Friday, October 15, 2010

What places matter to you?

I'll tell you mine.

Quack's 43rd Street Bakery. That place matters to me a lot.

Have you ever been to Quack's?  It's a coffee shop / decorated cookie and cupcake haven in Hyde Park, and it was the very first place in Austin where I became a regular.

Five years ago, I used to be a teacher. I taught yoga to kids at a private school in Hyde Park, then got on Mopac, and taught at an after-school art program at Oak Hill Elementary.

But I wasn't even living in Austin. I was living in Georgetown, 30 minutes and several tanks of commuter gas away, where I had just graduated college (Southwestern). My morning and afternoon commutes were totally miserable, but I did listen to a lot of NPR that year.  I was shockingly well-informed.

*  *  *

The first time I asked someone at work where there was a nearby coffee shop where I could chill out each day between teaching jobs, someone suggested Quack's.

"Cracks?" I said.

"No - QUACK'S," he said. "Like a duck. It's on 43rd, next to the laundromat."

Oh, I knew the laundromat.

Every time I drove by the laundromat from Hyde Park to Oak Hill, a parade of characters passed in and out, hanging out on the sidewalk fronting it, a social club of various Austin factions. From my car window, I saw paint-splotched carpenters, backpack-burdened grad students, homeless people, beautiful bohemian girls, kids from Concordia, tied-up mutts and parked - but functional - art cars in front of that laundromat.

One time, a man completely covered in white powder, from head to toe, casually stood outside, and he appeared to be asking people for bus money.

It was completely fascinating.

Georgetown, Texas had nothing like this.

So I went to Quack's, which shared a wall with the laundromat.  And as it turned out, all of those laundromat folks, the carpenters, the homeless people, the kids and the girls and the pets, all came inside while their clothes were washing to get coffee.  Each day, they were joined by mumbling conspiracy theorists, and a church lady or two.

Quack's doesn't have this anymore, but there used to be a long wooden bar running against its front picture window, facing 43rd street. Every day, I would get my coffee, go sit at the bar, and watch the parade pass by.

It was better than TV.

*  *  *

One day, during a particularly hellish, trafficky drive between Georgetown and Austin, I got pulled over for speeding. I was making roughly $9/hr at my jobs, so, I cried when I got the ticket.

That day, I skipped Quack's.

Instead, I looked for an apartment.

I wrote down a phone number for a studio exactly three blocks from Quack's. Its other advantage was its proximity to my new boyfriend, a music teacher at the Hyde Park school named Ross.

I broke my sorry lease in Georgetown. I moved in two weeks later.

*  *  *
Quack's is a fine, award-winning bakery. Its coffee is ok, too. But that's not really why I'm so damn sentimental about it.

Quack's taught me how to be an Austinite.

Anyone who moved here from someplace else, like I did, has that one place that announced to them: "THIS is how we do things in Austin. THIS is the culture." I noticed that everyone at Quacks, crossword puzzler or Hyde Park Baptist congregant or hippie dread-locked father of baby, was also, secretly or not, an artist. They talked about their art with their friends. They moaned over broken instruments. They helped animate A Scanner Darkly. They went shopping at Goodwill, took everything apart, and bragged about their new, reconstructed outfit.

Every city has a currency.  In New York, it is money.  In L.A., it is fame. Washington, power, and here in Austin?  I really do think it's creativity.

For some reason, Quack's attracts these creative souls. Maybe it's because they make cookies shaped and decorated like mustaches. Maybe it's because they'd rather stab themselves than play Muzak. Maybe it's because - fact -  they were the first coffeehouse in Austin, and introduced "salon" type coffee and conversation to Austinites in the 80s.

I have no idea.  All I know is, Quack's was my very first Austin education. When I discovered it, I knew I wasn't an artist -- not really. But I knew I could kind of write. So out came my then ginormous laptop, and amongst math students-cum-painters, waitresses-cum-fashion designers, and plumbers-cum-art car creators, I started typing.  Almost every day.

And I became a teacher-cum-writer.

*  *  *

This is my very long way of introducing you guys to a documentary project happening in Austin this month, about beloved places in town. They are asking locals to be in the documentary, and tell stories about their favorite places on camera.

Austin Unscripted is, according to the press release, a "documentary project designed to capture Austinites’ thoughts about what it really means to keep Austin weird in a time of rapid growth and development."

They will be filming at meet-up locations all around town from Oct 22 – Oct 25, leading up to the National Preservation Conference in Austin from Oct 26 - 30.

Short videos from the project will appear online, and they are also going to Tweet and blog throughout.

I obviously think this is completely awesome, and plan to participate.

what is your favorite place in austin? would you talk about it on camera?


Head Ov Metal said...

"I broke my sorry lease..."
Ha! That's great!
Thanks, T.

April Stockwell said...

I first came to Austin for college and I remember during orientation going to Quackenbush's (original name?) when it was on the Drag. My friend and I sat on the patio and watched Austin walk by and were awed by just how fun and funky everyone was. When I came back for my first year of college, that was our hangout. Best people watching and you just never knew what you would see. I miss the original location, but I too have enjoyed the Hyde Park Quack's and just love everything about it!

