Three Perfect Days: Buenos Aires
Story by Justin Goldman | Photography by Graciela Cattarossi | Hemispheres May 2017
Starting October 28 (subject to government approval), travel nonstop between New York/Newark and Buenos Aires with our year-round daily service. Buenos Aires will be our 14th South American destination served nonstop from the United States.
Imagine a city that has the energy of New York, the architecture of Paris, the café culture of Rome, the beautiful people of Los Angeles, the steakhouses of Chicago, the theaters of London, the wines of Napa, the nightlife of Miami, and the friendly spirit of Sydney. That seemingly mythical place your mind has conjured? It's real, and it's called Buenos Aires.
Argentina's capital hasn't always had it so good. The Dirty War of the 1970s and '80s casts a long shadow here, and the economy is still reeling from a meltdown in 2001. Yet these trials have done little to dampen the spirit of the locals, or porteños, who are affable, passionate, open-minded, cultured, and endowed with a seemingly bottomless appetite for pleasure. They are also famous for their, shall we say, self-confidence, but visit BA and you'll likely come away thinking that this attitude is justified.
In which Justin eats a contender for World's Best Steak, learns about Argentina's gods and monsters, and drinks gin in a flowershop
My first morning in Buenos Aires starts in the most classically porteño of places: a café. The interior of La Biela, in the tony Recoleta neighborhood, is decorated with images of the racecar drivers who hung out here in the 1950s. I'm outside, in the shade of a 200-year-old rubber tree, watching a parade of high cheekbones and skinny jeans while munching on a toasted ham and cheese sandwich and tea with steamed milk.
Life is good at La Biela, but just across grassy Plaza Francia stands a monument to the hope that the afterlife might be even better. Passing under a columned gateway bearing the inscription “ Requiescant in pace," I enter the Cementerio de la Recoleta and its labyrinth of mausoleums—some with gothic spires, others with Italianate domes and stained glass—where centuries of Argentina's elite are interred. It's easy to get lost here, but all you need to do to orient yourself is look for the crowd, which inevitably gathers around the most famous tomb of all. Eavesdropping on a tour, I learn that Eva Perón, Argentina's revered former first lady, died of cancer in 1952 at the age of 33, and that her body spent the following decades in transit from here to Italy to Spain (to keep her out of the hands of both her fanatic followers and her husband's political rivals) before it was finally laid to rest in the Duarte family mausoleum in 1976. Evita's tomb is relatively modest, but the burst of flowers that adorns it reflects the country's continued devotion.
After a couple of hours of cemetery-wandering, I'm feeling a need for my own (temporary) resting place, so I stroll a few tree-lined blocks back through Recoleta, below the balconies of Parisian-style apartment buildings, to the Alvear Palace Hotel. The 85-year-old Belle Epoque–inspired lodging would fit in next to any of Europe's finest palace hotels, with its finely woven rugs, expanses of marble, and sharp-dressed staff. In my suite, I take a minute to ponder a painting of hunting dogs over the sofa before moving on to a more modern amenity: the TV on the wall above the bathtub, which I tune to the previous night's soccer highlights as I slide into the water.
Luciano Bullorsky, president, Tours by Locals
Refreshed, I head back out, skipping the hotel elevator for the corkscrewing marble staircase. I'm ready for lunch, and in Argentina that means I'm ready for beef. A short cab ride takes me to hip Palermo, home to Parrilla Don Julio, considered by many to be the city's finest steakhouse. The dining room is lit with wagon-wheel chandeliers and lined with wine bottles signed by the people who emptied them. Opposite the door, for all to see, stands the
parrilla, the restaurant's 10-foot-wide grill. I sit and watch the meat sizzle, steeling myself with a decanter of 2008 Mendoza Malbec. My waiter brings an appetizer of tender sweetbreads and a plate of heirloom tomatoes, followed by the star: the bife de chorizo, an imposing slab of sirloin steak. He lays down a bowl of chimichurri sauce, but the meat, cooked jugoso (medium-rare), is so rich and buttery that it would be a crime to put anything on it. When the dessert of plum ice cream arrives, I wave my napkin in surrender.
After lunch, I meet up with BA native Luciano Bullorsky, president of the international guided tour company Tours by Locals, and Fabian, one of his guides. I'm hoping to understand this city's history a bit better, so they've agreed to take me to the Parque de la Memoria, along the Amazon-wide Río de la Plata. We move slowly up the brick riverwalk, past a series of street signs that allude to the right-wing junta that ruled from 1976 to 1983, and the atrocities it committed during the Dirty War. Along with the people who were “disappeared" were those who were forced to flee. “In those years, like 200,000 people emigrated from the country, and many of them stayed [abroad]," Luciano says. “And most of the people who left had higher education."
