The Golf Cart Story
What Really Happened The Great 'Chronicle' Golf Cart Rustling Lakeway Raid
Jody Denberg: The Chronicle had these annual parties where they'd rent these houses out by that lake, and we'd all go out there. There'd always be lots of food and drink. And so that's why we were there ... and we were on psychedelic drugs for sure -- as far as I can recall.
Michael Hall: We would rent some kind of a condo out there at Lakeway, right by the big golf course. They were big weekends where everyone would come out and have some fun and let their hair down. I believe this was in 1984, in November. I remember it was cold, and it wasn't raining, but it was misting.
Brent Grulke: Everyone's memory of the incident is completely different for a number of reasons, one of which is that we were all so fucked up. Everybody was on drugs, I remember that much.
Louis "Right Hook" Black: We used to be a part of this barter exchange deal and, uh, which was just a disastrous deal, but we won't go there. But, one of the things we'd get out of it was we'd rent a house out in Lakeway and bring a lot of food and a lot of alcohol, and a lot of the staff would just hang out and party for a few days.
Nick Barbaro: It was a condo with a swimming pool that we hadn't seen before when we bartered for it. It was through the Barter Exchange of Texas. We'd run ads for somebody and then we'd get credit for it on the barter exchange. The fact that we were using these [barter] dollars on a condo is probably pretty indicative of the fact that it was not really something you could use for core business expenses, which is probably why they went out of business. So we had swung this kind of ritzy condo -- like the parents' ritzy resort place for the weekend, which we were all sort of giggly about -- not a very Chronicle kind of place.
Black: And this was during a period of time when the paper was poor and the people working there were poor. So it wasn't like -- this is a very lovely and sweet environment here now. People enjoy being here. It was very ugly [back then] and could be pretty mean for long periods of time. And I was psychopathic, I mean I was really psychotic. So I was in a bad state even when everything else was in a good state. I was always worried about the economic state of the paper. I was just obsessed with the paper and worried all the time.
So we'd have these parties, and they would be really weird because they were very dark. We would accumulate a couple of video decks (before video machines were as prevalent as they are today) and we'd bring tons of movies and sit around watching movies and, like, playing poker or having sing-alongs. And, like, other people would come thinking that this was going to be some hip, cool party. They'd be like, "Hey, the Chronicle party."
And they would run out screaming. Because it was really like, you know, like Ma and Pa Kettle inbreeding back in the Ozarks with all the kids. There was something unhealthy about it. So that's it, it was Lakeway, and we'd rented this house.
Jim Shahin: My recollection of that evening was that we got out there, and it was a night that was sort of marked by a sort of restlessness. It was a sedentary, almost a juvenile hostility in the air. This was not my first one of these parties and so, for those of us who had been through it before, it was kind of tedious. You had all these guys sitting around and watching videos. I don't know which for sure -- but what they used to do, what they'd watch over and over was Between the Lines. This is a very important thing.
Between the Lines of the Secaucus Seven
Between the Lines is a movie about an alternative weekly paper. So it was an interesting postmodern way of viewing something. Here are these dreamers watching a movie describing, or showing, something they were doing at the same time. So they were sort of self-mythologizing while they were watching this movie. And this is all out at Lakeway, which was sort of weird anyway, because here's this group of alternative paper folks at a place that was sort of traditionally like a corporate retreat kind of place. And when you're out there you're sort of marooned.
Steve Chaney: As I recall, there was this party going on in Lakeway. And I didn't know about it, literally, until, like, the night of the event. And, as I recall, we were over at Mike's house, undoubtedly drinking beer, and we were bored, so we thought, "Let's go out and crash this party."
So anyway, we go out to Lakeway, and this is an absolutely key thing: Jim had two 1-pint bottles of Jim Beam, or maybe Jack Daniels. So on the way out to Lakeway in this car we were drinking back straight whiskey. So we found this condo, and we were in a pretty rowdy state of mind, and they were watching, as I recall, Return of the Secaucus 7. From what I understand it was a really inspirational movie for Nick and Louis and all those guys who'd just started the Chronicle, but you know, for us. ... I mean, here we go all the way out to this party and they're all sitting, reverentially, watching this movie about people talking about the 1960s. It was like, "Oh my god."
