an exploration of urban identity in the middle of Texas
Filmed for a reputed $23,000 in summer 1989, Slacker is a film that had the odds stacked against it. Writer-director Richard Linklater had exhausted family members from which to borrow money, maxed out his credit cards, and at one point didn’t even have enough funds to pay the COD charges on a shipment of prints. Slacker’s quirky non sequiturs and large cast of weird characters didn’t initially connect with studios or distributors. As Linklater wrote early in the process, “We’re now more determined than ever to avoid these industry types who have no passion for cinema. We’ll find ALL of our people elsewhere and do the film a full 100% against the industry way.” Completed in February 1990, Slacker was repeatedly rejected from film festivals that year. Undeterred, Linklater and friends put up Slacker stickers, fliers, and murals around Austin and the film opened to record box office sales at the Dobie Theater in July 1990, selling out the first 22 showings. Word spread, and the film was accepted to Sundance, picked up for distribution by Orion Classics shortly thereafter, and officially opened in theaters on July 5, 1991.
Slacker’s amateur actors were selected from an invite-only casting call. Their inexperience is sometimes endearing, sometimes frustrating; their existential boredom and characteristic weirdness provide a glimpse of an Austin that may or may not be apocryphal. As Chris Walters’ 1990 piece in the Austin Chronicle explains, the actors represent the result of “the all-but-total decay of public life that has atomized [them] into subcultures of which they are the only member, free radicals randomly seeking an absent center as the clock beats out its senseless song.” On a grant application, Linklater himself wrote, “Slacker is primarily about people on the fringes of any meaningful participation in society. For the most part, the film focuses on the inner evolution and self-analysis of people in their 20’s; forever posing problems and growing more and more aware of their limitations and potentials.” The characters are never named, only referred to in the credits as things like Sadistic Comb Game Player, Video Backpacker, and Grocery Grabber of Death’s Bounty. Austin was a much less expensive city in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which certainly helped make it possible for part-time workers (and full-time dropouts) to pursue esoteric aims like memorize the minutiae of the JFK assassination, dispose of symbolic typewriters, and document every possible moment on videotape.
Despite its limited theatrical release, something about Slacker resonated with audiences and signaled a growing interest in an intentionally downwardly-mobile class of young adults seemingly without aim or ambition. And the timing couldn’t have been better. 1991 also saw the debut of Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, Lollapalooza (where organizer Perry Farrell would coin the term “Alternative Nation”), and Nirvana’s Nevermind, all of which helped establish the commercial viability of an “alternative” culture that would be thoroughly colonized by corporate America and made mainstream within a few years.
Slacker is a landmark in independent filmmaking, and one of only a handful of films to be shot in Austin up to that time. The city would soon provide the backdrop to more Linklater titles, Office Space, a couple Tarantino films, and most of Robert Rodriguez’s work. So, twenty five years after Richard Linklater, cinematographer Lee Daniel, and a cadre of anonymous weirdos set about Austin to make their vision a reality, I drove around town in an attempt to see what had changed and what, if anything, was the same.
Much like the anonymous characters, the locations are given generic titles in the script: coffee shop, street, co-op, soda shop, on bridge, in bookstore, etc. While the viewer is led to believe in spatial continuity, the geography isn’t entirely accurate. For example, after the failed robbery at the Old Anarchist’s house (apparently near MLK/University, though not actually a residential area), the Burglar leaves on foot to join a waiting car of accomplices under a bridge, actually at 35th/Mopac, a distance of about 3 miles.
What follows is not an exhaustive list of locations that appear in Slacker. I stuck to outdoor scenes, which explains why the Continental Club doesn’t appear on the list. Some I could not positively identify and others didn’t make for a good photo. See this Google Map for most of the approximate filming locations.
All film stills copyright 1990 Detour Productions, Inc.
1) (4:43) A taxi drops off Linklater (“Should Have Stayed at the Bus Station”) on 24th between San Antonio & Nueces. The Castilian still stands, an early example of what is now a large number of high-rise student apartment buildings in West Campus.
2) (6:47) 2405 Nueces, Linklater’s residence and address for his production company. Nicknamed the “Finger Hut,” the address can be seen on an Independent Production Fund grant application in the 1992 book but is blacked out on the Criterion Collection DVD booklet. The location is now the back of Fricano’s Deli and the pointing finger is gone.