“We like to say, 'God is everywhere, but his office is in Buenos Aires.'" —Luciano Bullorsky, president, Tours by Locals
As we walk, the wind picks up to a howl. We reach the end of the pathway and a wall bearing the names of desaparecidos. From here, we can see El Monumental, the stadium that hosted the 1978 World Cup Final. “The stadium and the ESMA, which was a clandestine prison, were just five blocks away from each other," Fabian says. “People were killed there at the same time we won the World Cup."
That was heavy, so on the drive back to the city center, my guides cheer me up with stories about Diego Maradona, perhaps the greatest soccer player who ever lived. “El Diego," as he's known here, was a kid from a Buenos Aires slum who won Argentina the 1986 World Cup almost singlehandedly—ask any Brit about the “Hand of God" or the “Goal of the Century"—and was also notorious for his hard-partying lifestyle. “We love him for this," Fabian says. The Pope may be an Argentine, but to the people here, Maradona is a god.
We stop-and-go along Avenida 9 de Julio—16 lanes wide yet still choked with traffic—pulling over just short of the iconic Obelisco de Buenos Aires. I say goodbye to the guys and hop out in front of the Teatro Colón, which was built in 1908 and remains one of the world's great opera houses. At the entrance I meet Eduardo Masllorens, an architect and historian who worked on a renovation of the theater that cost $100 million and saw it close from 2006 to 2010. He shows me around, starting in the auditorium, which, with a capacity of nearly 2,500, is the second-largest of its kind in the world and is one of the top five in acoustic quality.
Tango dancers at La Catedral
Eduardo, who is 70, cracks jokes constantly, telling me about people who ask if Mozart performed here and relating the city's historical pretensions (“Buenos Aires was the Dubai of the 19th century"). Recounting the end of the architect who designed the auditorium, he says, “He died in a very operatic way—he was shot in the face by the husband of a 'friend.'" He's also full of interesting facts: The
theater was financed by 35 wealthy families; the sound quality is best in the standing-room-only balcony, or “the hen house"; the seats are filled with horsehair, as they were in 1908. What I don't need him to tell me is how beautiful this place is. Standing on the stage, looking out at the gilded balconies and frescoed ceiling, makes me want to belt out an aria of my own.
I thank Eduardo for the tour and hop a cab to Colegiales, on the other side of Palermo, for a culinary show. The car drops me in front of a white colonial building that's home to the restaurant i Latina. Opened by three Colombian siblings in 2012, it serves a pan–Latin American tasting menu that incorporates ingredients and techniques that run the gamut from Mexico to Argentina. My seven-course meal includes Peruvian Nikkei ceviche, quail in Oaxacan mole, braised pork in a Colombian coffee and sugarcane reduction, and an Ecuadorian chocolate truffle, each paired with an Argentine wine. At the end of the meal, chef Santiago Macias, one of the founders, stops by to offer a sort of cooking class. “All the countries of Latin America have different types of corn and different techniques to use it," he says, pointing at an ear of corn tattooed on his arm. “So on our menu we have arepas, we have cornbread, we have tortillas. But also, Latin America is mestiza [mixed]. Here, the root is the fusion—our different roots."
Parque Tres de Febrero
Speaking of roots, my next stop is Florería Atlántico, a flowershop in upscale Retiro, near downtown. Inside the store, a crowd of young people laugh and chatter as if they've been enjoying more than the blossoms. I glance at a woman in the corner, and she swings a door open and motions me toward a staircase, which I descend to a basement that's crammed with stylish people sipping cocktails beneath a chipped ceiling. I head for an open spot at the bar, which has been ranked among the 50 best in the world, and order the house specialty: a gin infused with Argentina's signature herbal stimulant, yerba mate, and mixed with tonic and grapefruit. I don't normally drink any of those things, but one sip and I find myself knocking them back. I hope the yerba mate doesn't keep me up all night. Or, on second thought, I hope it does.
In which Justin meets Argentina's mothers, goes on a graffiti tour, and finds BA's most secretive speakeasy
Those mate-gins succeeded in keeping me up, and I could sure use some coffee to kick-start day two. I blearily make my way down to the Alvear Palace breakfast buffet. The array of fruits and cold cuts and breads is impressive, but I keep things simple with a couple of medialunas, BA's beloved croissants, and a cup of cafe cortado. C'mon, joe, do your magic.
It's a lovely morning so, despite feeling a bit crudo, I go for a stroll in this city's version of Central Park, Parque Tres de Febrero, named for the date in 1852 when Argentina overthrew one of its (many) dictators. I wander past a row of fountains that feel lifted from the Jardin de Tuileries and around a green lagoon dotted with pedal boats. As droves of runners and cyclists buzz past me, I begin to understand how the people here can eat and drink the way they do without needing to get their stomachs stapled.