Linda Ofshe: I remember that it was the first time I'd gone to one of these things, so I didn't know what to expect. And it was boring. Oh god, they were playing some long, horribly boring movie that everyone seemed fascinated with. And everybody else was just sort of standing around drinking and smoking and playing pool. Of course, there were lots of mind-altering substances involved.
Hall: A lot of people were tripping. As I remember I wasn't tripping, but I was doing a lot of speed. I remember being at the party and getting really bored. Everyone was watching a video, I don't know what it was, but I was really antsy and I wanted to get out.
Barbaro: Huh. I don't know. I was having a good time.
Hall: I remember that on the way in [to Lakeway], seeing that there was this whole row of golf carts lined up by, like, the clubhouse or the pro shop. And it was raining, so nobody was golfing out there. So I got the idea to get a golf cart and, you know, borrow it. It wasn't very far, so I walked over there. There was one on the end, so I just pulled it out. I'd never driven one before, but they're not very hard to figure out. So I drove around for about 10 or 15 minutes. But I got kind of bored driving around by myself, so I drove it back to the condo, drove it over and went in. I said, "I got a golf cart, let's go take some rides," or whatever. And various people came out and were taking rides.
"I Did It" -- "No, I Did It!"
Grulke: We were all playing music downstairs when ... I don't remember who it was that first alerted me that there was a golf cart being driven around. It could've been Margaret, but I don't exactly remember.
Chaney: I remember wandering off with Mary [Bunten, Hall's former girlfriend] and Mike. So there's this parking lot full of golf carts, and I had this idea, "Man, let's start up all these golf carts." So we were fiddling with all these different golf carts, and that didn't go anywhere. Then, Mike walks up to one of them, and I don't know what the deal was, but I think maybe someone had just left they key in the "on" position. I know at the time there was some deal that we had tried to glorify that we had hot-wired the cart, but the truth of the matter was that there was one that Mike just started it up. We thought, "Now we're going to have some fun." No big deal, we decided we'd start driving it along. We thought this might make [the party] less boring.
Shahin: I was the first one to suggest, "Hey man, this is a drag. Why don't we grab one of those golf carts." I don't know who all would've been involved. But surely Steve Chaney, he was always up for anything, and probably Michael Hall, Jody Denberg, and maybe Brent Grulke.
Margaret Moser: I guess it is true that I pretty much provoked the whole golf cart thing. We started out playing croquet during the day. While I was out there I had wandered down the road a bit and saw all these golf carts and thought, "This could be interesting." So I alerted the boys to this fact. It was still daylight then, and nobody was doing much of anything yet. But, based on everything, it would've been very likely that I would've kept annoying them about it, saying, "Hey guys, there's golf carts down there."
Denberg: As I recall it was me and Michael Hall and some other people who I don't remember. But it was me riding shotgun and Michael Hall.
Chaney: The way the whole thing went was, Mike -- I can't remember if Mike ever relinquished the wheel or not; I don't think he ever did -- but I was sitting in the back seat, basically coaching him in his mischief. This kind of defined our relationship at that point in time pretty well. He was sort of a repressed law student, kind of escaping into the world of rock & roll. So we were pretty much joyriding at that point, and people were screaming and hollering. But people sort of started to tire of just driving around on the golf cart and me and Mike, and Jim, at this point, had sort of locked into this unit and thought, "There's got to be more that we can do." It's hard to explain the mentality of the moment.
"It Just Made Sense"
Hall: At some point, I don't remember how this happened -- I wish I could remember how this idea took hold, but it came around that we had to drive the golf cart into the swimming pool. It just made sense.
Denberg: So we got this golf cart ... without permission, and we were driving around, tripping on psychedelics. I remember the wind in my hair and hanging off the golf cart. How dangerous is that? We were driving it at its top speed, and I was swinging off the side. And we were driving around and when we got closer to the house we rented, there was a fence around what we realized was the swimming pool. And then it was, "Ram the wall! Ram the wall!" And so we did. And on the other side of that wall was the swimming pool, and then it was, "Golf cart in the swimming pool! Golf cart in the swimming pool!" And so we drove it into the swimming pool.
