October 6, 2009
It’s been nearly a generation since Rick Linklater’s seminal film established Austin as the center of the slacker universe, a lazy little college town where people mostly just sat around talking about weird, esoteric shit and did little else (except wander off in a sort of ADD tangent to the next vignette). Apparently, a lot of people saw Slacker and said to themselves, “I can do that! I can do nothing!” and moved here in droves. Initially some were old-school hand-to-mouth slackers who came for the cheap booze, drugs, rent, and slutty women, all of which could easily be had by working a 20-hour shift at ThunderCloud. Then came the second tier: folks who identified with the slacker lifestyle and aesthetic but were also able to pony up the increasing rents for slacker havens like SoCo, SoLa, NoFo, and Crestview. These semislackers often held down real jobs and were closet competents, regardless of their full-sleeve arm tattoos and ear pegs. Instead of getting shit-canned on Natty Light, Lone Star, Pearl and PBR, they enjoyed the more moderate, epicurean buzz of boutique brews like Fat Tire, Bootlegger Brown Ale, Sierra Nevada, and Firemans 4. Instead of gut-bombing wicked hangovers at places like the Tamale House, Arandas, Taco Shack, and the occasional construction site roach wagon, they had sit-down breakfasts at places like Güero’s, Curra’s, Maria’s Taco Xpress, Pato’s, and Changos. No shame in those names, quality is quality, but quality isn’t a regular part of the slacker budget. Sometime around the turn of the millennium came the third tier of slackers: the dot-com cash-outs and trust fund babies; late-in-the-gamers who also bought into Austin’s weirdness fully, first with their pocketbooks and then their hearts, so much so that they even created marketing campaigns to keep weirdness from being gentrified … albeit a day late and a dollar short. Their “no worries,” casual Friday approach to slackerdom was genuine – why sweat the small stuff when you truly don’t have to sweat the small stuff? – as was their utter oblivion to the fact that they were pricing the old-school slackers into the hipster wilderness of far East Austin (they eventually priced them out of that as well). For the latecomers, slackerdom is more a destination vacation than a journey of personal discovery. They’ve opened cute, hyperspecialized boutiques; bought overpriced condos; and actually pay for extravagances like valet parking and bottle service. What was unthinkable back in the day is commonplace now. It’s still Austin, just an entirely different Austin. Yes, there are still plenty of unshaven, jort-wearing, tattooed grad school dropouts with part-time jobs who share a rent house with five other overeducated, undermotivated velvet rutters, but they’re feeling the pinch. That East Austin shotgun shack is four times what it was back in the day. You could try to work that early Nineties slacker budget nowadays, but that lifestyle is now called homelessness – and no, you’re not fooling anybody by parking your rusty old shit-beater van down the street from Epoch. Makes you long for the good old days when slackin’ was cheap and your landlord passed out fliers for his interpretive dance performance. Those days may be gone, but you can relive them this weekend when the Lebowski Fest rolls into town on its Speed of Sound tour. For an unslackerly $45, you can attend Friday night’s Big Lebowski screening at Stubb’s and Saturday night’s bowling party at Highland Lanes. This is your chance to feel what it’s like to actually dress up as an old-school slacker … or one of the many other zany characters from this Coen Brothers’ cult classic. So maybe Lebowski Fest is as close as you’ll ever come to actual slacking, but that’s probably a good thing.