A Daily Conversation About Dallas


Say Hello to ROSA, Methodist McKinney’s Newest Robotic System

| 1 week ago

Cynthia Anderson was tired of the constant struggle. Nagging knee pain, which grew worse and worse over the course of two years, hampered the retired junior high and high school teacher’s every movement and often kept her up at night. It was on a family hiking trip that the Allen resident realized she needed to do something to alleviate her suffering.

“I was always the one at the head of the group,” the outdoor-loving Anderson says. “But a few years ago, when we were at Yosemite, just the fact that I wasn’t able to keep up with everyone else—and a couple of times I had to actually sit down and let them go on farther—that was what made me decide I didn’t want to be like that anymore.”

Anderson’s frustration with no longer being able to lead the active life she wanted led her to undergo two total knee replacement surgeries, in April and July 2020, at Methodist McKinney Hospital. But she didn’t just put her trust in the doctors’ hands. They had the help of ROSA.

Zimmer Biomet’s Robotic Surgical Assistant knee replacement system, or ROSA, helps doctors create a surgery plan that optimizes implant placement and incision points. It also provides surgeons with instant feedback on the alignment and ligament balancing of the implant throughout the surgery.

While it may seem like something out of science fiction, ROSA is real and is readily available to patients in Collin County. Methodist McKinney Hospital began using ROSA in January 2020, and its implementation has been a great benefit to patients there. “It was like switching from a flip phone to an iPhone,” says Joe Minissale, president of Methodist McKinney. “It was quite an advancement.”

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At Collin College, a Collision Over Free Speech

| 2 weeks ago

In an email sent to faculty March 15, Collin College President Neil Matkin reflected on what he called a “difficult, challenging year.” The pandemic forced the community college to move all classes online about a year ago. But during the summer, with COVID-19 case numbers at then record highs, Matkin announced his decision to resume holding most classes in person that fall.

The effects of the pandemic had been “utterly blown out of proportion,” he said at the time. Some professors opposed aspects of the reopening, asking that more classes be kept online to protect students and staff. They made their case in a resolution. Matkin disagreed with much of it, pointing toward the health protocols the college was enforcing, including requiring masks and social distancing. The 10 campuses, which have a total enrollment of nearly 60,000 students, effectively reopened.

Then in November, Iris Meda, a 70-year-old nursing teacher at Collin College, died after contracting COVID-19. Her family has said they believe she was infected at work. Her death, along with Matkin’s response—he told faculty members one of their colleagues had died of a contagious virus nearly two-dozen paragraphs into an email with a subject line of “College Update & Happy Thanksgiving!”—led to renewed criticism of the college’s handling of COVID-19.

It also deepened the tension brewing between some faculty members and the college’s president. The first signs of trouble go back years, but a new front was opened in the last several months, when the college moved to dismiss three professors who had criticized the college’s reopening. All women, two of them were members of the local chapter of a non-bargaining union. One had been reprimanded in 2017 for signing her name and college affiliation to a letter asking for the removal of Confederate monuments in Dallas. Another had scrapped with Matkin in the fall over a tweet in which she said then Vice President Mike Pence should shut “his little demon mouth up.”

Elected Republicans, including Collin County Judge Chris Hill and state Rep. Jeff Leach, have publicly supported the college’s administration. Internet pundits have perceived some irony in what appears to be a case of liberal college professors fearing retribution from what they understand to be a conservative administration. (At other higher learning institutions, debate more often revolves around whether professors are progressive enough.)

For months now, the college has been at the center of a battle over free speech, labor rights, and the politicization of a public health crisis. A neat resolution seems unlikely. Last week, a fourth professor said she was unfairly being pushed from her position. Matkin, the final word on faculty contract renewals, approved her non-renewal as he had with the other three professors. And the faculty members and advocates demanding that the professors be reinstated have grown more outspoken as the fight drags on. At a board of trustees meeting last week, one speaker called Matkin a “disease destroying the college.”