Shahin: You know, at this point everyone is going to claim fame or blame or whatever for the whole pool thing. But I remember I was very enthused about the entire idea. Partially because I thought, what a classically stupid, stupid thing to do. It was the kind of thing you would read about or you'd see in a dopey Rodney Dangerfield movie. I don't remember there being much, or any, debate about it. We just did it.
I think there was a gate, which must've been open. I don't remember crashing through anything, but I seem to remember something about a gate.
Grulke: So I go out, and a lot of people had been riding around on this thing. I go out, and so I am in the back of the golf cart, standing on the back of the golf cart. Then Mike points the thing toward the wrought-iron fence and then just rams it through.
Moser: I remember being alerted that the guys had gone down to get a golf cart. I remember getting excited. It was dark, and we could see the little lights on the front of the cart coming down the road. I alerted Louis that they had actually gotten the golf cart, and he muttered something. Then they were coming up the hill and toward the fence. This hill came up and there was this little fence and then some space and then the swimming pool. And the swimming pool was really dirty. And I remember seeing Michael Hall with this expression on his face that I will never forget -- he just looked so devilish.
Black: I was in a really mean drunk. I didn't mean to be, but I'd already worked up into a mean drunk. So, I was in a really foul mood. And I was in the bathroom in just the foulest mood. Margaret knocks on the door and goes, "Oh Louis, I think you should come out here." And I was like, "No, fuck you, go away."
Hall: There was this culvert-like thing between the road and where you had to go over to the pool. It wasn't very big, but there was like a culvert kind of thing there. Then there was a wrought-iron fence around where the pool was. It wasn't very sturdy, but the only way to get the golf cart into the yard was to knock the fence down. There wasn't a whole lot of room to back the golf cart up, and it doesn't have that much power, you know. So we started ramming [the cart] into the fence. I don't know how long it took, but we'd ram it, bam, into the fence and it would move like 6 inches. Then we'd back it up, I'd rev it again and, bam, we'd ram it again. This probably took like five minutes. Finally it fell down and we were in.
Chaney: I remember we saw this swimming pool in the distance and it was like, "Ram the gate! Ram the gate!" And we did. And there was this gentle uphill climb to the pool, and we were gaining speed and gaining speed.
(I do think that I should note that I was wearing a sort of Las Vegas-cowboy outfit. I had this like gold lamé jacket, silver boots, you know, I was dressed to the nines. This does become germane.)
Moser: Then they started ramming the fence and I thought, they're actually doing this. So I ran in to tell Louis, "They're ramming the fence!" And sure enough, the fence was flattened down. And so they plow over the fence and keep going toward the swimming pool. By this time there were people who'd started to come out there, they'd been alerted to this and they were all standing around. And then, it was like a little cartoon, they leapt off it and there it goes -- into the swimming pool. And these cheers erupt.
Hall: I don't remember who was on the cart with me, but I floored it. Jim Shahin or Jody Denberg was in the front seat with me, and we rolled out of the seats at the very last minute, like in the movies. Like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover just before the car goes over the cliff -- it was so funny, just at the last second, before it goes, blam, into the pool. Actually, if I remember right, the cart actually got caught up on the lip of the pool, so Brent had to go and kick it in. It was just this great catastrophe that had just been enabled. I remember standing on the side of the pool with Brent and high-fiving and whooping it up.
Shahin: We just headed full steam ahead into the pool. Full steam ahead is like 3 mph in those things, but we did it and then we leapt off at the last minute. I recall that Michael Hall was the last one to jump off, and he looked like something out of an old combat movie.
Chaney: Mike was heading up the hill, and we realized we were weighing the thing down, so whoever the fourth person was jumped out, and I jumped out and I was sprinting along the side of the cart -- it was just such a lovely sight to watch. Then Shahin bailed, and I can't remember, neither Shahin nor I can remember if he actually climbed up and was standing on the hood of the cart or not, but I vaguely remember that. And he hasn't ever denied it. Anyway, he jumped off and then Mike jumped off at the last minute. Of course, with those golf carts, you know, when you take your foot off the gas they just die. So it just kind of drifted over the edge of the pool. We were going at high speed and then it was just kind of like, eh, eh, eh, into the pool.
