Mountain Xpress prides itself on being a community newspaper that offers a clear look at local issues. But what sometimes gets lost in the shuffle are the people whose lives are affected by those issues. So we’ve decided to turn the tables somewhat and cast a glance at folks who aren’t making news, clawing for headlines or claiming a divinely inspired monopoly on truth — in other words, the vast majority of us.
Context is, after all, the very framework from which we hang our understanding of one another. And for most of us, a key piece of our personal context is the place we call home. With that in mind, we thought it would be interesting to share a glimpse into the lives of our neighbors by highlighting their primary environments: their houses, apartments, castles, doublewides and assorted other domiciles.
You’re invited to join us on these journalistic peeping-Tom excursions. We hope these monthly forays will uncover some nuggets of truth, some insights into how and why we all choose to live in this special place. It’s also a convenient way to learn about the local housing market. And you can even get the lowdown on what it costs to live in the abodes we visit without having to ask a lot of awkward, prying questions — we’ll do it for you.
Who’s home? Ben Gallant and Casey Colbert.
Where’s home? A one-bedroom house in East Asheville.
How long at this abode? One year.
How much? Rents for $500 per month plus utilities.
Ben and Casey are the kind of exuberant young Ashevilleans you might encounter at a concert, in a park, along a hiking trail or having a coffee at a neighboring table. Where you’re less likely to notice them is in their occupations: Ben is a chef at Trevi, and Casey works in the grocery department at Earth Fare. They’re not garnering fame and fortune, but they are helping keep the wheels of Asheville’s economy rolling. And food, whether prepared or packaged, provides their bread and butter.
Their home is a 600-square-foot “cabin in the woods,” as Ben describes it. Nestled in the woods behind Asheville’s V.A. Hospital, the wood-framed structure sports a deck overlooking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. A five-minute drive from downtown, it is light-years removed from city living. The interior is cozy; an added perk is a utility room that’s big enough to accommodate both Ben’s home-brewing operation and Casey’s penchant for making soap and organic body-care products. When the two turn their attention to making stained glass, the living room serves as a workshop. The deck, however, is all about R and R.
Mountain Xpress: You mentioned that you both hail from Cape Cod. What brought you to Asheville?
Ben: The town itself; we got a great vibe. We’re from the beach, and we were looking for a change. The mountains are a big part of that.
Casey: We had looked into Burlington, Vt., but it was too cold — both the temperature and the people.
MX: You’ve been in town now for two years — one year in this house. This place is what I pictured as a kid when I thought about living in the mountains: the peace, the beauty, the proximity to nature. How did you find it?
Ben: We probably called 40 places (in response to ads), looked at another 20. …
Casey: And then I heard about this place from a friend at work.
Ben: I took one look and knew we were home.
MX: Earlier, you told me that you’re thinking about moving on, possibly heading south to the Virgin Islands. Why?
Ben: It’s hard to get ahead here … the cost of living, the job market doesn’t pay as well. We came here with nothing and we’re proud to have built ourselves up like we have, but we feel like we’ve hit a wall. Maybe down there we can make it happen more.
Casey: We love it here; we love the music scene and the people. When I expressed an interest in stained glass, people were so helpful — the shop owners where I bought my glass, my teacher at A-B Tech, everyone was so sincere and supportive. Asheville is like home and it’s where I’d like to raise a family, but I don’t see us getting ahead. But we won’t rule out coming back. It’s just that right now we can’t even think about buying a house here, and it seems like we have to go somewhere to make some money. I look at it as the beginning of a long journey.
MX: [As we spoke, Ben broke out a few bottles of his home-brewed IPA. After a few sips, I realized that his culinary talents included the ability to craft a superb brew.] Ben, Casey tells me that you’re a graduate of Johnson and Wales [Culinary Institute]. What would you pair this IPA with?
Ben: Beef would probably be good. Today [Easter Sunday], though, I’m putting together some pork loins in a cherry glaze and some red trout with a citrus sauce.
MX: If you do leave Asheville, what will you take away?
Casey: I respect the land more; it’s just so massive and beautiful.
Ben: I’ve learned to slow down; I’m not in a rush anymore. And roosters [pointing to a nearby pen housing a neighbor’s collection of exotic cocks]. … I never thought I’d say that, but they’re pretty cool to have around.