Back in late February, while administration officials were insisting that the imminent war with Iraq would be a cakewalk, someone hung a protest banner proclaiming "War Kills" from the Charlotte Street bridge over Interstate 240. But unlike the banners advertising festivals and the like, which often flap raggedly over commuters' heads for days before being removed, a state Department of Transportation crew tore this one down almost immediately. The reason the DOT gave reporters for its sudden shift to swift enforcement of its policy prohibiting bridge banners was that a passerby had called in a complaint.
Just a couple of months later, however, dozens of big blue standards celebrating Wachovia Bank's supposed 100th anniversary were unfurled from city light poles throughout downtown Asheville. And even though scores of citizens complained to city officials and the press about this unseemly public flacking for a private financial concern (which didn't even originate here and, according to their Web site, is actually only 92 years old), the city fathers shamelessly let Wachovia's flags fly free in the streets till sun and rain began to fade the corporation's rich blue emblem.
Next year, satirical sources inform me, city officials will forbid protesters opposing the imminent war with Europe to carry banners in Pack Square, claiming that they could distract drivers' attention (from the American-flag decal on the SUV in front of them, perhaps?). Several months later, however, City Council will vote 4-3 to allow the Grove Park Inn to celebrate its successful acquisition of public land around the square to build high-rises for private gain by flying the GPI logo atop the Vance Monument. -- SR
The road to the Buncombe County Landfill winds beside the French Broad River, giving scattered views of rapids, rocky cliffs and the occasional kayaker. But -- as in much of Buncombe County -- cell-phone reception is spotty on Highway 251, punctuated by maddening static and bursts of total silence. In many places, you might as well be caught in a black hole. Turn into the landfill proper, however, and as you approach the scales, your cell phone gets happy. Blip-blip-blip and you've got a decent signal. Drive past the scales, ascend the first hill, and hit that gravel road ... and just about when you see the big trailers for tire collection, your cell phone hits full stride. Great mountain views and great cell-phone reception that's clear as a bell: If only you could make all your calls from there, and use up those thousands of night and weekend minutes! Alas, the landfill's business hours don't allow for that. -- MW
Buncombe County Landfill
85 Panther Branch Road, Alexander
The dogs emerging from the Asheville Pet Center, owned by Rebecca Pickens, are better-groomed than some of the people who hang out in front of Malaprop's. Pickens, who's run a grooming service out of her store for the past five years, says she has many loyal customers.
One of them is Buffy, a cocker spaniel who's been getting her hair and nails done for as long as Pickens has offered the service. She comes into the store, trots right to her crate -- and growls at any other dog that has the audacity to be in her space. Buffy says she appreciates the careful treatment she receives from Pickens and her staff.
"I used to go to another grooming service, where they would give me tranquilizers so I wouldn't bite them. Girl, I would get the worst hangover the next day!" reports Buffy, giving her manicured paw a delicate lick. -- RD
Asheville Pet Center and Grooming
24 New Leicester Highway, Asheville
Even though last winter's Support Our Soldiers rally wasn't strictly a pro-war demonstration, those citizens making an overt plea for peace that same day were relegated to neighboring Pack Square. And even as the martial clamor grew louder around the courthouse, City Hall and other bastions of local government, at least one discreet voice kept quietly delivering the same message it had proclaimed since being dedicated in 1999 by the Pisgah Girl Scout Council's Junior Troop 116: "May Peace Prevail On Earth." With the words printed in four different languages, the pole continued its international vigil for peace mere yards from the weekly pro-soldier rallies in the plaza.
From its vantage point near the shrub-lined fence in front of City Hall, the pole was the image of humble persistence amid a sea of leafless trees sporting blue bows on every branch. -- BP
In these strange and frightening times -- when our constitutional rights are under assault by the federal government, when the corporate media (abetted by the FCC) seem intent on using monopolies to undermine freedom of speech, and when even local governments and their enforcement personnel collaborate to quash dissent and protect the wealthy -- it bears remembering that some minions of the law are no less concerned about what's happening than the rest of us.
