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Returning from vacation offers a new appreciation for the city -- and for uniquely Austin events like the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival.

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This is our last issue of Volume 21. Thus ends the celebration of our 20th year. I think we were fairly restrained, and we promise no extensive anniversary hoopla for at least another half-decade. Our new year, our 21st, begins next week.

Not just our publishing year, but the summer is over as well. The weather won't reflect the change for a while -- in fact, it's gotten hotter -- but school has started, the prime vacation season is over, and families have returned to town. Traffic, especially around the University of Texas, has picked up.

Last Sunday the Chronicle hosted our 12th annual Hot Sauce Festival. It was the most packed festival we've ever had, with well over 12,000 people showing up over the course of six hours. More than 250 hot sauces were entered in the contest, judged by some of the finest chefs in the Southwest. Folks stood around for hours in the hot sun, eating chips and sampling dozens and dozens of hot sauces, consuming any beverage they could lay their hands on. Last year, the Capital Area Food Bank collected about 2 1/2 tons of food; this year it was about five tons.

Not surprisingly, the American-Statesman covered the Willie Nelson concert and the parking lot rave but not the Hot Sauce Festival. On Wednesday, Kitty Crider reluctantly offered the contest's results. This may sound like I'm complaining, but in reality it has proven very much to our advantage that the monopoly daily has such a hard time bringing this community into any kind of actual focus.

Along those lines, the Chronicle has to be viewed as a work in progress, an ever-evolving publication whose goals and focus are, we hope, shifting all the time, if ever so slightly. Toward that end, we've added ex-Austinite Shannon Wheeler's wonderful Too Much Coffee Man to our lineup.

On a sadder note, after a happy and productive decade, we've decided to discontinue Andy Cotton's "Coach's Corner" column. This is just one in a series of changes we expect to make over the next six months. Expect nothing too dramatic, just a slight shift of our priorities. For the time being, our only sports coverage will be in the Community Listings. We haven't even begun to talk about what we might do next.

It's been a great run for Thundercloud kingpin and notoriously bad golfer Cotton. Offering as much delicious detail about his life as his frequently wrong-headed opinions on sports around the country, he's taken our readers on quite an odyssey over the past decade. Humor was the keystone of the column, no matter what its ostensible topic. But the only constant is change (it's how we differ from the rocks), and in our slow and cautious reimagining of the paper this is one of the changes we decided on making. Andy will remain a part of our extended family, and we urge you all to go out and buy a Thundercloud as a way of saying goodbye to our sports columnist.

Another change we're thinking about is ditching "The Straight Dope" (a nationally syndicated column that originates in the Chicago Reader), if you want to weigh in on that decision.

Our office will be closed next Monday, and on next Thursday we'll offer you the first issue of our 21st year. end story

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival, Hot Sauce Festival, Hot Sauce Contest, Waterloo Park, Austin growth, Austin events, Austin character, Austin development, Austin traffic, Austin sprawl, Texas Hill Country Austin Chronicle, Shelley King, Del Castillo, Dale Watson, 1

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