My Third Starving Artist Story

Stick with it – there are pictures at the bottom!

I really didn’t appreciate my coworkers during the times that I worked at Les Amis (I worked there at two separate times).  There were the itinerates that had worked there for years, and the college students that were working for pocket money.  I was already out of undergraduate school, and I lived in fear of getting stuck in a coffee house for years.  I really didn’t have a group to hang with.

The older crowd there was brilliant. One of the busboys had a Phd in Philosophy; one of the women had a double major in Economics and Philosophy from Rice University. Another one of the busboys was getting his Doctorate in Mathematics in the field of Topographic Algebra. The employees would sit at the front cable spool table and discuss all sorts of things.  They were interested in Literature, The Classics, and Music (some of them were in a recorder group together).  I don’t remember politics being discussed in such a bifurcated fashion, divided between party lines as it is now.  I remember there was conversations about local politics.   There was also talk about the Farm Workers Union, because Alan Pogue was documenting the movement through his photography.

Some of the regular customers at Les Amis were invited to sit at the “Employee’s Table”. Intellectuals, salesmen, friends, and bums would sit around the table with us.  Bicycle Charlie and Bicycle Annie were what today would be called “The Homeless”.  But these two were of a different time and ilk: Bicycle Charlie collected bottles and tin cans by bicycle for refunds and lived in Hyde Park (a now very exclusive neighborhood in Central Austin).  Annie sold advertising in classified circulars.  She had no bicycle, but got around on crutches.  Bicycle Annie was mean and dirty.  Bicycle Charlie was sweet and dirty.  He took my hand once and turned it palm upwards.  He said, “I’m A Sinner and A Saint”.  Upon saying “A Sinner”, he tapped me with the third finger.  Upon saying “A Saint”, he did the sign of the cross in my hand.

I developed a love of poetry by sitting at this table.  I was reintroduced to Dylan Thomas, and remembered listening to BBC recordings of his recitations in Mrs. Goetz’s high school English class.  Even the bathrooms were spaces to ponder your purpose.  The walls were filled with philosophical expositions – not your usual, crass territory-marking junk.  Being there accentuated my fear of what I was doing with my life.  There were many days when I felt as if I were trapped inside of Bunuel’s film “No Exit”.  I was aimless, and self-centered – a warbling fan knocked off its axis.

Please Comment if you want me to continue the weekly STARVING ARTIST STORY.  and subscribe if you wish!

Top two pix are me at Les Amis.(see what happens when you wash you hair with soap?)  The bottom pix is of Susan Lazarus serving on the patio.

Top two pix are me at Les Amis.(see what happens when you wash you hair with soap?) The bottom pix is of Susan Lazarus serving on the patio.


  1. Posted November 5, 2008 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I too worked at Les Amis during that period. I was so young and felt intimidated and in awe of the ‘big kids’ talking philosophy or literature at the employee table. It was an incredibly special place to work and to grow up in.

    I also remember customers who would come in & order “hot water” and pull their own tea bag out of their purse or bag. There was Gary, a regular who, instead of leaving a cash tip, would draw a picture and leave it as gratuity. It did not endear me to him.

    I have fond memories of the place and of that time.

  2. Posted November 5, 2008 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    I think if you need to tell the stories you should tell away regardless of comments.

    Bicycle Charlie…blessed are the poor in spirit.

  3. michellesolange
    Posted November 12, 2008 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I love the stories. The thing about starving artist stories are that they exemplify the delayed gratification of achievement. These stories serve to illustrate that we should strive to appreciate and learn from all of our situations in life. They show that the journey is as important as the destination, that we should revel in the anticipation of a goal, as much as in the arriving at it.

  4. Posted November 12, 2008 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Michelle.

    Thank you for your post. I like the phrase “delayed gratification of acheivement” -their is hope stored up for us, isn’t there? 🙂

    Thank you for stopping by!

    ~Lavanna Martin

  5. Posted March 26, 2009 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I was certainly a painter but I seldom starved in those times. Lived in Austin and when the people were friendly I would go visit Les Amis when I wasnt making abstract electronic recordings or swimming at Hippie Hollow.

    I used to hang out at Les Amis occasionaly between 1972 and 1975. Sometimes I was treated poorly by the staff and sometimes better.
    I had very long hair but was clean and had money but treated like a bum by some of the people but not all. Thought I looked okay but maybe it was the “Cousin It” hair I had at the time.
    Anyway one day I ordered tea and could never get a refill. I guess I didnt look like a tipper…or a student.
    One day I was so angry about being ignored I went up and ordered six glasses of tea and when I was finally waited on an hour later, I demanded they fill all six glasses. Im sure they put up with a lot of bums there.
    By the way the song “Sidewalk Cafe” from Texas Chainsaw Massacre was written about Les Amis. Hmmmm!
    Anyway my memeories go back before it was a hippie place with the Inner Sanctum and Les Amis… it was a bookstore in the late fifties and early sixties .

    As a child on the way home from the Varsity theatre every Saturday we would walk past that building. I went to school across the street from there at Wooldridge Elementry and lived down at 707 W.24th where the University Towers are today.
    We would see Bicycle Annie all the time. This was around 1960-1965. She was wearing a Bonnet or straw hat in those days and some people called her Bicycle Mary as well. You would see her all over town.
    As a child I noticed she always said hello to me and smiled in those days. She was not treated very well by some people.
    As I recall she sold insurance as well as subscriptions. One day she appeared at the trash can in front of our house and proceeded to used our trash can as a kitchen table and pulled out some mayonaise and bread and made a Balooney sandwich , My mother came out and ran her off the property.
    She road that old bike pretty good in those days. I left Austin in 1965 and returned in may 1972 and that summer I met Bicycle Charlie who hung around the drag and the street people and hippies were fond of him. He claimed to know nothing of Annie. In 1973 I moved to Austin and discovered Annie walking on crutches and my dad said it was her. At this point she could be real mean even if you said hello she might cursed you. One day I told her I remembered her from my childhood and she said “Hello!” It was a shock because she usually told you to “Go to hell.”
    You would see her all over town moving very slow. I moved away in 1975 and never heard anything about her since then untill this website.

    Around 1973 I ran into Charlie pushing his bike and his leg was horribly twisted, He said some Frat Rats had held him down on a curb and stomped on his leg and broke it and he never had it set so it grew back twisted and he had to push the bike. Never saw him again either. When my father Jubal Clark died in 1997 my brother and myself both had some tea at Les Amis. Sad to see those times go. I would hang out on the streets all night and never got hurt. Armadillo was fun as well. I hitched all over that town and it hardly looks the same today. I road a bicycle and no car until I was 40 which is pretty strange but I doubt it had anything to do with Bicycle Mary and Bicycle Charlie.
    Since they were such fixtures on the Austin streets around the same time it was always in the back of my mind that they may have crossed paths at some time or other.

    • Posted March 26, 2009 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Hi, Dan.

      Thank you so much for leaving this bit of history on my blog; you have definitely added more dimension to this part of Austin’s history.

      Sorry that you were treated badly at Les Amis; I hope that it wasn’t me. I was very good friends with a person that fitted your description of yourself. He was actually an engineer, and taught me how to build an LED word board.

      Thank you again,


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