Features

Chapter 3: Crazy Weekly

September 1988-August 1991

Marion Winik, her son Hayes, and Louis Black
Marion Winik, her son Hayes, and Louis Black (Photo By Martha Grenon)


September 1988

Austin: The town slows down. The next couple of years will see the consequences of the bust followed by a slowly recovering economy. Austin politics will be forever defined by the June 7, 1990, City Council meeting about development affecting Barton Creek, which lasts until past 3am. In its spare time, the city also decides to build a convention center. 1990 population for Austin was 465,622.

Chronicle History: The Chronicle goes weekly after seven years as a biweekly. The timing is pure Chronicle: It's the bottom of the bust. The first year or so is hellish. Revenue grows by 20%, except twice as many issues are being put out. Once again, the difference between resources and liabilities is made up by people working incredible shifts.

The next three years will be the most event-filled in Chronicle history: The paper goes weekly, gets thrown out of and then reinstated in the HEB, the building is set on fire, and the office finally moves again, to its present home.

E.A. Srere and Mikey
E.A. Srere and Mikey (Photo By Martha Grenon)

Chronicle Content: Another transition period. Michael Corcoran, Jim Shahin, Margaret Moser, and others leave; Kathleen Maher, who deserves her own chapter, will leave. Mike Hall returns. The paper goes through its rockiest period the first couple of years it is weekly, forced to produce so much more editorial and losing so many veterans. Everything, though, is defined by going weekly.

Jerald Corder

Some people didn't want to advertise on a weekly basis. Some thought the paper should remain biweekly because it already was too big, and who would want to read such a big paper every week? But the transition eventually opened up other advertisers.

The first time I sold an Erwin Center ad, it was a big deal because some of their shows had gotten bad reviews. Right after I sold them an ad, another big advertiser miraculously called me back, and Nick walked into my office with a watermelon and a note saying it would be mine if I sold them an ad. I had a hard time not laughing on the phone with the client. That was a great bonus back in those days. I'll never forget the time we got Nick the paper's first barbecue pit and an engraved axe to chop up wood for the fire.

There are folks here I'm glad I brought on. I helped them start here. It feels good.

Mike Hall

It was proper chaos, and anything was possible. If you had an opinion, you could write; if you had ambition, you could do more, like tell others how to write. Though I had been writing reviews and features for the Chronicle since the magazine's first year, I started working on the staff in 1988 as a typesetter and copy editor, working with Kathleen Maher. We typed on these huge old black and blue machines with giant rolls of film that spun so fast they'd slice your hand up if you weren't careful.

I began working with writers on some of the stories I was typing in, then with more and more of them, especially after Kathleen left, and I became managing editor. Some of it was just awful: Every crank, poet, activist, and Lester Bangs wannabe who would write cheap came through the door, and I remember a few times crumpling up manuscript pages and throwing them out the window.

Nick Barbaro and Soccer Watch cake
Nick Barbaro and "Soccer Watch" cake (Photo By Martha Grenon)

But some of it was just great. Marion Winik's funny, heartbreaking, and bizarrely self-indulgent essays about the unbearable lightness of being Marion. Chris Walters' trenchant music stories that always connected every inconceivable thing to the topic at hand. Ed Ward's witty book and food columns, the latter under the name Petaluma Pete. Marge Baumgarten's smart film reviews. Nick's whimsical "Soccer Watch" column and Louis' passionate run-on sentences in the recently added "Page Two."

Marion Winik

I got pregnant again, and a few months after Hayes was born, the essays just started pouring out, and the Chronicle began publishing them. Well aware of my intense feelings about commas and semicolons, Louis allowed me to come down to the office and review the galleys of my typeset articles, taped to the walls in the hall on the way to paste-up. Every week, the long-suffering copy editor/rock & roll guitarist Mike Hall listened to my ravings, explained once again why we would be punctuating the sentence the way normal people do and sent me on my way.

The first really personal essay I ever wrote was "Sixteen Pictures of My Father." When I first finished and re-read it, I was certain it would be of no interest to anyone except members of my immediate family. I thought maybe I would make copies for my mother and my aunts. Perhaps I'd also show it to Louis, since he was, like me, Jewish and knew the Jersey Shore. Louis published it in the May 12, 1989, issue. The week it came out, I saw people reading it around town: at Kerbey Lane, at the bar at the Hole in the Wall. I saw someone crying over it in a booth at Manuel's. This was the moment that I realized that the most personal, idiosyncratic details are what gives an essay its power. In articulating my very singular dad as specifically as I could, I had somehow touched the dad place in everybody. To this day, this is one of the best things I have written.

