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?