Best Medicine: It’s time for Asheville to create its own Charlotte the stingray drama

CREATING LEGENDS: Sure, Charlotte the stringray of Hendersonville fame may not be pregnant after all, but that isn’t stopping these local comedians from dreaming up other unusual animal scenarios to rival Charlotte’s popularity. Pictured, clockwise from top left, Eric Brown, Matt Wilson, Megan Piscitelle and Peter Lundblad. Photos of Brown and Lundblad by Cindy Kunst; photos of Wilson and Piscitelle courtesy of the comedians

June is busting out all over, to paraphrase Rodgers and Hammerstein poorly. The fireflies are back, school is out, and tourism is really ramping up in town. It’s a time when everything feels alive and vital, a time for fun and new experiences.

Or at least that’s the case for most people.

Personally, I hate the summer. I can’t deal with heat. When I’m not writing and performing hilarious jokes like these, my main job is in meat. I’ve been working in a 40-degree room every day for 17 years. I have no tolerance for heat anymore. Plus all the road work and added tourist traffic usually doubles my commute. I spend hours in gridlock, fantasizing about building a giant truck with a battering ram and flamethrowers so I can ride the Fury Road eternal and push through the parked legions on Interstate 26.

Unfortunately, I am no Mad Max, and certainly no Furiosa, so the dream remains unfulfilled. Instead, I’m cranky, obnoxious and irritable from the middle of May until October. Ask my girlfriend, she’ll tell you.

In the spirit of cranky summer energy, I’ve assembled three of my favorite comedians — Megan Piscitelle, Matt Wilson (with whom I recently saw Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga) and Peter Lundblad — to address some summer concerns I have for Asheville. I’m like a more handsome, younger Andy Rooney, although the fact I remember Andy Rooney makes me feel like I’m not so young. No time to dwell on that though. On to the questions!

Eric: It is a historic time for Asheville. There seems to be actual progress on the I-26 Connector.  Reportedly, construction could begin this year, putting certain local landmarks, such as Salvage Station, in the crosshairs. Much like Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy album, or Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the threat of Future 26 has been looming over us for 40 years. It seems the future is now, but will the new I-26 Connector spell disaster for our culture like The Phantom Menace, or just be a mild, benign annoyance like Chinese Democracy? Only time will tell. In light of the impossible suddenly seeming possible, what other impossible changes would you like to see in Asheville?

Megan: I will say that, with its ever-shifting, shoulderless, concrete-barrier-lined lanes, driving on I-26 never fails to make me feel alive. Alive in the sense that I am suddenly hyperaware of my mortality as I hurtle down the road alongside semitrucks — but alive nonetheless.

Still, there’s got to be a better way for us to get an adrenaline fix than our morning commute. My suggestion is that, instead of continuing to build highway infrastructure, we take all that money and space and build the most impressive, futuristic train system in the country. Let’s bring back those old bootlegger tunnels, pull some eminent domain on the Biltmore Estate and get a whole Maglev train system going throughout Western North Carolina. Imagine speeding through the mountains on a sexy, sleek, pollution-free train. That’s the kind of rush I’m looking for.

Here’s the thing — I hesitate to say this or other changes I want to see in Asheville, such as affordable housing and access to health care, are impossible. They’re not. I guess if I’m trying to think of an “impossible” change, I want to see teleportation as a transportation option. Beam me up, Scotty!

Matt: I have honestly just resigned myself to I-26 construction being part of my life until I am dead. Bury me by the off-ramp. Put flowers on my grave, which is located beneath the sign at Exit 40, Airport Road.

But here’s the impossible change I selfishly wish to see: In-N-Out Burger in WNC. All my friends out west are crowing about how they’re getting Bojangles in 2025. I’m happy for them to experience the wonder of a Cajun filet biscuit, but it’s also not fair. Why should we not get anything in return? I’m tired of all the excuses about how In-N-Out can only be west of the Mississippi because of distribution centers and whatever else. I want equitable trade!