On March 20, during a peace demonstration in Asheville that resulted in multiple arrests and allegations of police misconduct, an unknown A.P.D. officer told a demonstrator (who later related it to me): "Some of us agree with you. The Patriot Act is a terrible law. It violates the Constitution."
It's good to be reminded that true friends of freedom come in all sizes, shapes, colors and costumes. Whoever you are, officer, I hereby salute you. -- CLB
The term "vegan Danish" sounds like wishful thinking at best. Everybody knows that if it's good for you, it can't taste good, right? Wrong. City Bakery is out to make health-food converts of us all with an array of whole-grain, dairy-free treats. We're talking hold the refined sugar and the white flour, but give us something that tastes like a well-deserved Sunday treat. And nothin' says lovin' like a fresh-fruit-topped Danish pastry. City Bakery offers up these tasty hints of heaven with raspberries, strawberries and blueberries, topped off with nuts and a sweet glaze. These Danishes are often the prettiest pastries in the case, and at less than $2 apiece, who could resist going vegan? But if you're planning to launch your morning with one, you might want to call ahead to reserve it -- especially on weekends. -- AM
88 Charlotte St., Asheville
1390 Sand Hill Road, Candler
Look, Mom! I'm driving a tank! And I don't even have to worry about pesky Iraqis shooting at me while I do it! Fortunately, some hapless 19-year-old Marine's taking that risk for me, as he defends my God-given right to toodle around town in a shinier version of the vehicle Dubya gave him to secure my cheap supply of oil.
Seriously, folks: Who the hell drives a military vehicle to the grocery store? Or to pick up a pizza? As appalling as it is, at least the Ford Extinction -- er, Excursion -- can actually transport an entire family and all the vital stuff they apparently need. But the Humvee H2 seats a whopping four people (forget trying to cram all their cool gear in there, too) and gets less than 12 miles to the gallon. Other than inflating the driver's self-image, what conceivable rationale is there for driving this "car"?
Sure, it may look kinda cool. But wouldn't it have been cheaper just to stuff a couple of wadded-up socks in your crotch? -- CB
I once asked a Sensibilities aesthetician what product the downtown day spa uses to achieve its exquisitely balanced aroma -- which manages to extend its reach a good 10 feet beyond the store's front door without being the least bit cloying (most mall-variety bath-and-body shops, on the other hand, achieve only the first part of that equation).
She evaded my prying with a reference to "all the different" candles, lotions and soaps the day spa sells in its retail section, implying that there's more than one aroma involved. Their precise identities, however, remain elusive -- as hard to pin down, apparently, as the moodily bright, gregariously reclusive scent itself. -- MM
Sensibilities Natural Body Care & Day Spa
59 Haywood St., Asheville
Screw the pompous, bloated bagel: that boiled bellyache, that bready, edible tire. If Gold Hill Espresso & Fine Teas wants to offer cream cheese and lox slapped on a toasted bialy instead, so be it. Because when all the ingredients are pulling their weight, the result is $3.50 worth of mouth-intoxicating nosh.
Gold Hill owner Alvy Alvarez likens the bialys he gets shipped par-baked from Bell Bagel & Bialy in Brooklyn to "a cross between an English muffin and a bagel, with onion paste."
"I think they come in other flavors," he adds, "but I just get the onion." And for those of us who get our vicarious Big Apple fix via savory symbols like chocolate egg creams and, yes, lox and bagels, this seems a little, well, wrong. Par-baked? English muffins? Great God.
And yet the bialy, as toasted and gussied up at Gold Hill, is a crisp, chewy, oniony treasure -- a perfect platform for a slab of smoked fish. Prepared off-site? Who cares.
As it turns out, this flattened yeast roll has actually got that good Yiddish tradition all over it, bubee (the bialy hails from the pogrom- and Holocaust-ravaged Jewish enclaves of Bialystok, Poland).
Unlike its bagel cousin, the bialy boasts no center hole: only a slight crater that's packed with sauteed onion. But there's also no flavor-sapping doughiness to deaden the sinful delectability of salmon-y salt. The bialy, crisp and onion-powered beyond the weak potential of any mere toasted bagel, is the perfect complement to those squishy, lox-and-cream-cheese innards.