Grulke: So we go through the fence, and the golf cart is headed right to the pool, and it lands in the water with the front wheels in and the back wheels up. So I gave it that extra little push in.
Moser: So, I ran back in and said to Louis, "I think you'd better come out here. The golf cart is actually in the swimming pool." At this point Steve Chaney was stripped down to his underwear, or was naked, depending on who you believe. Corky [Michael Corcoran] said he had his underwear on, Nick said he was naked, Michael Hall said he was naked. I remember him being naked, but I don't remember seeing any genitals. He is a dark and hairy guy, but you think you'd see genitals. But the pool was really, really dirty.
Black: A few minutes had passed and Margaret comes and knocks on the bathroom door again, gently, and says, "Louis, they've just driven the golf cart into the swimming pool, and I think you should come out here."
Buster and Charlie
So I stormed out of the bathroom and I go out the back and there's Steve Chaney, emerging naked from the pool. It's sort of controversial if he was naked or not, but I remember him being naked. He might've had shorts or underwear on, you know. But Nick says he remembers his butt. But we don't want to go there.
Grulke: Steve Chaney, about this point, takes all of his clothes off and is naked except for a cowboy hat and he is in the pool, standing on top of the golf cart and whooping.
Barbaro: I didn't see the cart go into the pool. The first I heard was a general kind of commotion. I don't think I exactly knew what to expect when I went outside. So, I saw the golf cart, or sort of the roof, canopy part sticking out of the pool and a great big section of the fence knocked down. I remember Steve's naked butt. He was standing there wet and naked.
Chaney: Arguably, I had no idea why I did this -- I was not a habitual nudist -- I tore off all my clothes and jumped into the pool and went over to the golf cart, to swim a victory lap around the golf cart. So people started flowing out to the pool. Because, you know, the various people who'd jumped off the cart had gone back into the party. So anyway, so I climbed out of the water, and you know, people are looking at this like it was one of the funniest things they'd seen in their lives. And someone started taking pictures. And I'm standing out there dripping like a swamp thing.
Shahin: Steve Chaney, for whatever reason, took off all his clothes and got into the pool and swam around the cart. The feeling was sort of like, hey, we're rebels. But someone told Louis we were approaching, because the next thing I notice is Louis up on the balcony, with the light shining from behind, and he was furious -- like this little emperor who was just furious.
Hall: Steve Chaney, this legendary wild man, took all his clothes off and jumped into the pool. I remember him being like King Kong, this general whooping and jumping up and down on top of the golf cart. It's cold out there, and he is in the pool, naked. This was the point at which Louis came out, and Louis is just livid. It was like being caught by Dad -- he was just furious.
Barbaro: Chaney was standing there, wet and naked, and Louis came charging out of the place, and he just lowered his head and rammed right into Steve, and the two of them sort of did a somersault thing. And that's the point at which I remember Steve's naked butt. My assumption, and I think there was some truth to this, was that Steve was actually the one that drove the appliance into the drink. But, uh, that turned out, apparently, not to be true. It was our buddy Mikey. ...
Grulke: At this point Margaret goes in to tell Louis, and Louis is pretty fucked up too, and he comes out and he puts his head down and he head butts Steve, and they start wrestling around in the mud, and Steve's naked.
Shahin: They were rolling around in the mud, one fully clothed and one completely naked. Louis was trying to beat the shit out of him, and Chaney was trying not to beat the shit out of Louis because he was a much bigger guy and could've. They looked like laundry, like laundry at a Laundromat going around and around. It was actually hilarious. I'll never forget it as long as I live. You know, you see fight scenes in a movie or bar fights or fights you've been in your life. I'd never seen or could imagine a fight so comical. If Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin wanted to stage a fight, it'd be that fight. It had a silent-film quality to it, and it was very comical and very ludicrous. I was sort of new at the time; I hadn't been at the Chronicle that long, so I didn't know the background on this, but there had been something going on [between Chaney and Black]. And when Louis saw Chaney in the pool, dripping wet, he was just furious. He came flying down and just knocked Steve over and began trying to beat the shit out of him. I remember Chaney saying, "Louis, Louis, knock it off."
