Tom Troop is probably most recognizable by his wardrobe. Even in a town known for offbeat fashion statements, his full-dress kilt and cane make him stand out.
Having moved here within the past few years, Troop is testament to the theory that today’s tourists are often tomorrow’s residents. He spends his days volunteering for several organizations, including the VA Hospital, the Knights of Columbus and the Basilica of St. Lawrence. He’s also starting up a new Boy Scout troop.
But his most visible pastime is wandering around downtown talking to people with whom he’s on a first-name basis. Troop’s conversations transition quickly from his personal history to food to the state of downtown construction, but mostly he likes to hear and swap stories.
Mountain Xpress: When did you come to Asheville?
Tom Troop: I moved to Asheville about three years ago. This isn’t the first time I’ve been here. My wife passed away and I stayed down [in Florida] for a while, and my boy talked me into moving over to Fayetteville with him. And Fayetteville ain’t nothin’ but Florida with hills. If I knew it was like that, I would have stayed in Florida. Then I moved over here … to Asheville. We’ve been over here many times, me and the wife, and before she got ill we were going to move up here. Anyhow, it turned out we didn’t, so she told me she wanted me to move up here.
When I moved here, I bought an existing house and fixed it up, rather than tear down the mountains. I’m not against building or anything like this, but I think they ought to be a little more stringent on what they do.
You seem to spend a lot of time walking around. You like to come downtown?
Oh yeah. I bring the bus downtown. I usually get off there at Pritchard Park, sometimes a little before, and I just walk around. I have people that I see. Johnny down there at the grill; Tom there next door to the fudge place. I like to go over to the Grove Arcade, and there’s some people in there that I know. You know, it’s just different places that I stop and see people and just talk to people and see what’s going on.
Now down here, they want to put up a garage. In 30 years, what good is a garage going to do? They would be much better fixing up the transit system that we have—which is one reason I am here in Asheville. I can go from Black Mountain to Weaverville. I can go out to the airport, catch the Apple Valley transit and go down to Hendersonville.
There’s a lot of people who don’t think we have much of a transit system.
Well you know what? They haven’t been to places that don’t have any. And there are some places that do have some that are worse than this. Like I say, I don’t drive. I haven’t driven since the mid-‘80s. But what they need to do is get together with employers to work out their schedules. There’s things that they can get together to build a better transit system rather than tearing up the buildings they got here and putting garages up.
What sort of stories are you hearing from folks?
Oh. Of course, down here on Celtic Ways, which is a Scottish/Celtic shop, is Betty. Now she is a woman who knows a lot of things. Oh, Scottish history, and she loves to talk all about it. Then some of the homeless. I really enjoy it getting to meet people and talk to them. Some of these people down here are looking for jobs, and it’s sort of hard because everybody looks at them and says they are homeless, that they don’t want a job.
There’s several different programs set up throughout the city to help them get back on their feet, and so far as I can see, they are getting successful. Well, like Big Tom down there: He’s a big fella and he makes canes, and they are beautiful. He takes pride in what he does.
Tell me about your kilt.
This is what they call a golden weathered red. There’s about 5,000 different tartans. Have you ever heard about the parade of tartans? Up there at the [Grandfather Mountain Highland Games], on Sunday, the last day, they used to have the parade of tartans. The last time at Grandfather Mountain, I would say there were at least 300 different tartans. There was 160 clans there.
And of course on the day before, they have the “Fire on the Mountain,” which would be connected to the gathering of the clans. And each man would come out and say something about the clans, and let them know that they were there. And he goes on and puts a torch there in the center. And imagine, 160 torches out there. It’s impressive, the games and things they have here. The only thing I’m looking for is a place that serves some good Scottish food. Then there’s a group up here that’s learning to speak Celt.
Do you speak Celtic?
A little bit.
Did you learn it as a boy?
What, Celtic? No, I’m just learning it.
Were you raised into the Scottish tradition?
No. Well, we’ve been studying family genealogy, and my boy stumbled into it. And about two years ago, I went over to Scotland, and of course I bought some Scottish garbs, and I got back here. And I enjoy wearing them; they’re comfortable. There’s a few times that I can’t, such as when I volunteer at the VA, and then I gotta wear pants. It was the same thing when I went to a convention for three days, and I sure couldn’t wait to get back into my kilt. In the winter time, I’m warmer in my kilt than any pair of pants. There’s this one guy who works in construction, and he wears what they call a utility kilt to work. ‘Course, he’s the boss, so he can do that.
Are you a big history buff?
My wife said I’m a philosopher. She said it’s somebody who sits around and doesn’t have anything else to do but think of stupid things.
What do you think of that?
She’s probably right!
You spend a lot of time meeting and talking to people. Is that something people are missing by staying in their cars?
Definitely. People seem to want to overlook. They need to get out more and walk around and meet the people and enjoy themselves. And the food down here: Mmm! There’s a taste of everywhere. It’s Asheville.
You have a real passion for food, don’t you?
Food, yes. And people.
The wilderness. The trails. It’s really amazing, and there’s a bunch of them around here. And I told a guy once, I don’t get lost. I don’t know where I’m at, but I’m not lost.