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LIANE HANSEN, host:

There are places in our lives that now, are only memories. Over the past few months, we've asked you to tell us about some of the places that were important to you but no longer exist.

San Antonio, Texas, is famous for the Alamo, but you may not have heard about another city landmark. In today's installment of our series, "Place and Memory," producer Shea Shackelford went to Texas to find Taco Land.

SHEA SHACKELFORD: If you follow the San Antonio River north past the Alamo into an industrial area that once housed the Old Pearl Brewery, you'll come to a cinderblock building with an ancient live oak. The building's vacant now, but this was once the loudly beating heart of San Antonio's underground music scene. This was Taco Land.

(Soundbite of song, "Taco Land")

DEAD MILKMEN (Band): (Singing) There's a place in San Anton where I can go and not feel alone. Taco Land, it's a panacea. Taco Land, they're always glad to see ya. You'll understand when you go on down to Taco Land.

SHACKELFORD: Long before the Dead Milkmen ever wrote this song about it, Taco Land was just an after-work beer joint. Shift workers from the Pearl Brewery and folks from the neighborhood were shooting pool and drinking cheap, cold beer.

(Soundbite of song, "Taco Land")

SHACKELFORD: But around 1980, a young cow-punk band called the Hickoids played what many believe was the first underground punk show at Taco Land.

(Soundbite of music)

THE HICKOIDS: (Singing) What's the matter, little fella, ain't you never seen a cross-dresser before?

SHACKELFORD: Part of the punk idea was finding authenticity, and this place was unpolished enough and foreign enough to these kids to fit that bill — not to mention, it was full of cold beer.

(Soundbite of music)

THE HICKOIDS: (Singing) Well, he's the queen of the barbecue. He looks much better in his dress than you. Well…

SHACKELFORD: The Hickoids weren't the only ones who found something new that night. Taco Land's owner was Ramiro Ayala — or Ram, as everybody called him.

(Soundbite of music)

The HICKOIDS: (Singing) Oy, oy, oy…

SHACKELFORD: And after running that bar for 15 years, he connected with something about the freedom those kids were trying to find - and their recklessness. He opened the door to anyone who wanted to play.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

Mr. RAMIRO AYALA (Owner, Taco Land): Taco Land. What? Que paso, daddy? Hey, dude, you're for the 23rd…

SHACKELFORD: Taco Land quickly became a sanctuary for all the bands in San Antonio that didn't fit in anywhere else, and Ram became their patron saint.

Ms. BELL SOLLOA: Oh, hey, I'm Bell Solloa, and I was a longtime customer, friend and music lover over at Taco Land.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SOLLOA: He allowed that music to be here, which was more underground, punk, you know, surfer or rockabilly, everything that most of the clubs wouldn't allow.

(Soundbite of music)

SHACKELFORD: Ram's original customers didn't necessarily see it the same way when these kids and their bands started coming in, dressing weird and playing really, really loud music. Jeff Smith is with the Hickoids.

Mr. JEFF SMITH (The Hickoids): They'd say, what the hell are you doing bringing these bands in here? And he goes, hey man, they're here to rock and roll and if you don't like it, you can go sit outside or you can go somewhere else.

SHACKELFORD: Some regulars left, some stayed, and the bands kept coming. Ram treated everyone the same, which meant occasionally yelling and kicking you out if you didn't follow Taco Land's golden rule: Basically, don't be mean to anybody - and have a great time.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) I wanna meet you in the morning, hit my favorite taco stand. I get some migas, huevos rancheros. I want to be your San Antonio man. Oh…

SHACKELFORD: Taco Land became one of those bars where people who would never otherwise know each other became friends.

(Soundbite of music)

SHACKELFORD: Phil Luna was in a band whose name I can't say here, but let's call them the Poop City Dreamgirls.

Mr. PHIL LUNA (Musician): If you wanted to hear the band, you open the front door, you're immediately being pushed out by the crowd on the inside.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Two, three, cuatro…

Mr. LUNA: You'd fight your way to the bar, and you just didn't care. You knew everybody that you rubbed into. So, it was just a hug to the right and a hug to the left, and a butt smack and a kiss and a take a shot of this. I don't remember the paneling or the posters. I remember nakedness and then seeing things very close up in a very blurry way, you know.

