough infractions, Subway could terminate his contract and take control of the business.

When an inspector named Rebecca Husler arrived one day that September, Mr. Tripathi thought his restaurant was pristine. Then he noticed that a single light fixture needed a new bulb. Mr. Tripathi rushed out to buy a replacement, but by the time he returned, Ms. Husler had marked it as a violation. A year later, just as he feared, he lost the Subway.

Mr. Tripathi wasn’t paranoid. Ms. Husler really was out to get him. She had specific instructions from her boss, the regional Subway supervisor, to find fault with the store, she said in an interview.

2) “Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think” (The Atlantic, 27 minutes, June 2019). A bunch of people sent this to me; thanks to everyone who did. I had already seen it and ignored it because I really don’t like to think about it — but I guess there’s no avoiding it. 

3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

Monday: When Yellow Cars Became Protest Vehicles — Years ago, I went to buy a yellow car, but the car I ended up buying didn’t come in that color. That has very little to do with this story, but I wanted to share.

Tuesday: How Four Dollars Can Unlock American History — A Declaration of Independence story.

… and that’s it. Short week!

4) “How To Game Google To Make Negative Results Disappear” (Buzzfeed, 15 minutes, June 2019). The subhead: “Google-savvy reputation consultants will cover up arrests, poor customer reviews, and other image-killing content for the right price.”

5) “A Liar Standing Next to a Hole in the Ground” (Outside Magazine, February 2015, 18 minutes). This is the story of the people who look for lost cities of gold. 

I first showed symptoms of the fever two years ago, when a friend of mine told me that he had a map to a famous 19th-century gold mine outside Phoenix called the Lost Dutchman. I instantly latched onto the idea. But the harder I tried to pin down specifics, the quieter he became. He eventually ceased all communication, and as a last resort I drove to Tucson to find him.

I did manage to get him on the phone, but he said he was too busy to meet for coffee. At last I took the hint and decided to stop badgering him and instead track down a local prospector named Flint Carter, whose name kept popping up in my research about the lost mines of Arizona. Flint is an expert on local mining history and has spent the past 40 years scrambling up and down the Santa Catalina Mountains, working small-scale mining operations with a few pals, making jewelry out of semiprecious metals—including a local white quartz that Flint has dubbed Cody stone—and doing odd jobs.

When we met at a grocery-store deli on the north side of town, he looked the part, wearing a sweat-stained straw cowboy hat with a silver hatband, a western yoked shirt, and shiny black cowboy boots. I told him about my friend and the map.

“Let me tell you something, bud, everybody’s got a map,” he said, working a chicken wing between his molars.

For the rest of the day, as we drove around the area looking at historical sites, Flint smoked Nat Sherman cigarillos and regaled me with stories of Spanish bullion and Apache burial sites. Eventually, he invited me on a trip he was planning to the Lost City, a collection of ruins deep in Cañada del Oro. According to Flint’s version of the legend, the Jesuits enslaved Pima Indians to work a mine near the Lost City. When the Pimas revolted in 1751, the Jesuits supposedly sealed their gold mine with a one-inch-thick iron door. The Mine with the Iron Door and its walls of gold became the subject of booksfilms, and treasure hunters. After years of research and many visits to the area, Flint claimed that he now knew where the mine was located.

“I have to go back one last time before I die,” he said to me, his hand on my shoulder. “I need a few good men to go with me. Think about it.”

Later that night, back at my campsite, I considered Flint’s proposition. If I didn’t think there was some kernel of truth to what he’d said, it would have been easy to bow out. And throwing in with him sounded like more fun than walking away. But the old man appeared to be broke—I had to put $5 worth of gas in his car so he could show me an old mission outside town—and ready to keel over at any moment. With every swig of rye whiskey, the situation became clearer to me. Join his expedition? Like hell. It was my expedition now.

6) “The Three Hats” (Now I Know, two years ago). This is a logic puzzle — I shared it two years ago and am re-upping it now. The question is at that link; the solution is here.

Have a great (long!) weekend!