When you work downtown, it's hard to ignore the siren song sounded by surrounding lunch spots. Sure, I have my good weeks, when I dutifully lug lunch from home -- usually something microwaveable, like one of those frozen Hot Pockets with its odd cardboard life vest (the better to nuke you, my pretty) and chunks of underachieving mystery meat.
But somehow the satisfaction of the money saved lasts only about as long as it takes to hot up one of those gut-twisting little morsels. More often, I find myself trawling the streets for a bite to eat ... and somehow, I've convinced myself that if my lunch costs under $6, it doesn't count as eating out (never mind that a whole year of such "cheap" lunches equals a plane trip to Europe and then some). There are plenty of places downtown where you can pick up a $5 lunch (though you may have to skip a drink and settle for water) -- but not all $5 lunches are created equal. For instance, a decent, thick soup is hard to find these days -- is anyone else tired of these watery, vegetarian concoctions that pass themselves off as gourmet?
That's why I appreciate Loretta's, narrow and crowded though it may be. Even their meatless soups are hearty (love that cold cucumber), and everything at this Patton Avenue cafe, from the enormous sandwiches packed on homemade bread to the lemon bars, tastes like it's crafted with pride. (Apparently, I'm not the only one to recognize Loretta's superiority ... at press time, the restaurant was scheduled to move to a much-larger College Street spot.) -- MM
27 Patton Ave, Asheville
I know the feeling; I've been there. You drive downtown and want to get out and wander our funky streets, only you don't have a dime -- and you'd like to be able to chill a bit longer than the parking decks' free hour allows (of course, you could get your free hour in Deck A, then run back and move to Deck B, then etc. -- but the operative word here is "chill," and all that sounds suspiciously like "work").
Don't fret. For reasons unknown, the Po-Po have apparently decided to neglect checking a group of three meters on Hiawassee Street, which offers super-close access to random downtown freakiness. Leave your lemon here (behind the Civic Center), hike the stairs toward the library, and you're in business. An added bonus: The steep downhill slope of the street (my guess for the meter-reading negligence) allows for easy roll-starting when your marginal battery faints at the thought of having to actually "work." -- BW
OK, technically, I am not a true local; my parents didn't move to Madison County, N.C., until three whole months after my birth. But my mother and my baby sister are both born-and-bred WNC natives. So I think I'm close enough for government work -- and certainly close enough to pen an official gripe on behalf of all those bona fide locals.
Why, why, why do so many people moving here -- and yes, even people from here -- feel the need to build obnoxiously huge homes all over our mountainsides? What are you doing with all that indoor real estate? Study after study shows that no matter how large and well appointed a home may be, its inhabitants use only a fraction of it on a regular basis -- the kitchen, the bedrooms, the john and where ever you veg in front of your TV. And why plonk it down on a ridgeline or mountainside? So you can justify buying a behemoth SUV? After all, you just might need a four-wheel-drive vehicle the size of my house to haul your groceries up the mountain -- particularly in the event of one of those frequent snow storms we no longer have, thanks to global warming caused by vehicular emissions and the extra electricity it takes to illuminate monster houses.
My bitch is not born of jealousy. It's born of frustration over the blatant misuse of our natural resources (how much wood does it take to build a 5,000-square-foot home, anyway?). It's born of the rapid removal of our forests (and even mountainsides) to accommodate these McMansions. It's born of the insidious sprawl (because, of course, if you have a house that size, you need an equally obnoxious lawn to go with it -- complete with excessive use of water and fertilizer to keep it green). It's born of the unnecessary added strain on infrastructure.
And it's born of sadness for the people who seem to feel a need to spend so much money building monuments to their egos. Isn't there some better way to proclaim our worth as humans than by destroying all the reasons we love WNC in the first place? -- CB
Despite the daunting number of bumper stickers in Asheville proclaiming that we are "ALL ONE," that is not the phenomenon I'm talking about. No, this category refers to the almost claustrophobic Zero Degrees of Separation that prevails in this town.