In 1989, impressed by the work of mine they had seen in the Chronicle, Texas Monthly assigned me to do an essay for them. The first one went deceptively smoothly, but the second was a disaster. Six months and four grueling rewrites into the process, they said they couldn't use it. I cried with rage and frustration, then took it to Louis, who ran "This Is Not My Beautiful House" as the cover of an August 1990 issue. NPR correspondent John Burnett read it and liked it so much that he called me and asked me if I wanted to try recording some of my essays for NPR. Soon I was a regular on All Things Considered.

It is just as I have insisted drunkenly to Nick Barbaro at parties and written floridly to Louis in the Acknowledgements of my books: I would never have had a writing career without the Chronicle. Though most publications say they want writers with distinctive voices, they don't. Either they turn you down flat, or they edit you and homogenize you until you sound just like everything else they publish. Only because the Chronicle gave me the freedom to establish a voice do I even have one.

Hugh Forrest

I was in charge of listings for movies and clubs in the late Eighties, calling the various venues, then inputting the info into a gigantic typesetting machine that had its own nonsensical programming language. This is one of the worst jobs at the paper, and I think I was assigned this task as a punishment for publishing the "rival" Austin Challenger from 1985 to 1987. But I digress from the main point of the story.
Herb Steiner and Kyle White
Herb Steiner and Kyle White (Photo By Martha Grenon)

One day, someone at the Chronicle told me that one of the managers at the Village Cinema had called to complain about how we had printed their matinee listings. Apparently, a rather irate customer had demanded that he get a reduced rate to a movie and had produced a copy of the Chronicle's listings as evidence of this claim -- listings that were somewhat ambiguous as to whether this particular showing should or should not be discounted. After talking with the theatre manager, I eventually came to the conclusion that the angry patron was my dad, a kind man but a notorious skinflint nonetheless. To save the family name, the listings were a lot more accurate after this unfortunate episode.

Lindsey Lane

So Raoul Hernandez calls me about this 20th anniversary issue and says, "Why don't you write about what it was like to be in the Boys' Club?" Never having considered myself in a Boys' Club when I was writing for the Chron from '88 to '96, I said, "What do you mean?" "Well, I'd see you come flitting (now there's a Boys' Club word and perception) through here, and I'd think, 'Man, this place is such a Boys' Club.'" Okay, Raoul, here's what it was like to be in the Boys' Club:

First, I was nervous as hell. I handed in my first story when I was sure no one was in the office. It was a personal account of writing a lesbian erotic movie, and I discovered that everyone, including the lesbian crew and filmmakers, were homophobic. Most of them wanted to use pseudonyms for fear of blowing their cover in the straight-film world. I dashed in, slipped the envelope into Louis' box, and fled. Days later, I called him, so tongue-tied I could only manage saying my name and the words, "I'm so nervous." To which Louis barked, "Don't be. I'm just another asshole. By the way, I liked your story. I want to run it."

And there were times when I definitely felt out of place, inappropriate, and way too emotional. Kinda like a girl in a Boys' Club. I was sitting next to Mike Hall, who was editing my story about sweethearts with AIDS for the Valentine's issue. The whole issue was devoted to love in the time of HIV and AIDS. My story focused on 10 couples who were HIV-positive and how love and lovemaking had changed for them. The interviews were intense and intensely personal. Some changed my life. As we were reading through the final edited version, I think I sobbed. Or at least made a noise like a sob. Mike looked over at me and tears were rolling down my face. He patted my shoulder and stared at me.

When I wasn't embarrassing myself, I felt very pleased. I was thinking up cool stuff to write about: an exposé on topless dancers, an interview with pick-axe murderer Karla Faye Tucker, a profile of millionaire pornographer Charles Kallestad. I got lots of letters to the editor, which meant lots of people read my stories. Including the Boys. I was writing stories that made the Boys sit up and take notice.