At the edge of the park, a railway track runs atop a series of brick archways, each of them housing a shop or restaurant. By now I've burned off the medialunas, so I take a seat at one of these, the lovely open-air café Naná. As a train rattles overhead, a waiter brings me an Aperol spritz. Suddenly, I'm feeling splendid, and I enjoy an early lunch of fried potatoes with caramelized onion and ricotta, burratta with pancetta, and a paella-esque dish with shrimp, calamari, and ham.
Santiago Macias, chef, I Latina
From here I head to the nearby Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, commonly known as the MALBA. The museum, in a blocky modern building, celebrated its 15th anniversary last year with a reimagining of its permanent collection. The resulting show,
Verboamérica, explores the responses of regional artists to 20th-century sociopolitical shifts, featuring everything from Pop Arty posters about Peruvian agrarian reform to an Eduardo Gil photo of a Patagonian hovel to a José Clemente Orozco painting of Mexican soldiers at a lonely outpost.
The exhibition has made me want to learn about one of Argentina's—indeed, one of the world's—most famous protests, so I take a cab to Plaza de Mayo, the city's main square. It was here in 1977, in front of the Casa Rosada, the seat of the national government, that a group of women marched in defiance of the dictatorship, demanding to know what had become of their missing children and grandchildren. The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, as they became known, still demonstrate here once a week, and I see them now, a small group of elderly women in white head scarves slowly circling the central Pirámide, calling out the names of the disappeared, responding to each one, “ presente." It's a strange scene—tourists jump in front of the madres to snap photos, and there's a larger economic protest just off to the side—but there's still something inspiring about the perseverance of these brave women.
“It's difficult to define Buenos Aires on only one thing. You'll find people who are really open-minded and people who only want to eat at parrillas. In a way that's good, because you can find any kind of restaurant." —Santiago Macias, chef, I Latina
There's a more upbeat historical location just a few blocks away. Café Tortoni was founded in 1858, and it soon became a hangout for the city's intelligentsia (a table in the back is occupied by lifelike statues of the writers Jorge Luis Borges and Alfonsina Storni and the tango singer Carlos Gardel). Aside from its cultural significance, it's a gorgeous space, with stained-glass ceilings and Tiffany lamps. It also has a long line of tourists out front, but the staff takes a welcoming approach to the clamor: As my waiter serves me coffee, he snatches my phone off the table and snaps a photo of me. Who needs a selfie stick?
From here, I cab back across town to a residential complex in Colegiales, where I meet Myriam Selhi, a French-Canadian who has lived in Buenos Aires for 11 years and works as a street art tour guide for Graffitimundo. The walls behind the complex's busy playground are covered with giant murals. In one, two minotaurs do battle; in another, a gaucho rears his horse in the manner of Napoleon Crossing the Alps while spraying paint in the air; in a third, Evita shares space with miners, condors, and other Peronist symbols. As we walk past these murals and others, Myriam provides the historical context of graffiti in Argentina. During the prosperous 1990s, many Argentines could afford to travel to cities like New York and Barcelona, where they were exposed to street art. When harder times came, they began to use tagging as a form of protest.
“In December 2001, Argentina went bankrupt," Selhi says. “Everybody lost two-thirds of their life savings. In 2002, because of this crisis, 50 percent of the population of Argentina was living below the poverty line. Protests were everywhere, and people would tag—not punk kids or angry teenagers, but middle-class people. So graffiti in Argentina is a super-middle-class phenomenon."
We stop at the house of a street artist that is decorated with a doll-like mural in the colorful, cartoonish muñequismo style. As we admire it, a man in a cat mask peers down at us from a window. “Yeah, those guys do that," Myriam says, laughing. We continue through the local flea market, its walls covered in graffiti, including an ax-wielding blond woman that Myriam terms “Hello Kitty meets ax murderer." Our last stop is in Palermo, at Graffitimundo's space, Galería Union, which houses stencils and paintings by some of the artists whose murals we've just enjoyed.
I'm a bit arted-out and ready for a nap. Fortunately, Home Hotel, where I'll be spending tonight, is just a few blocks away. The 20-room boutique property is unassuming on the outside, tucked amid cafés, bars, and private homes in trendy Palermo Hollywood, but the interior is überhip (one of the owners is an English record producer). The lobby furniture is mod, there are bags designed by artist Nicola Costantino on sale, and the pool deck is lushly overgrown with flowers and ivy that climbs the rear of the building. My poolside suite has a '70s feel (flowery wallpaper and a pink shag rug), with futuristic touches like electric curtains. I hit the switch on the drapes and dive into bed.
The winding marble staircase at the Alvear Palace Hotel
It's dark when I wake. I walk back through Palermo Hollywood, across the railroad tracks and past an alley where a drum troupe is loudly rehearsing. In Palermo Soho, I cruise by Plaza Julio Cortázar, surrounded by discotheques, and eventually reach Nicky New York Sushi. I'm not sure if the name is inspired by the Manhattanized moniker of the neighborhood, but the restaurant goes all-in on the concept, with a fake NYC address (109 W. 78th Street) and walls lined with white subway tiles. The food, it turns out, is more Nicky (Nikkei?) than New York—top-notch salmon and tuna
tiraditos, ceviche, and nigiri.
