Since tax day, when Governor Perry flirted with the idea of Texas seceding from the Union, we have been treated to a full-blown rampage of anti-Texan invective the likes of which have not been seen since George W. Bush decamped from Washington for brushier pastures. “This one state has done more than any other to retard progress in our recent history,” frothed Michael Tomasky in his blog for the Guardian, calling us “a greasy white zit in the middle of America’s nose.” Some guy named David Faris took to the National Public Radio airwaves with a commentary titled “Don’t Mess With Texas . . . Get Rid of It.” Never, ever to be outdone, the Web site Wonkette let it rip, declaring the Lone Star State to be a “dipshit dismal swamp . . . that produces little more than incredible assholes.”
Even if you are among the 61 percent of Texans who voted against Perry the last time you had a chance to and even if you maintain, as a poll found that three quarters of us do, that secession is a foolish idea, you still can’t read this overheated, thin-skinned, humorless drivel without wondering what in the world is wrong with these people. Haven’t they ever heard a politician pandering to his base in anticipation of a tough primary? Why the instant flood of Lone Star hate? By the time it died down, the episode had revealed far more about Perry’s attackers than it had about the governor himself. (As Paul Burka notes in “The Secret of My Secession”, it also exposed the ancient rift between Sam Houston’s Texas and Mirabeau B. Lamar’s.) Perry wasn’t seriously advocating secession; he was exploring, for electoral benefit, the singularity of his state, and the velocity, vehemence, and vigor of the responses brought into fresh focus an age-old fact of life in Texas: Those who don’t live here don’t get it.
Thus it was especially sweet when two weeks later (on the seventy-sixth birthday of Willie Nelson, neither an incredible a-hole nor a progress retarder) the American Society of Magazine Editors announced that Texas Monthly had won the 2009 award for General Excellence. For a magazine, it doesn’t get any bigger; it’s the equivalent of the Oscar for best picture, the Super Bowl ring, or the man-size stuffed panda at the state fair.
We’re thrilled about this. The other finalists in our circulation category (250,000 to 500,000) included some of the best magazines in the business—the Atlantic and New York magazine, to name a couple. It’s not the first time Texas Monthly has taken the top prize—we snared General Excellence Ellies (winners are presented with this thing, a replica of an Alexander Calder sculpture of an elephant) in 2003, 1992, and 1990. But this year is a little bit different, as the award comes amid a historically tough time for print journalism. Ad revenues are down for almost every title across the country, and in some cases circulation is declining as well (not here, though, thanks to you!). Budgets are being slashed and reporters laid off; the past six months have seen the shuttering of several well-loved titles.
To win in this environment, with these kinds of challenges, is a powerful vindication of the way we do things and a testament to the dedication, ingenuity, and brains of every person on our masthead, from our incredibly talented staff writers, copy editors, fact-checkers, and designers to our tireless ad sellers, marketing folks, circulation wizards, and everyone in between. It is due to the work of all these people—many of whom started out as interns and many of whom have worked at Texas Monthly for more than 25 years—that a great issue goes out the door every month.
It’s also due to the fact that we have extraordinary material. Perry was right: Texas is a unique place. As the table of contents of this or any other issue will attest, more interesting things happen here in one month than happen in most states in a year. We have a culture all our own, a cuisine (or several) all our own, outsized villains all our own, and outsized heroes all our own. And this is what the knee-jerk rebuke of the governor’s comments missed. Sure, we quit being a free republic in 1845, but Texas has never stopped being a place apart. We possess the qualities of a nation (including nationalism), not those of a state. That this gives rise every now and again to some claptrap about secession is not surprising, nor should it be all that upsetting. It’s also what enables us to put out a generally excellent magazine.
The best and worst legislators, a profile of rocker/hunter Ted Nugent, an oral history of the moon landing, five great summer cocktails, Teddy Roosevelt’s time in Texas, and the strange tale of the Californian who thinks he’s found sunken treasure near Corpus Christi using Google Maps.