Black: I was just furious, and of course, it was only later on that I found out it was Mike Hall, who is secretly very evil, but everybody thinks he isn't. He's the kid that parents always want their daughters to marry, you know? He's so sweet looking, but you just gotta get to know him. And Mike Hall is behind all this.
So, I just tackled Chaney and started pounding on him and screaming what a fuckup he is. ... Steve is yelling, "Stop it, you're wrong. I was trying to get it out." So I hit him anyhow because I know he's guilty even if he's pretending not to be.
Chaney: That wasn't the first fight Louis and I ever had. The context of all this is, Louis and I had a very serious feud that went on for years and years that nobody really understood. It is hard to describe the punk rock era in Austin, but people divided into these ideological camps that would be very hard to reconstruct now. There were all these weird factions, and Louis and I were on absolute opposite sides of the fence. We were both just really fire-breathing young men. So anyway, that's sort of an important thing to understand because Louis just felt that I was like the epitome of everything that was wrong with the world, and I kind of felt the same way about him. Although we worked together ... so we were around each other all the time and in years to come actually became really good friends.
So anyway, people were taking pictures, and people were laughing, and then I look up and coming at me like a bull is Louis. I mean, head down, going 90 mph. So anyway he just hit me, smack in the midsection, and we both go flying. So we're rolling around in the mud, and at the time I thought I was this big-shot bouncer guy, so I am just trying to maintain here. Looking back on it, the reality was that I was a much bigger man than he, but he had the adrenaline and the chemicals going for him. And I was naked, after all.
Hall: Louis was just flailing away, and Steve Chaney had the biggest, goofiest grin on his face while Louis was doing this. It was obvious no one was getting hurt and it was all like a big cartoon. It was like a ballet in the mud for like five minutes until someone pulled him off. Meanwhile, me and Brent and whoever else was on the cart were over to the side, giggling and whispering. But I ended up 'fessing up. At some point.
Shahin: I felt terrible because I knew I had a great responsibility for all this, and I was chickenshit. But I was kind of new at the Chronicle and I didn't know it would be taken like that, so I just let Steve take the rap.
Barbaro: Yeah, this is sort of Steve's role.
Moser: So Black's there throttling him or something, and Chaney's being a really good-humored guy. Then Michael Hall and Brent Grulke ran in from each side, left and right, and I was standing just behind Louis, and Rollo Banks was standing next to me. Now, Rollo at this point didn't really know all these Chronicle guys, he didn't know Michael Hall or Brent Grulke, but he did know Louis. So he goes up behind Louis and grabs Mike and Brent by their pants, literally. Rollo's a big guy. Then everybody sort of peeled Chaney away and pulled Louis off of Chaney.
The Vegas "Swamp Thing"
Hall: Margaret told me about that. I don't remember that, but it probably happened. It's too weird not to be true, and it makes sense considering Rollo's relationship with us at this point.
Chaney: So anyway, they pull Louis off of me and people are still laughing. And I am sitting on a wall or whatever, and somebody brought me a towel. And so Louis -- and this is the only thing that pissed me off about this; and I know he did it on purpose, I had my pants pulled up, just above my knees and he hit me again. He came flying at me and knocked me down. So now I am mad, really, really mad.
Grulke: And Michael and I are sort of standing around in the back, crouching. Rollo sees us standing there and comes over and picks us up by the backs of our shirts and says, "Okay, guys," and puts us in the pool. So, we get the golf cart out of the pool and Louis goes back inside at this point to partake in more debauchery.
Hall: But, then, we still had to get the cart out of the pool, which was a lot harder than getting it into the pool. So, I jumped in like two other guys did, and I remember the water was kind of mossy. It was November and it was cold and when I got in the pool I slipped and went down, under the golf cart. And for like a half-second I thought, "Oh shit, I'm going to drown under the golf cart. After this silly prank, and now I am going to die under this damn thing."
Moser: The next thing I remember is that we had to get the golf cart out of the pool. I went into the pool with my clothes on. Several of us went into the pool. Brent Grulke went in with his underwear on, and we pulled it out. They're not that big, and not that heavy, so with six or eight people to give it a great heave we got it up to the stairs and tipped it over to get the water out and got it up the steps one at a time.
