Texans have long taken pride in helping their neighbors as well as strangers, and the coronavirus pandemic has given us inspiring examples of that tradition in action. We’ve learned of the heroism of doctors and nurses, supermarket cashiers and delivery runners, and scientists putting in untold hours to keep their fellow Texans healthy, well-fed, and, eventually, safe from COVID-19. But there’s always that guy, right? The one who screams at grocery clerks, hoards resources, and—in at least one memorable instance—threatens to kill and eat his neighbors. As we move into another phase of the pandemic, we are rounding up, on an occasional basis, both the Best Things in Texas and some real Bum Steers.
Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale‘s devotion to good citizenship is long-documented. The 69-year-old Gallery Furniture owner housed Houstonians displaced by Hurricane Harvey and chartered planes to help those who needed them after the storm. In the time of COVID-19, McIngvale—who serves on the state’s “strike force” on reopening—has focused on ensuring that Texans have access to personal protective equipment. Staying home as much as possible is still the surest way to reduce the spread of the virus, but if you do leave the house, wearing a mask is key to reducing transmission. Mattress Mack has used his resources to acquire more than 15,000 masks, giving them away to Texans last week. That comes after he assembled resources to feed and provide cleaning supplies to families in need at the onset of the pandemic in March. Though the Gallery Furniture showroom did reopen after the lockdown order expired, the retailer’s website encourages customers to shop on Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime— definitely the safest ways to buy a couch right now.
Winter, the Llama (and her Texas Teammates)
Meet Winter, a Belgian llama whose antibodies are helping Daniel Wrapp, a University of Texas at Austin grad student, study therapies that might be useful in fighting the coronavirus. Llamas, it turns out, have much to teach us about immunology. “Llamas produce a special class of antibodies called VHHs, and they’re about half the size of a conventional antibody that you or I would produce,” Wrapp told Austin radio station KUT. “And because of that smaller size, they have some really interesting properties that make them potentially attractive therapeutic candidates.”
This week, Wrapp and UT molecular biosciences professor Jason McLellan—who created the first 3D model of the coronavirus protein in February—coauthored a study on the potential of treatments inspired by llama antibodies. Researchers at Ghent University in Belgium are beginning trials of a drug that has the potential, early research suggests, to be effective at neutralizing the effects of SARS-related coronaviruses, including the one that causes COVID-19. Though promising early research doesn’t always translate to successful treatment, if Wrapp and McLellan’s work does lead to positive results, it’ll be a llama in Belgium who inspired the Texans to pursue their research.
Is there anything she can’t do? Last week, Beyoncé dropped a 🔥 verse on a remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage.” This week, she and her mom are working to provide one thousand free test kits to folks who need them in her native Houston. (Proceeds from “Savage” also benefit COVID-19 relief efforts, and the singer’s BeyGOOD fund has donated $6 million to similar causes.) The tests will be conducted May 8 and 9 at Cullen and Forest Brook Middle Schools, and will also include the distribution of masks, gloves, vitamins, and household supplies.
The Park Ranger Pusher
Commons Ford Ranch Metropolitan Park, in northwest Austin, has become a popular spot for Austin college students who want to blow off guidelines about social distancing. Last week, as a park ranger urged visitors to maintain a six-foot distance from one another, one of those visitors responded with anger. Twenty-five-year-old Brandon James Hicks, who, according to a post on his now-deleted Instagram page, has a tattoo of an “anarchy” symbol on his left leg, was arrested for shoving the park ranger into the lake at the park in a clip that went viral. The allegations against Hicks include attempted assault on a public service worker and damage to city property. Hicks’s lawyer said in a statement that his client was “embarrassed” about his behavior.
The bar chain famous for its dancing bartenders may have originated in New York City, but Texas embraced the concept: both Austin and San Antonio are home to Coyote Ugly locations. In March, the company applied for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, intended to help businesses maintain their payrolls by offering full loan forgiveness if at least 75 percent is spent on salaries (the rest can be spent on rent, mortgage interest, or utilities). The company applied for one of the loans because, according to general counsel Jeff Wiseman, “they were there.” But it hasn’t used the money to protect paychecks. The New York Times reports that Wiseman and CEO Liliana Lovell “didn’t see the point in paying managers to sit around in empty bars,” so they’ve opted to sit on the money.
Coyote Ugly isn’t the only howlingly bad actor. The Times identifies other businesses in the New York area and the Midwest who are similarly hesitant to protect workers’ paychecks with their PPP loans—even as big companies among Texas loan applicants, including Taco Cabana and Dallas hotelier Monty Bennett, have said they will return the money they received, after being publicly pressured to do so.
Briscoe Cain and Steve Toth
You might remember state representative Briscoe Cain from such stunts as suggesting on Twitter that he might shoot former congressman, and gun-control advocate, Beto O’Rourke. This week Cain, who represents a sprawling district to the east of Houston, got together with his state legislative colleague Steve Toth, who represents The Woodlands, and tracked down a hair salon operating in defiance of Governor Greg Abbott’s phased reopening order. The Republican duo staged a photo op of themselves sitting down for haircuts in Montgomery County, despite the mandate of a governor from their own party that “People shall avoid visiting … cosmetology salons.” Unlike the outlaw hairstylist trimming their hair, the two aren’t even wearing masks.
Breaking: Texas State Representatives @Toth_4_Texas & @BriscoeCain defying Governor @GregAbbott_TX order by seeking and receiving haircuts in Montgomery County. Both feel compelled to support Texas small businesses in danger of going broke #Fox26 #txlege pic.twitter.com/KcrcB9q8EN
— Greg Groogan (@GrooganFox26) May 5, 2020
Montgomery County has been something of a hot spot of protest around coronavirus restrictions. County Judge Mark Keough, who described Abbott’s order as “vague” and “unclear,” promised to throw open the doors of businesses that weren’t part of the phase one reopening, leading Abbott to reiterate that bars, tattoo parlors, and hair salons could not reopen. In response, Keough agreed that only certain businesses could reopen, and that didn’t include hair salons. That didn’t stop Cain and Toth, though, who proudly scowled their way through photos of themselves as barbershop bad boys.