True connoisseurs may carp that they need a tomato slice, or maybe even a little fresh onion, to make it real. They may demand capers, or a hard-boiled egg on the side. And then there are those nebbishes who would, appallingly, deign to add sprouts.
Let them have their little frills. Gold Hill's bialy-ed lox hold the keys to my drooling, open-mouthed heart. -- FR
Gold Hill Espresso & Fine Teas
64 Haywood St., Asheville
Even in the second-story dining area on the lower Lexington Avenue side of Rosetta's Kitchen, with those big windows wide open and the two overhead fans churning an abundance of air, it's there. It's insidious, like some pungent curse, as if the walls themselves were somehow leaking hippie.
To be more specific, patchouli -- the powerful scent that's just so 1968, so clove-cigarettes, so batik-and-bead-necklaces, so jam-band-resurgence. The essential oil with the reputation for being too readily confused with the more essential act of bathing -- a veritable scented postcard of lower Lexington's tie-dyed pretensions, a couple generations late and a bar of Ivory soap short.
On warm days, it's as if someone had dabbed a little of that putrid perfume on the very buildings, the greedy parking meters, the struggling trees, the dominating overpass. How can a scent be so strong that even the air itself can't find space to breathe?
One online scribe described this '60s-holdover scent as "pungent, powerful, mossy, musty." Mossy? Musty? Oddly enough, you won't find those words on the side of a bottle of Calvin Klein's Contradiction. Late-blooming flower child, get thee to a sweet blossom. Stick a bouquet of daisies in your hair instead.
There's this notion in aromatherapy circles that the scent of patchouli elicits a desire for peace. Yet this eye-watering Asian herb with the egregious, egg-shaped leaves can make me cross the street in nauseous anger. It's enough to put me right off my sweet, gingery bowl of Broth of Life, blind-siding me with a blistering need to start flinging chunks of Peanut Butter Tofu and scalding fellow Rosetta's customers with strands of savory, steaming kale. Peace, my ass.
Put a patchouli-wearing kid with a self-styled name like Marley or Lennon in the middle of a closed room of staunch pacifists holding loaded handguns, and I promise you: Someone's gonna shoot Mr. Musty on the spot.
Get a new scent. One that does what it should. Because I'm warning you: I'm packing a can of Lysol. And I ain't afraid to use it. -- FR
For 33 years, the hulking white Wachovia Building has dominated the east side of Pritchard Park, as well as a stretch of Patton Avenue and College Street in downtown Asheville. Despite its two-story atrium and the sprinkling of windowed slits on the sides, the blockish facade looked unfriendly and impenetrable.
A year ago, Xpress readers and staffers took a whack at imagining how things could be different (see "Outside the Box," April 10, 2002 Xpress). Wachovia and First Union merged in the fall of 2001, and the new bank no longer needed two downtown buildings within shouting distance of each other. So we spun grand visions of tearing down the Wachovia Building, putting it to another use -- or at least retooling the facade to make it less forbidding.
Nothing happened for a year; in the meantime, Wachovia decided to stick with the Big White Blob. Then, this summer -- to my great surprise and delight -- workers began slicing into some of those precast, aggregate panels and replacing them with: windows! (Over at Xpress, we imagined pasty-faced workers murmuring to themselves as they stumbled toward the light.)
Wachovia is to be commended for making Asheville's downtown a more welcoming space. Windowing up is truly a humanizing step in the right direction.
But the merger also prompted another, less pleasant change. Wachovia customers who, like me, were accustomed to using the free deposit slips in the lobby faced a rude awakening recently when confronted with sign saying we could order personalized slips (presumably for a fee). Or else we could use the ATM. (I favored the "pestering the teller" option.)
In my mind, however, the change -- probably a cost-cutting measure -- has steered us yet another step away from human interaction, sadly eroding some of the good will and friendliness that those new windows represent.
C'mon, Wachovia: What are a few scraps of paper compared with doing your share to make this world a more hospitable place?
