Spike Gillespie has been a friend of Esther’s Follies for 25 years. Spike performs custom-created wedding ceremonies and writes a tattoo-shop-inspired blog called “Man College.” I recently sat down with her at Jo’s Coffee to talk tattoos, rattlesnakes, and her various involvement with Esther’s over the years. This is a small excerpt from our conversation.
Laura: When was your first interaction with Esther’s?
Spike: I moved to Austin in the Fall of 1991, and believe it or not I didn’t love Austin. I was having a hard time finding work, and my son wasn’t even one [year old] yet. I had asked Louis Black at the Austin Chronicle to give me work and he said yes. My first piece I ever wrote for the Chronicle was about Turk Pipkin and I said to Turk, “I need work”, and he said, “Call Esther’s Follies.” It was probably February 1992 and they [Esther’s] took me on. I was a barker at The Velveeta Room, I managed The Velveeta Room, I managed Diva’s Cabaret, I helped out on the floor at Esther’s, and I bartended.
Laura: What was it like to be a barker at the Velveeta Room?
Spike: Awful, awful! (we laugh)
Laura: That’s a hard job!
Spike: My second job in my life was being a barker when I was 15 years old on the Boardwalk in New Jersey, so I had prior experience. It’s not my thing. I now definitely know that I’m an introvert, but I needed whatever work I could get.
Laura: What are some of your memories of Esther’s from back then, around 1992?
Spike: It was wild, there would be some nights it would go smoothly, hilariously, spectacularly, and then there were times it was emotionally intense. It puts me in awe of all that they are able to do. There’s got to be days where you get grumpy, and whatever the magic is, they hold it together. I see the show a couple times a year and I always can’t believe they do this.
Laura: I know you officiate weddings, and you write. How do you spend your time these days?
Spike: A year ago a ranch fell into my lap in Garfield Texas, and I bought a tiny chapel. I’m building up my business out there. It’s been mostly great but also really intense. We killed a six-foot rattlesnake that almost bit me the other night. I didn’t want to kill it but it was a genuine threat. But if I stop and look at the past year, how much we’ve accomplished, it is pretty mind blowing.
It is truly my desire in life to be as useful as possible. And to share my ranch as a place of respite or healing. Every month we have a dinner for bereft parents who have lost a child. I’ve had a French neuroscientist live with me for a few months so she could help a family in need.
Laura: Can people rent it out?
Spike: Yes, I also Airbnb it, parties, once a month I have thirty-five live action role playing vampires come and have a party. I was so glad it was them and not a wedding with the rattlesnake- I called out to the vampires, “Rattlesnake, everybody freeze, there’s gonna be a gunshot”, and they were just like, “Okay, no problem.” And then everything just resumed. Weird right? (we laugh)
Laura: If you were to give advice to tourists, what is still authentic to you here in Austin?
Spike: When I have guests in town, I’ll take them to the Capital. I love South Congress. You could start out at Magnolia South, eat a meal, work your way down the street, catch some music, get a tattoo, and then go see the bats. I love Sparky Park. I love taking people to Esther’s, I’m not kidding you. I love the Driskill. Hyde Park is primarily where I raised my son, from kindergarten through eighth grade, and I practically weep whenever I go there. It’s where I raised my boy.
Laura: What are your favorite ways to spend a day off?
Spike: On Thursdays, I work at Southside Tattoo, right across the street, and what I do is I hang out with the guys, I write a blog for them called Man College, and even though I just answer the phones and help out, it deeply nurtures my soul. Today, I’m getting tattoo work done, and that is more than fun for me, it’s weirdly grounding, it’s very focusing, and I’m surrounded by the people I love.