Jim Shahin and Ed Ward
Jim Shahin and Ed Ward (Photo By Martha Grenon)

Mostly, though, being in the Boys' Club, I felt a whole lot of permission to write about whatever I wanted and be taken seriously. Except for the flitting.

Margaret Moser

1989 was the third SXSW. I flew in from Hawaii for it, and, as in the previous two years, E.A. Srere and I regularly hijacked a van from the transportation pool and dubbed it the "Van From Hell." The Van From Hell became quite famous, as we would hire a driver, swoop around and pick up musicians, visiting journalists, and other fun types, and treat them to a good ol' time.

That's how I met Fred LeBlanc of Cowboy Mouth. Corky brought him to my room at the Hyatt, and I prostrated myself at his feet, telling him how much I loved (his then-band) Dash Rip Rock. Fred teased me terribly all night, which I loved. I was giving the running commentary as we drove around, and Fred would clap his hand over my mouth. "She is still talking!" he exclaimed.

Tony Paris, the music editor of Creative Loafing in Atlanta, was a veteran of the Van From Hell, having been along for the ride the first year we hijacked it. He was in front of the hotel that year and saw Jefferson Holt, REM's manager. "What are you doing?" Tony asked. "I'm waiting for the van," Jefferson said. "The van?" Tony asked in surprise.

"No," said Jefferson. "Not the Van From Hell." We felt very famous when Tony related the incident.

Hugh Forrest

Among my duties for the Chronicle in the late Eighties was a weekly sports column. Some of the copy that ran in this space was absolute dreck: Jeff Nightbyrd and myself picking against the NFL point spread was a particular low moment in the annals of print journalism.
Chapter 3: Crazy Weekly

On the other hand, a lot of what appeared in the space was fun to write and I think fun to read -- stuff like bungee jumping in Georgetown, minor-league basketball in Wichita Falls, betting on the NCAA basketball tournament. In fact, the finest moment of my career as a sports reporter for the Chron came several years after I had given up the column, when I wrote a cover story on the somewhat dubious history of racial relations on the UT football team (October 8, 1993). The article focused on a then-unknown redshirt quarterback named James Brown. Three years later, Brown led the Longhorns to an upset win over Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game in St. Louis. Sometimes the alternative press gets it right after all.

Jeff Nightbyrd

"Show me a man good at gambling; I'll show you a misspent youth."

For those who lack the musculature to actually play sports -- which is most of us -- sports betting takes its vicarious place. The most fun I had at the Chronicle was one brief football season when I joined the sports editor, Hugh Forrest, and picked the winners each week. My column was a way of flexing my biceps. Like millions of others, my way of being part of the game was to bet.

Ever wonder why shy men are screaming when the Longhorns are beating Baylor 42-7 in the fourth quarter? It's the point spread. If you have $50 on UT and have given Baylor 40 points, the blowout is really meaningful. You learn to love or hate teams not for their victories or defeats, but by their point margins.

The problem with picking teams in the newspaper is that there are no excuses. In a bar you can always claim to have been prescient when the mighty Sun Devils took a dive against the lowly Red Raiders. But in print your win-loss percentage arises from the pages like the flash of a terrorist bomb.

Chapter 3: Crazy Weekly

By midseason my picks were doing terrible. Under 46%. A monkey throwing darts at the newspaper would do better. I was defying probability. That is, I stunk.

Thank god for the inebriated sots at the Hole in the Wall. To drown my sorrow, I would amble over at happy hour. Walking in the door, some rummy on a bar stool would ask something like -- "Jeff, who do you like: A&M or Oklahoma State?"

It was incredible! In black and white I was a proven dummox. The only logical course to win was to bet against everything I picked. But my dear friends at the Hole in the Wall treated me like an expert. It was wonderful.

Soon I was visiting a trailer near the Creedmoor landfill, consulting a psychic about my problem. Ceremoniously, her advice rang with obscurity. "The stars reveal that mammalians lord over birds and reptiles."

Barton Springs
Barton Springs (Photo By Martha Grenon)

So I would return and pick the fighting Aardvarks over the Eagles and the Bearcats over the Pea Fowl. It didn't work. But looking back, the sports-betting column became an exploration of boundless hope and our belief in magic. It was the best the writing I've ever done. Of course, nobody literate reads the football picks. Nobody ever complimented my sage material that was buried next to the want ads.