The real trick comes at the meal's end (when your waiter asks if you want to see the wine cellar, say yes). A hostess in a black cocktail dress takes me back to a room of wine racks and pulls a mirror open to reveal a submarine-style steel door. She turns a wheel-lock and ushers me into a bar straight out of the 1920s. The walls of The Harrison Speakeasy (named after an apocryphal Prohibition-era New York bar owner) are lined with mirrors and black-and-white portraits, classic jazz plays on the stereo, and the cocktail list includes the creative Mr. Bukowski (Jim Beam, Stella Artois, coffee, Angostura bitters, and tobacco syrup, poured into a beer bottle that's then pumped full of chocolate smoke). On the bottle's label is a Bukowski quote: “We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us." I think Henry Chinaski would have liked it here.
In which Justin goes running in a nature preserve, catches a street-fair puppet show, and discovers tango
Between all the food I've eaten and all the time I've spent surrounded by athletically inclined porteños, I'm starting to feel ashamed of my physique. So I start today by slipping on my sneakers and hitting the trails in the Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur. At the eastern edge of the city, this environmental preserve separates the trendy, formerly industrial port neighborhood Puerto Madero from the Río de la Plata. I jog my way through low-lying marshland, expecting to find a peaceful reprieve from the bustle of the city, but the constant bird calls are so cacophonous I might as well be sweating it out amid the traffic on Avenida 9 de Julio.
My run comes to its conclusion at the front door of the Faena Hotel, a fortresslike red-brick former grain mill that impresario Alan Faena converted into Buenos Aires's most stylish digs. As I enter the long, red-carpeted front hall, a bellman in a white cape and top hat hands me a bottle of water. Now, that's what I call service!
Myriam Selhi, guide, Graffitimundo
After soaking my muscles in the claw-foot bathtub in my room, I head back down to El Mercado, the Faena's brunch spot, which takes its flea market theme to heart. Cabinets and walls are cluttered with tchotchkes, and the tableware is mismatched, as if each set has been cobbled together from market finds. The food is classic Argentine: I start with beef empanadas and carrot salad from the self-serve buffet, after which my punkily green-haired waitress brings me several courses of meat: chorizo and blood sausage, tenderloin, flank steak, and pork ribs, all cooked on the
parrilla in the blue-tiled open kitchen. Is there Malbec? Of course there's Malbec. This isn't a brunch so much as it as an attack on dietary decency.
Post-binge, I go for a constitutional along the Puerto Madero waterfront, past disused cranes and red-brick warehouses that are now home to high-end restaurants. At the bottom of the riverwalk, I cross a bridge into San Telmo, BA's oldest neighborhood, which was mostly abandoned after a 19th-century epidemic of yellow fever but has since been repopulated by the hipster set. On Sundays, cobblestoned Calle Defensa hosts the Feria de San Pedro Telmo, a street fair that stretches at least a dozen blocks past antique stores and beneath the balconies of old French- and Spanish-style apartment buildings. I pick through stalls that hawk leatherworks, mate gourds, and figurines of soccer players, then stop to watch a puppeteer put on a show.
“Buenos Aires is fantastic because it lets you take part in everything. If you want to take a juggling class at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday, you can find that class. Once you learn to surf the chaos, it offers you a lot of freedom." —Myriam Selhi, guide, Graffitimundo
At the end of the fair, I reach the Museo de Arte Moderno, better known as the MAMBA. A thunderstorm is brewing, so I duck inside the brick building and wander through an exhibit of drawings by Argentina's greatest artist, Antonio Berni. I love the politically minded Social Realist images, but my favorite part of the museum is its black metal staircase, which winds up from the lobby like a coiled snake.
From the museum, I cab it back to Puerto Madero and my dinner spot. Set in a sleek, modern space overlooking the river, Chila has made the 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America list four years running. Chef Soledad Nardelli recently left, but her former sous chef Pedro Bargero has taken over, and the tasting menu hasn't skipped a beat. I have grilled Patagonian shrimp in a yogurt bisque, humita (a traditional corn, pepper, and pumpkin puree) from the north of the country, perfectly grilled Antarctic black hake with pesto sauce, and a flank steak tamal, all paired, of course, with Argentine wines. As I polish off the final glass, chef Bargero stops by my table.
“Ten years ago, Argentine food was not the best, but the gastronomy here has changed a lot," he says. “We try to use different products from all over our country. We try to use all organic produce. We're talking a lot with farmers and chefs, working together to make a new Argentine cuisine."