3) (11:41) A guy is playing a guitar on the steps of the church on Guadalupe just south of 22nd St. The green-awning Bagel Manufactory is now part of the Scientology Center.
4) (13:52) Looking south along the Drag, this was once Quackenbush’s Intergalactic Dessert Co & Espresso Café (2120 Guadalupe), now an urgent care clinic. The upstairs portion formerly housed the Austin Film Society. A mural by Faile currently occupies the upper portion of the wall.
5) (14:50) Seen in the background of the extended conversation about the moon landing and conspiracy theories, this is along the south side of 22nd St between Guadalupe and San Antonio. The mural is still there but the door is slightly different.
6) The end of the moon landing conversation, 704 W 22nd is on a street where a number of co-ops are located. The house looks pretty much the same as it did 25 years ago (18:30), as does the adjacent apartment building (seen in 18:12).
7) (25:47) Possibly Slacker’s best-known vignette is the conversation about Madonna’s pap smear, which takes place on the sidewalk of 2nd St just west of Guadalupe. The film still shows a street sign for the 400 block of 2nd St, which would be impossible based on the lane direction sign on the opposite side of the street. After some sleuthing, it appears the street sign was turned around when the scene was filmed. Regardless, almost nothing remains the same at this location between 1989 and today.
8) (29:41) I could not positively identify the exact location, but it’s probably near the Madonna pap smear scene on the north side of 2nd Street. The 709 is probably not an accurate address, the number being a common feature in Lee Daniel’s films. This is right before we see the guy selling Nelson Mandela T-shirts in front of a green rollup door.
9) (32:07) After his death is predicted by the Sidewalk Psychic, the Happy-Go-Lucky Guy walks by an abandoned building before crossing a one-way street (and almost getting hit by a red pickup truck). I’ve been told this scene was filmed near the Liberty Lunch, formerly at 405 W 2nd, but almost everything in this part of downtown has changed over the past 25 years.
10) (32:33) Formerly the GM Steakhouse, location of the “You should quite traumatizing women with sexual intercourse” patron, 626 N Lamar is currently the Counter Café. The George Coffey auto dealership across the street is now the site of Book People and REI. The payphone is gone, along with most payphones.
11) (41:14) This view looks east along MLK Blvd just east of the railroad tracks. The open field with the two billboards is now a preschool. In this scene, two guys encourage another to throw a typewriter off the bridge into Boggy Creek. The bridge is apparently still a popular place to dump refuse, as there was a car battery in the creek the day I took the photo. This is the only location the crew paid to film – the man who owned the adjacent store demanded payment for parking in his lot, so they gave him $20.
12) (42:23) After giving a Diet Coke to a panhandler (“Nutri-Sweet, my favorite”), this couple walks by the site of Austin’s well-known “Hi how are you” mural. It was then Sound Exchange Records, now it’s a Thai restaurant.
13) (43:35) The bookstore (then a Half Price Books) is at 3110 Guadalupe. The camera is looking north. The Texaco station in the background is now a car wash, and the front door opens to a yoga studio.
14) (51:23) The JFK conspiracy enthusiast walks up to a guy working on an engine (“It’s practically a big block now”) before hopping into an old Pontiac. The location is 20th St just east of Salina St and the home on the corner is no longer there.
15) (54:43) Fresh from the junkyard, the carload of guys drops off the hitchhiker downtown. The spot is Trinity Street just north of 5th St, looking north. The buildings on the right are now Old School, Chupacabra, and Chicago House.
16) (55:00) The hitchhiker provides some choice quotes for the camera crew, among them “all it does is fill the bellies of the pigs who exploit us.” Another scene filmed on 24th St, the building in the background is The Castilian. The Subway is still a Subway, but Les Amis, where the customers are seated, is (predictably) a Starbucks.
17) (58:28) The shoplifting scene was filmed outside of Foodland, 1120 S Lamar. Not long ago, the entire shopping center (which had since become dominated by Alamo Drafthouse and the Highball) was razed with a new one soon to open in its place. Because of construction, I couldn’t access the exact spot where the post-shoplifter apprehension conversation takes place. The second photo is taken from the end of the street, facing toward where the couple is walking in the film. This is the very end of Dexter Street behind the shopping center.