At the end of the season, my contract was not renewed -- I was saved from further humiliation. But thank god for the kind spirits at the Hole. Two seasons later they were still asking, "Jeff, would you take Texas and give 14?"

Marjorie Baumgarten

It was during the late Eighties that, as the office manager, I began to notice that the Chronicle had taken on a life of its own. It ceased to be the unmanageable beast that needed to be fed and watered daily -- at least by me. Many others had signed on to provide the organism's daily sustenance and support, and the beast had grown into something larger and feistier than any of the separate individuals involved in its daily upkeep. The Chronicle's survival no longer seemed an iffy proposition.

Herb Steiner

"So, uh ... hey, man. Um, ... So, you wanna work here?"

I thought it a strange question, since it was the beginning of my third pre-employment interview with the Chronicle mustafas, the first being with Roland Swenson, the second with Louis Black. The position in question was that of running the classified ad section of the paper, which at that time consisted of two to three biweekly pages of counterculture snippets, musician ads, and the always entertaining personals. Yet there was publisher Nick Barbaro, asking me this while lying on the floor of his office (soon to be my office, heh heh), reading copy, and pushing some sort of small, wheeled toy over red carpeting. Carpeting that looked like it had been pulled out of the old Hangin' Tree Lounge when the city tore the sucker down to widen South Lamar.

"Well, this is my third interview. I guess, yeah, I wanna work here."

Mark Weaver Halloween mask
Mark Weaver Halloween mask

In fact, in July 1988 I really didn't know a thing about the Chronicle workings or the newspaper business. And I'd had serious disagreements with the paper's lame coverage of Austin country music in the mid-Eighties. I was a professional musician and worked in the retail music-store trade. But I had management and marketing training from ACC, and my friend Kyle White, a Chronicle ad rep, said I'd dig working in their "nonstructured environment." I needed a rest from the music biz, and besides, Kyle told me "Hey, they'll teach you the newspaper business." Nonstructured is my bag. I applied.

My interview with Roland basically consisted of him reciting a litany of reasons why he felt the running the classified ad department of the Chronicle was a crap job. I'll hate it, he said. However, I'd been in professional music for 20 years. I'd had intimate relationships with crap jobs -- and without a steady paycheck. Roland's monologue didn't do shit to dissuade me.

The interview with Louis was more interesting. Like Roland, he knew of me as a musician, but he wanted to know if I was "Chronicle" or not. He dug the fact that I had written some music reviews for the old L.A. Free Press back in the early Seventies, and dropping LAFP's publisher Art Kunkin's name seemed to impress him. Okay, cool running so far.

Back upstairs. "Yeah, Nick. I think I'd dig working here." That seemed to satisfy him. Interview over.

The first Finding Day pageant
The first Finding Day pageant (Photo By Martha Grenon)

I loved working at the Chronicle for the greatest part of the 10 years I spent behind the classified desk. In those wonderful early days, whatever needed to be done, well, it simply got done by whoever was there that night. Ad reps did paste-up. Distribution guys helped in classifieds. We all humped it every issue. We learned that putting out a weekly was more than twice as hard as putting out a biweekly. We reinvented the wheel over and over. We celebrated each issue every Wednesday night at the Chili Parlor. We all "pissed in the same hole," as my dad used to say. Over the years I did well, made some good money, learned some great lessons, made some incredible friends. I watched the Chronicle and the classifieds grow into a real editorial and economic force in Austin. Sorry, Roland. It was a good job, after all.

Hugh Forrest

I didn't hang out with Daryl Slusher that much when he was Politics editor. But I do remember one Friday afternoon when we made an early afternoon road trip to Lockhart for barbecue. Without incriminating a public official, suffice it to say that we had a fairly rambling discussion of local events and that we were very hungry by the time we arrived at Kreuz Market. After gorging ourselves on the heavenly meat, we headed back to the office to kill a few hours before closing time. Most important, Daryl packed a few links of the greasy sausage in a brown bag for Louis Black, whose wife had forbidden him from eating such unhealthy foods. The afternoon wasn't particularly different from any other at the paper, although it succinctly captured all the things that made the Chronicle so much fun -- good conversation, great food, and a keen sense of secrecy.

