The Drag runs along Guadalupe Street by the +The University of Texas at Austin campus. Like the Austin…

The Drag runs along Guadalupe Street by the +The University of Texas at Austin campus.

Like the Austin Lord of Comedy Writing John Kelso says
A live chicken is placed on a numbers board set on the pool table, and if the chicken goes on the number that corresponds with your ticket, you win some money. Now ain’t that some … uh, never mind.

How come we call the Drag the Drag? Where’d that name come from?

Beats the heck outta me. But for as I’ve been in Austin (50 years) that’s what that strip of latte stops, T-shirt joints, the big bookstore and a variety of other businesses has been called.

But who came up with the name beats the Burnt Orange snot outta me. I can dig calling the strip the Drag, since the area has always been a magnet for colorful street people. It ain’t exactly Madison Avenue, if you catch my drift.

But who came up with the tag in the first place is a mystery to me. Anybody out there know the answer? If so, pass it on.

"The Drag” (short for “the main drag") is the portion of Guadalupe Street (locally pronounced “Gwad-a-loop") in Austin that has the University of Texas on the east side and various eclectic shops and restaurants on the west side. The name “The Drag” dates to at least January 3, 1926, when “Rode up and down ‘the drag’ and yelled and cussed” was printed in The Daily Texan newspaper.

Panhandlers or homeless street people on “The Drag” have been called “drag worms” since the 1970s. In the 1980s, the term “drag rat” was also used.

Wikipedia: The Drag
The Drag is the name for a portion of Guadalupe Street that runs along the western edge of the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas.

The Drag began as a strip of shops which provided vital resources to UT students. Bookstores, restaurants, and clothing stores fulfilled student needs, the proximity to campus added to the popularity of the street. At the start of each semester The Drag fills with students purchasing text books and school supplies.

The Drag is considered an important part of Austin’s civic life, but in recent years more affluent Austinites have been avoiding it as it has fallen into disrepair and become frequented by panhandlers.

About.com: Austin
“The Drag”
by Jacci Howard Baer
Definition: A portion of Guadalupe that runs along the western edge of the University of Texas campus is known as The Drag. Although more mainstream than earlier years it is traditionally home to underground bookstores, tattoo parlors, and other eclectic shops.

Along The Drag, commercial businesses (and churches too) are found primarily on the west side of the street with campus buildings on the east side.

Urban Dictionary
drag worm
A bum, homeless person, or affluent white kid from Westlake, Texas begging on Guadalupe Street (called the drag) across from the University of Texas.
Man, stepping over the drag worms on the way to the Architecture school can be hazardous!
by Pablo MonteChristo Austin, Texas Oct 19, 2007

UT Memory Bank
1970s Drag
Stephanie Carnes Peco
ex_student grad year
1980

The 1960’s were slow to end in Texas. In fact, there were plenty of hippies living out in the country and in shabby little cottages not visible from the road well into the 70’s. These were the halcyon days of Austin. You couldn’t walk across campus without smelling dope and everyone’s dog was a lab and named Toke.

There were also Drag regulars: Bicycle Annie and that Smile! guy. Bicycle Annie was a frail bag lady always standing at the intersection in front of the University Co-op attempting to step down from the curb. It was painful to watch. Then some poor freshman would try to help her and she’d scream at them. You only tried to help her once. The Smile! guy stood in front of the Co-op and ordered you to SMILE!!! with this weird mixture of good cheer and menace. You tried to avoid eye contact.

The vendors were there. That side street (23rd Street) hadn’t been blocked off yet. And this was when the term “Drag Worm” began being used. The frats coined it, I believe. There was a lot of patchouli oil and bra-less, hairy-legged women. It was good times in a smaller, less hectic city: the only place in Texas where you probably wouldn’t get hassled for having long hair.

3 January 1926, The Daily Texan (Austin, TX), “Prickly Pearagraphs,” pg. 2, col. 3:
He stayed up ev’ry night till half past four,
Rode up and down “the drag” and yelled and cussed,
While all the shocked and sleepless natives fussed;
He laughed and laughed and aughed to see them sore.

13 August 1928, The Daily Texan (Austin, TX), “Good Morning,” pg. 1, col. 1:
The paper will be distributed free to the business houses on the Guadalupe drag and some of the stores downtown.