18) (1:02:17 and 1:02:57) The Old Anarchist and the would-be Burglar have a conversation about the Capitol (“blow the damn thing sky high”) and the Charles Whitman shooting. Part of this scene looks north along University Ave toward the iconic UT tower. The AT&T Center now stands on the corner of University and MLK. Looking south across the parking lot, the trees have grown high enough so that the Capitol Building is no longer visible.
19) (1:05:33) This is a parking lot underneath 35th St on the east side of Mopac. It’s still a parking lot. For whatever reason, nearly all trains running on these tracks (except the Amtrak) are northbound.
20) (1:14:14) East side of I-35 just south of 13th St. The Sheraton visible toward the left is the same but clearly there are several new buildings in the Austin skyline.
21) (1:22:54) Steve (that’s S-T-E-V-E) can’t get into the club at 2008 S Congress.
22) (1:30:36) The young woman is standing in an archway. She gets in a car and they drive off down the street (1:31:30). The location is the west side of Congress Ave just north of 4th St. The illuminated sign across the intersection now says Fedex Kinko’s, and the three-tiered building across Congress is located where the Frost Tower now stands. Almost miraculously, the archway is still there.
23) (1:32:58) UPDATE: location identified! The Old Man Recording Thoughts crosses an alley and walks down the sidewalk next to a vacant lot. The camera pans most of the way around when the loudspeaker car approaches. Two old concrete walls are visible, one in the direction the old man is walking, the other across the street to his left. A Moon Tower, visible in the background to his right, no longer exists since the intersection of 2nd/Neches is now part of the Convention Center. The man is walking south along the west side of Red River south of 3rd Street (2nd no longer intersects with Red River).
24) (1:34:27 and 1:34:29) This is where the loudspeaker guy (“Post-Modern Paul Revere”) crosses paths with the carload of camera-wielding passengers. A street sign is briefly visible, indicating the 1700 block of Bouldin St at the intersection with Annie St. The house on the corner looks pretty much the same, as do the buildings across the intersection on the south side of Annie.
25) (1:36:43) This is the very end of the film right before “Tosses Camera Off Cliff” does what his character name indicates. The structure at the top of Mt Bonnell did not exist then, and the marker stone is now protected from vandalism by a large metal cage. As the script says, “The movie ends at the top of the hill, the city of Austin on the horizon in a dance of image, music, and release.”
Slacker doesn’t capture the fullness of Austin, nor does it pretend to. It provides a limited glimpse into the daily life of certain parts of Austin without revealing everything. And in that sense Slacker is less about a place and more about some of the people that make up (and are very much made by) the place they live. A January 26, 2001 Austin Chronicle article about Slacker’s filming locations suggests, “Richard Linklater’s film should be required viewing for the hordes of new arrivals that began inundating Austin some four years ago. Of course, the film’s popularity – and the cultural popularity of the ‘slacker lifestyle’ that it engendered – almost certainly sounded the death knell of the very community it was celebrating” – a criticism repeatedly echoed from this self-aware city so concerned with preserving its parochial coolness: Keep Austin Weird! Welcome to Austin, don’t move here! And above all, Don’t Dallas my Austin!
To an outsider like myself, too young and born elsewhere, Slacker is an important film more than it is a good film. To the underachieving twenty-somethings living in Austin in the late 1980s and early 1990s, almost like an inside joke, you had to be there to fully understand.
Brendan Gaughen is working his way toward a Ph.D. in American Studies. His research interests focus on the connections between material culture, collecting, mobility, and the human relationship to place. When not doing academic-related things, he enjoys playing vintage video games, wandering America’s backroads, and a GPS-based hobby called geocaching.
This article feels incomplete without a mention of SLACKER 2011, a creative scene-for-scene reinterpretation of SLACKER produced twenty years after the original film’s premiere. Given that the film had Linklater’s blessing, was produced by a UT grad (the underrated Daniel Metz), was shot in Austin by local independent filmmakers, and premiered at the Paramount, I’m really not sure why it’s not included, even just in passing.