Peter: Nothing is impossible in Asheville! It’s a post-Appalachian paradise that bridges rustic natural beauty with cutting-edge artistic grandeur. It’s a modern gem, with edges, sure, but beautiful if you stare deep into its core. Asheville is where dreams are born, suckling at the teat of innovation, encouragement and industry. Asheville is the crossroads of a thousand paths, laced with innocence and calm. What I’m saying, friends, is that Matt answered this correctly with “In-and-Out Burger,” and I have no better suggestion to give.

Eric: With the impossible now on the table in town, I have a complaint. I feel like a conversation I frequently have with my friends is how there isn’t really a traditional Italian sandwich shop in town that I love. To give you some insight into how much of a cool, fun friend I am, I have had this conversation countless times, only to remember halfway through it that Silverball Subs exists and that I love it. The problem is I’m almost never in that part of town, and I never seem to be there when they’re open. So I guess I’m asking for three impossible things. One, I’d like my memory to be better so I can break the curse of having this conversation over and over. Two, I would like Silverball Subs to be closer to my house so I can go there all the time. Three, I would also like Italian subs to be good for my cholesterol, so my doctor won’t be mad at me and they won’t up the dosage on my cholesterol medicine. Wait, I just remembered I work down the street from Montford Deli and I love their sandwiches too. Shoot, well now I’m not sure what to ask for now. … Oh, right — affordable housing for the people who live here, access to health care for those who need it and help for the unhoused population here instead of treating them like criminals. If we can just skip my sandwich concerns and jump on that, that would be great!

Eric: City Council approved the formation of a business improvement district (BID) in downtown Asheville at its June 11 meeting. There was quite a number of people protesting the decision, including one person dressed as a poop emoji. According to recent Xpress coverage, the estimated annual BID budget could reach $1.25 million and will fund landscaping initiatives, litter removal and a staff of downtown safety ambassadors. As comedians, I propose we engage in one of humanity’s most time-honored traditions, giving out unsolicited ideas and opinions to people who probably don’t want them. So comedians, if you had a say, how would you propose the city use future BID funding? 

Megan: Let’s call this like it is: The BID’s “safety and cleaning initiatives” are code for keeping people in positions of privilege comfortable by further penalizing, criminalizing and pushing our growing underserved population into the margins. As you note, part of this proposal includes hiring “ambassadors” in polo shirts to interface with people downtown and enforce vagrancy issues. Instead of creating a secondary pseudo-police force that perpetuates harm, let’s use this proposal to shine a light on those things that we try hard to keep out of sight and out of mind for our dear tourists. I propose partnering with our many escape room venues to create a series of hard-mode scenarios for visitors and locals alike to try out. Escape Room: Poverty! Intergenerational trauma! Systems of oppression! Addiction! Homelessness! Proceeds from these sales can then go to local nonprofits like BeLoved Asheville, The Steady Collective, Our VOICE, Haywood Street Congregation, 12 Baskets Café and more.

Matt: To be totally real for a moment, my sense of what’s going on with the BID is that people, including me, are looking for a more inclusive approach. Asheville’s businesspeople surely want a cleaner, safer downtown, and that’s a worthwhile goal. But with that has to come assurances that efforts are being made to actually care for the unhoused population here instead of criminalizing them. And housing — downtown and everywhere else — needs to be more affordable, not less.

Anyway, I need to answer your question, and also there needs to be a joke in here somewhere. So obviously, we’ve got to monetize the drum circle somehow. Put a small sign up at Pritchard Park that says “Listen to the drum circle: $50, Walk through the drum circle: $100,” and then bill anyone who does those things. When they complain, send a picture of the sign.

Peter: I don’t think that much needs to be done, other than just keeping the Christmas decorations up year-round. As other holidays roll in, leave those decorations up too. Think about it: This time next year we’ll have Christmas trees full of Thanksgiving giblets, shamrocks with red, white and blue streamers, “Rock the Vote” signs covered in Halloween spider webs, and a New Year’s Eve/Fourth of July fireworks show going off every three days.

