Best Times

Those Early Days, When BOT Was Just A Tiny Acorn...

By Tom Danehy

I WAS THERE when it started. The first-ever Best Of Tucson issue, way back in 1987, sprang from an informal meeting held at the Cushing Street eatery and drinkery. We didn't eat much and, as always, I didn't drink anything, but I do remember we all paid cash. The Weekly's credit and reputation hadn't yet been established in the Tucson community.

Don't say it.

The flamboyant and oh-so-hip Bea Lamé (aka Margo Taylor), The Weekly's erstwhile columnist and creator of the late and lamented Normal News, was nominally in charge of the process, and she went on to write nearly the entire text of that first issue.

Danehy The idea of having a "Best Of" issue hadn't been universally well-received. The Weekly was a haughty rag back then, full of piss and vinegar, and the absolute favorite reading material of out-of-work guys with master's degrees who sat around Bentley's, drinking coffee and bemoaning their plight.

A "Best Of..." issue was more Texas Monthly than Village Voice, it was argued. And who wanted to be like Texas Monthly, with its glossy cover and hundreds of pages and three-figure payouts to writers and...? Wait, what was the question again?

It was pointed out that alternative papers all over the country were doing the same thing. It wasn't selling out; it was buying in. Into the community in which the paper was read. And it might even put some money on the right side of the ledger. At the time, The Weekly's ledgers--like its politics--only had left sides.)

I sat at a table with Jeff Smith, Leo Banks and Barbara Kingsolver. Leo, Jeff and I are still here. I wonder what ever happened to Barbara?

Oh yeah, she became a world-famous, millionaire novelist and essayist. And for some reason, she stopped writing for The Weekly. We don't hold that against her, though. If she wants to work on the next "Best Of Tucson," she should consider herself officially invited.

Others who worked on that first issue included Molly McKasson, Maggy Zanger and my favorite jazz aficionada, Yvonne Tost Ervin.

We had about 12 categories back then, and, in a wild coincidence, got about 12 reader responses in each category. Hey, you gotta start somewhere. I only wrote a couple of the categories. Howard Allen, the managing editor, told me to approach it in an intellectual manner, leaving my populism at home. I came up with the category of Best Fried Chicken, in which I wrote, "If they'd had Popeye's Fried Chicken in 19th Century Scandinavia, Kirkegaard wouldn't have been so bummed out."

Some of the other winners that year included:

  • Best College Bar: Puku Puku Lounge and Taco Bar. Yeah, a real landmark.

  • Best TV Sportscaster: Dan Hicks. He had big-time written all over him. And now he's raking it in at NBC national.

  • Best Beads: Piney Hollow. Best Beads???

  • Best Musician: Rainer Ptacek. May he rest in peace.

  • Best Radio Sports Talk Show Or Personality Or Talker Or Whatever: NOT Thom Boyd. Wow, that's exactly what the voters in that Justice of the Peace election said just last week.

  • Best Restaurant Ambiance: Triple T Truck Stop. Readers' Pick: Janos.

That last one was indicative of the uproar that followed. The format in the first couple "Best Of..." issues was that we would tell everybody what was the best (even if it was really snotty and facetious), and then we'd tack on the readers' pick as an afterthought. When that error of our ways was kindly pointed out to us and then corrected, the concept really took off.

After people realized that the Readers' Pick would take precedence, ballot-box stuffing really came into its own.

The process was refined over the years. We began inviting people from around the community to join in the staff selection process. At first, it was largely a downtown crowd, so Leo Banks and I would sit in the back and ridicule people. It was like when they asked George Harrison in A Hard Day's Night whether he was a Mod or a Rocker. He said, "I'm a Mocker."

It usually went smoothly, but sometimes we got in trouble. Once when the category of Best Bookstore came up, someone suggested a downtown feminist bookstore. I said, "How can that be the best bookstore? It doesn't have a humor section."

Neither, it seemed, did the room that night.

The staff discussions sometimes get heated, but never nasty. We yell back and forth a lot. Sometimes, the democratic process in invoked, other times we reach a compromise, and occasionally, when both sides are intractably entrenched, we sissy out and issue a minority report.

Usually, an editor runs the proceedings, but lurking in the background is Doug Biggers, co-founder of The Weekly and the guy who has miraculously ridden out every storm since. Doug's not real loud, but his presence was always felt. He sorta ruled over those meetings with an Iron Shrug.

It's been a long time, and The Weekly has come a long way. Howard Allen left the paper a couple of years after that first issue. He went back to graduate school to study drama, so he could pursue his first love, the The-uh-tuh. And he made it, too.

He saved me and my family some really good seats when we went to the Century Park to see Titanic last January. And he gets popcorn half-price. TW

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