Every home with children has stray Legos. Air Mail Pilot knows of at least one apartment in New York City where the kids are all grown and yet for years plastic bricks would continue to turn up under couch cushions and in living room crannies.
This is also true on a global scale. We know that because an English woman named Tracey Williams has devoted herself to documenting the curious phenomenon of Legos washing up on beaches in Europe and around the world.
Legos were invented in 1949 by a Danish toymaker. (Many people claim that the plural of “Lego” is “Lego,” like “a deer” and “some deer,” but Air Mail Pilot begs to differ.) The story of Williams’s obsession begins in 1997, when a cargo ship named the Tokio Express set sail for North America from the Netherlands. On board were all kinds of manufactured goods, including 4,756,940 pieces of Lego. Many of them—as fate would have it—were from nautical-themed sets: Lego octopi, Lego scuba gear, Lego pirate swords, and so on.
The Tokio Express was 20 miles off Cornwall, England, when, as Williams recently wrote in London’s Daily Mail, it “became engulfed in mountainous seas…. In what the ship’s captain later described as a ‘once in a 100-year phenomenon,’ a rogue wave tilted the vessel 60 degrees one way, then 40 degrees back, sending 62 shipping containers toppling into the ocean.”
In one of them: the nearly five million Legos.
“No one is sure what happened next—whether the Lego container burst open on impact or slowly released its cargo as it drifted to the seabed,” Williams writes. But helicopter pilots soon reported “a slick of Lego” on the ocean’s surface. Not long after, the little plastic toys began washing up on Cornwall’s beaches.
Seaside Lego hunting enjoyed a brief vogue in England, a nation where many people have also made a hobby out of watching trains pass by. Williams got the bug when she moved to Cornwall in 2010 “and on my first visit to the beach, found a bright yellow Lego life jacket. Thirteen years on it was still turning up. I was amazed.”
Williams began collecting and cataloging the pieces, helped by local fishermen who would pass along Legos caught in their nets to “the Lego Lady.” In 2013 she launched a Facebook page named Lego Lost at Sea so that other people could log their findings. She was inspired by the work of an American oceanographer named Curtis Ebbesmeyer, who studies the aftermaths of cargo spills like the Tokio Express’s; famously he tracked 7,200 yellow ducky bath toys lost in the Pacific in 1992.
Williams’s Facebook page “became a joyous affair, with people posting videos of the ‘happy dances’ they did when they discovered a bit of Lego.” But she also began getting a sense of the Legos’ far-ranging drift: pieces turned up not just on British shores but also in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. A Lego octopus found on a beach in Texas and Lego flippers washed ashore in Australia could be from the Tokio Express, but no one can say for sure. As we know, kids lose Legos all the time.
There’s a more sober purpose behind Williams’s Facebook page and a new book she’s written, titled Adrift: bringing attention to the problem of all the plastic junk humans have been dumping into the oceans, which every year kills hundreds of thousands of sea creatures and marine birds and threaten ecosystems. In the ocean, unlike your couch, Legos are the least of it. —Bruce Handy
Like most 13-year-olds, Chloe Coleman loves talking to friends on the phone and posting about social-justice issues on social media. Unlike most 13-year-olds, Chloe has Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson on speed dial.
Raised in California with a camera operator father (Stephen), and a three-time Emmy-winning producer mother (Allison), Chloe was destined for a career in Hollywood. “Growing up, my mom and my dad would show me amazing movies—like, really original movies,” Chloe tells AIR MAIL Pilot. While most kids watched cartoons, she watched Peter Bogdanovich’s films Paper Moon and What’s Up, Doc?, along with classics like Some Like it Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe.” I really loved the characters and how people got to play these roles,” Chloe says.
Chloe made her screen debut at just five years old, as a background dancer in an episode of the hit TV series Glee. Since then, she’s secured more than two dozen roles, including in shows like Big Little Lies, Transparent, and Adventure Time.
Tomorrow, she’ll be on the big screen again, this time starring alongside Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, and Sarah Silverman in Marry Me, a romantic comedy perfect for Valentine’s Day. In the film, Chloe plays the daughter of a high-school math teacher (Wilson). Their average lives become very glamorous when one day they cross paths with Kat Valdez, a pop star played by Lopez.
In movies, it’s common for actors to play characters far younger than they really are. For Marry Me, Chloe had the opposite transformation. Her character was supposed to be 14, but she was only 11 when the movie was filmed. “I had to pretend to have teen angst,” explains Chloe. “I had braces, I even had to wear this padded bra. It was so funny.”
Despite the age difference, Chloe found common ground with her character. “She has these obstacles of trying to be cool and trying to fit in,” says Chloe. “It can be really stressful to try and please everyone… that was really easy to tap into.”
Off-camera, Chloe is passionate about activism. “I like to involve myself in movements and things that can help make the world better,” she says, “like Black Lives Matter,” a cause dear to her heart as a young Black woman growing up in America. Plus, you’ll never catch her drinking from a plastic water bottle. —Bridget Arsenault
Ever have a hard time tracking down your dog? Well, does AIR MAIL Pilot have some tips for you.
In the face of rising numbers of dogs lost and stolen, Phil James, a former Nottingham, U.K., police officer who flies drones for fun, set about trying to help owners find their missing pups. He used his drone—which is equipped with thermal technology—to track down the missing animals, and ultimately located 49 pets.
Then James met Bradley Watson, a dog trainer and breeder. Watson, a fan of police shows, noticed that television police officers often found humans thanks to fingerprint technology. He realized there must be an equivalent for dogs.
It turns out that, much like human fingerprints, every dog’s snout is unique. “From the start of life to death, a dog’s biometrics on its nose doesn’t change,” Watson told The Times. Watson and James teamed up to make the world’s first snout-tracking technology: an app called Smart Snout.
Launched two months ago, the app asks dog owners to take a photo of their pup’s snout and enter basic information about the animal (like breed, color, and age). The picture is uploaded to a large database, where the small lines and lumps on a dog’s snout are stored.
“Once you’ve done that, if you just leave your status as “okay” on the app, anyone who walks past your dog and takes a photo—no details will be found,” Watson told the Daily Mail. But if the dog is marked as missing on the app, and a passerby snaps a picture of the lost pup and uploads it to the app, a message will appear saying “congratulations, you’ve found a dog.”
More than 2,000 dog lovers have already downloaded and subscribed to the app. James is even talking to Nottinghamshire police officers to try and get them to use the technology. As James puts it, the “app takes dog security in the U.K. onto a different level.”—Elena Clavarino