You know what I mean: You meet someone new, and within five minutes of starting a conversation, you've already discovered eight common acquaintances, several of whom you'd rather no one knew that you know or have known -- know what I mean?
The depth and complexity of our interconnectedness began to come clear to me as I was getting to know one of my now-close friends. Through a third party, we learned that we had both interviewed for the same job (for which one of us was hired); we'd applied for the same apartment (which the same one got); AND we had dated the same man (who fell for the same lucky gal who got the job and the apartment). During this "discovery" phase, we would often see each other downtown -- almost always clad in the same color scheme and headed for the same destination. And everyone I know (each of whom somehow knows everyone all of y'all know) has similar stories. Yep -- we're just one big, happy family here in WNC. -- CB
There's an ongoing argument among music historians as to where punk started. Was it New York City during the late '60s and early '70s, with the NY Dolls, Television and Patti Smith? Or was it London in '76, when Malcolm MacLaren arranged for that infamous Sex Pistols interview on the BBC? Either way, neither New York punk nor the MacLarenization of the movement managed to trickle south to Asheville until years later.
Funny thing is, once punk finally got here, it just kept coming back around. These days, you don't have to look too far to find a spiked Mohawk, studded leather jacket, torn fishnet stockings worn with a plaid skirt, or safety pins stuck through the skin. Even in the midst of the current piercing and tattooing frenzy, it's easy to spot a punk in the anti-fashion crowd.
While Mohawks and safety pins don't carry the same shock value they had 25 years ago, there's still something unsettling about gangs of young people hanging around with dog chains on their necks and combat boots on their feet. Even in the '70s, punks made the general public suddenly nostalgic for the hippies they'd only recently disdained. Still, the street kids are super-creative and know how to work the thrift-shop chic. It's a refreshing break from Tommy Hilfiger, and, as punk-rock icon Johnny Rotten contended, "It's all about being an individual."
The punk movement (or anti-movement) arose in a time of political unrest (the post-Viet Nam era in the U.S. and the mass-unemployment era in Britain). In the '70s, punk railed against a complacent system. Leads me to wonder what this most recent insurgence is all about. -- AM
He's Asheville's guitar hero, slinging his ax with such luminaries as the Allman Brothers, Gov't Mule and members of the Grateful Dead. And during the holiday season, like any good boy, he defies Wolfe and proves you can go home again. While here, the homegrown legend channels St. Nick himself, staging one of the best annual all-star jams in the country and donating all the proceeds to Habitat for Humanity. For one shining night each December, the Asheville Civic Center is brimming with people and filled with a glorious noise and energy; and because of it, some local families that otherwise couldn't are now able to celebrate the season in a home of their own. It's a selfless act of giving on Warren Haynes' part that personifies the true meaning of Christmas.
But whenever Haynes does manage to break away from his unrelenting tour schedule for a brief respite in his hometown, he's got to get someone else to let him in. You see, he's got no key to the city. Through the years, city leaders have bestowed the ceremonial honor on other Asheville residents: The latest recipient was local NASCAR legend Bob Pressley. And under former Mayor Leni Sitnick, Hollywood's Andie McDowell scored a shiny key in honor of her many charitable efforts, even though she'd only lived in the area for a couple of years.
Besides, Asheville has the least-affordable housing in the state, a problem that the current City Council has promised to address. And while they have taken some commendable steps in that direction, the shortage of affordable-housing continues to bedevil the city. Haynes is one of the many private citizens working on this critical concern; as a community, we ought to recognize those efforts.
