20 Years Ago ...
... Two young dudes from Wisconsin blew into town and made a newspaper. One of them, Chris Johnson, had launched The Onion in college and sold it. The other, Dan Scott, was the smartest guy Chris could think of to help create a new one. Two decades later, the newspaper you're reading is the newspaper Chris and Dan started.
• The biweekly NuCity manages to claw out of the ethereal womb on Friday, Oct. 9, with 12 black-and-white pages of op-ed and event listings. Page 3 gives Burqueños their first taste of “Real Astrology” by Rob Brezsny (still published all these years later! See page 85). “¿El Norte?,” a column in Spanglish by Juan F. Quiroga, makes its debut. Natural Sound, the Dingo, Beyond Ordinary, Guild Theatre and La Montañita Co-op advertise in this historic issue. Bandido Hideout offers a coupon: beef or chicken tostadas with a drink for $1.95. Complete list of computer equipment owned by the company at that time: Powerbook 140, rented laser printer, Macintosh SE.
Oh, the Characters
• The paper holds its first-ever haiku contest. A review of R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People appears in an early music section. Soon-to-be Film Editor Devin D. O’Leary’s byline pops up atop graphic novel reviews. Fred’s Bread and Bagel advertises on the Club Calendar pages. Note: All NuCity contributors are paid in “Fred’s Bucks.” Home sales across the state are booming, and the paper can afford four more pages in each issue, pushing the count to 16.
• NuCity goes weekly on Jan. 11. The paper reprints a column from young Seattle writer Dan Savage on the CDC’s new AIDS-prevention marketing campaign. Eventual Web Monkey-in-Chief Kyle Silfer pens a column with the opening line, “There is this thing called the Internet, and it is swallowing up the universe.” Staffer Alma García goes to Ciudad Juárez to write about the Mexican presidential elections. Best of Burque is born. From the introduction: “51 weeks a year we snivel, revile, quibble and criticize this city that we live in, all under our very own directive of cynicism, humor, sarcasm and hope. But the simple facts remain: Many of us came here (on purpose!) to experience life in this town ... .”
• We publish our first Gay Pride issue, as well as an epic gonzo-style interview with Hunter S. Thompson after two staffers follow the man through six days of chaos. NuCity changes its name to Weekly Alibi on Aug. 9 thanks to threat of legal action by Chicago’s New City newspaper, and we throw a party at the Sunshine Theater to celebrate. This includes a satirical “Miss Chicago” beauty contest and an “old-fashioned Chicago-style sausage toss.” This proves to be one of our most controversial events, with many Chicagoans claiming there’s no such thing as a “sausage toss.” Lousy sausage-tossers! The following Monday, 600 “Why I Hate Chicago” postcards are mailed to the New City publisher.
• We launch our first website: desert.net/alibi. The paper also sweats out its first Summer Guide, still appearing inside hot metal distribution boxes every May. Angie Drobnic Holan is a senior staff writer; she’ll go on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 as part of the team behind Politifact.com. The paper has a thriving news section and promises an election issue: “Weekly Alibi will present the 1996 general election in a manner only Albuquerque’s alternative press is capable of.” We throw a KISS tribute show at the Dingo Bar.
• We launch the Weekly Alibi Music Awards (WAMmies), and Bovine plays the awards ceremony. Future Publisher Carl Petersen wins the Best Songwriter WAMmy for his work with the Ant Farmers. The first-ever Readers’ Choice Restaurant Poll hits stands. We buy La Cocinita, a food magazine started by Sergio Salvador. An article appears titled “Who Polices the Police?” about 25 police killings going before grand juries without resulting in a single indictment of an officer. Another story about 30 fatal officer-involved shootings within 10 years comes out in December.
• A group of protesters organized by Vecinos United demands an independent citizen review board to handle complaints about APD.
• With Iraqi civilians starving en masse under U.S. sanctions imposed after the Persian Gulf War, Alibi staff writer Stephen Ausherman travels there and reports back in an in-depth, two-part piece. Cap’n Opinion runs a fake Q&A with Democratic congressional candidate Phil (m)Aloof titled “Interview with the Vapid.” The paper changes formats, adopting the short-tabloid.
• Outside Española, a newly installed statue of Juan de Oñate has its right foot sawed off. “We took the liberty of removing Oñate’s foot on behalf of our brothers and sisters of Acoma Pueblo,” says an anonymous group claiming responsibility for the act.
Two Minute Criminal
It was one of the sickest crimes that many in Albuquerque had ever seen; so grotesque, destructive and brazen that even veteran Albuquerque Police Department officials, many of whom had spent their entire careers dealing with the most heinous of crimes, could only stammer and sputter in outrage and disbelief at the terrible act.
• The Alibi holds its first Crawl, shutting down Central and filling Downtown’s stages with nearly 70 bands, including: Red Earth, Giant Steps, Atomic Love Medicine, Kimo, Ben Hathorne, Fatso, Stoic Frame and Alpha Blue. We also run a special comics issue, in which the paper’s usual content is turned into comic strips. The “Six Degrees of Luke Skywalker” Summer Film Guide connects every movie in the feature to Mark Hamill. Gwyneth Doland is hired as food editor, ushering in an era of pork love and Atkins Diet abhorrence.