Gerald McLeod

For several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was the "go-to guy" with special issues and maps. The Chronicle did two swimming hole guides, two guides to Central Texas barbecue, a guide to Downtown Austin, a guide to East Austin, and a few more that have faded into oblivion. The barbecue guides were the most fun. Several weekends in a row, a group of us would jump into the car and drive the backroads in a moveable feast of smoke-cured meats. Then, on Monday morning the kitchen at the Chronicle would be filled with aroma of the leftovers wrapped in their congealed juices.

Marc Savlov

My first film review, in August 1989, was of British arthouse favorite Peter Greenaway's A Zed & Two Noughts, which, looking back, seems to have been some sort of test. If you can extract a reasonable analysis from such a weighty and oblique film, the logic presumably went, then you can handle anything. I must have done well enough to merit a continuance in the Film Listings section, since I was soon sitting in on early morning critics' screenings on a weekly basis, a situation that has resulted in some 1,500-odd reviews, interviews, and articles over the years. It remains the best job that I can think of, if you were wondering, even though to this day I still get the occasional verbal lashing for my overenthusiastic comments on Peter Weir's 1990 film Green Card (in retrospect four stars was a bit much). The infamous letter to the editor -- concerning my review of the Aussie skinhead film Romper Stomper -- that began, "I shudder to think of the day when cockroaches such as Marc Savlov are considered legitimate film critics. ...," and then got really nasty, remains a personal best in the hate-mail department, and a reminder that you can't satisfy everyone all the time nor should you try. I just try to let my passion for the medium of film guide me and that mostly does the trick. Mostly.

Hugh Forrest

Even then, what always amazed me about the Chronicle was how many people read the thing. You'd get a fair amount of feedback each week on the stuff you wrote -- and this response would mushroom out of control when you produced something really powerful.

In one of the "Media Clips" installments from the late Eighties, I blasted the Statesman for an article that unfairly blamed a host of unsolved downtown criminal activity on a group of disaffected youths whom the paper had labeled "people in black." People literally came out of the woodwork to tell me how much they agreed with what I had said. In fact, more than 10 years later, I still have people who thank me for writing it.

S. Emerson Moffat

In 1988, Nick's mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and moved to Austin to live with Nick and me after we married. Fresh from Beverly Hills, she gradually overcame her misgivings about Austin and began to take pleasure in both the city and the Chronicle. As the paper grew more solvent, she grumbled a bit about the loss of her tax write-off. But it was clear she was proud of both her son and the paper. She often came home to report some animated conversation she'd had with a cab driver about a piece in the current issue. She loved that people actually read it. Marilyn Buferd Stevens, Miss America 1946 and the original angel of The Austin Chronicle, died in Austin in March 1990.


1989-1990:

HEB and Barton Springs

Chronicle History: The Chronicle has been weekly for one year. Times are difficult. On Wednesday, October 4, 1989, as a result of a complaint by pro-family, anti-gay, anti-porn activist Mark Weaver, the Chronicle is thrown out of the 17 HEB stores it was distributed in. The Chronicle's position is to step back and say, "HEB had every right to throw us out, but it's time that Mark Weaver stopped dictating the standards of the community." There are letters and protests -- one organized by the wife of a future council candidate whom the Chronicle didn't endorse -- that are totally beyond our control or even knowledge. And in a way, it is the first time we really know we have a following. Mark Weaver is the Chronicle's Halloween Mask cover, dated Oct. 27, 1989, and by the next issue, Chronicles are back in the HEB.

The next summer, the long-simmering battle over development in the Barton Springs watershed comes to a head in an all-night City Council meeting that the Chronicle helps instigate. SOS is born, and Jim Bob Moffett is the obvious choice for our next Halloween mask.

Mike Hall

Daryl Slusher's increasingly focused political stories culminated in the June 1, 1990, issue (on whose cover we placed the death's head in Barton Springs), and suddenly we found ourselves being taken seriously by the rest of the media. Indeed, 1990 was the year the Chronicle broke. We had gone weekly more than a year earlier, a huge step in legitimacy as well as twice the work. The month after the skull-in-the-Springs, we did the Death Issue, one of my all-time favorites; also that summer Michael Corcoran, the magazine's biggest star in the Eighties, came back and started editing the music section. It was a halcyon time.
Lars Eigner and Lizbeth
Lars Eigner and Lizbeth (Photo By Martha Grenon)

In retrospect, of course, it's all good, even the bad. Every time I'd crumple up a piece of someone else's work and throw it out the window (almost always in front of an audience, usually Daryl, who would cackle with glee), I'd wait a minute, go down and retrieve it, and type it in. That, for better and worse, was the kind of place the Chronicle was.

