Austin Stories B.C. – Down on the Drag

An Austin story B.C. (Before Children), sometime between 1975-1985.
A series of stories for each letter of the alphabet. The 70s were a long time ago. 26 stories might be a stretch for my brain, but I have made it to D – as has the prompt photo for this week.

As there is a band in the prompt photo, I’ll begin with a song written and performed by Joe Ely and band.

                    Down on the drag, down on the drag
                   Where some lowdown son-of-a-bum
                   Done stole my sleepin’ bag
                   Left me standin at a news stand
                   Readin’ want ads in The Rag
                   My baby’s back up in Lubbock
                   And I’m down on the drag

                  Well the sooner I get to Houston
                  The sooner I’ll catch me a boat
                  I’m gonna cross that Gulf of Mexico
                  I’m takin’ anything that will float
                  I been

                 Down on the drag, down on the drag
                 Where some lowdown son-of-a-bum
                 Even stole my sleepin’ bag
                 Left me standin at the news stand
                 Readin’ want ads in The Rag
                 My baby’s back up in Lubbock
                 And I’m down on the drag

                Well the sooner I leave this town behind
                The sooner i’ll get control
                Of all my crazy dreams and my hard-losin’ schemes
                My heart, body, mind and soul
                I been

               Down on the drag, down on the drag
               Where some lowdown son-of-a-bum
               Even stole my sleepin’ bag
               Left me standin at the news stand
               Readin’ want ads in The Rag
               My baby’s back up in Lubbock
               And I’m down on the drag

               If you don’t believe my story
               I ain’t gonna tell you no more
               And if you ever expect to see me anymore
               I’ll be sleepin down in some doorway

Guadalupe Street (mispronounced locally as gwad-a-loop) runs along the west side of the University of Texas campus. On the side opposite of campus are restaurants, the University Co-op Bookstore, and an assortment of businesses that cater primarily to the student population.

This newspaper photo shows a very crowded Guadalupe St. when UT students returned for the spring semester in January 1978. The inside of the UT Co-op Bookstore was probably just as crowded.

The Austin American Statesman 1978 Jan 18

The sidewalk along the Drag was not always that packed with people. The photos below better reflect my memories. The song references The Rag, an underground newspaper founded in 1966. Until today, I didn’t realize that The Rag still exists – as a blog. Some of the artful covers are on Flickr.

Byron Mason selling copies of the Rag.
Photo by Alan Pogue Accessed from Facebook

This photo especially evokes the feel of the Drag in the late 70s. Buskers. Street food. Flower sellers. Someone sitting on the sidewalk selling something – often puppies in a cardboard box.  Sometimes a couple just sitting there, backs against a wall and, not-so-uncommonly, a woman going topless. This woman is selling a kit to test marijuana for an herbicide.

Austin American-Statesman 1978 Apr 04

The food cart in the photo above looks like an egg roll cart that was the available street food at that time – before the proliferation of food trucks we have now. I had a few egg rolls during grad school, but my husband never trusted that his gut would be happy, so he did not. The photo below is Saigon Eggrolls. The photo above may be the competing egg roll stand.

Saigon Eggrolls. Accessed from Facebook

It was fun to stop into the stores along the street. One of my favorites was The Cadeau. It was filled with a wonderful mix of clothes and gifts and home items that no one else was selling.

Cadeau sign. Accessed from Facebook.

Sometimes there was a loud street preacher. Sometimes Hare Krishna. Always an interesting mix of people who mostly shared the space congenially. Frats and freaks and more. And, as the song implies, some who slept in doorways and alleys.

My husband and I often did some people watching and shopping on Saturday afternoons. Some of our favorite stops were on side streets adjoining Guadalupe. I think I’ll save them for another post.

One of the frequent buskers on the Drag was not a musician, but a mime. We enjoyed watching him perform and my husband took this photo of him. I am embarrassed to say that I don’t remember giving money to anyone performing on the street. Although we we didn’t have a lot of extra cash at the time. But still.

Does the mime in the photo look familiar to you?

Does the name Turk Pipkin ring a bell?

Mr. Pipkin went from street mime/juggler/clown/magician to actor/writer/philanthropist.

Harry Anderson at Eeyore’s Birthday Party ~1978

Turk Pipkin wrote this about himself in an article for Texas Monthly magazine.
I went to Austin to go to the University of Texas but ended up performing on the drag and at beer-soaked clubs like Castle Creek and The Armadillo world headquarters. At The Armadillo, I met my best friend, Harry Anderson, the actor and magician. Harry was the one who got me out to Los Angeles.

He also wrote this piece about his friendship with Harry Anderson and their early careers for The Austin Chronicle in 1999.

Somehow we completely missed Harry Anderson …

Turk Pipkin still lives in Austin. He has written a number of books, acted in numerous films and television shows (I never watched The Sopranos, but he had a recurring role), among other accomplishments. A recent enterprise is The Nobelity Project. The project began when he interviewed nine Nobel Peace Prize winners and turned the interviews into a documentary in 2006. That experience became something much larger than a documentary film. From the Nobelity Project website:

The Nobelity Project focuses on educational and environmental progress in East Africa, Latin America and at home in Central Texas.

Our vision is simple: every child has the right to a quality education.

Our mission is direct: we bridge gaps in education so each child has a ladder to success in school and in life.

Our commitment to you is clear: your support is used in the best possible way to build a brighter future for 15,000 children every year.

Although much of the work of The Nobelity Project has been in Africa, there have been a number of projects in the United States, including helping to bring back the trees lost in the fires at Bastrop State Park in Texas in 2012.

I enjoyed this short video made in 2015 to celebrate ten years of The Nobelity Project.

Not bad for a street mime.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday. Please drag yourself over to Sepia Saturday and enjoy what others have prepared.

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

6 thoughts on “Austin Stories B.C. – Down on the Drag

  1. Just goes to show one’s simple beginnings can grow into something quite remarkable! “Down on the Drag” kind of reminds me of “Cruising the Plaza” in Sonora, CA. When we first moved into the area in 1981 there was only one shopping area simply called the Sonora Plaza and the big thing for teenagers after going to the movies there, was to “Cruise the Plaza”. One night when my son was 15 I took all 3 kids to the movies and afterward, as I was working our way out of the parking lot, my son said “I can’t believe I’m Cruising the Plaza with my mother.” as he scrunched down into his front passenger seat as far as he could go to get out of sight. We all laughed – even my son albeit with embarrassment. 🙂

    • Funny! The small town where I graduated high school had a drag and a turnaround at the Sonic so you could go back and drive it again. I think the Drag in Austin has a similar history, but in an earlier time.

      I have always been impressed by Turk Pipkin’s ability to move forward to bigger and better things.

  2. I remember those bell-bottom days well. Your stories have really captured the creative quirkiness and idealistic optimism of the turbulent 70s. By a strange coincidence your mime’s best friend, Harry Anderson, lived in my neighborhood here in Asheville until his death in 2018. I’ve probably walked my dogs past his home everyday for years, but sadly never met him. Thanks for the link to the Nobelity Project. It looks like the kind of small scale world aid organization that my wife and I like to support.

  3. We keep having little coincidences brought to light by this series of stories. Small world after all! Happy to introduce you to The Nobelity Project.

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