I bet Slacker 2011 isn’t mentioned, bc it’s not Slacker. The original post is about the original Slacker & how the Austin geography has changed, since Slacker was released;).
If you really want to see “old Austin”, get a VCR and watch “Outlaw Blues” with Susan St. John and Peter Fonda. It came out in 1977 so I assume it was probably filmed in 1976. A very, very different Austin but the one I grew up in.
Sorry. Susan St. James
I like what you wrote Brendan. I published the book Slacker at St. Martin’s Press in 1919 along with Generation X. Richard and I put the Slacker book together in a warehouse in New Jersey.
Really? What happened?
Because I wrote a third of the book dazed and confused and i don’t remember hearing about NJ
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Discussions were held at the start of filming SLACKER as to where we could set up and shoot without permission, permits, or cost and not worry about stray pedestrians or inconveniencing traffic by setting up dolly tracks and/or reflector boards in the street. The quick consensus was of course, nearly deserted, post-savings and loan scandal and oil-bust ridden downtown Austin and also the decaying student area, West Campus, home to one and only one condo. By the end of filming we were also bemoaning the lack of those same stray pedestrians/ free extras as the film seemed to have an “omega man” look to it.
We owned the streets, mostly by virtue of being willing to be outside on the hottest days of the summer. We rolled a Chapman crane down the middle of 23rd street. I pushed a dolly down the centerline of the drag, at night, all with zero traffic control. (Both camera platforms were stolen – and returned!) In the original scenario, we planned to blow up a gas station, almost gratuitously as a pre-planned sop to nervous distributors – “it’s in color, and has explosions and a crane shot! You have to buy it!.” Most everything else dreamed of, we pulled off without incident. How, I haven’t a clue. Dumb luck or guardian angels have to be one idea, and simply being a mostly harmless novelty in a sleepy town seems more likely.
Near the Varisty theater, less than a block from where we all lived, we encountered our only “hassle,” repeated drive-bys by a overloaded convertible carload of inebriated and entitled fraternity types stragely but persistently heckling our crew and cast to “go back to Hollywood.” The director, normally as calm as Jean Renoir had his one and only Oliver Stone moment and threatened to hit them with the camera slate, thus eventually causing them to move on. Decades later I’ve never seen him as angry as he was that day, possibly for the reference to corporate cinema more so than the debilitating cost to our dwindling film stock budget .
For a film about so-called “slackers,” it’s important to note that every single person on screen had a day job their part had to be booked around and usually an outside project as well such as a band or radio show, etc that made scheduling 120+ performers an immense challenge. The artsy, originally proposed title was “No Longer, Not Yet,” which I flatly refused to write on the camera slate on the first day, placing “Detour” instead, the company name chosen in honor of the French Situationists and of course the famous low budget Noir movie. D. Montgomery, the sound mixer and art maven of the film (along with Debby Pastor, who shot the only stills that exist of the making) smoothed over the issue reminding us all that the real name of the film would “emerge,” and that “we were already spiraling in towards it”. The title “slacker” came from the joke that the six person crew and the director were the only unemployed/ unpaid people on set each day, despite the countless hours we toiled to bring in the film that long hot summer.
To his eternal credit, Rick Linklater made every person involved in the making of this film feel as though it was their project, too, including following through with a collective profit sharing plan that netted actors something around a hundred a day, years later. He carried that generous spirit on to DAZED and both films benefitted greatly from his openness and spirit of inclusion, despite having written and directed both, and then helming with immense control to capture his personal vision. Everyone made the movie they wanted to make, Rick just got in front and pushed first and hardest.
That is great! Thanks for sharing. I’ve lived here for 34 years, and those days in the 90’s were pretty special. It doesn’t hurt that I know 1/3 of the cast…
Right on, Aaron! & I think we know at least 3/4 of the cast…
I provided party favors for some of the filming. This movie is about all of us, then;).
Very illuminating Clark – thank you for sharing this
#9 is in fact very near Liberty Lunch. The scene is looking SE toward what used to be the City Council chambers, they are visible as the dark, low facade on the middle-far right of the frame. Liberty Lunch would have been about 60-70 degrees to the right, across the street. The building behind that shot was covered in amazing graffiti until the City decided to sell it’s soul to the highest bidder.