The Puente de la Mujer footbridge in Puerto Madero
The food scene might be changing, but this city's most famous contribution to world culture endures. The tango dates to the late 19th century, when waves of immigrants, many from Italy, settled Argentina (especially the southern BA neighborhood of La Boca). These newcomers, mostly men without families, melded the rhythms of Spain, Cuba, and Africa into a dance to help them while away their lonely nights. The tango, in all its complexity and sensuality, has become a global symbol for this city, and the flashiest example of it can be seen at the Faena's Rojo Tango show. In a red-draped room, two singers front a five-piece band playing slinky fiddle and
bandoneón music as five pairs of dancers put on an elaborate, acrobatic display. They whirl across the stage, atop the bar, around the audience, the men in impeccable tuxedos, the women in slit dresses, their legs flying about in wild yet precise chop steps. The audience is small, only a couple dozen patrons, but when the lights come on, it roars with appreciation.
Rojo Tango is impressive, but I also want to see a milonga, the bars where regular porteños practice this art. So I grab a cab and head to the quiet residential neighborhood of Almagro. I get out at a borderline-dilapidated building and go upstairs to enter La Catedral. The warehouse space is dark. The rickety walls and vaulted ceiling are covered with art. Makeshift tables are scattered before a hardwood floor crowded with couples who sway to a trio of guitarists and a singer belting out ballads. It takes two to tango, and all I've got two of is left feet, so I order a pint of the national lager, Quilmes, and watch. The dancers slide gracefully around each other, like water over smooth rock. This scene, above all, captures the spirit of Buenos Aires: soulful people wrapped in a sexy dance, in a building that feels like it could collapse at any moment. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
Hemispheres deputy editor Justin Goldman loves a good steak—but after this trip he's going vegetarian for a while.
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To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month — recognized nationwide from September 15 to October 15 — we're highlighting the extraordinary impact of Hispanic Americans on our nation, starting close to home with our more than 13,000 Hispanic colleagues at United.
As part of our festivities, we're showcasing the stories of a few of our Hispanic employees, who were nominated by their colleagues as rock stars. In addition to their personal or professional achievements, these employees were selected because of the significant contributions they've made to United by going above and beyond to help our customers, their fellow colleagues, and the communities we serve, thrive. Whether donating their time volunteering for a worthy cause, leveraging their unique perspective to address a critical business challenge or helping foster an inclusive culture, they make United a better place to work. Let's get to know them better here.
Captain Gabriel (Gabe) Vaisman, based in Houston, has been part of the United family for over 34 years. As a native of Argentina who immigrated to the U.S. with his family at a young age, Gabe faced multiple challenges during his school years, including financial struggles and learning a new language. However, with discipline and determination, and even working two jobs in high school, he was able to obtain his commercial pilot's license and multi-engine rating at the age of 18. He quickly moved up the ladder and landed his first job at United in 1985, where he continued to move up and became a captain for our Boeing 737 fleet 22 years ago. When he is not busy flying customer to their destinations, you can find Gabe visiting children hospitals as part of his volunteering efforts with the Pilots For Kids organization in Houston. For the past 14 months, he has also served on the board of Lone Star College, acting as an advisor for their professional pilot degree program and inspiring a new generation of pilots.
Gabe pictured at a lecture at Lone Star College (LSC), with LSC students, and at one of our recent events for Girls in Aviation Day.
"All the volunteer work I do has helped change one life at a time, and I hope that my career story inspires anyone who feels hopeless with no way out of their current situation. The message I always try to leave with young people is that no matter what career you choose, you will have to sacrifice time and maybe give up a few good times with your friends to accomplish what you are pursuing."
Vania Montero Wit
The daughter of Bolivian immigrants, Vania earned her law degree from Harvard University and joined United's legal department 20 years ago. Throughout the years, Vania Montero Wit has advanced to become one of the key leaders of United's legal department as vice president and deputy general counsel. As one of the highest-ranking Latinas at United, Vania represents a crack in the glass ceiling for Hispanic women in corporate America. Despite the heavy demands of her job, Vania is very generous with her time, serving as executive sponsor for uIMPACT, a business resource group supporting women at United, and has given career advice to employees as a panelist for UNITE, United Airlines multi-cultural business resource group. She has made a positive impact in the community as Chair of the legal department's Pro Bono and Community Service Committee, where she even took on and won an asylum case. Vania's compassion for others and continued support of the company's diversity-and-inclusion initiatives make her a role model for both Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike.
Vania (center) speaking at a leadership event at United.
" As a working Latina woman, I strive to be a role model for any and all who are working in a corporate environment and struggling to find their voice or simply looking to make connections and expand their network. My long tenure at United has afforded me a range of experiences and teaching moments all of which I am happy to share with others."