Robert Bryce

I remember the drums. Every council meeting offered the possibility for high drama and low comedy, much of it provided by the hordes of angry environmentalists armed with a phalanx of drums.

The steady pounding of their drums went louder and softer as the doors to the old council chambers on Second Street opened and closed. It was a pounding that everyone in the chambers heard, yet silently agreed not to acknowledge. The drums became the ongoing, not-so-subtle voice of the pro-Barton Springs throngs who either couldn't get into the chambers or believed that their opinion was better expressed outside, on the street. And it certainly made for good TV. Regardless of the weather, if there were demonstrators outside the council chambers, the TV heads were there, active backdrop at the ready.

The Chronicle, of course, was a key part of covering the controversies that raged during that period. And compared to the soporific debates of today's City Council, where deals are made before they ever reach the dais, the controversies that raged from 1988 to 1991 were exciting and tumultuous. And those controversies -- over water quality, endangered species, development, and the future of Austin -- were infinitely more engaging than the other work I had been doing at the Chronicle, that of dance critic. So within a few months, I was focusing almost exclusively on the battles between the environmentalists and the developers. And many of those same battles are still being waged today.

The sides in the battle were clear. And from the get-go, it appeared the environmentalists had the upper hand. They had the issues on their side. The people were on their side, and they were ready to demonstrate at the drop of a hat. The developers, meanwhile, were hamstrung by the ongoing inanities of Freeport-McMoRan's cartoonish CEO, Jim Bob Moffett. And no matter what they did or said, the developers knew they were losing control of the City Council.

Bejou Merry poses as our <i>Cosmo </i>cover girl.
Bejou Merry poses as our Cosmo cover girl.

During that time, the Chronicle became the de facto voice for the environmentalists and also a strong counterweight to the atrociously biased coverage that was appearing in the local daily. Indeed, the Chronicle's coverage of the fight over Barton Springs played a significant role in rallying the more than 800 citizens who showed up at council chambers on June 7, 1990, to voice their opposition to Moffett's proposed development on Barton Creek.

In retrospect, it's hard to tell how much the Chronicle's political coverage effected any change or helped guide the subsequent decisions on growth. But it's clear that those few years of tumult helped define the Chronicle's voice and place in the community. For that, I'll always be proud.


1990-91

S. Emerson Moffat

It's April 1990 when Belton joins the Chronicle family. A mangy white Lab mix, he's discovered on a staff camping trip to Lake Belton, abandoned, near death, tied to a tree with a length of wire. We call and call, but no one answers. He rides home on Tim's feet. The furry foundling soon bounces back, becoming our first cover dog and self-appointed trash monitor. Despite food allergies, he thrives on a diet of pilfered French fries, supplemented by Aunt Margaret's special nachos. Next April, staff members stage the first Finding Day Pageant, a one-act play commemorating the canine's fabled discovery. The role of the tree is played by Rob Patterson, with Nick Barbaro taking over in later productions. In 1991, Belton wins the Chronicle's coveted Best Dog award, but soon goes into a decline amid charges of ballot tampering. There are reports of increased nipping incidents, but since they're confined to the ad staff at first, not much happens. Mr. B is forcibly retired in 1996 after nipping spreads to the editorial department. Blind, spoiled, and itchy to the end, he heads for that big kennel in the sky in July 1999.

Suzy Banks

The first submission I sent the Chronicle ("Cement as Therapy," Jan. 11, 1991) was about a troubled friend who built a concrete table. I wrapped up the article with silly advice about how to mix cement. After all, this is what I "a Radio-TV-Film graduate" knew: home building and repair.

I had little hope the fluffy thing would see the light of day in a rag devoted to serious politics and serious criticism of film, art, and music. But it did, and it spawned several years of first-person essays, some of which I think were the best writing I've ever done and most of which I cringe to think about.

These essays led to a weekly column, "Hearth and Soul," waaay in the back. I begged for questions from Chronicle readers about home improvement, to which I handed out dubious advice. It was a wonderful fun.

