Buzzworm news briefs

Downtown goes wireless

The Wi-Fi revolution has come to Asheville. Wireless Internet access, or Wi-Fi, is now freely available to anyone with a wireless-ready computer within the central business district.

Expanding a program that began in City/County Plaza back in May, Buncombe County recently began providing free wireless access in a roughly triangular “hot spot” that stretches from Interstate 240 to Biltmore Avenue.

“The hot spot is mainly aimed at public use,” said information-technology specialist Glen Hughes. “That includes people working or surfing the Internet on their lunch breaks, but it could be used by anyone within that area.”

The hot spot will also be used to attract new businesses to the area. Citywide Wi-Fi has become a significant selling point for tech-savvy companies in recent years, and similar programs have been implemented by cities across the nation. Thankfully for taxpayers, the networks are also relatively inexpensive.

According Hughes, the county has invested $58,000 in the Wi-Fi project — $7,000 less than the initial estimate given to the commissioners in May. The hot spot uses existing county bandwidth, which also reduces costs. The yearly cost of maintaining the network is less than $6,000, said Hughes.

The network consists of six transmitters mounted on downtown buildings. The connection speed is faster than dial-up Internet access, but slower than broadband cable or DSL.

Hughes noted, however, that the network was designed for outdoor use and will be less effective indoors, because the line-of-sight signal has trouble penetrating buildings. At present there are no plans to extend the hot spot beyond downtown.

— Steve Shanafelt

Campaign Calendar

Oct. 17 council forum: Finalists for the Asheville City Council election will participate in a public forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel at 7 p.m. Mayoral finalists will also be on hand for a meet-the-candidates session.

Oct. 24 Woodfin forum: A forum featuring candidates for the Woodfin Board of Aldermen and board of the Sanitary Water and Sewer District will be held at the Woodfin Community Center from 7 to 9 p.m. The event is sponsored and moderated by the League of Women Voters.

Oct. 27 Black Mountain forum: Candidates for alderman and mayor in the town of Black Mountain will appear in a forum co-sponsored by the Black Mountain News and the League of Women Voters at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts, 7 to 9 p.m.

General election deadlines: Friday, Oct. 14, is the last day to register in order to vote in the Nov. 8 general election. Nov. 1 is the last day to request an absentee ballot by mail, and mail ballots must be returned by Monday, Nov. 7. One-stop absentee voting is available Oct. 20 until Nov. 5 at the Board of Elections office (189 College St.) only. For additional information, contact the Buncombe County Board of Elections at 250-4200 or visit www.buncombecounty.org/governing/depts/Election.

Candidates, organizations and citizens: Send your campaign-event news — as far in advance as possible — to (fax) 251-1311, or “Campaign Calendar,” Mountain Xpress, P.O. Box 144, Asheville, NC 28802.<$>

Getting lucky, one at a time

“A lot of people are giving up,” Randy Del Broo says of the seemingly hopeless task owners face in trying to locate the companion animals they were separated from in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The executive director of Pets for Keeps in Arden, Broo has been working to put displaced owners and lost animals back together through all the channels he can find, and it’s an arduous task.

According to Broo, animals that survived the Gulf Coast devastation and were rescued have likely been processed through an initial clearinghouse, microchipped for identification and moved out in hopscotch fashion to shelter after shelter — up to eight or 10 locations by this time — to make room for additional rescues. Some have even landed here in Asheville, or their owners have made their way here, and Broo has spent late nights attempting to create reunions in the midst of the chaos.

“I’m helping four different families right now,” Broo says. He’s also trying to find rental housing that will allow the pets and their families to stay together.

Broo says that, by this point in time, many of the Katrina rescue animals have actually been adopted by new families. “It’s a necessary evil,” he comments, mentioning 80 cats brought to Asheville that are now being adopted out. The more dire news is that other animals are being euthanized because there is no more space, or because of health problems (heartworms being common) that are difficult and expensive to treat.