However, my favorite place in Austin is Barton Springs. I skipped so many classes to sit on the hill and bake with my friends. To me, this is the heart of our city. The Native Americans used to say the spring was a healing spring and I have to say every summer when I jump in for the first time, I feel electric, alive and at one with the city.

Tiffany Diane said...

I really like this idea. I have too many places.

Addie said...

Oh, my favorite places. I could go on forever, but here's the short list of The Most Important:

Once Over Coffee (my Quack's, where everybody knows my name and the only place in town I have a tab)

Gus Fruh Pool on the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Forget Barton Springs. This is my spiritual swimming hole, when there's water, that is.

Cathedral of Junk. I lived in the small house in front of this South Austin art landmark when I first moved to Austin in 2005. Vince was my first roommate in Austin (found him on Craigslist) and I never would have thought that we'd still be close friends. He's been through a lot in his life, and he's poured his heart and soul into the Cathedral. It's a sacred place that reflects the Austin that I call home.

Hipstercrite said...

probably the alamo ritz. when i first moved to austin, i lived waaaay up north. didn't know anything about the cool stuff that was going on in downtown and the east side. no idea. then went to a movie at the alamo ritz and it opened up the whole austin world to me. it was there that i realized how creative and inspired austinites are. how much they love arts and culture and want to share their love with everyone. also, having moved from LA where i worked in the film business and was completely burnt out on it, the alamo ritz taught me how to love movies again. their love for movies reminded me of my love for movies. i had forgotten about that in my time in hollywood.

Le Tigre said...

I think Spider House was the first place I felt like a regular. I was living in NORTH Austin when I moved here from Mexico. I absolutely hated living so far north, and AS SOON as I got my first car when I was seventeen, I was making trips to Spider House daily for an iced latte. I just love the patio, sitting out with your laptop/book and people watching. ;)

bsimms8907 said...

My favorite place is Bennu Coffee! I though Jackalope was starting to become mine, but I was hit by a drunk driver last night coming home from 6th street, so downtown has kinda been ruined for me for a while.

Le Tigre said...

By the way, does anyone know who the guy in the video is? He's cute. I don't particularly care for bats, but I'll go watch them with him. You know, if he's into that kinda thing.

Austin Eavesdropper said...

You guys are GOOD.

I love y'alls stories. April - how cool that your "Austin discovery" was the ORIGINAL Quacks!! Love it.

And, @BSimms8907 - OMG, hit by a car?? I just emailed you. Dude are you ok?

Austin Eavesdropper said...

Oh, and, Man in Video. @LeTigre just so happens to be a real life model ...

Just sayin.' ;)

Anonymous said...

Flipnotics was the first place I became a "regular." I was still in high school and would drive almost 30 miles almost every day just to hang out with random artists/college students/musicians/coffee addicts with my friends. I would go see Matt the Electrician play there every week. I even became the old crotchety type of regular that doesn't like it when they remodel and lots of new customers show up. I decided that I wanted to go to UT over Dartmouth while sitting on a bench in Flipnotics. Ironically, when I moved to Austin from Buda, I stopped going, but I did go back the other night (coincidentally, on the last shift ever of my favorite barista). I always get a little nostalgic when I go back.

Austin Eavesdropper said...

@thefirstkitchen - Ross & his band sometimes plays at Flips. Next time they're coming with me.

Hey, it's interesting how so many of these formative places for us are coffee shops. Anyone else notice that?

Le Tigre said...

Tolllyyy!!! I told you not to tell anyone about that!!...She's right, though. Oh hey, did I tell you about the COOLEST halloween party happening on the 30th?

Austin Eavesdropper said...

@LeTigre- Haha. TOO LATE!

And Halloween Party - nope! What's shakin?

Le Tigre said...

Man in Video said...

Jason Clement (@giveit2lloyd) here from the National Trust. These stories are awesome! I hope y'all will join us at one of the meet-ups to share them on camera. And of course, you can always tweet them at #atxunscripted.

Christi @ Rumination Avenue said...

Funny how coffee shops root us to Austin. The ones mentioned above (with exception of Quacks-never lived close enough) are at the top of my list. Alas, now I live in the 'burbs in SW Austin and there is n'er a local shop to be seen...sigh.

huebscher said...

*such* a cool idea.

I used that laundromat for 6 years after college, while living in a quaint (but dumpy) rental a few blocks away. I regularly drank copious amounts of quack's coffee for access to the wi-fi (the owner of my "adorably boho" hyde park hovel was patently opposed to wiring the place for cable, land-line phone ... or internet), and probably spent months of my life there, all totaled.

my favorite regulars were the tattooed couple: he had horns and (green?) puzzle pieces from head to toe, she was striped like a tiger.

Brookeyogi said...

I love quacks too! Their Chocolate peanut butter cupcake is heavenly.

Heather Howell said...

Ok Tolly, I NEED you to show me some places.

Dad said...

You ALWAYS loved Austin. When you were a toddler I took us both on many a sunny day to a little secret spot (on North Lamar I think) where we walked down a path between two office buildings and VOILA! There was a creek, and walking paths, and ducks, and flowers, and all kinds of stuff that made little Tolly squeal and giggle and made her father beam with love. You are the soul of Austin.