Katherine Gil Mejia
Katherine Gil Mejia is a human resources representative for United Ground Services in at New York/Newark. A native of the Dominican Republic who moved to the U.S. only 8 years ago, she joined United shortly after at the young age of 19. With her work ethic and drive, she quickly became a go-to-person for many departments offering assistance or guidance when needed. Katherine never hesitates to step in and translate for customers or colleagues that are struggling with a language barrier, and she does so while providing amazing customer service. Katherine's knowledge of United — as well as her caring and friendly personality — have earned her the trust and respect of her colleagues. Katherine also has a passion for helping others, giving back, and making a difference in the community. She always offers to volunteer during United Airlines Fantasy Flights, and when she can, she also takes the time to bring Ben Flying bears to kids at hospitals.
Katherine in Newark.
"I know the language barrier for some employees can play a role in potential miscommunication. I often put myself in their shoes and try to relate. My upbringing in Dominican Republic taught me to work and trust my neighbors, community and family. It was natural to bring that trust mentality into work with my colleagues and employees. I believe that is what makes me successful in HR."
Antonio (Tony) Valentin has been working as a ramp service employee at Chicago O'Hare for three years. He's earned the respect of his colleagues by going above and beyond and always stepping in to help both colleagues and customers alike. It's not rare to find him around the terminal translating for Spanish-speaking customers and helping them find their ways to their gates. Tony's caring personality shines beyond the airport in all the volunteering work he does in the local community, especially in the Chicago Humboldt Park area, and in the work he has done as lieutenant commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, including his deployment to Puerto Rico where he assisted with relief effort after Hurricane Maria.
Antonio at Chicago O'Hare.
"I've always had a passion for helping people and I truly believe that being a good person is equal to being successful. As a prior educator, I am always encouraging members of RSE (ramp service employees) to return to school and to live their lives as lifelong learners."
Sylvia Gomez is the daughter of Mexican immigrant parents that moved to the U.S. in 1960. At the age of 5, her family moved back to Mexico so they could build strong connections with their heritage and culture. They eventually returned to the U.S. in pursuit of a better education, as her father believed that education was the key to success. The move back to the U.S. was not easy, but it gave Sylvia the opportunity to understand two different cultures, which has been instrumental in her career. She recently celebrated 30 years at United, where she currently serves as managing director of IT Infrastructure Program Management. Sylvia has been making a mark in the company with her efforts to pass forward her experience and knowledge, and she spends a great amount of her time mentoring United employees. She is currently mentoring five young women, and she also makes sure to stay in touch with previous mentees to make sure they are still on a path toward success. She is also an active participant on the planning committee for a Women in Technology group and volunteers with Junior Achievement USA, mostly working with inner-city high school students.
Sylvia (center) pictured with Digital Products managing director, Francisco Trejo and Security Technology managing director, Diego Souza at the HITEC San Jose Summit.
"Always look for people that have been there and learn from them. And, always look to see who you can help. Never underestimate the power of having people around you. Have the confidence to take risks and celebrate your successes."
Carlos Palacio, a lead customer service representative in Houston, has been part of the United family for 20 years. When speaking to Carlos, you can clearly see how passionate he is about his job and about United, and embracing his Cuban heritage has been instrumental in delivering excellent customer service at the airport. He even takes extra time with Hispanic customers that cannot speak English, making sure they have all their travel documents and that they have all they need for their journeys. On his spare time, the new father often travels to Latin American countries like Colombia and Cuba to visit children's hospitals and to donate schools supplies for children in need. Seeing the smiles of the little kids he helps keeps Carlos motivated and pushes him to continue his efforts to help others.
Carlos pictured in the cockpit of a United aircraft (left) as well as donating school supplies to children (right).
"I want young people to know that this is a great country … to go to school and make a career and pay attention to mom and dad who want the best for them, and one more thing, never forget we are all human. My culture is very fundamental in my job. I help people every day who need help in Spanish. Speaking Spanish at work helps many of our customers."
Roberto Hernandez was born and raised in Puerto Rico. His passion for travel and customer service ultimately led him to the airline industry four years ago, when he joined United as a flight attendant. Roberto worked as a purser for a while, displaying excellent leadership skills and customer service. He now works as a base supervisor at New York/Newark and is also the local chapter director for EQUAL, a business resource group at United. In his role at EQUAL, Roberto has been focused on fostering diversity and inclusion at United, especially for the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, he recently played a great role organizing this year's company celebration of Pride in New York and was there front and center representing our company in Pride Live's Stonewall Day on World Pride. Roberto really values his heritage and culture, and is very proud of where he comes from, which is why he did not hesitate to help with the relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
Roberto, posing in the engine of one of United's aircraft.
"I bring my true, authentic self to work each day, ready to assist in whatever way I can. When I say 'true, authentic self' I mean the person I was raised to be. A kind, caring and patient individual who is ready to assist in any way I can. I think the most important piece is to respect each other and to learn from one another. Be proud of who you are, no matter where you're from. We're all different, but if we all integrate together we can make things happen. That's what I love about United. We're doing that."