10 February 1929, The Daily Texan (Austin, TX), pg. 4, col. 3:
SOCIAL PROGRESS
By J. C. Watkins
A SWEET litle co-ed from S. B. D.
Came tripping down the drag.
A poor broken hobo accosted her:
“Oh, lady, I’m dyin’ fora fag.”

17 April 1929, The Daily Texan (Austin, TX), pg. 5, col. 3 ad:
FOLKS ALONG THE DRAG—greetings!
(The Texas Theatre.—ed.)

Google Books
Population Mobility in Austin, Texas 1929-1931
Austin, TX: University of Texas
1941
Pg. 20:
The western residential portion of the tract is divided from the campus by Guadaulpe Street, which at this point is known as “The Drag” to University students and …

Google Books
State Universities and Colleges:
A Guide for Prospective Students
by Roy Hoopes
Washington, DC: Luce
1962
Pg. 411:
By popular vote that year, Austin was chosen as the site of the main … chiefly on Guadalupe Street ("The Drag") which is the west boundary of the campus.

University of Texas at Austin – student publications
The Rag – Summary of 10/13/1969 Issue
Page 20: It’s all happening on the Drag

Google Books
Crime and Delinquency
by Martin R. Haskell and Lewis Yablonsky
Chicago, IL: Rand McNally
1970
Pg. 125:
Directing his fire west, Whitman found shop-lined Guadalupe Street, the main thoroughfare off campus—known locally as The Drag—astir with shoppers and strollers.

University of Texas at Austin – student publications
The Rag – Summary of 11/9/1970 Issue
Page 3: Trouble on the drag

The Rag – Summary of 12/14/1970 Issue
Page 2: busts on the Drag

The Rag – Summary of 2/1/1971 Issue
Page 2: Drag merchants

The Rag – Summary of 6/12/1972 Issue
Page 11: Drag vendor

27 March 1989, Austin (TX) American-Statesman, “Some Austinites still living happily in the Age of Aquarius” by Billy Porterfield, pg. B1:
Drag rats on the Drag, joggers in the paths or outings in the parks that were …

New York (NY) Times
CAMPUS LIFE: Texas, Austin; Sleep-Out Group Walks in Shoes Of the Homeless
Published: November 24, 1991
(…)
Lisa Davis, a member of the group, said looking down on the homeless was among students at the university. For example, she said, students often call homeless people “drag worms,” a word play on “the drag,” a street bordering the campus, which is popular among the homeless people.

Google Books
Down on Their Luck:
A Study of Homeless Street People
by David A. Snow and Leon Anderson
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press
1993
Pg. 61:
In Austin the hippie tramps hung out in a student housing and shopping area along the main street that borders one end of the University of Texas. This section of the street has long been known as the Drag, prompting students to refer derisively to the hippie tramps and other homeless who frequent it on occasion as “Drag worms.” This did not deter the hippie tramps from staking out this area as their home base or from peddling, panhandling, and occasionally performing to get money from students and other passersby.

Google Books
At Loose Ends:
An Austin Story
by Peter Thaddeus
iUniverse
2003
Pg. 45:
Then a panhandler locally called street people or Drag Worms, slips in and starts eating scraps from a table barely just vacated. Becky eyes him, and hollers, “Chas come get this Drag worm out of here.”

Google Books
University of Texas at Austin
Off the Record
by Erin Hall
Pittsburgh, PA: College Prowler, Inc.
2005
Pg. 150:
The Drag: Guadalupe Street—it borders UT and has stores and restaurants such as The University Co-op, By George, Urban Outfitters, Chipotle, Texadelphia, Einstein Brothers’s Bagels.
(…)
Drag Rat: Homeless or just wandering people who look somewhat unwashed who live, sit, sleep, play music or beg on the drag. Generally, they will just sit around and play with their dogs and ask for your (Pg. 151—ed.) money. Although, when I was here for Orientation before freshman year one did come up and scream in my face. That was kind of a scary experience. However, they might not be homeless at all, they may just be a strange guy who went to your high school and decided to pretend to be a drag rat.
Pg. 166:
The Ten WORST Things About UT at Austin:
(…)
5. Drag Rats

Austinist.com
August 10, 2006
Changes to Come On Austin’s Most Schizophrenic Street

