Michael Hardy

From Texas Monthly, February 2022

The Texas Wine Industry Is Just Getting Started. Grape Farmers Say the End Is Near.


Something is killing Andy Timmons’s grapevines. On a cool Thursday morning in August, the 53-year-old farmer was walking me through one of his vineyards just west of Lubbock. “You see how these leaves are shriveled up?” he said, grabbing one of the chest-high branches and pulling it away from the trellis. Some of the leaves in the cluster were the size of my hand, while others were stunted and had curled back on themselves, as if in physical pain. “That’s called cupping.”


From Texas Monthly, February 2022

Brazoria County Is Poised to Elect Its First Black Congressman. Not Everyone Is Happy About It.


In 1892, a Black landowner named Nathan Haller was elected to the Texas Legislature by the voters of rural Brazoria and Matagorda counties, south of Houston. Born into slavery in South Carolina and brought to Texas by his white owner, Haller was elected a commissioner of Walker County before moving to Brazoria County and serving two terms in the Texas House of Representatives, sitting on the Roads, Bridges and Ferries, Labor, and Penitentiaries committees and introducing a bill to establish a branch of the University of Texas for Black students. At the time of his election, Black residents outnumbered white ones in Brazoria County by 8,219 to 3,642—a legacy of the enormous cotton and sugar plantations on which thousands had toiled before Emancipation.


From Texas Highways, May 2021

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Site Has Turned Tiny Boca Chica Into a Tourist Attraction


The first humans to land on Mars will likely blast off from a scrubby tidal flat on Boca Chica Bay in South Texas, a few miles north of the Rio Grande. Here, a short walk from the beach, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has built a launch complex to one day send an intrepid band of pioneers hurtling into space on a mission to colonize the Red Planet. Although NASA has landed unmanned rovers on Mars, most recently Perseverance, a manned mission is still many years away. For now, Musk’s team at SpaceX, the private spaceflight company he founded in 2002, is still testing the massive rockets that will carry his explorers on their interplanetary journey.


From Texas Observer, March 2021

A Texas Agency is Defending the Confederacy


In 1908, the Texas chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy built a 15-bedroom mansion in Austin’s leafy Hyde Park neighborhood, a mile north of the University of Texas. Intended to house elderly wives and widows of Confederate veterans, the Confederate Woman’s Home, like similar facilities in other southern states, was part of the Daughters’ mission to create “living monuments” to the Confederacy, an effort that also involved erecting hundreds of Confederate memorials across the South in the early decades of the 20th century.


From Texas Monthly, December 2020

A Bad Cop's Best Friend?


One morning in late January 2019, Rhogena Nicholas texted a prayer to her mother, Jo Ann Nicholas, just as she did every day. A widow in her eighties, Jo Ann could no longer make the four-hour drive from Natchitoches, Louisiana, to visit her daughter and her son-in-law, Dennis Tuttle, at their bungalow in the Pecan Park neighborhood of southeast Houston, but the family remained close, texting and speaking on the phone regularly. Rhogena, 58, worked as a bookkeeper, among other jobs. That afternoon, on January 28, she called Jo Ann to warn her against venturing outside in the icy weather gripping central Louisiana. Then she said goodbye, telling her mother that she and Tuttle were going to take a nap.


From The Daily Beast, June 2020

‘That Was Someone’s Son’: Thousands Pay Respects to Floyd


HOUSTON—Denise Douglas and her daughter Brittany arrived at a strip mall in southeast Houston around 8:30 a.m. on Monday, more than three hours before the first bus would arrive to shuttle them to the church where the body of George Floyd was on view. They held bouquets donated by Mayesh Wholesale Florist and fanned themselves with paper fans that read “Stop Racism Now.”


From WIRED, June 2020

The Webs of Covid-Related Caution Tape Across London


London-based freelance photographer Peter Dench spent the first few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic shooting now familiar scenes: empty supermarket shelves, shuttered storefronts, mask-wearing pedestrians, and fenced-off parks. “They’ve quickly become clichés,” he says of the images he was producing for clients around the world.

But around the third week of April, he started noticing something new. Red-and-white-striped caution tape was suddenly everywhere in central London—draped across park benches, wrapped around rental bicycles, festooning statuary, and forming makeshift barricades around bus drivers. Always drawn to bright primary colors, Dench started shooting these peppermint-striped cityscapes for Getty Images.