In their own distinct way, these rock stars exemplify the many ways our company is enriched by our differences and unique journeys. When we create an environment where people feel valued, this influences how we treat one another and our customers across the globe. In the words of our chief executive officer, Oscar Muñoz: "This month is also an opportunity for us to think about our efforts to build bridges between cultures and communicate authentically to all the communities we serve," he said. "By becoming more culturally aware, we can be more effective ambassadors for United's values around the world and embody them in the way we serve our customers and one another."
We hope you're as inspired by this group of dedicated, passionate and talented rock stars as we are.
Yirlany Moya, a United aircraft move team employee in Los Angeles, is nothing if not an eternal optimist. Which is part of the reason why, for the longest time, she wasn't too concerned about the lump that had formed in her right breast. It couldn't be serious, she reasoned. After all, she was young and healthy.
One afternoon, while talking with her neighbor Cari, Moya joked about the "little ball," as she called it. Cari shot her a serious look and urged her friend to get it checked out. Moya's sister, Joscelyn, did the same after hearing about the lump, but, for weeks, Moya stubbornly refused.
"I kept telling them, 'It's not cancer, stop being negative.'"
Finally, the pestering got to her and Moya called her mom, Esther, who is a retired nurse, for advice. Over the phone, Esther told her daughter not to worry, but talked her into coming to Costa Rica, where she was living, so that they could see a doctor together just in case.
There, a physician examined Moya. When he finished, he asked her to get dressed and meet him in his office. With a grave expression on his face, he said there was a fairly significant chance the mass was cancerous. Her mother broke down in tears, but Moya took the news in stride, not yet ready to consider the worst-case possibilities. It wasn't until she was back in Los Angeles a few days later, after a mammogram and ultrasound confirmed that she had stage-3 cancer, that reality set in.
In March of 2017, Moya underwent a double mastectomy, followed by a difficult three months of chemotherapy. By that fall, she was cancer free, but she wasn't physically able to return to work until October 2018. When she did finally get back to the airport, it was a welcome return to normalcy and a long-awaited reunion with her colleagues, many of whom are like family to Moya after 23 years with the airline.
They welcomed her back with open arms and she, in turn, talked openly about her cancer with them, hoping that it might help someone else. There's nothing wrong with assuming the positive, Moya says, but she tells other women to get checked out immediately if they notice a lump or anything else out of the ordinary. She also reminds them of the importance of yearly mammograms. And recently, when her supervisor was diagnosed with a form of cancer, she guided him through his treatments with encouragement and advice.
Sometimes, she's certain that she went through her ordeal so that she could be a beacon for others in that way. If that's the case, she feels it was worth it. Cancer gave her an ironclad resolve to spread goodness and hope. Her tattoos say it all: Inked across her chest, where her breasts once were, is an anatomically correct heart wrapped in bright pink swirls, with the words "Life doesn't allow you to be weak." On her right calf is a cancer awareness ribbon, with splotches of pink exploding out of it, symbolic of Moya's unbridled joy, which stems from her feeling of unending gratitude.
Moya's Tattoo across her chest: "Life doesn't allow you to be weak."
"I'm in a good place in my life," Moya says today, two years removed from her last round of chemotherapy. "I have a great job, and I'm blessed with a great family and great support system. I wake up every day and give thanks to God. I think there was a bigger purpose for what I went through. Ask me what it is, and I can take a guess, but I haven't figured it out yet. One day, though, I know the dots will connect."
Ask someone to name their favorite thing about fall and you'll likely get a different answer depending on where they live. For many people, the mosaic of vibrantly colored leaves and foliage is what defines the months of September through mid-December. Others find the scent of autumnal spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric is what makes the fall so special. And for some, it's the cooler temperatures that make being outside even more enjoyable. Plus, fall is full of fun activities no matter where you are — from pumpkin patches and apple picking to watching football and enjoying a bowl of chili. All of these things, and more, make the fall so magical. To help you celebrate the season, here are seven fall-themed activities to try this year.
Go apple picking
Apple picking combines outdoor fun with delicious and healthy snacks that can be used in a variety of ways, making it the perfect fall activity for adults and children of all ages. Though you'll find countless orchards around the country worth visiting this season, New England is widely considered a prime apple picking destination with over 120 varieties found in the region. It can be argued that the variety they are best known for is the McIntosh apple. This type of apple and many more can be found at Honey Pot Hill Orchards in the lovely town of Stow, Massachusetts, so be sure to stop in and take home a bushel that you pluck from the trees yourself. Picking times are from 9 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. daily, making it easy to schedule a trip.
Meanwhile in California, apple season runs until the end of November, giving you plenty of time to pick a few baskets of Red Delicious or Gala apples before winter. Riley's at Los Rios Rancho in the city of Yucaipa is one of the largest farms of its kind in Southern California and has been welcoming apple pickers to their 10,000-tree farm for more than 100 years.