I (born here in 1972) played Clark Walker’s character in the 2011 remake/benefit film.
We shot the portion of our scene as the merry band of would be robbers wait for the guy by the train tracks then take off, at that exact same location…under Mopac, @35th street, with only Northbound trains.
I’d attach behind the scene pics if I could.
If you join the Austin Film Society before June 21. I will personally send you a (now rare) SLACKER 2011 DVD. (While supplies last). Just shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. https://www.austinfilm.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=3967
Reblogged this on a fiend of awesome and commented:
A fascinating look back at the Austin I first learned to love, as my first visit to my now hometown was right around the time they filmed Slacker, and I moved here shortly thereafter.
Oh wow! We’re the house on the bottom of #24. Owen and I have been here for nearly 10 years, and never knew our house was in the film! Thank you!!
The crew was shooting that scene at dawn, with the profanity-laced monologue broadcast live and loud, circling the block when the APD pulled us over. We tried to say as little as possible hoping that we would be able to finish the scene somehow and not have to re-shoot elsewhere, thereby wasting precious film stock. While cooling our collective heels in your front yard, or on the curb more specifically neighbors were peeking out of the curtains at us and the cops were slowly accumulating in all their separate prowler cars…. at one point we heard the officer tell his dispatcher that we were “campaigning, or… something” and it was then that we knew we’d dodged a bullet. No one knew for certain what we’d been broadcasting – a violent call for an apocalyptic free-for all! The cops let us go with a warning, and like all good indie film makers we waited for them to leave the vicinity and finished shooting the scene just like we’d started.
Jodi, that’s awesome! You’d have loved Austin in the 80’s! I sure did;).
That’s the Austin I love and remember. By the way, I’m pretty sure the camera was resting on the back of my head during the Les Amis shots.
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I love this comment thread! I am the Slacker “Shut-In Girlfriend”. I was so young when it was filmed, and being young I had no clue what amount of sacrifice or passion went into it’s production. Reading this I’m also realizing that the Austin that existed before the growth explosion is captured forever on film. Most fans of the city today probably wouldn’t recognize it as the same place.I think I’ll watch it again this weekend just to see Les Amis!
Go to http://www.theragblog/metro for my “Don’t Keep Austin Weird, Puleeze” story about the planned Archer Austin Hotel, a chic 168-room boutique hotel planned for The Domain with the theme “Keep Austin Weird.” I tell stories of the theme derived from SEX, DRUGS and ROCK ‘N’ ROLL back in the ’70s, when The Music Capital of the World was in its infancy with the Armadillo and many other venues and about 300 bands in town and some of the crazy, exorbitant stuff that went on then. I think you will enjoy it. Please leave a comment there. Thanks.
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This is a wonderful text, Brendan. I am a huge fan of Richard Linklater, and this film has a particular place in my heart. The first time I saw it (as a result of late night channel surfing on German public television) must have been in the mid 1990s. Total coincidence: I had neither heard of a city called Austin nor of a director called Richard Linklater, and I could have never known that 20 years later I would “end up” living in a contemporary version of the city that was his film’s central character.
But now to your text: Your approach immediately reminded me of the video installation “Berlin Remake” by American artist Amie Siegel. Her work juxtaposes the extreme contrast between clips from communist-era DEFA films (DEFA = East Germany’s state-run film studios) with identical ankles reshot in gentrified contemporary East Berlin. The parallels between your text’s strategy and Siegel’s video installation suggest that the radical urban transformation that Austin is experiencing finds a pendant in a European city that experienced arguably one the most radical transitions in recent history: from communist rule to capitalist free markets — practically over night. And this Berlin-Austin connection says quite a bit about the driving force — namely an economical order that is exclusively fixated on the principle of “growth” – that is behind Austin’s radical transition. This is by the way not necessarily only a bad thing (in the case of East Berlin: post-89 is certainly a more hospitable than pre-89), but what is the more interesting than the good/bad issue is that such processes leave, erase, and rewrite all sorts of traces of the past into the presence.