In less than one month, the incoming class at The University of Texas will start walking the sidewalks of Guadalupe Street, listening to Nick Drake on their shiny iPods and buying every Bob Marley poster within a mile radius. These sidewalks, between 19th and 29th street, are affectionately known as The Drag, an area in a constant state of flux as businesses attempt tirelessly to keep up with the perpetual flakiness of an 18-24 year old market.
(…)
By anon
[1] | 08/10/06 06:20PM
Drag rats? I think you meant Drag Worms, just an observation. Otherwise, good post about a part of town that hardly anyone but UT freshman frequent anymore.
(…)
By matt wright
[4 | 08/10/06 09:12PM
Drag worms? I’ve seen some of our writers use it—but I never once heard it when I was at UT, from ‘99 to ‘04. Is it a newer or older term?
(…)
By the drag needs more cafes
[6] | 08/11/06 08:44AM
I was here 8 years ago and have been at UT ever since. This is the first time I’ve ever heard the term ‘Drag Worm.’ Back in Berkeley we called them ‘Gutter Punks’ – I always heard ‘Drag Rats’ as the term since I came here.
(…)
By drag rat vs. drag worm
[7] | 08/11/06 08:49AM
Well according to the ‘memory bank’, Drag Worm as a term originated in the ‘70’s: http://web.austin.utexas.edu/teamweb/cfdir/prowl/memorybank_detail.cfm?FlashVersion=yes&storyid=256

But Drag Rat shows up in Wikipedia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drag_Rat

Y’all fogies need to update the Wiki sounds like. wink
(…)
By truecraig
[13] | 08/11/06 10:18AM
They were always called Drag Worms AND Drag Rats. “Worms” was an older term which we used with pre-hipsterish irony.
(…)
By anon
[14] | 08/11/06 10:25AM
Yes, Drag Worm is the original term. I’m not sure how it got transformed into Drag Rat – just guessing that with the demise of the Drag about 10-12 years ago the term lost its value and as UT kids became more interested in what jeans others were wearing or what car they drove they probably just forgot the term all together. As for the Wikipedia comment; I trust Wikipedia about as much as I trust Delay and Abramoff with my money or Bush with making the right decision about the Middle East. Besides, someone can always go change Wikipedia at anytime to reflect Drag Worm as the correct term.
(…)
I’ve heard both “Drag Rats” and “Drag Worms”, but when I went to UT they were usually called the former.
(…)
By Julio
[20] | 08/31/06 03:35PM
I don’t buy the Wikipedia entry on Drag Rats. It reads like some freshman cut and pasted their first year Sociology term paper.
(…)
By anon
[21] | 08/31/06 05:09PM
I had forgotten to post back to this. So I’ve talked with several professors who went to school at UT and a couple that teach there now. I’ve also talked to quite a few graduates – people who graduated before let’s say 92 and after the 70’s – the question I posed was simple; I blindly in mid conversation said “Drag Worms or Drag Rats?” – instant response, Worms, where the hell did you get Rats? And what are you talking about?” I’ve had a few say they heard Rats too, but said they always knew it as Drag Worm.
(…)
By exsoundexex
[28] | 09/05/06 11
dragworm was the original phrase. it fell out of fashion in part because it was used perjoratively towards the homeless. there was even a punk band called dragwurm. also, as the drag gentrified and became more like a mall, drag rats alluded to mall rats.
(…)
By John Jarzemsky
[30] | 05/07/07 03:52PM
Hey all, I’m the author of the “Drag Rat” entry on wikipedia, which has since been deleted.

Gotta admit I’m a young Austinite (but native Texan). Still, I have never, not even once, heard the term “Drag Worm” until I came to this website (and somebody updated my entry on wikipedia.

Isn’t it kind of pointless to argue over the “correct” slang term to describe a pretty amorphous demographic? I’d say “drag rat” is definitely more commonly used nowadays. And yeah, the entry I put in wikipedia was pretty slap-dash, but I let the reader know at the beginning that I didn’t know much about them, not being a drag rat (or worm) and all.

I was hoping that somebody with more knowledge might fill in the gaps instead of bitch about it, but I guess I had a little too much faith…

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • Sunday, March 02, 2008 • Permalink

Looks like political correctness has once again changed the language. “Drag worm” was the term used from the 70s up until my last drive down the Drag in the 90s. I’m sure some freshman sociology major more recently reacted with faux indignation at this term for bums and druggies and demanded change. Austin, being a town with no spine, most likely immediately cowered and started using “rat” so they could keep that “cool urban vibe” they try so hard to convey. There’s also that fear of women in sensible shoes armed with the Business Law books.

One wonders why the rest of the state never takes Austin seriously.

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