History professor Michael Phillips, one of Matkin’s fiercest critics, portrays what’s been happening at Collin College as a social and political struggle. He describes it as a “purge,” calling it part of an administrative effort to prevent Collin County students from embracing progressive ideals.

“The students aren’t at all invested in the political status quo because it may not benefit all the students,” Phillips says. “So you might get some young radicals when they go to college and learn about labor history, or they learn about lynching. … These ideals might radicalize them. I think the political establishment at the college wants to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

And it all comes back, again and again, to Neil Matkin.

“The college has entered into a very grim and ominous phase in terms of the administration,” Phillips says. “Since the current president took office, in 2015, there’s been a creeping authoritarianism that has become a galloping authoritarianism.”

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One Year Later: How Dallas Hospitality Staff Worked Amid a Pandemic

| 2 weeks ago

This month marks the one-year anniversary of COVID flipping restaurants inside out. Dining rooms and bars closed. When Texas felt like reopening businesses again, food sector employees strapped themselves into a rollercoaster of protocols that seemed to rotate like daily menu specials. Last spring we checked with workers on Dallas’ food front line and found nervous workers pushed into a corner: going into work meant accepting risk of exposing themselves and their families to a highly contagious virus.

The hospitality industry still bobbed and weaved with every unpredictable punch. As we know, some restaurants were knocked out indefinitely or permanently.

After a very long year of this, we’ve reached out to workers in the food and drink sector again. Everyone who was interviewed for this story has been put through the wringer this year, but most maintain a hopeful outlook. (Only one requested full anonymity, which was a change from the last time we did this project: few felt comfortable speaking out.) Many have grappled with their mental health. Others have recovered from COVID themselves. Some even fell in love—amid the loneliest of times. These are their stories, edited for length and clarity. 

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Real Estate

Why Is It So Hard For Dallas to Address Affordable Housing?

| 2 months ago

When he was in college, Michael Geblein wrote “Rent” on a piece of tape and stuck it on a jar where he put his loose change. It was a joke until it wasn’t. Early last year, he had to dip into it.

Geblein, 26, earns a salary of $48,000 at his marketing gig in Dallas. Rent for his Uptown apartment is more than $1,800, over half his monthly income after taxes. Before the pandemic, he drove Uber to make extra cash, but he stopped in March. By May, he cashed in his change to pay rent. Shortly after, he created an account with DoorDash.

“I had to do something,” he says, “and delivering food seems safer than driving strangers.”

Geblein is planning to move north of Dallas, knowing it will extend his commute. He says he’s struggled to find other housing options he can afford in the city. He is hardly alone. The Nelson family has already moved. Mark, a 32-year-old EMT, and Sarah, a 31-year-old social worker, work in Dallas and commute about 45 miles from their home in Farmersville, where they live with their two children.

“We just couldn’t find a big enough home in our price range,” Mark says. “The drive can be tough, but it’s what we have to do.”

Stories like these are part and parcel to Dallas’ ongoing struggle with affordable housing. Since acknowledging a shortage of 20,000 units in 2018, the city’s varied efforts to address that deficit haven’t worked. Plans to deliver as many as 6,000 units per year over the last three years were stymied in part by audits, corruption, controversy, and market forces the city has struggled to control.

Dallas is low on land, and affordable options for middle-income residents are becoming harder to find. The future looks bleak for the Gebleins and Nelsons of Dallas: people who earn a decent living yet can’t afford housing in the city where they work.

“People on council and people I talk to in my district are realizing that the middle group is the one we need to be focusing on,” says Chad West, the North Oak Cliff representative who was until recently the chair of the Housing and Homelessness Solutions Committee. “They’ve seen the numbers, and quite frankly, they’ve seen how scary the future looks. They know we need a change.”

Several developers and city employees interviewed for this story say there are steps Dallas can take to incentivize development for the middle class. But doing so requires willpower, creativity, the reining in of city council influence, and bringing in lots and lots of money.

“Our housing department has a $20 million budget,” says David Noguera, the city’s director of Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization. “$20 million doesn’t get you very far.”