The result of such a rapid development is a culture of nostalgia. This longing for the past is more present in Austin than in any other North American city I have lived in, including places that are much older (and “with much more history” as they say), such as Boston and New Haven. In a certain way, Austin’s culture of nostalgia is not unlike a somewhat de-politicized “Ostalgie,” the longing for the past among many East Germans disillusioned by the new market economy. Considering these two issues one can argue that nostalgia in Austin (and to a somewhat lesser degree in Berlin) is more a reaction to ongoing radical economical/urban change in the presence than a strategy to commemorate a distant past.
In any case: Thanks, Brendan, for this thought-provoking essay!
Very thoughtful comment and interesting comparison between Berlin and Austin. As you point out, both cities have experienced rapid development over the past 25 years, Berlin’s happening a bit earlier, but both cities driven by a desire for consistent growth, both spatial and economic. Of course, with growth comes inevitable change, which was one thing I sought to document with the photographs. I hesitate to say whether Austin is better or worse than it was 25 years ago (nor am I qualified to) – only different. Yes the city has certainly changed in many ways but it still has managed to retain its distinctive character.
As someone who did not grow up here (like many of Austin’s current residents), I cannot claim a strong personal connection to the Austin of 1989. However since nostalgia is very closely tied to place, it makes perfect sense that many longtime Austin residents feel protective of the visual evidence of a past that is slowly disappearing.
You commented that “this longing for the past is more present in Austin than in any other North American city I have lived in, including places that are much older (and ‘with much more history’).” I suspect it may have something to do with so much of Austin’s growth happening very recently. The rapid change causes uncertainty and (for many) a self-reflexive desire to protect the remaining markers of the past from further erosion. But (as you point out), the purpose of nostalgia in/about Austin may be more of a bulwark against the city’s constant changes and growth than a desire to hold onto the relics of the past. Perhaps it’s about keeping Austin the way it is rather than the way it was, all while keeping a tentative eye on the future.
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Thanks for linking Slacker to Austin locations! At 1:33, post-modern Paul Revere is going north and then south on Washington Square, before cutting to Bouldin Ave where he intersects with the convertible with Richard and others.
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The 709 photo was on west 2nd north side, the old Covert parts warehouse right across the street from Liberty Lunch.
True. You did have to be there. I knew a lot of the characters and all the locations, as a young skate rat growing up in Austin. The fortune teller lady lived in my apartment building (Madrid apts. On Newning)
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This is brilliant – thank you! I moved here originally in 1993 as a budding UT RTF transfer student a few months after having first seen “Slacker” without ever even having visited Austin before, so it was my introduction to the town (now it’s definitely a city!).
It has always been a special film to me, so I had wondered when I moved back if I could ever find any of the film locations. I recently used this info to conduct my own “Slacker” walk/drive to see the sites for myself. A lot has changed, but some things still remain, which is pretty cool to see.
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You missed the Greyhound station in the first scene. Today you can still see the ACC building in the background from the Greyhound parking lot/driveway where the taxi picks the guy up.
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I lived in Austin during two periods in the 1980s, as an undergraduate at UT from 1981 through 1984, and returned in 1986 after losing my job as a geologist in Sweetwater to work for Texas Instruments for a year-and-a-half, and stayed until the fall of 1990 to obtain my Master’s degree. During the first stint, Austin was booming, and one could see the beginnings of the transition to the modern city. I was glad to get out. During the second stint, which was about the time that Slacker was being shot, it was much easier to see the weird side of Austin that the film captures so well–I lived in the Del Prado apartment complex at 303 W. 40th–it’s still there, although rents ($1300/mo.) are much higher than I paid to live there ($515, $595, then down to $415, then $350/mo as the owners became more and more desperate to keep the apartments rented out during the late 80s economic downturn in Austin). That was a great time to be in Austin. My best friend from college days, Joe O’Connell (director of Danger God and Rondo and Bob), and I toured some of the iconic locations from the film, mainly because I lived in the area (I managed a small apartment complex in Clarksville for a semester) before attending Roky Erickson’s 70th birthday party. While many things have changed, you can still see some of the old charm peeking through. I probably would not have bee able to afford to live in these areas now, especially as a poor undergraduate/graduate student.
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Came her Googling for the ‘typewriter bridge’ and lost in the reading after that. Thanks everyone! I’ve always loved this film. I’ve never even been to Austin, but still somehow still consider this film ‘ours’.