• David Chase’s New Jersey-based mob drama “The Sopranos” debuts on HBO. The show will go on to win 21 Emmys and five Golden Globes and will be considered the most financially successful series in the history of cable television.
• The Crawl splits in two, offering a spring and fall version. In the fall intro: “Much has been said lately about a soon-to-be revitalized Downtown shimmering with retail and entertainment possibilities that Albuquerqueans of a decade ago could only dream of.” The lineup includes: Oh, Ranger!, Pilot to Bombardier, Concepto Tambor and The Shins. Then-Arts Editor Steven Robert Allen makes a case for instant runoff voting, a system still discussed as an alternative to today’s method, which caters to two-party elections.
• The much-loved University-area movie theater The Lobo closes in early August. Built in 1939, the brick-walled space goes on to house a reformed Christian megachurch.
• On Sept. 11, four passenger jets are hijacked. Two crash into the World Trade Center, one crashes into the Pentagon, and one is diverted into an empty field after passengers fight back and take control. Nearly 3,000 people die.
• Editor-in-Chief Michael Henningsen publishes an editorial after 9/11 titled “America is Not a Blameless Nation.” In it, he writes that America’s foreign policy is among the problems that spurred the terrorist attacks. “... The question we should all be asking—especially our leaders—is not simply who to retaliate upon and how violently, but how we as a country can avoid playing into such international strife in the future.” Issues of the Alibi are torn from stands and dumped into the street. Years later, Henningsen’s sensible perspective becomes a common one.
I worked for the Alibi as an intern, freelance writer and staff writer between 2005 and 2009. Some of my very favorite stories I wrote during my time at the paper included a series of 2009 pieces about a cement transfer plant in the North Valley. The plant requested, and eventually received, a permit to drastically increase the amount of pollution it could spew into the air. Neighbors near the plant spent hours collectively voicing their opposition to the proposal at public hearings. Though the permit was granted, there were several conditions placed on the plant's operating procedures in no small part because of the public outcry over the request.
• We turn 10 years old. The Alibi returns Midnight Movies to Albuquerque, hosting late-night screenings at Guild Cinema in Nob Hill. The first film to be featured is the surreal Japanese horror film Uzumaki, paired with the locally shot short “Science Bastard.”
• The Baltimore-set crime drama, “The Wire,” debuts on HBO in June. Airing 60 episodes between June 2002 and March 2008, the gritty series is soon hailed by many critics as the greatest TV drama of all time. R.I.P., Omar.
• The Alibi moves its offices from Nob Hill to Downtown. Writer Jeremiah Luria Johnson attends APD’s training academy. Our annual Survival Guide opens with a line about PalmPilots. We hold our second-annual mail art contest, which yields an antiwar dinosaur sculpture and a punched tin batch of “Art in a Box.” At the Spring Crawl: Rage Against Martin Sheen, The Roxieharts, Simple., Oktober People, The Dirty Novels and Jet Black Summer. The Alibi ponders again whether Downtown revitalization will fix Albuquerque’s economy.
• The final, 10th annual Alibi Short Film Fiesta is held at the Lobo Theater. Among the films screened: “Allison” by Jeff Drew, “Orange Barrels From the Phobosphere” by Brandon Scott Jensen and “Date 1.0” by Ryan Denmark. We also launch the popular Valentine’s Day Card Contest. In July, a long-serving soldier and registered Republican tells the Alibi that “the Bush administration did exactly what al-Qaida wanted us to do. It's created a huge recruiting opportunity for our enemies, and we've alienated the whole world in the process."
• The Alibi defends Downtown clubs as Mayor Chavez works to eliminate all-ages shows where alcohol is served. We also call out the Party Patrol, which is accused of violating civil liberties. Former Alibi staffer Norma Jean Thompson eulogizes her former lover Hunter S. Thompson. Intern Simon McCormack is assigned to prank the city’s new helpline, 311. Staff Writer Jessica Cassyle Carr spearheads the first Quiz and Puzzle Issue. And finally, at long last, an edition devoted entirely to fish sticks. Someone had to do it.
The Alibi almost fired me before they even offered me a job.
I was a few years out of college, putting my fine arts degree to good use by answering phones for a baby-clothes manufacturer in Rio Rancho, and submitting unsolicited essays and short stories to various publications on the side. An internship at the Alibi opened up; I applied and got the gig.
"This is it! I've hit the big time!" I shouted to my pet cactus.
I promptly quit my job hawking onesies (which I never could differentiate from creepers, anyway) and under the tutelage of Devin O’Leary began compiling movie showtimes once a week, in exchange for magical dollar bills that could be spent only at Fred's Bread and Bagel.