From The New York Times, May 2020

Less Is More as an Art Museum Reopens


HOUSTON — They waited patiently in line in 80-degree heat, standing on large blue stickers placed six feet apart, to enter the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston — the first major American art museum to reopen since the country went into lockdown in March.

The 20 or so mask-wearing visitors who queued up on Saturday morning had already waited more than two months to visit, so what were a few more minutes? First in line was Joan Laughlin, a nurse who has been coming to the museum since moving to Houston in 1970. She was here to see “Glory of Spain,” an exhibition of works from New York’s Hispanic Society Museum and Library.

“It’s good to be out of the house,” she said. “I’ve been looking for something uplifting, something beautiful.”


From Texas Observer, January 2018

Big Trouble in Little Cambodia


On the morning of September 5, just over a week after Harvey made landfall, a convoy of four trucks rumbled into a parking lot outside the small, orange-roofed Buddhist temple. Out stepped 12 people, all but two of them men, from a coalition of far-right groups, including the American Freedom Keepers, the Confederate Riders of America and the New York Light Foot Militia. The groups had been helping with Harvey relief in nearby Alvin when Francis Marion, the Freedom Keepers’ heavily bearded leader, learned about the community. As the convoy drove down gravel roads lined with discarded furniture, Marion could smell mildew and the rotting carcasses of drowned dogs. Set back from the road were rows of crumbling houses and sagging double-wides.


From Texas Monthly, December 2017

The Two-Billion-Dollar Buyer


Tilman Fertitta first learned that the Houston Rockets were for sale, appropriately enough, from the team’s public address announcer. It was the afternoon of July 17, and Fertitta, the billionaire owner and CEO of the Landry’s restaurant group, was in New York on business when he received a text message from Matt Thomas, the man whose solemn duty it is to intone, before each home game at the Toyota Center, the requisite liturgy: “Red Nation! It’s time to run as one for your Houston Rockets!”


From Texas Observer, November 2017

The Impossible City


Houston should not exist. In August 1836, just a few months after Texas won its independence from Mexico at the Battle of San Jacinto, three New York real estate speculators purchased 9,000 acres of swampland at the junction of Buffalo and White Oak bayous, drew up a city map and began advertising their uninhabited bog in American and European newspapers as “the great interior commercial emporium of Texas … handsome and beautifully elevated, salubrious and well-watered.” An illustration depicted a quaint village nestled among rolling hills.


From Texas Monthly, July 2017

Country Revival


They don’t make Texans like John Sharp anymore. The 67-year-old chancellor of the Texas A&M University System drives around College Station in a beat-up King Ranch Edition Ford F-150, often with animal traps in the bed, a .44 caliber hunting rifle leaning against the passenger seat, and a plug of tobacco under his lip. Calling his expletive-laced conversation salty would be an insult to salt. He owns a 1,600-acre ranch thirty minutes from campus, where he raises two hundred head of Corriente cattle and several dozen goats, the investment value of which he will expound on at length to anyone willing to listen. (“The future is goats,” he likes to say.)


From Playboy, February 2017

Houston, We Have a Party


Forty-three years ago, Hunter S. Thompson traveled to Houston to cover Super Bowl VIII, which pitted the Miami Dolphins against the Minnesota Vikings. Thompson spent a week searching for cocaine, hanging out at a “sporadically violent strip joint” called the Blue Fox and screaming fiery predawn sermons from a balcony at downtown’s Hyatt Regency. The gonzo-journalism pioneer later described the city as “a cruel, crazy town on a filthy river in East Texas with no zoning laws and a culture of sex, money and violence…a shabby, sprawling metropolis ruled by brazen women, crooked cops and super-rich pansexual cowboys.”

Houston hosts the Super Bowl again on February 5. Thompson is no longer alive, but the cruel, crazy town he described most certainly is.


