I came within four feet of being shot by Charles Whitman on August 1, 1966. The story is below.
On April 1st, 2007 I got to ascend the Tower and shoot a photo from the west side of the observation deck. This was the first time I had visited the University of Texas Tower observation deck since prior to August 1st, 1966, when Charles Whitman rained down a withering fire of bullets from this vantage point. Thanks to some connections I have made, I was allowed to go along with a group of former Austin police officers who were on the tower that fateful day and participated in the elimination of Whitman.
The photo confirmed my suspicions. The white air conditioning unit on the roof of the Union Bldg in middle of that photograph probably saved my life on August 1st, 1966. At 11:55 a.m., along with two of my Longhorn Band friends, I was standing on the sidewalk just under the now-existing black sign with white letters that reads "Wish." In 1966, the entire ground level area where Wish, Austin's Pizza and Sprint now occupy spaces was one large drug store/soda fountain-cafe called Renfro's Rexall Drug Store. This is where I met my Longhorn Band pals every school day that semester.
Whitman may have considered us for targets, since he could have probably seen our heads over the ac unit. But he probably could not have seen our bodies and at that point in the rampage, he was aiming for midsections. Instead, he chose to shoot a 38 year-old military veteran named Harry Walchuk, who was standing in the door of a narrow newsstand that was located just to the south of us.
As Joni Mitchell said "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone", and so I feel about Les Amis. I never really hung out there beyond the occasional lunch or afternoon beer. The crowd there was always a little too artsey, too east-coast bohemian, and the menu was expensive! Looking back though, "Les" was a cultural nugget for old Austin and especially for campus culture. It was there during the riots, during the fawning disco days, during the punk scene, and it had a place and purpose in each of those.
The film "Viva Les Amis" should be required viewing for anyone on this site. Good history and snapshots from our time gone by. Here's one for you... look familiar?
I took pictures that night, but this is one I captured off of the web, from earlier in her career. Kindly and I were just swapping text about that concert on FaceBook last month. She had tickets, and we went together on a friend 'date'. JJ was with her Full Tilt Boogie band, and was cranked that night, on Southern Comfort and whatever she had left from the plane trip. She was best on stage, and was the 'in betweens' that took her from us later that same year... She never found the love she sang about, but left us all with blues in the night. Kindly Kay and I stood on the folding chairs like a couple of teeny boppers. ;-) Farnham
When I came to UT in '67, it was at the end of the alcohol burning big iron culture, just before the smoke fueled hip scene caught on, and the Drag (and even Speedway just south of the campus) was sprinkled with old dives that sold beer to students. The Orange Bull was one of those, on the Drag about 2600 block, above a dry cleaners.
When I became a Summer Orientation Adviser in '68, the group would meet there every Thursday after the kiddies went back to Dumas or Abilene. The Order of the UT drank too much beer and sang too many Hank Williams songs. Good times and fun people. I'm looking for pictures of the OB, if anybody has any.
When I first moved to Austin, one of my best friends was a vegetarian. Since I was new in town, I followed him around for awhile. That meant eating vegetarian meals, something very new to the Texas carnivore. There were a couple of places that I recall but mostly it was the "avocado and sprouts on whole wheat" that we would get at Salvation Sandwiches. That was the complete experience: the hippie food, the hippie food vendors, the hippie mentality. All in all, a very proper lesson in the culture of my new home.
Several years ago, I corresponded briefly with Robert Burns, after seeing that he had copies of old Austin posters, and I mentioned that I remembered one very well.
Robert was the art director, I think it was, for the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" movie, back in 1973 or so. I need to do another posting about the house for that on its own!
Anyway, the poster that Robert had was of a concert held on the baseball field just as UT was starting up again for the year. I say Sept 1970, but could have been 1971?
Anyway, the lineup for the day was:
The Allman Brothers
It's A Beautiful Day
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (I don't remember them, but that was common for the time...)
It was a *fantastic* day of music, for sure.
While I was writing this up, I came across the following quote from Willis Alan Ramsey that relates to that concert (from http://www.willisalanramsey.com/content/Riverfront-times-review-2000-11-09.htm)
"Willis Alan Ramsey, his one and only album, at once captures that intimate milieu of folk songs and stories, then leaps well ahead of its time, owing in part to Ramsey's idiosyncratic tastes and a fortuitous encounter with Leon Russell. "I was booked into a motel called the Villa Capri in Texas, and staying at that hotel were the Allman Brothers, Leon Russell, It's a Beautiful Day and Pacific Gas & Electric. I saw their show and made it a point to knock on their doors. Leon was nice and receptive, and I was kind of cocky at that point. I thought I was writing some tunes that he should hear. Leon told me to break out my guitar. He and his road manager listened and gave me their numbers in California.
"They said I should come see them. Greg Allman and Dickey Betts were really nice as well. They invited me to come down and see them in Macon. This was right before the Allman Brothers took off. So I went to see all of them. Greg recorded a demo on me, and then I went out to see Leon, and he made a demo on me. Leon said, "I'm getting ready to tour. If you like, you can stay in my house and record in my studio at night.' That pretty much sold me! It all happened quickly. I was pretty confident in what I was doing, and suddenly I was over my head. I went from playing college coffeehouses and then I'm in Leon Russell's home studio and people like George Harrison are coming over. It was a completely different environment."
Every Saturday morning, starting back around 1970 for a few years, there would be movies and fun at the Saturday Morning Fun Club (SMFC). It was held in a small movie theatre in the bottom/back of the old Student Union Building, the one just to the left after you crossed the Drag.
People showed a half hour or so before the start time, and I have never seen so many paper darts flying through the air! Nor have I ever seen not just funny little cigarettes, but full fledged water pipes and other assorted paraphenalia moving up and down the rows...
The audience was far from quiet and accepting - loud and opinionated expressions of disbelief and disgust were common. I remember the shorts of Flash Gordon. At the end of one week, Flash Gordon was pinned to the side of the top of a building, with a car engine flying through the air at him, only inches away from him to cause sudden death! The next week, it was resolved as it amazingly seemed to just miss him. Ahhhh....
Good movies, good fun. Not sure I'd want to take *my* kids there, though...
One thing great about the university area was that it had a ecosystem of food that was matched to the student lifestyle and budget. Here's a brief list that I recall... add in your favorite.
The Egg Roll Stands
- You really didn't want to know the details but these snack bars on wheels were so convenient that they could not be passed up.
The original Trudy's
- It was a ways up the drag but your could count on good food and a bohemian staff. The carne guisada was outstanding.
The Chinese Takeout
- This place was about the size of a modern-day Shortstop burger place. It had a walk-up counter where and picnic tables outside. The most interesting thing was that the staff was 100% middle eastern. Iranian, I think, but they made the best chicken fried rice.
Hansel and Gretel
- This place (now a Trudy's, ironically enough) was one of the meeting places where the cool profs would meet with students for long discussions over pitchers of beer and cold-cuts. It seemed like it was deep in the woods back then.
- Although this was supposd to be a sandwich shop, they served made-to-order breakfast for incredibly low prices. I started many a day there.