Why we have a golf cart in a swimming pool on our cover and other insights into our 20th anniversary issue.
By Louis Black, Fri., Sept. 7, 2001
I could give a lot of reasons: that it's metaphoric, that it's meaningless, that it's historic. The truth is some of the staff demanded it, and from the moment anyone heard the suggestion, it made sense. The "Golf Cart" story was the great oral history from the first decade of the Chronicle: the time we got a house out in Lakeway on barter, went out there to party, and some folks stole a golf cart and drove it into the swimming pool. I went nuts. A shaggy-dog story rendered as site-specific mythology.
Telling the story was a way of both cementing the community and indoctrinating newer members. Whenever staff gathered socially in large groups, the story was told. It was ritual. This was a time when the paper had no money and the staff was poor. There were so few working cars among us that we unsuccessfully tried to trade with some used car places. Our social group was the Chronicle staff.
Over the past two decades, the Chronicle has evolved from a fanatical, near-cult atmosphere into a much more relaxed (though still heavily pressured -- hell, there is a paper every week), more businesslike one. People own not only cars but homes. Instead of personally abusive habits, they have families. Although they still complain, they are paid market wages. Their work is appreciated by the community. Every week.
In the past half decade, telling the "Golf Cart" story has gone out of favor. We had to tell it to much of the staff so they would understand the cover. I take this as a good sign.
This is our 20th anniversary issue. Twenty years. We spent some time talking about what to do. We decided against a look back at the last 20 years or so in Austin; we had done that with the "Lost Austin" issue and plan to do it in future issues. Besides, it's just the same old story about how small-town Groover's Paradise morphed into this almost alien big city. Excerpting bits and pieces from Chronicles past to tell the paper's story was an idea, but we had done a variant on that for our 201st issue and for our 10th anniversary. The entire first issue was reprinted as an insert in our 15th. But the unthinkable 20: What to do?
After much discussion, we decided to ask past and present staff to tell their Chronicle history. This issue offers the very partial story of the people behind The Austin Chronicle. It is not a history of Austin; it is not an objective history of the Chronicle or an assessment of its relationship to the community. Instead, it is a very personal history of the community of people who created the Chronicle. Even in that conceit it is very incomplete.
Over the years, we have always suggested that this paper reflected the people who created it and they, in turn, reflected the community who read it. This little experiment will either bear that out or seem unbelievably self-indulgent. Maybe both.
Appropriately, we begin with the Golf Cart story. In the movie, this would be the turning point. Where several groups came together to create a generation that would serve that paper well. It was adolescent. It was madness. It was immature. In the constant retelling, we demanded our recognition as having a history and a personality. The story defined the Chronicle. The story was just a story.
As much space as the history in this issue fills, it's woefully incomplete. There are more names missing than included and many a passing reference to a character who deserves a whole chapter. I'm not even going to begin listing who got left out, except for Controller Michael Schwarz and Advertising Manager Carol Flagg, who help run the Chronicle on a day-by-day basis (Michael for the past decade). Otherwise, look at the staff box. The one in every issue or the one in this issue featuring the past 20 years of staff (compiled by our hard-working interns), which Publisher Nick Barbaro spent three days formatting.
Let me just say it again: More people and stories are left out than included.
That said twice, remember these are personal reminiscences -- they have not been fact-checked. All our memories play tricks on us; different people remember situations differently.
I'll concede that, as misanthropic as I come across, the incidents relayed are largely accurate. The one argument I reject is that a thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters could have created the Chronicle, but a few brave souls managed to brilliantly steer their way through the sludge. The paper from the beginning had terrific writers. A lot of now-good writers poured out some awkward prose on their way to a personal style. Still, from year one on, look at any year, look at who wrote/writes for this paper. Sure, there was an insane period when we began and an awkward period when we went weekly. There were, frankly, lousy years editorially throughout the run. But there have been lots of good years, a few great ones, and they didn't happen by accident. Overwhelmed the first few years, staff still knew what this paper should be and what it was. That insistent vision still drives this sucker.
Two personal notes. First, thanks to Sharon Danzinger, who put me up when I first came to Austin almost 30 years ago. If anyone sees her, tell her I had dinner with Tobe Hooper, who told me she was great in Eggshells.
Finally, I ended up being in a lot more of this story than I ever thought I would, as disingenuous as that may sound. For the first half decade, I was only who I was at the Chronicle. The last decade plus, this is less than half the story. My heart is Annie, my wife, and Eli, my son. To me this story is woefully incomplete because they are so little in it (Annie, of course, more than Eli since she's been writing for the Chronicle for 15 years). They are my real story.