Wachovia -- it's everywhere now. -- TR
There's nothing like the threat of rebellion to underscore citizen unrest. And trust me, the natives (of West Asheville) are restless. With the N.C. Department of Transportation threatening to ram eight lanes of I-26 -- and even more, in some spots -- right through the heart of a neighborhood that's making its renaissance run, West A is fast becoming a hotbed of secessionism.
Already cut off from the rest of the city by the current highway configuration (and that not-so-little river), West Asheville should seriously consider declaring independence from Asheville proper if city leaders allow the state to place that much more concrete between them.
Think of the advantages:
* West Asheville contributes nearly 20 percent of Asheville's property-tax base.
* West Asheville could control two major bridges that lead tourists into Asheville -- and blockades and "access fees" just might materialize one dark night.
* West Asheville is home to both the N.C. National Guard Armory and the Army Reserve Center -- a major plus in any insurrection.
* There are scores of new restaurants, pubs, bakeries and retail shops -- West Asheville won't go hungry, or be unfashionable in this revolution.
* And last but not least, a sizable number of Asheville's funeral homes are located west of the river. Think about it, Asheville. Do you really want your dead piling up in the streets?
"These are the times that try men's souls."
Secession: It just seems like common sense. -- BS
Let's face it: Politics can be a pretty discouraging business. At the national level, peace activists, tree huggers and globalization foes will stop at nothing to derail the best-laid plans of rats and rogues -- I mean, mice and men. And even at the local level, some disgruntled folks are always griping, no matter how hard our dedicated public servants strive to please the good people who got them elected.
Despite all that, however, the Asheville City Council has shown a remarkably persistent belief in the perfectibility of human nature.
This summer, for instance, Council decided that there's no need for a functional city housing code to protect renters (come to think of it, maybe our esteemed city leaders believe that human nature has already been perfected -- at least as far as landlords are concerned).
And then there's the case of Pack Square and City/County Plaza -- the last remaining slice of public space downtown, which the city is now poised to pare down still further so the Grove Park Inn can make even more money building high-rises there.
A lot of folks like to go on about what a great guy George Willis Pack was. How he selflessly gave land and money for a public library, schools and parks.
But when Pack proposed a land swap with the county back in 1901 to acquire land for a public square, he wasn't content just to say, "The people need a park there." Instead, the land now known as Pack Square was hemmed round with legal qualifiers and cautionary notes. "To have and to hold ... forever," he declared, and "No building shall ever be erected on the land." "No part thereof shall ever be sold, rented or leased," he further stipulated, and even "said land is hereby forever dedicated to free and unobstructed public use." It all displayed an alarming lack of faith in human beings' inherent honesty and goodness.
Of course, no one seems to know exactly what parcel of land that was, or whatever became of Pack's heirs (who, theoretically, should still own it on behalf of the people of Asheville). But our city fathers have assured us that everything is on the up and up here -- and why should we doubt them?
After all, the current City Council has shown the kind of faith that can move mountains (or at least College Street, which will have to be rerouted to accommodate the GPI high-rise). Forget about Pack and his outmoded ideas, they said; we know what's best for this city. But they didn't stop there. In an equally impressive act of faith, these visionaries decided there was no need to issue a request for proposals, talk to other developers, or take competitive bids on a property that Planning and Development Director Scott Shuford has called "the city's premier address." Surely, said Council, the Grove Park Inn will pay the highest price -- because they're good guys and we know them. That kind of optimism leaves cynical people like me feeling downright sheepish.
Competition in this category proved tough, however. Consider, for example, the previous City Council that ratified the 1994 Regional Water Agreement -- apparently believing that the fatal flaws in this obviously unworkable document would somehow magically vanish, ushering in a new era of cooperation and harmony after 80 years of water wars, if only everybody signed on the dotted line. Those guys definitely gave our boys a run for their money.
Still, the current crew clearly deserves the crown for Most Optimistic Local Government. Just imagine where Asheville might be today if this City Council had been running the show back in the mid-'70s: In the name of progress, the entire downtown would have been leveled to make way for a mall, and there wouldn't be anything left to worry about today. -- PG