Visit a pumpkin patch
If there was a fall mascot, it would be a pumpkin, so to celebrate the true essence of the season, it's hard to beat a trip to a colorful pumpkin patch. A pumpkin patch is more than just a place to find the perfect candidate for this year's prize-winning jack-o'-lantern, it's a wonderful way to create cherished new memories with your children or friends. The Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence, New York, is perfect for pumpkin picking, but also offers weekend activities throughout the fall, including scarecrow making lessons, cider brewing demonstrations, pumpkin pie eating contests, and live music and barbecues.
If you're traveling through the Midwest this season, hop aboard a vintage farm wagon at Polly's Pumpkin Patch in Chilton, Wisconsin, and make your way out into their scenic fields where you can pick as many pumpkins as you want. Other activities at Polly's include a livestock petting zoo, a 40-foot slide and a popular corn cannon that lets older kids launch corn cobs at targets for cash prizes.
Enjoy a harvest festival
An annual tradition in America that dates back to 1613, harvest festivals are outdoor celebrations that coincide with the growing and reaping seasons we all enjoy. Filled with food, fun, music and dance, you haven't truly experienced the wonder of the fall season until you've participated in a local harvest fest. The good news is that there are plenty to choose from around the country this year. Two of the most popular are the Autumn at the Arboretum festival in Dallas, Texas, which runs until October 31, and the incredible North Carolina Pecan Harvest Festival in Whiteville, North Carolina, which ends on November 3. Both of these festivals have been drawing huge crowds for years.
For a harvest fest that's slightly spookier, head to Wisconsin where you'll find the classic Jack O' Lantern Days celebration in the cozy town of Fish Creek, and the Halloween-themed Zombie Days festival on the coast of Chequamegon Bay. Ghoulish activities include an undead musical show, a zombie pub crawl and a traditional harvest festival pumpkin parade. The scary fun lasts from October 26 through October 27.
Hit the trails
Hiking is more than just great exercise; it's an excellent way to bring the whole family together during the fall. And since the leaves are changing colors, it's also a great way to snap some incredible nature photos. So lace up your hiking boots, grab your kids and your camera, and find a trail that's right for you. If you're looking for suggestions, Sterling Point Trail in Vermont and Rome Point Trail in Rhode Island are impossible to beat when it comes to picturesque fall hiking.
On the opposite side of the country, the trails at Dry Creek Falls in Portland, Oregon, were voted one of the most photogenic hiking spots on the west coast by BuzzFeed, and it's easy to see why once you've been there. Covering a distance of just over 4 miles, this beautiful trail is perfect for all skill levels, making it a solid choice for families with kids.
Roll in the hay
Hayrides and corn mazes are traditional fall activities that have never gone out of style, and for very good reason. There's just something wonderfully nostalgic about introducing a new generation of children to the simple pleasures of wandering through an overgrown corn maze, and with so many participating farms scattered across the country, there's a plethora of options to choose from. The Johnny Appleseed corn maze at Shady Brook Farm in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and the popular horse-drawn hayride at Papa's Pumpkin Patch in Bismarck, North Dakota, are two of the best.
In honor of Halloween, the massive haunted hayride at Fear Farm in Phoenix, Arizona, brings an assortment of ghosts, goblins and ghouls to life from early October until the first week in November. Filled with sinister special effects, creepy costumes and macabre makeup, this Hollywood-worthy hayride is recommended for adults and children over the age of 12. With five terrifying corn mazes to choose from, Fear Farm certainly lives up to its name!
Up, up and away
Hot air ballooning during the fall is a dazzling way to experience the season in all its natural splendor. After all, how else can you get a spectacular birds-eye view of the colorful trees as their leaves change from green to golden orange? Balloons Over Letchworth, located near New York's Letchworth State Park, offers astonishing views of the surrounding area, including majestic waterfalls and stunning forests. Best of all, they offer a variety of family tour packages, so you'll find just what you're looking for, regardless of the size of your group.
If you're visiting Southern California's wine region this fall, reserve a balloon ride with the fine folks at California Dreamin'. Their friendly FAA commercial licensed pilots will take you and your family on an unforgettable balloon voyage high above the vineyards of Temecula wine country.
Pitch a tent
Though typically associated with summer, in many ways the fall is truly the best time of year to go camping. Thanks to the cooler weather, there are few — if any — insects to bother you and your family. Plus, there are less people claiming all the best spots, so you should have no problem picking a prime location to pitch your tent. And when it comes to toasting marshmallow for s'mores over an open campfire, everyone agrees that they simply taste better when eaten on a brisk autumn night.
For the ultimate fall camping trip, book a spot at Earth First Farms in southwest Michigan and set up your tent in an actual organic apple orchard. The 49-acre farm provides campers with complimentary firewood and plenty of fresh produce to pick.