Point Austin: So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Ya

After a couple of decades … bidding farewell

Point Austin: So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Ya

This is my final “Point Austin” column, and it marks my formal step into retirement from The Austin Chronicle. I’m not entirely done – I’ve got some vacation saved up, which I intend to fully enjoy, although right now it seems much more likely to be a vacation-in-place than the long-awaited traveling my spouse and I had wistfully anticipated. Well, there are plenty of long-neglected house repairs that still need doing, books demanding to be read, music to enjoy, and the long queue of films and TV series with which I’m always inadequately familiar at parties.

I do look forward to escaping the energizing and debilitating grind of the Chronicle’s weekly deadlines – now amplified by the 24-hour hunger of the internet. But with the editors’ indulgence, my byline shouldn’t entirely disappear from these pages, presuming there are still pages at all. I’m told this column will appear not in print, but in the first “online only” edition of the Chronicle, expected to alternate, at least for a while, with print publication. After a lifetime in newsprint, I feel a bit like Marty McFly in Back to the Future, watching himself fade away in a Polaroid. But long as there are Austin stories to tell, I hope to tell some of them, and perhaps a few may find a couch to surf on here.

A few weeks ago, I had certainly expected to be in a much more celebratory mood, eagerly entering this transition into a new and less time-pressured phase of life. Then real life and history intervened, and the gods began to laugh at human beings making plans. We’re now all under the shadow of pandemic, and while the worst apprehension is what might happen to those we love, almost equally foreboding is not really knowing how long this communal eclipse will linger.

A few weeks ago, I had certainly expected to be in a much more celebratory mood, eagerly entering this transition into a new and less time-pressured phase of life. Then real life and history intervened, and the gods began to laugh at human beings making plans.

A Mirror Up to Nature

We’re traveling through time without a compass, in a country currently bereft of honest or even competent leadership. That means publications like this one have a greater-than-usual burden to find and report information that is not being provided by the highest levels of government. Over the years, this column has often addressed the failings of the state and federal governments, more so in the years of the Great Orange Ignoramus, who is now having to confront a global crisis for which he has no comprehension or even willingness to comprehend.

Nevertheless, the column is “Point Austin,” and I generally believed this space was better spent examining the wobbly preconceptions and complacencies of our locally dominant political species: liberals and “progressives.” That meant I also intermittently pissed off quite a few of the Chronicle’s core readership, accustomed to thinking of Our Fair City as without admissible blemish, or (as Woody Guthrie sang of California) “a paradise to live in or to see.”

But believe it or not,” he presciently continued, “you won’t find it so hot/ If you ain’t got the do re mi.

The Never-Ending Story

A little history: I began full time at the Chronicle in late 2000 (another campaign season, nearly 20 years ago), and “Point Austin” came along a few years later (Jan. 2005), following several years on the state beat (“Capitol Chronicle”). The name suggested political argument as well as a nod to Antoine Predock’s architectural whimsy on the new City Hall, an illusory “point” balcony on the Second Street side. (Somehow we never got around to a photo illustration of that balcony, so continue to imagine it).

That first column joined more than 2,600 various dispatches, short and long. This semi-final farewell will undoubtedly be welcomed by several indignant readers who, over the years, have intermittently demanded my dismissal. I thank them for their interest, and thank all the others who occasionally found something useful here. Thanks as well to Louis Black and Nick Barbaro, who took a chance on me 20 years ago and who mostly tolerated me since. (I also have an awkward, persistent knack for annoying my employers.)

Most especially, I want to thank my many colleagues (then and now) in the News department, my editors Kimberley Jones and Michael Clark-Madison (I kept his seat warm for a decade), MCM’s immediate predecessor Chase Hoffberger, the inimitable jill-of-all-trades cindy soo, and the dozens of Chronicle employees (especially Controller Liz Franklin and her predecessor Michael Schwarz) in all the departments over many years. They have kept the ship upright and faring forward (and the front desk adept) in good times and bad. I can’t name them all, but their dedication, engagement, and contagious joy have been ever-inspiring. In the current global crisis, they have a very difficult road ahead – I urge readers to do what they can to support their important work.

It’s a very difficult time for all Austinites – indeed, for everyone – and for colleagues who learned only last week we had been inadvertently exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Best wishes to that luckless staffer, and best hope to all my colleagues who continue to work on, under this shadow. To lightly adapt another classic film moment, this time from Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca: “I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that … my little problems … don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. …

“Here’s looking at you, kids.”

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