It's time to give him our thanks. It's time to give him the key. -- BS
On a summer evening, you can walk the mere two blocks between Pritchard Park and Malaprop's Bookstore and sway to the beat of three, even four different groups of street musicians. The next night, you'll hear three or four different ones yet. Pulsing tribal drums, peppery Cajun with strings and squeezebox, mystic Celtic fiddles and flutes, sinuous Middle Eastern belly dances, rising folk/rock bands with talent and edge, lonesome-wailin' singer/songwriters, real old-timey folksingers strumming a banjo or bowing a double bass (not to mention a tap dancer to boot) -- Asheville these days is bubbling over with so much creative talent, it just can't be contained indoors. And that's not to mention our outdoor muralists, sculptors, performance artists, ritualists, festival crafters and cafe restaurauteurs ... -- SR
Who among us doesn't love to spend money? Let's face it -- most of us devote a hefty percentage of our time to trying to get ahold of some so we can turn around and quickly get rid of it again -- often before we even have it squarely in hand.
Part of money's appeal, of course, is its amazing flexibility. There are just so many things you can do with those popular little pieces of green paper. Need a new set of wheels? Money's your man. Want to take your sweetie out on the town? Take money, too. Ready for a vacation, a remodel, an implant? Don't leave home without it.
Until recently, though, there were still a few things you couldn't do with money. Not so long ago, they used to tell you it wouldn't buy happiness; happily, however, modern marketing techniques have all but eliminated that depressing message.
Another thing you couldn't reliably buy was elections. Sure, some unscrupulous schemer would try it from time to time, but at one man/one vote, it would just get too expensive -- plus you couldn't even follow the fellows into the booth to make sure they delivered.
All that began to change with the advent of political action committees several decades ago. Instead of relying on the messy and uncertain principle of majority rule, some visionary figured out that by substituting dollars for individual human consciences, you could make the whole electoral process much simpler and more predictable. Still, at least in the early going, these efficient vote mobilizers were generally limited to national elections.
Ashevilleans, however, are a resourceful and civic-minded lot, and we're not about to just sit back and watch our fair city get left in the dust. We're not known as the Paris of the South for nothing: If it's good enough for the big boys, it's plenty good enough for us.
So, in the last round of city elections, an enterprising group of local entrepreneurs banded together to form a political action committee called Citizens for New Leadership. Each member kicked in a chunk of cash, which they distributed to like-minded City Council candidates. Of the five they supported (to the tune of $4,000 a pop) in the primary, four made the cut; of those four (each of whom received another $4,000 for the main event), three were elected and the fourth was subsequently appointed by the others. In other words, all four -- a voting majority -- now serve on Council, with the power to pass any measure they can all agree on (that's democracy).
By joining forces, a few dozen local folks were able to create an amazingly potent mechanism (judging by its first fruits, anyway) for influencing the outcome of our civic contests -- beating out such venerable contenders as "passing out leaflets," "talking to your neighbors" and "voting." And thanks to the power of fiscal synergy, nobody even had to spend all that much to get what they wanted.
Pretty effective system, isn't it? -- PG
Money -- it's turning up in some pretty surprising places these days.
As I was interviewing Dick Trotman for a story on mental health-reform, up strode state Sen. Steve Metcalf (a champion of reforming the system) to take issue with Trotman's statements.
The conversation quickly turned contentious, with Metcalf -- like an angry prosecutor hammering on an opposing witness -- vociferously challenging each of Trotman's points, all the while pacing repeatedly over to the elevator to smack the "down" button. In contrast, the seemingly unflappable Trotman held his ground while barely raising his voice.
In the ensuing days, both sides attempted some damage control. Trotman emphasized to me that he'd been speaking only for himself and not for his employer, the Blue Ridge Center. Metcalf, meanwhile, called from Raleigh to explain that he'd been deep in the throes of nicotine withdrawal that night -- and acknowledged to me that, since then, he'd fallen off the nonsmoking wagon.
"I'm smoking this very minute," Metcalf confessed (presumably in between drags), shortly before his cell phone conked out.
Metcalf probably didn't know it at the time of the elevator tiff, but he went to the right person. Besides being a psychologist, Trotman is also the director of the Blue Ridge Center's narcotics treatment program.
My own suggestion for mental-health reform? Nicotine patches for all state legislators who need them.-- TR