But a lucky few companion animals are still being traced by their owners, and Broo played a pivotal roll in a recent happy ending. Michael Callaghan and his partner, Galen Nase, whose home was in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, arrived in Asheville desperate to find their Airedale terrier, Arielle, who was left in a neighbor’s care while they were on vacation. She was abandoned when Hurricane Katrina hit, but at their request, the New Orleans Humane Society rescued Arielle from their house. A microchip number error, however, made the animal almost impossible to trace as she was moved through a sequence of shelters.

Meanwhile, in Asheville, Broo was playing animal detective. “I sat up every night until 11 or 12 o’clock, just e-mailing … everyone I knew involved in animal groups, from California to Maine,” he says. Then, he and Shelly Moore of the Asheville Humane Society went back on the Internet to suddenly discover that on the day Arielle’s trail went cold, 144 dogs had been shipped out to Fort Lauderdale. They located Arielle there, just as she was being adopted out, and flew her “home” to Asheville.

“It gives us hope, to see a success story,” Broo says. “We came up against a brick wall so many times. Taking care of one dog or cat at a time [is] mainly what it takes at a time like this.”

Broo’s work for Callaghan and Nase isn’t quite over. Two more of their dogs were with a friend in Sante Fe, and now Broo is helping to find housing that will allow all three canines and their humans to live together again.

To help Broo identify pet-friendly housing, or to volunteer for or contribute to the nonprofit’s education and rescue work, call 651-0335.

— Nelda Holder

Oooooooooooooh yeah

First disclosure: I spent more than a year investigating the Shoji Spa’s protracted conflict with a contractor and Buncombe County building inspectors (“The Buck Stops Where?”, March 9 Xpress).

Second disclosure: I availed myself of Shoji’s therapeutic treatment just one hour after I’d instructed my veterinarian to end the life of Pomonella, my beloved 22-year-old cat.

My reportorial beat had brought me to the Shoji Spa to do a follow-up news story that had been scheduled weeks before, and my abruptly deceased companion was in the car — I was actually en route to a burial site in southeast Buncombe at the time. But when spa owners Roberta Jordan and Carl Mott urged me to set aside my plans and let it all go in one of their tubs, I waged a brief battle with my journalistic conscience and then agreed.

Shoji Spa opened a couple of months ago after innumerable problems that may well play out in the courts for months or years to come. The principal challenge now confronting the company, however, is how to handle success, the principals say.

Since opening, co-owner Carl Mott told Xpress, “Our main problem is handling the flow of customers.”

And Mott’s partner, Roberta Jordan, said: “There has been so much demand for massage that we decided to build a massage deck. Customers constantly comment on the pleasure of rolling over and looking up at the trees.” (Shoji currently has 14 massage therapists on call to ensure that one is always readily available, and just keeping up with the laundry has proved to be a significant challenge, the owners report.)

Yes, I was vulnerable (and, frankly, in need of therapy) at the time. But having tubbed in Tucson (Arizona), Deerfield (New Hampshire), Bokeelia (Florida) and Hot Springs (both North Carolina and Idaho), I feel qualified to judge Shoji’s setting, which is nothing short of spectacular (the spa property abuts the Blue Ridge Parkway corridor). The Japanese-style tub surrounds are elegantly simple and utterly private. Large rubber duckies help tip the mood toward the whimsical. The tubs are quite hot (104 degrees) and feature high-powered jets whose individual filtration systems were designed for full-size swimming pools.

The relaxation/disconnect from temporal issues was delightful. And after exiting the tub on rubbery legs, I popped into the sauna and finished with a cold plunge (60 degrees) that surprised every synapse in my system.

I left Shoji feeling better about Pomonella’s death, about myself — and about the world in general. I drove away, buried my longtime friend, and came home to write this story. Shoji definitely worked for me. (Note: This is definitely a hot-tub spa, not a party place; Shoji discourages consumption of alcoholic beverages and imposes a strict ban on glass containers.)

For more information, call 299-0999 or visit the Web site (www.shojiretreats.com).

— Cecil Bothwell

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