Growing Up Texas Monthly
As a native Austinite, I’ve seen Texas change, but my mom’s retirement from Texas Monthly magazine this month after 26 years marks the end of an era.
“So you’re the one person who’s actually from here!” my Uber driver exclaimed on a recent cruise down sunny Cesar Chavez Street in Austin, winding along what used to be called Town Lake. The driver, making small talk, uncovered my very best personal piece of trivia: that I am a native Austinite, born during the heyday of Aqua Fest and Liberty Lunch. From the day I arrived one muggy April afternoon, I was smacking at mosquitoes and plunging into Barton Springs’s frigid deep end in Austin’s 78704 neighborhood long before the zip code had its own bumper sticker. Over the last 30 years, Austin has changed — but I have, too. I like to say Austin and I grew up together. What has been ever-present in my life, a constant as reliable as a basket of chips and salsa being slammed down in front of me at every TexMex restaurant in town, has been my mom’s employment at Texas Monthly, the “National Magazine of Texas” she retires from this week after 26 years of service. In many ways, my identity as a Texan was shaped by my mom’s work at the magazine — you could say I grew up in Texas Monthly.
On January 30, 1989, or four years, eight months, and two days after I screamed my lungs out upon my arrival into this world at Seton Central, my mom returned to the workforce as a Promotion Manager at Texas Monthly on the 16th floor of downtown Austin’s Omni Hotel. When I got older, I would tell other children at school that my mom was the very important person responsible for promoting people in her office.
What she actually did was much more nuanced: over nearly three decades at Texas Monthly, my mom developed marketing promotions ranging from the infamous Bum Steer cow cans to annual horny toad coffee mugs, ultimately responsible for a team of marketers and designers in her current role as VP of Creative Services. These promotions were primarily used as materials for the sales team’s meetings with advertisers, but oftentimes word got out about these items and Texas Monthly admirers from near and far would scramble trying to snag them.
When I was younger, my mom would occassionally take me to her office on summer afternoons where I walked the hallways under the watchful eyes of the larger-than-life magazine covers whose subjects lined the walls — among them George Strait, Ann Richards, and Dolly Parton. From these icons, I learned the necessary style of every good Texan: a twinkling gaze, a damn good accessory, and denim. In the early years, it was not uncommon to hear the booming voice of Texas Monthly founder and then-publisher Mike Levy as he careened through the hallways. When he saw me, he’d never fail to stoop down, grabbing his knees with both of his hands, and stare me right in the eyes, proclaiming loudly, “How have you been?” During those moments, I would channel my inner George, Ann, and Dolly, stand up straight, and smile right back. I remember being aware of his intimidating presence even as a child. I also remember him always telling me how much he admired my mom and her work. While it’s no secret that Mike Levy was a challenging force, to see my mother so respected was like a hot-iron brand to my memory, imprinting a standard I still carry with me in my own work.
My trips to my mom’s office were rarely idle. After taking inventory of her newest round of horny toad mugs and flipping the Bum Steer cans a few times to create a chorus of mooing in her office, I was handed a stack of manila and olive file folders and sent to the typewriter room. There I would carefully replace the old labels, handwritten by my mom in black Sharpie ink, with tidy typewritten labels. There was something supremely satisfying about this work, watching the type bars hammer out the words “EVENTS” and “PROPOSALS” onto the paper, occasionally dabbing at the label with correction fluid when my brain and hands could not keep in sync. When the files were complete, I would stack them neatly on top of my mom’s file cabinet in her office and she would hand me a cream-colored, linen-blend sheet of paper with the Texas Monthly letterhead printed at the top. I’d return to the typewriter room and spend hours composing stories — imagining myself as an journalist filing a late-breaking article, or a pensive novelist with a penchant for horses (my favorite subject). Even as I child, I’d always loved to write, and while I never wrote for Texas Monthly, Texas Monthly wrote with me.
Twenty-six years passed. Three hundred and twelve issues of Texas Monthly were conceived. The magazine changed, Texas changed, I changed. We grew up, claimed different ownership, found new cover stories, struggled against shifting forces. The typewriter was traded for a glassy-monitored Mac, advertising moved from paper to pixels, and marketing evolved from funnels to journeys. My mom changed through all of this, reinventing herself to always be what Texas Monthly needed, whose work was always to be admired. I could not be more proud of her as she begins her next reinvention. As for me, Texas will always be changing, but I’ll always be from Texas Monthly.