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Hey Employers, Watch Out for the Emojis

| 3 months ago

When Terah Moxley graduated at the top of her Baylor University law school class in 2010, in the midst of the financial crisis, she had two words of advice for her classmates: don’t panic. From her current perch as a board-certified employment lawyer and partner at Estes Thorne & Carr, a women-owned boutique firm on Turtle Creek Boulevard, she offers the same advice for law school graduates now. Because, she says, just like the two terrier mixes she rescued a few years ago, you never know what might land in your lap.

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Where Do You Invest in the Most Uncertain Market Ever?

| 4 months ago

Since the pandemic began, I haven’t duked anyone. I’m beginning to worry that I might never duke anyone again.

By “duke,” I of course mean that I haven’t tipped anyone extravagantly—and in cash—in months. Way back in the times before our cash seemed to be crawling with contaminants, Frank Sinatra dubbed that kind of tipping “duking.” He was famous for carrying neatly folded $50 and $100 bills and pressing them into the hands of maître d’s and bartenders, anyone whose hard work might help fuel a gasser of a night. 

Me, I couldn’t afford to operate like the Chairman of the Board. When I was duking, I used twenties. Still, it adds up. And now that my wife and I haven’t hit the town since March, we’ve accumulated some cash. There’s a bit more to it than just a lack of tipping, but either way, we’ve added this savings to cash we shielded from investments just as the pandemic began. 

I don’t feel good about that money sitting in a bank account that earns almost exactly what I’d make if I’d stuffed the cash in my mattress. But what’s the alternative? Dipping into savings and playing the market right now, in a time when 8 million people have fallen into poverty, when more government stimulus is far from certain, when the fallout of the election is still falling out, and when the virus is still spreading and unpredictable, seems more like gambling than investing. It actually seems almost as irresponsible as duking people with stacks of twenties. And that’s why I’ve decided to do it. Here are a few things I’ve considered in preparing to place my bets:  

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The Incredible, Unsurprising Story of Dallas’ Dining Community Rallying Behind a Chef in Need

| 4 months ago

The week before Thanksgiving, when many of us were busy considering our smaller gatherings and hunting for family pecan pie recipes, word spread that Justin Holt had recently been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Salaryman, his Oak Cliff izakaya and ramen shop, closed immediately. The dining community reeled.

Call it the times. The news of the closure and Holt’s diagnosis galvanized chefs and devoted diners in a way that points to something that’s true of the Dallas dining scene: that it supports its own. In this tumultuous year that has made us painfully aware of what is broken—the absent safety nets, the missing precautions—the camaraderie of the culinary community hasn’t waned. Indeed, it’s grown. And in these moments, it becomes something beautiful to see.

Trina Nishimura, Holt’s partner and an integral part of the Salaryman team, expressed her gratitude for the outpouring of support, finding herself “so fortunate to be part of the Dallas dining community.” A GoFundMe immediately set up by one of her closest friends began with an initial $25,000 goal. It rapidly rose more than $75,000 and counting.

Then came another fundraiser spearheaded by Meat Fight’s Alice Laussade, Jeff Bekavac of Zoli’s NY Pizza, and fellow chef Danyele McPherson, with “mystery boxes” for sale, filled with goods made by chefs and culinarians, available for pick up drive-thru style. The sign-ups began last Monday morning, and by midday that day, Laussade says they had sold 148 of 200 boxes to the public. The rest of the box sign-ups whisked away in short order, raising more than $25,000 for Holt. Laussade updated me later that evening: “We have officially sold out. [Six] hours and they flew.”

“Honestly, I don’t know if that would happen anywhere else,” says Nishimura, noting the “incredible, heartwarming efforts on all sides…. People have given not only from their hearts, but from their pocketbooks—a bright spot in the otherwise dumpster-fire of a year.”

But gratitude at the deluge of donations hardly seems to encapsulate it. Donating was matched by small kindnesses of a more intimate kind, like “little notes that people leave on the GoFundMe page [which] are inspiration” or “the funny texts that Justin gets from other chefs, just giving him shit,” says Nishimura.

Large kindnesses, too, soon came.

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