LAST HURRAH: How I Made D What It Is Today
Wick Allison will say that he founded D Magazine. But if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t be reading this.
How about that? With this issue, D Magazine turns 30. Or, to be more accurate, this issue marks the 30th anniversary of our launch, because, back in 1993, American Express owned the magazine and shuttered it for a brief period. Nice work, guys.
Aside from that little misstep, though, the magazine has thus far enjoyed a good run, and elsewhere in these pages, you’ll find articles from editors of yore essentially claiming credit for it. This is rich. I mean, their efforts are certainly appreciated. Without their words, the magazine would have had to print something else, like pictures of dogs wearing sunglasses or whatever. But the truth is no one deserves more credit for the success of D Magazine than yours truly.
Wick Allison will say that he founded D Magazine. To him I say, prove it.
Jim Atkinson will wax nostalgic about all the important "journalism" he did in the ’70s (see p. 58, for instance). I didn’t know Jim then. But I had lunch with him the other day. Most of his soup wound up on his shirt. His left shoe didn’t match his right. More than once he lost his train of thought in mid-sentence and stared off into the distance. He complained to the waiter that the restaurant was too cold. It was sad, really. I wanted to give him a hug. The inexorable march of time can take a greater toll on some more than others, but I have a hard time believing that Jim could have ever been capable of producing a magazine, even one that publishes only 12 times a year.
No, this baby is all mine. I got on with the magazine in 1991. I was an intern, which might not sound all that significant, but to say I was "just an intern" would be like saying Jesus was "just a carpenter."
I still remember my first day on the job. After I explained to my boss why I had used someone else’s name on my résumé and why my bald head was covered with fresh lacerations (New Year’s Eve, long story), I immediately set to transforming the magazine. I had a vision for what it could become, and that vision began with error-free restaurant listings—something we take for granted now, but it was a radical concept back in the ’90s. I spent about two weeks calling every steakhouse and noodle shop in the listings to ensure that all our information—hours of operation, address, dishes served—was accurate.
Me: "Do you still serve pad thai?"
Thai man, thick accent, loudly, over lunchtime din: "One order pad thai?"
Me, slower: "No. I do not wish to order pad thai. I just want to know if you serve it."
Thai man: "Okay. Fry rice or steam?"
Then we’d talk about whether they spelled "cafe" with or without an accent aigu.
Those were exciting times to work at D. But we all put in long hours, and the stress could sometimes get to be a bit much. So the other crucial thing I did was to monitor the mood of the staff and encourage them to cut loose when it was appropriate. Let me give you an example.
The magazine used to employ a particular freelancer, a grande dame of Dallas dining criticism. I’ll call her Bretty. Bretty’s restaurant reviews were always laden with sexual imagery. The woman apparently could not take a bite of cake without "chocolaty waves of orgasmic pleasure" washing over her.
One day when I could tell the office badly needed an injection of levity, I stood up on my chair and did my best Bretty impression for the newsroom, which, back then, was a huggermugger arrangement of cubicles (today the cubicles are more orderly). Affecting Julia Child’s accent, I intoned over the tops of the cubicles, "My first visit to El Amigo’s was sublime. A toothsome, tender flank steak brought me to such a state of arousal that I had to be pried from a doe-eyed Guatemalan busboy." I went on and on, describing how the plantains caused my bosom to strain against the buttons on my blouse and so forth.
But no one was laughing. I couldn’t figure it out. Until another intern scurried into my cubicle and informed me that Bretty herself had dropped by the office to proof her copy and was, in fact, sitting about 20 feet from me at a conference table.
I climbed down from my chair, satisfied that my contributions to D would bear fruit for years to come.