Chaney: So I am pulling my clothes on, and various people are comforting me over the outrage of this second hit. In the pool at this point are Nick and Louis and I think Brent and Mike. Anyway, they can't lift the golf cart out of the pool. Well, I am completely dressed at this point -- Vegas-cowboy drag, right? -- and I can see them trying to do this. And I was so furious that I just jumped into the pool -- fully clothed this time, which made completely no sense at all. I was screaming, "Get it up! Get it up!" and I managed to get a corner of it up out of the pool. So I thought, my job is done here, right? So I got out of the water and it dawned on me that at this point, not only am I like a swamp thing, but I'm like a Vegas swamp thing. There was like, you know, crud hanging off the gold lamé.
Black: Chaney was in the pool, which was just disgusting. I mean, the pool was vile. I mean it wasn't a little vile, it was big vile. I mean, it wasn't just one of those things where it just hadn't been cleaned in a while. It had festered.
Grulke: So we get the golf cart out of the pool and roll it back down to where it came from.
Louis -- to mention the word "golf cart" around Louis was, for a long time, to ensure he'd fly into a rage.
Barbaro: The pool was this green, scummy, swamp-like thing, which I, fortunately, avoided ever getting into. We hoisted this thing out, and it was totally dripping with what looked like seaweed. This green stuff all over it. And we got it out and sort of left it there for a little while until we figured out what to do. Then we just rolled it down the hill to the line where they kept them all, where it had been taken from. We lined it up next to a whole bunch of white ones. As it turned out, as we all drove out separately the next morning past the line of golf carts, there was this green golf cart standing next to all the white ones.
Hall: The pool wasn't that deep, but it had been raining, and I think we kind of fucked [the golf cart] up. I doubt it ever ran again. I'm sure we ruined it, but I didn't know if the Chronicle was going to have to pay for it. If they did I knew I'd be getting most of the bill. I remember leaving and driving by the golf carts. It'd stopped raining, but that cart still had all this water coming out of it. And on the back axle there was this bit of rope and it was all covered in this slimy moss.
Moser: We washed it off and returned it, and I remember looking out at the golf carts the next morning and it didn't look any different than any of the others, I don't think.
Shahin: The golf cart incident broke the ice. I like to think of it as the little icebreaker. Before that everybody was kind of just standing around. The party sure livened up after that.
Barbaro: Then we went back inside and finished the movie, I guess. Basically that was it.
Black: So we got up in the morning and I was in a really crappy mood, and there were bodies sprawled out everywhere on every surface. One of the few people up was Rollo Banks. We had just recently gotten to know Michael Corcoran and even more recently, his menacing, completely tattoo-covered friend Rollo. I looked at Rollo and I ask, "Well, how are things going?" And he looks at me and says, "Things are going great!"
He waits a couple of beats, his face broken out in a huge grin. I'm still not sure who this guy is. Then he enthusiastically adds, "When I went out this morning to get the newspaper, I ran across a whole bunch of guys in polo shirts driving golf carts, carrying nooses, and saying, 'Let's go lynch the rustlers!'" And it just cracked me up; that was the moment I fell in love with Rollo.
But we never heard a peep. We put the fence back up. It was probably a for-rent golf cart, and for all we knew it worked fine the next day. But we never heard a peep. Nothing. Then like two weeks later the guy from the barter exchange called and asked when we were coming out to Lakeway again.
Grulke: Margaret was definitely trying to stir up shit. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. And what's so funny is that Steve Chaney took all the brunt of the shit for it. But Mike Hall, the one driving -- the only one driving -- and I, who was the only one left standing on it before it, went in in the end, and neither of us took any shit for it.
Barbaro: The statute of limitations must be up by now.
Hall: So that's really it. You know, the story changes, depending on who's telling it. I mean, who knows what really happened.
Jody Denberg is program director at KGSR.
Michael Hall is a senior editor at Texas Monthly.
Brent Grulke is director of the SXSW music festival.
Louis Black is editor of the Chronicle.
Nick Barbaro is publisher of the Chronicle.
Jim Shahin is a writer and a columnist for American Way.
Steve Chaney is currently opening several pizza stands around UT for Conan's Pizza.
Linda Ofshe, a victim of Austin's recent high tech layoffs, is currently working as a freelance technical writer.
Margaret Moser is a staff writer at the Chronicle.