The Only Female Pro Skywriter in America

Asbury-Oliver, several decades ago while working as Pepsi’s skywriter. Look closely for the “Suzanne” painted on the plane’s side. Image: airandspace.si.edu

The first time Suzanne Asbury-Oliver flew a plane, she was 14 years old. That was the easy stuff, in a sailplane, back when she could actually see in front of her.

As a skywriter for Pepsi, Asbury-Oliver spent 25 years crafting messages with smoke in the sky, frequently taking her dog along for the ride in the front seat. She flew an antique biplane, which completely obscures one’s line of vision. That means she’s writing the mirror image of words at 10,000 feet above Earth, effectively with her eyes closed. “It’s seat-of-the-pants-type flying,” she says.

Now, without a corporate sponsor, she and her husband own their own plane and skywriting business called Olivers Flying Circus. They received plenty of requests in the leadup and aftermath of Nov. 8 — yes, just like the ones you’re imagining — but Asbury-Oliver refused, on a no-negativity principle.

Since letters only last in the sky about 10 minutes, the beginning of a word will sometimes disappear by the time that word is finished, but Asbury-Oliver doesn’t worry about that. “It’s like a ticker tape; you know what it says even if the first letters are gone,” she says. Or, more fittingly, like an original Snapchat — except, of course, that anyone within a 20-mile radius can see it if they simply look up.

The most crucial lesson Asbury-Oliver has learned from a career in skywriting is survival. “Never fly straight over a swamp,” she advises sagely. “If you have an engine failure and end up going down, nobody will find you, except the alligators.”

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The Voice of the Scripps National Spelling Bee

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“Spelling is kind of a gateway skill, like arithmetic,” Bailly says. “It’s nowhere near the destination.”

During the Scripps National Spelling Bee, your eyes are probably glued to a single microphone: the one on stage, which students grip each year as though their lives depended on it.

But behind another mic, just a few feet away, sits a man who’s been at every Scripps bee since 1991: the official pronouncer, Jacques Bailly, who won the bee himself in 1980. But his job is much more than reading a list of words. He’s something of an icon among the students. “A lot of spellers want my autograph, which is the best fan club you can imagine,” he says.

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The Bubble Queen

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“I will never get tired of bubbles,” Yang says.

Since age 3, Melody Yang’s life has always revolved around bubbles. And not the wimpy bubbles that are emitted from a tiny plastic wand that fits in your back pocket. Serious, record-breaking bubbles.

Bubbles run in her family’s blood: Along with her siblings, Yang is one of the stars of the Gazillion Bubble Show, which her father started more than 20 years ago. For every New York show, she uses about 30 gallons of her family’s secret bubble solution; for bigger international shows, she’ll use up to 60 gallons. While she wouldn’t reveal the solution’s ingredient list, Yang did impart some of her other secrets — like how she made the world’s largest bubble (170 feet long) and fit the most people ever inside a bubble (181; it was supposed to be 200, but the shorter kids weren’t counted).

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The Paparazzi for Hire

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“It’s as close to functional magic as I’ve ever seen,” Cramton says. Photo: hirepaparazzinewyork.com

If you want to be famous, you can spend your life striving for success and acclaim.

Or you can hire a few actors.

Scott Cramton is the founder of Famous for a Day, which lets you rent any number of paparazzi and even bodyguards to make you feel special. The company, which he started in 2006, now operates in 25 cities across the U.S. While they don’t get many gigs in LA (“I think they’re kind of over it there,” Cramton says), in places like Kansas City, cars stop on the street to ogle the photographers just as much as the “star.”

“The paparazzi legitimately hounds you like you’re Kanye or a Kardashian, and you get that amazing feeling,” Cramton coos. By “paparazzi,” of course, he’s referring to four or five trained actors who show up with corded mics leading nowhere and cameras with enormous flashbulbs. They’re screaming your name, but only because you — or maybe your best friend or bridesmaid — filled out a form ahead of time, telling them where to meet you and what to shout.

Age: 36
Based in: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Graduated from: Grand Valley State University in Michigan, where I studied theater.
Years in the business: 10

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The Reindeer Trainer in Santa’s Village

You know Alpi and Aituri and Jukka and Jussi, Kaapo and Laukko and Taisto and Juntti. But do you recall, the most famous reindeer of all…

OK, those aren’t the reindeer in the song you grew up with. But in Rovaniemi, Finland, an almost magical city in the Arctic Circle known as “the official hometown of Santa Claus,” those are the reindeer you’ll find.

Janne Körkkö and his family own a farm where they train dozens of reindeer each year to pull sleighs full of giddy tourists in Santa Claus Village during their high season, which lasts from November through February. (Even the summer is mostly preparation for winter.) Working with the fur-covered, 400-pound creatures been his family’s livelihood for generations. “Santa Claus trusts us quite a lot,” Körkkö says. He’s not kidding.

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Janne Körkkö leading the way. A 1000-meter ride (about 0.6 miles) costs $24 for kids and $30 for adults.

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