Eric: I think we need more accountability and oversight of people in charge of things that impact our daily life. So I have two ideas for this. I propose body cams on the ambassador polo shirts. With these cameras, we will be able to hold them accountable, and we can make the cameras a livestream and sell advertising. It funds itself and it keeps people honest. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t that a very Orwellian, shortsighted solution? Probably. But in fairness, that’s how I felt about the BID. I’m just trying to match their energy. My second proposal: Instead of polo shirts, everyone gets a suit of armor and a horse. That’s it. Let’s see how committed we are to this medieval idea when we’re marching around downtown in a full suit of plate armor in the summer. Besides, if I heard there was a tourist town full of people in suits of armor roaming around I would definitely go. Think about the tourism revenue!

Earlier this year, Hendersonville made national news when Charlotte the stingray seemingly became pregnant on her own at the Aquarium & Shark Lab.  Now it turns out that wasn’t the case, and in fact, Charlotte has a rare reproductive disease. I love animals, and I hope Charlotte is OK, but I’m also enraged that Hendersonville almost had a magical miracle animal before we did in Asheville. I’m not saying there is a bitter rivalry between us and Hendersonville, but I would like to start one. So that’s where we come in. Comedians, put on your best Harry Potter hat and tell me about a fantastic beast you’d like to see in Asheville.  (NOTE:  I don’t know if they wear hats in Harry Potter or not.  I never read those books, and at this point, I’m not gonna. Don’t write in and correct me.)

Megan: Charlotte the stingray was so close to being a queer icon, and I hope she recovers to realize that dream sometime soon. That being said, Asheville can’t be lagging behind. Which is why I would like to introduce a magical fairy god-possum to the Asheville pantheon. Who is she? A gorgeous possum with fairy wings and a gutter-punk denim jacket who shows up just when we need her, granting bodily autonomy and reproductive rights to all. She’s a rebel, she’s an anarchist, she’s the queen we all need right now. Her powers would leave queer adults and youth lifesaving gender-affirming medications under their pillows. She would make it possible for people to get their reproductive needs met with a twinkle of her fairy god-possum’s eye. And with a waggle of her tail, gatekeeping medical practitioners would forget their prejudices and support their patients’ wants and needs. Also, her queer platonic partner is a dragon who flies around and eats the rich.

Matt: I think the answer is more than clear: Ted E. Tourist (of Asheville Tourist baseball fame) must become a real bear. I don’t care if it’s the result of some magic that makes the costume come to life or if they just bring a real black bear to McCormick Field and put a baseball cap on him. But I’m ready for Ted E. to truly represent Ursus americanus. Please note, I do not want this same magical transformation to happen to Mr. Moon. I don’t know what he’s hiding behind those sunglasses, and frankly, I don’t want to know.

Peter: I’m putting together a team. A heist team. We may or may not be about to pull off the kidnapping of a certain aquatic life form named after a former Queen of England. So far, I have demolitions, distraction and a getaway food truck driver on board. I just need a modern-day Greta Garbo and a Mr. Hands to round out the team. Asheville will not stand by and be pushed around by the lies of our weird Uncle Hendo. So if anybody wants a li’l extra excitement, I pay in cynicism and eye rolls in true Asheville fashion.

Eric: So the obvious answer is Bigfoot. But I think he’s too big — and I’m not just talking about his feet.

(Hold here for applause.)

I’m just saying at this point Bigfoot has gone national. We’ll never book him. Even with the WNC Bigfoot Festival happening since 2018, Bigfoot has never shown up — not even once. He’s out of our price range. So, when you can’t afford Bigfoot, you get the next biggest name on the list. Obviously, I’m talking about the Wampus Cat of Marion. For the uninitiated, the Wampus Cat has been described as a kind of amphibious panther who leaps into the water and swims like a colossal mink. Now who doesn’t love that?

Of course, there was reportedly a Wampus Cat in Marion in the 1930s who slaughtered a bunch of dogs and livestock. So obviously we’ve got a bit of an image problem. But it also hasn’t slaughtered dogs in a while. So, I think this could work. I mean, the internet loves cats. With a quick PR campaign and some apologies to the families of the dogs, we’re in business! I guess what I’m saying is Wampus Cat 2024.


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About Eric Brown
Eric Brown is a comedian, writer, and most importantly, very cool.

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