(Soundbite of music)

SHACKELFORD: Half of going to Taco Land was going to see Ram. He had tons of sayings and everyone there latched onto them. Like, when bands were playing, he'd yell…

Mr. SANTIAGO GARCIA (Poet): One more time for the March of Dimes. Ram was definitely a cool cat.

SHACKELFORD: Santiago Garcia is a San Antonio poet.

Mr. GARCIA: He seemed to me a little bit Pachuco-inspired. He had the hint of a slicked-back hairdo. He wore dark shades at all times. He had this little mustache. He was an iconic man.

SHACKELFORD: Ram's favorite expression can't be repeated on the radio.

Mr. GARCIA: I think the nice way you can say that is: Turn it up, wussy.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GARCIA: I think he was just telling you to take it to another level.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GARCIA: He was a very funny guy, and I think he was just picking on you, trying to hit the chip on your shoulder or make you loosen up. If you went in there and you took that as a criticism, you didn't get it.

SHACKELFORD: Ram said it best in a 1996 documentary about Taco Land.

Mr. AYALA: Hey, we enjoy ourselves. We play. We drink together, you know. We might not make no money. But hey, man, we have a good time. You can't buy a good time. I don't care where you go. You just can't buy it. I mean, the good time is here.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #3: All right, here we go.

SHACKELFORD: Taco Land gained an underground notoriety. National acts like Yo La Tengo and the Minutemen would book shows there. But the heart of Taco Land was always local music and a family of loyal customers.

There were a series of people who formally and informally worked there over the years, who Ram had taken under his wing. Denise Koger was one of those folks. She worked for Ram for five years. She was there the night that everything ended at Taco Land. She was coming from the back when she saw two guys talking with Ram at the bar.

Ms. DENISE KOGER: I heard Ram's last words. I don't know if I can say those or not right now, you know, F-you. And then boom, the guy shot him.

SHACKELFORD: The two men robbed the bar, shooting Denise and another co-worker before they left.

Ms. KOGER: You know, the jukebox is blaring, playing like, Mexican music real loud. There's the smell of gunfire and there's blood everywhere, money all over the floor. And then I had kind of dragged myself around to Ram. And he was laying there. He looked perfectly handsome. He wasn't moving, but his sunglasses were askew. And I put them back on his face for him.

I've seen a lot of things in my life, and I've known a lot of different type of people, but never in my wildest dreams could I see anyone hurting a person like Ram.

SHACKELFORD: Ram Ayala died that night. He was 72, and he'd been running Taco Land for 40 years. After the shooting, Taco Land never reopened. It's been four years and the building is still there like a shrine — or a ruins.

Erik Sanden from the band Buttercup still goes by every so often.

Mr. ERIK SANDEN (Musician, Buttercup): It's weird because in the heyday, it was much bigger than it is now. It's shrunk since.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SANDEN: I don't know if this happens to other spaces, but especially you've got like, such a strong personality like Ram. And then that soul leaves - it just leaves a big space.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. LUNA: Taco Land was a movie. It had a beginning, and it had an end. It had a soundtrack. And it had a crazy story line that went in and out of everybody's lives. I'm not sure it really happened. No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LUNA: I wish there was a piece that I could share with my kids or I could share with future bandmates. No way, man.

(Soundbite of song, "Taco Land")

DEAD MILKMEN: (Singing) There's a place in San Anton where I can go and not feel alone.

HANSEN: We heard from Phil Luna, Bell Solloa, Jeff Smith, Santiago Garcia, Erik Sanden, Denise Koger and several San Antonio bands. Archival tape of Ramiro Ayala was provided by Laura Escamilla-Fouratt.

(Soundbite of song, "Taco Land")

HANSEN: Since we announced this series, many of our listeners have shared hundreds of memories at PlaceandMemory.org. Take a minute to visit and share your own stories.

PlaceandMemory is produced by Shea Shackelford and Jennifer Deer of Big Shed Audio. It's part of Maker's Quest, a project of AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. To learn more, go to NPR.org/quest.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

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