When I first started working at the Alibi in the late '90s, a worse-for-wear strip mall in Nob Hill housed the paper’s headquarters. A mishmash of dingy offices on the first floor served as the sales, administration and production departments. To get to the editorial department, you had to climb a metal staircase, loosely attached to the outside of the building. At the top was a rickety tin box crammed to capacity with five or six disheveled editorial types. The shelves were filled with toys and comic books. The fridge was filled with beer. Every day felt like Friday … except for Friday, which was deadline day. Friday felt just like Monday.
The Alibi eventually upgraded to a fancy new location Downtown. We finally had some space. Staff members roller-skated up and down the long, connected hallways, office dogs nipping at their heels. There was even an honest-to-god conference room for meetings and interviews. It was a big upgrade, but I still cherish fond memories of that old tin box pasted onto that strip-mall roof in Nob Hill.
Despite its many shortcomings, the old editorial office served the Alibi well. Most of us were packed together in one room, so it was often impossible to hold a coherent phone conversation due to the constant racket. Yet the close quarters also made it easy to bounce ideas off each other throughout the work day. It was ridiculously intimate – a tiny circus every day of the week.
One of the few times the office seemed less-than-adequate was during violent weather, when it felt as if that fragile tin box would be scraped off the roof by the howling wind and hurled into the arms of Oz. The office also posed significant problems when we hosted visiting dignitaries. I will never forget the look on Bill Richardson’s face when he walked into the editorial office for the first time to be interviewed by the staff.
“Do I smell marijuana?” he said. “I think I smell marijuana.”
We stared back at him blankly. That office smelled of many things, but marijuana wasn't one of them.
“That’s funny, right?” he said. “The Alibi and marijuana? They go together, don’t they?”
He turned to me, frowning.
“You look like you work for the Green Party.”
Ha. Funny. The interview went downhill from there.
Heather Wilson visited the old office several times as well. From what I recall, she didn’t make any jokes. She just perched in her chair, wedged uncomfortably between the glass table and the fake wood paneling at her back, answering our testy questions as best she could. Occasionally, she wept. At first, I thought her tears might have been caused by either the unglamorous surroundings or our pointed questioning. I didn’t learn until years later, following the infamous Congressional hearing on Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction, that Wilson often wept at incongruous moments. It was just something she did.
Our current lieutenant governor, John Sanchez, visited us once, too. I believe he was running for governor at the time. The only thing I remember about his visit is that he insisted that New Mexico’s water problem was due to our state having too many trees.
“The trees drink up all the water,” he explained as we scratched our scalps. “We should be saving that water for people.”
When we realized he was serious, we argued with him. We pleaded. He just wouldn’t listen to reason. Chop down more trees, he insisted, and our water problems would be solved.
The Alibi has come a long way. I will always treasure the eccentric introduction to New Mexico politics that I experienced during my early years at the paper. Since I left the staff, it’s also been a pleasure watching Albuquerque's charming little freebie move up in the world. I can hardly believe it’s turning 20 this year. Holy cow! ¡Feliz cumpleaños, Alibi! It's impossible to imagine Albuquerque without you.
Steven Robert Allen left the Alibi in 2007 to become the executive director of Common Cause New Mexico. He recently left that position to become the Director of Public Policy at the ACLU of New Mexico.