It was just last year that I discovered what is perhaps the richest VHS honey hole I have yet encountered here in the state of Texas. Located just outside of Austin, in the small town of Liberty Hill, I was introduced to a man named Ed via Zack Carlson of Alamo Draft House and Destroy All Movies fame. Having relocated to Texas via the California Bay Area some undetermined number of years ago, Ed had previously been in the video rental business since 1982, and still owned most of his stock, which he kept in an 18 wheeler trailer on his rural property.
The day after Zack sent out an email to an exclusive list of VHS hounds, I made the drive out to Liberty Hill with several friends. After a forty minute drive down a winding deadwood-hemmed highway, we pulled down a dusty path and saw burly, silver-haired Ed loading fruit boxes full of tapes onto fold-out tables under his car port.
For the next six hours, my friends and I combed through each box and listened to Ed tell stories about the golden era of the video rental business, including some wild stories about Interpol’s impact on it. Over the course of two back-to-back day trips, I probably picked up 300 titles at a dollar a tape. On the first day, I also met fellow VHS junkies Judd Suarez and Blake Carlisle from End of an Ear, as well as Bryan Connolly, manager of Vulcan Video South and Destroy All Movies collaborator, who was cruising for lingerie modeling tapes. While there is competitiveness to tape combing, we also helped one another by shouting out the weirder finds and passing them off to one another if it was something we already had. This was actually how I discovered the insane drama, “Torchlight,” a drama where Pamela Sue Martin’s husband, played by Steve Railsback, is seduced and ruined by a high-end crack dealer played by Ian McShane.
The place was ripe with insane finds! There was even a large collection of weird eighties porn, but unfortunately, county law prohibited Ed from selling any of that stuff.
Almost a year later, I was tooling around at the 290 Flea Market on a leisurely Sunday when I spotted a familiar face sipping Budweiser from behind a dealer table. It was Ed, selling hundreds of DVDs, many of which he’d purchased with the money he’d gotten from selling his VHS tapes.
It had been a long time, and I had presumed that the best of the best was gone from his collection, but I was still curious. I asked Ed if he still let people out to his property to check out the tapes. Ed said, “yeah,” and handed me the business card to his car dealership, and told me to call him Tuesday night. Several days later, I dialed the number, hoping Ed would remember me. Sure enough, he did, and I made an appointment to drive out to Liberty Hill the next morning.
As I drove out, I was a little torn on whether or not I would find enough to make the trip worth it. After all, they’d been combed over for the better part of a week by mutants such as I. But then again, I also suspected that people might have rushed past some great stuff while racing against the collector on either side. Part of me suspected that if I weren’t racing to get through each box, I’d have time to peruse and possibly strike gold.
I pulled up that familiar dirt path once again, and was immediately filled with apprehension when I saw all those old fruit boxes full of tapes bundled together under Ed’s carport, covered by cinder block-anchored tarp. Ed ambled out, and I asked him, “so, have these just been out here since the last time I came out?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said, without the slightest bit of concern in his voice.
We pulled the tarp back to discover thick sheets of condensation on most of the tapes. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) most of the art had been cut to fit into plastic cases.
I was pretty worried that most of these tapes would be dog meat after enduring a particularly brutal Summer and damp winter. Nevertheless, I had driven out there, and Ed was kind enough to let me onto his property again, so hunting I would go. I wiped down most of the tapes on the top, and when I found something I wanted, I’d open the box, and pop the flap up to check out the tape to see if it looked okay.
The gamble paid off. Within the first hour, I’d found some incredible stuff, including numerous Emmanuelle titles, and some truly bizarre shot-on-video classic, “Dance or Die.”
A lot of stuff had been glossed over during the initial searches. While all the Paragon and grindhouse tapes had been looted, I found some truly strange titles still waiting for a home. Ed even dropped his price per tape to fifty cents, which meant I could be less discriminating while picking.
Close to six hours later, I had made way through every box under that car port. I was exhausted, dust-caked, and ready to go home with 250 new orphans loaded into the car. As I paid Ed, he said, “you didn’t even get to go through what’s in the trailer!”
“There are a bunch of other boxes in the trailer that I didn’t even bring out last time.”
Tears of joy seeped from the newly formed cracks in my soul.
A few minutes later, I found myself in the back of that dark trailer packed with wall fixtures from his store and yet more boxes with tapes. I was too tired to go through them that day, but Ed promised I could climb back up in there whenever I wanted. I have yet to return.
Over the last few months, I’ve sat through a number of the films I found out at Liberty Hill, and all but one of them so far have played perfectly in spite of not only the elements, but years of cycling through dozens of renters in another state.
Hopefully, I'll be able to make a return trip to Liberty Hill sometime in April. Any of my friends in close proximity are welcome to join me.