Cary Tennis, Salon.com, February 1, 2000.
Tom Wolfe had been working at the New York Herald Tribune only six months when the newspaper strike of 1963 put him temporarily out of a job. He didn’t know it then, but he was about to change the course of American journalism. All he knew was that he needed to find some freelance work.
As a feature writer for the Herald Tribune, he had recently visited the Hot Rod & Custom Car show at the Coliseum, but hadn’t been completely happy with the piece he’d written.
“The thing was, I knew I had another story all the time, a bona fide story, the real story of the Hot Rod & Custom Car show, but I didn’t know what to do with it,” he wrote in the introduction to “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.” “It was outside the system of ideas I was used to working with, even though I had been through the whole Ph.D. route at Yale, in American Studies and everything.”
His sudden unemployment may have caused him to regret having turned down Yale’s offer of a teaching position in 1956. But five years as a graduate student had given him, as he put it in the introduction to “The New Journalism,” “a fierce and unnatural craving for something else entirely. Chicago, 1928, that was the general idea … Drunken reporters out on the ledge of the News peeing into the Chicago River at dawn … Nights down at the saloon listening to ‘Back of the Yards’ being sung by a baritone who was only a lonely blind bulldyke with lumps of milkglass for eyes …”