Patrick Taggart

When Louis Black, Marge Baumgarten, and Nick Barbaro graciously signed me on as a film columnist in the fall of 1990, they had no idea they were receiving damaged goods.
John L. Ross Jr., our longtime circulation manager
John L. Ross Jr., our longtime circulation manager

Well, I say they had no idea. It's possible they did, but somehow figured that a new column written by a departee of the downtown daily with a large readership was still a good bargain.

So I showed up on the Chronicle's doorstep burned out and depressed. This was no fault of the American-Statesman, where I seldom broke a sweat in the 16 years I wrote film reviews and other things for them. Burnout just happens -- though not to everybody -- and the cure, if and when it comes, is spontaneous and leaves no signature.

Rehabilitation took only a few weeks, and the juice returned in part, I think, because of the encouragement and gentle handling provided by literally every Chronicle staffer with whom I came in contact.

By the time I came on board, the Chronicle was already a well-entrenched force in town, feared, respected, and reviled by all the right people. And not just as an alternative to the Statesman, but as a vocal advocate for those whose voices don't have access to a corporate megaphone. Needless to say, the paper is enormously meaningful to the Austin's film and music communities, and always has been.

Keith Graves: I did the original black and white version of this idea for a Chron cover back in '89 or '90 maybe. It may have been for a music issue. I liked it so much that I later painted this color version which was used by Texas Monthly for a CD cover of Texas music.
Keith Graves: I did the original black and white version of this idea for a Chron cover back in '89 or '90 maybe. It may have been for a music issue. I liked it so much that I later painted this color version which was used by Texas Monthly for a CD cover of Texas music.

If you don't follow local politics closely, you probably can't appreciate the depth and doggedness of the Chron's reporting. Booming growth, the airport boondoggles, SOS, City-Council shenanigans -- the big issues of the day always got intense scrutiny and lots of copy. I was constantly amazed at how much reporting a relatively tiny staff produced.

So here I was among a lot of talented, dedicated people, and there wasn't a week during my six-year stint that I didn't feel intimidated by the high concentration of intellectual firepower under that homely building's roof. I certainly didn't want to let anyone down.

One measure of a newspaper or magazine is how management deals with difficult writers. "Difficult writer" is a redundancy to some, especially copy editors, and the Chronicle has had its share. Or so I am told. While I was aware of famous falling-outs and screaming matches between writers and editors, the bottom line is that this newspaper is a safe house for head cases. It takes real leadership and real patience to deal with writers' storied volatility, aversion to deadlines, and sensitivity to criticism.

Gerald McLeod

The first "Day Trips" column appeared April 12, 1991. After I had worked nearly seven years as the part-time advertising paste-up guy, the Chronicle needed to give my salary to someone who could work more hours. About the same time, S. Emerson Moffat was giving up her food column. I was hoping to get her slot, but Louis Black suggested that I start the "Day Trips" column. Daryl Slusher suggested that we number each one. "537 in a series. Collect them all."


May, 1991

Chronicle History: The Chronicle switches to using the Austin American-Statesman as its printer.

Tim Grisham

In 1986, I joined the production staff, though I had previously done freelance work for the paper. I thought the Chronicle had tremendous growth capacity, but the small press that was printing us in Marble Falls was best for two-color work. Switching to being printed at the Statesman gave us the capacity to do four-color, which helps sell a different type of advertising.

I'm the guy who goes down to the Statesman's printing plant at 4am when they are running the Chronicle and does a press check. I can actually say "Stop the presses" if I find a mistake.

It was either Roland Swenson, Louis Meyers, or Louis Black who began to call Gerald [McLeod] and me Akbar and Jeff after the Life in Hell characters. This did not reflect our lifestyles in real life. And no one has called us that in a long time.

We used to play softball and called ourselves the Ramsey Park Irregulars. Then we played Frisbee over on 28th Street. Since moving to our current location, we play volleyball at least two or three times a week. It started at a summer Chronicle party -- we put up the net and never took it down. There's a core group of players that includes Lindsey "the Kid" Simon, Lee "Hillbilly" Nichols, and Serena "Bitch" Horn. They call me "Hammer." In the last couple of years, we've played Texas Monthly and Planet K and won. I think Texas Monthly thought our style was rather unorthodox. end story

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