• A Veterans Affairs nurse writes a letter to the Alibi criticizing the Bush administration and its handling of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War. She’s investigated for sedition. Her office computer is seized. The story goes national, appearing on NPR and in the New York Times. Ours is the first paper that’s not the O.C. Weekly to run the now-syndicated ¡Ask a Mexican! column. Readers react. Big. We conduct our first citywide scavenger hunt. News Editor Christie Chisholm profiles an ongoing “mental health emergency” as treatment centers across the city close down for lack of funding. Well-loved Alibi Account Executive Greg Medara and his wife Lauda are killed in a car accident. We still smoke cigars in Greg’s honor.
While shopping at Thrift Town one Saturday—must’ve been 1996 or 1997—Chris Johnson and I, for some reason, thought it would be funny to purchase matching coveralls, which came emblazoned with name and shop patches like “Doug” and “Dick’s Auto.” Anyway, months went by and these stupid things never came out of our respective closets (mine did a fair job of stinking up the rest of my clothes, also mostly from Thrift Town, so that I went to work every day smelling of stale booze and motor oil) until one fateful fall evening when The Call came through.
• In honor of the the First Amendment and the Fourth of July, the Alibi hosts a free speech rally in the Fourth Street Mall called “Soap Box: A Festival of Opinions.” The crawls run their course, and Fall Crawl is our last. We try to wrangle APD into conducting a test on sprays that are said to make your license plate invisible to red-light cameras. No luck. The Alibi runs a tribute to Canada, eh, and a feature on how to eat the city’s weeds. Virginia Lovliere Hampton pens a great essay on being black in the Southwest called “Can I Touch Your Hair?”
Do I Smell Marijuana?
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.
• A singed ham makes its way to our offices in the form of a Valentine’s Day Card Contest offering. Columnist and Army veteran Alex Limkin pens a letter to his deceased colonel on the five-year anniversary of the Iraq War. Homebrewing sweeps the nation, and the Alibi greedily gulps some samples. We publish our most massive and comprehensive Election Guide to date. Rudolfo Anaya writes about wine and Christmas in our pages. The Alibi takes home 25 awards from local and national newspaper contests. Future Editor-in-Chief Laura Marrich wins several for editing.
• We call out insensitive local coverage of violence against transgender people. The facilitator of a support group, says: “ ... They still had the right to live. And referring to them as victims, I think, would have been more appropriate.” Office Manager Martin Candelaria, a big guy with a bigger heart, dies on March 23. During our visit to the top water-wasting residential addresses in the city, we’re surprised to see a state senator answer the door. News Editor Marisa Demarco tracks down an elusive real-life superhero named Green Scorpion who patrols New Mexico and Arizona looking for villains. We throw our first wine-tasting event, as well as our first Pre-Pride Glam Dance Party.
The Eyes Have It
Trying to pinpoint just one moment in time during my three years at the Alibi is a surprisingly challenging undertaking. On the day I applied for the calendars editor position, I was exactly one day late for the application deadline. I had grabbed an Alibi the night before to search for a job opening and saw the classified for the position ... with an application deadline of that day. Truth be told, the Alibi was the only publication in town this journalism major wanted to work for. I have to go for it, I thought, pulled together a mishmash of a cover letter and résumé and wandered sheepishly into the Alibi's office the next morning. Then-Editor-in-Chief Steven Robert Allen came up to the lobby to greet me with a smile and asked me back to his office to chat. The "chat" turned into an impromptu interview with the entire editorial department. It was my first, real, post-college job interview. I was sweating.
• Correspondent Maren Tarro pens an account of the Tax Day Tea Party in Washington, D.C. We write a cover story wondering what the hell is wrong with Arizona given its anti-immigration bill SB 1070 and attack on ethnic studies. We also report on Mayor Berry inviting la migra into the jail to investigate people who’ve been arrested—before they’ve been convicted of any wrongdoing. Columnist Ben Radford goes on a hunt for Loch Ness in Scotland.
• The Alibi starts throwing themed Group Hug parties, including the likes of: Monster Paws, LOW ON HIGH, The Hi Lo Tones, The Ladies’ Society of Grenadiers, Le Chat Lunatique, Mondo Vibrations and many more. Nurse columnist Whitny Doyle profiles a funding debate taking place over the state’s only residential treatment center for drug-addicted pregnant women. On the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, the longest in American history, we run all the names of U.S. troops who’ve been killed.
As I’m writing this, I am exactly 24 hours away from a new phase of my life. Outside my window, it’s morning on Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg, where hipsters and baby strollers weave among each other on their mission for iced lattes. This will be my station for the next nine months, while I pursue a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
• We interview ex-Gov. Gary Johnson, Libertarian candidate for president who is on the ballot, as of press time, in 47 states. The legendary Al Hurricane plays our taco fiesta at El Pinto. Now-Food Editor Ty Bannerman chronicles his B&E adventure into the Downtown eyesore known as the Anasazi. Burqueños remain ever-ready for the end times. “I stopped hanging out with people that couldn’t climb fences a long time ago,” cultural sensation Lynette tells the Alibi.