From Texas Monthly, January 2017

Blood and Sugar


Driving through Sugar Land, the suburb of 90,000 half an hour southwest of Houston, you can see the signs of growth everywhere. There’s the Smart Financial Centre, a $90 million, 6,400-seat concert venue that will celebrate its grand opening this month with a stand-up set by Jerry Seinfeld. Next door is the University of Houston’s Sugar Land campus, which will soon break ground on a 150,000-square-foot classroom building. The past decade has brought a new terminal for the city’s regional airport, a $37 million stadium for the city’s Minor League Baseball team, and an outpost of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, complete with its own T. rex. In 2014 Money magazine named Sugar Land the best small city in America to find a job, noting the number of Fortune 500 companies with a major presence there. But hidden amid this prosperity is a reminder of a forgotten past.


From Vox, October 2016

What Happens When A President Puts His Opponent In Jail


At Sunday night’s debate, Donald Trump twice threatened to throw Hillary Clinton in jail should he win the election. Putting Clinton in jail has been a recurring theme in Trump’s campaign: For months, “lock her up” has been a popular chant at Trump events — most notably at the Republican National Convention this summer.

Besides being illegal, that’s a really, really bad idea. I should know: I saw the same thing happen up close in Sri Lanka in 2010, when I was working as a reporter for a local English-language newspaper, the Sunday Leader.


From The New Republic, August 2016

The Crazy College of Qatar


Over the past decade, American universities have gone on a worldwide building spree, opening branch campuses everywhere from Accra (Webster University) to Dubai (Rochester Institute of Technology) to Seoul (George Mason University). New York University has been the most aggressive, establishing degree—granting outposts in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai as part of its strategy to become the first “global network university.” Such empire building has drawn protests from faculty and students, who object to diverted resources at home and unfair labor practices abroad.

But private universities aren’t the only ones trying to set up classrooms overseas.


From Texas Monthly, June 2016

Gold Rush


Early on a gray morning in April, dozens of elite athletes—rangy pole vaulters, wrestlers with bulbous ears, beach volleyball players with baked-in tans—hugged themselves for warmth on the windswept plaza outside the Today Show studio, in New York’s Rockefeller Center. In exactly a hundred days, they would march into Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã Stadium as part of the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics. But on this chilly morning, as they waited to appear on live television, the beaches of Brazil seemed a long way off.


From Harvard Magazine, April 2016

Potholes, Pensions, and Politics


In January, the newly elected mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, J.D. ’80, donned work gloves and safety goggles, picked up a shovel, and spread hot, smoking asphalt over a gaping pothole on Neuens Road in West Houston. As news reporters watched, the small-framed, powerfully built 61-year-old announced that this was the 936th cavity plugged since he took office.


From The American Scholar, March 2011

Letter from Sri Lanka


On the morning of January 8, 2009, Lasantha Wickrematunge was driving to work in a suburb of the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo when his Toyota Corolla was blocked by four motorcycles. The masked riders smashed the car’s windows and dragged Lasantha into the street, where one of the assailants punched a hole in his skull with a captive bolt pistol, the kind used to slaughter livestock. According to eyewitnesses, the motorcyclists then sped off in the direction of a nearby military checkpoint, leaving Lasantha dead in the middle of a crowded intersection.


From Houstonia, August 2014

The Return of the Neighborhood School

Image by Rob Dobi

Hogg Middle School occupies a stately red-brick edifice embellished with fanciful Romanesque touches: ornamental friezes, balustraded towers, arched doorways flanked by fluted Doric columns, and an entablature above the grand entrance portal inscribed with the name of its dedicatee, James S. Hogg, the first native-born Texas governor, whose family donated the land on which the school was built in 1926. Situated on a quietly prosperous residential street in Woodland Heights, Hogg looks like the kind of school parents might walk their children to in a Norman Rockwell painting. 


From Houstonia, June 2013

Epidemic of Silence

Image by Alyssa Orr

When Oswaldo Gutierrez tells you the news, he will be careful not to use the words “infectious” or “disease,” even though what you’ve contracted is both.

He will take you somewhere private, maybe a vacant room off the hallway, unless of course you’re incapacitated from, say, a gunshot wound to the head, in which case he will come to you. Gutierrez will say that he works with the lab at Ben Taub Hospital and that a routine screening test came back positive. He will emphasize the hospital’s plan to run a confirmatory test, even as he knows, five years into this job, that there are only two or three false positives each month. If there are other people around, he won’t say the name of your disease out loud but will silently point to the word on his lab report: HIV.