DATELINE: KATRINA: As the Gulf Coast gasped and clawed through the deluge of civil ineptitude and natural wrath, we watched in unrealtime, safe and landlocked; a pall of helplessness our tenuous buoy. The blue glow of the screen and the online feed from WWOZ-in-Exile from New Orleans is pretty much all I remember now of the weekends spent computer-bound, stunned by images of death and destruction and desperate for good news. The Chronicle Web site demanded regular updating, and we ball-and-chained online for the better part of two weeks, feeling pretty impotent for our efforts, considering the scope. The exodus had begun, and tens of thousands of Texas-bound evacuees were in need of a place to light. Austin emerged as a house of refuge.
Toward the end of that first frightening weekend, the computer began to flash new messages of reassurance: A local community of e-mail, phone calls, overnight Web sites, and personal connections became the most dependable, accurate, and immediate source for updating our modest Hurricane Relief Web page. Somewhere between the despair of 3am phone calls about relatives stuck in attics and emergency e-missives about truckloads of supplies and courageous helpers bound for Baton Rouge, a network of hope emerged.
Local folks clamored for any information: what services were available for evacuees and ways local citizens could help. And help they did. What happened next changed my attitude about this city forever. When I finally stumbled into the light of day to witness firsthand at the convention center what this town embraced and accomplished, my empty helplessness gave way to sobs of relief and humility.
By now, the fallout of Katrina and Rita is old news. The role of Austin as open-armed refuge is yesterday's birdcage liner. But we can't shake it and have decided to honor it here in "Best of Austin" 2005.
Austin, Texas? You and I have always had a fine love affair. I adore you. And probably never more so than after seeing what gusto you lavished when needy neighbors came a-knockin'. This is my 10th year as "Best of Austin" editor. Ugh. I should have my head examined. The hours are deadly (I have one gray hair for every award given since 1996) and the potential to inadvertently offend immense. The phone calls of indignation and why-am-I-not-in-this-year are tedious. So stories like Katrina, loaded with pathos and symbolism, make my job as feel-good editor of the year a breeze ... yeah?
Truth be told? Symbols are bullshit. Real people died. Real people lost everything. Real people survived. And real people lent a hand. This story is so far from over.
Austin has received a gust of newcomers, some temporary, some deciding to stay with nowhere else to go. The story so far has been amazing ... heartwarming, and confirming every great thing I have come to expect from our town. But one year from now, I want to be able to say that this story has only gotten brighter and that Austin, in characteristic fashion, has performed above and beyond her call of duty.
And you know what? I am confident that we will be able to. As I heard news of evacuees headed for locations far away from the Gulf, and far afield from their laid-back culture of letting good times roll, I felt sorry for the folks not sent to Austin. Not to be smug, and not to name names, but when I heard of the busloads of evacuees heading for religious compounds in a certain western state, I couldn't help but think that all those displaced New Orleanians would feel like they were in a perpetual otherworldly vortex of holiday-visit hell. Good times ...
No, the folks who landed here share much with our culture: Music is in our blood, the arts are our life source. We share a similar slackerly "velvet rut" phenomenon, with creative-class types calling Austin home for ages, sometimes going nowhere fast but loving every minute of it and sharing all that juicy arty goodness to make our community as unique and vibrant as it is. We have so much to offer our new neighbors. And some of the best of those offerings are featured in this issue.
Barton Springs with her healing powers, the state Capitol building, Zilker? We've come to know them as regulars in this poll. You vote them No. 1 every year. Commercial enterprises, too, have shaped this poll and this town and kept us grounded in our commitment to a life brimming with color and song. Waterloo Records always shows up, BookPeople, the Alamo Drafthouse. Is it any wonder that these defined-by-Austin digs are nationally recognized for their staying power? No duh. Sure, respective kudos from the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, Publishers Weekly, and Entertainment Weekly are impressive (congrats, you guys, truly), but frankly, I'd rather be recognized by the folks of Austin. And they are. For the umpteenth year in a row.
We hope our new neighbors from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast find home here. And we especially hope that they land on their feet firmly enough to enjoy some of the things we have honored here.
Please understand that the kudos offered within are a mere lagniappe, if you will. A touch. A flavor. It's not the full spectrum. In honoring local cool things, and especially this year in honoring local hurricane relief efforts, we have left out hundreds if not thousands of names of unbelievable acts of kindness and goodness.
In that spirit, we dedicate this issue to the People of Austin, Texas. You continue to amaze us with your capacity for love.
On a personal note, I'd like to make a few more dedications. This summer was one of the hottest and most bitter in recent memory. Friends near and dear to me lost pretty much everything in the series of hurricanes that battered Texas and Louisiana. Indulge me please, as I dedicate my work in this issue to two families from New Orleans and East Texas, who lost much to Katrina and Rita respectively. And in unrelated tragedies, I personally lost two dear friends. I'd like to also dedicate this issue to the loving memory of Randall J. "Biscuit" Turner and Austin Weirup, friends whose passings have left giant holes in my heart.
This year's "Best of Austin" cover is about as symbolic as they come. But please know, Aaron Neville and his kin were utterly devastated by Katrina, and Willie Nelson really pulled out all the stops to open Austin's arms that much wider to accept and welcome our new friends. Mr. Neville and Mr. Nelson are real people whose experiences in this trying time were as real as any levee breach and as true as the first hint of sun over a Hill Country morning. We appreciate who you are, Aaron and Willie, the music you make, and what you mean to this country, and we are honored to call you our own.
Please, now, dig into this issue. We hope you enjoy it. Kate X Messer
Who Stirs This "BOA" Gumbo?: Assistant editors Terry Ornelas and Frank Rivera, so fabulous for what they do and what they endure. Mr. MCK III and Trixie, without whom ...Brian and Karen, database voodoo priests. Our patient and tolerant proofreaders, Nora, Mark, James, Josh, and Jess, and front-desk staffers, Amy and Sam. Taylor, Erin, Dan, Sadie, the editplex, and, most importantly, the interns who inspire: Kelsey, Gina, Walter, Julie, Max, and new kids Danielle, Daniella, Justin, and Bodhi.
Thank You, Writers: Roseana Auten, Marjorie Baumgarten, Wayne Alan Brenner, Barbara Chisholm, Wells Dunbar, Mark Fagan, Robert Faires, Kate Getty, Melanie Haupt, Anne Harris, Walter Heymann, Kelsey Jukam, Michael King, Eli Kooris, Anne S. Lewis, Rachel Proctor May, Gerald McLeod, Kate X Messer, Roxanne Jo Mitchell, Elizabeth Morgan, Margaret Moser, Stephen Macmillan Moser, Gina Nelms, Lee Nichols, Terry Ornelas, Frank Rivera, Josh Rosenblatt, Kathryn "Lizard" Rowe, Julie Ruff, Jess Sauer, Dylan Siegler, Elizabeth Skadden, Mary Sledd, Amy Smith, Cheryl Smith, Jordan Smith, Cindy Soo, Baxter Steakley, R.U. Steinberg, Darcie Stevens, Diana Welch, Cindy Widner, Max Wynn, Abe Louise Young.