Buzzworm news briefs

Keep writing, I’m reloading

courtesy Pack Memorial Library
courtesy Pack Memorial Library

For most contemporary readers, the biggest affront posed by Thomas Wolfe’s 1930 novel, Look Homeward, Angel, is its length.

Back in the day, however, Wolfe’s less-than-charitable treatment of his parents, siblings and townspeople in the book provoked anger and indignation.

“How could he?” was an oft-heard wail along Lexington Avenue. The novel won the author wide acclaim but made him persona non grata in his hometown; accordingly, he spent eight years away from the place.

Probably a good thing, too. Recently, Pack Memorial Library added to its North Carolina Collection a letter from one of Wolfe’s contemporaries, writer and woodsman Horace Kephart, which called for nothing less than the young author’s extermination.

The typewritten message from Kephart, who lived in a cabin near Bryson City, to a “Miss Waddell,” denounced Wolfe for the “abomination” that was Look Homeward, Angel. Kephart, author of the mountain-culture compendium Our Southern Highlanders, couldn’t even be troubled to include Wolfe in the human species.

“Any creature,” he wrote, “who will blackguard his own father, mother, brother, and sisters, through 600 pages of print, should be shot.”

The letter came to the library serendipitously. When librarian Zoe Rhine sold her house recently, the buyer mentioned that she “had something you’d love.” Turns out she did, and today it’s joined the thousands of regional-history holdings at the downtown Asheville library.

Kephart’s murderous rant may have been nothing more than idle words, but then again, Wolfe evidently never got close to his critic to find out.

Censorship by bodily threat has a grand (if disturbing) tradition in letters. More recently, in 1989, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeni declared a fatwa calling for the assassination of British author Salman Rushdie for perceived blasphemy in his book The Satanic Verses. Rushdie went into hiding for years, but eventually emerged with a professorship and a beautiful wife.

Wolfe didn’t have the same luck; after a fitful and turbulent affair with New York set designer-Aline Bernstein (18 years his senior), he died in 1938 from tuberculosis of the brain.

And what of the plaid-shirted, wood-smoked Kephart? He went earlier, in 1931. One hopes he’d managed to let go of his anger by then. It sure takes a toll on a guy.

— Kent Priestley

I-26’s unswerving planners

One of the state DOT's many maps of options for the I-26 Connector
A long and winding road: One of the state DOT’s many maps of options for the I-26 Connector. photo by Cecil Bothwell

The North Carolina Department of Transportation brought its I-26 road show to Asheville once again on Oct. 9 and 10. Clad in red shirts, dozens of state employees outnumbered residents at the first of three sessions dubbed “citizen’s informational workshops.”

Large, extensively detailed state maps of the I-26 Connector project were on display in two large conference rooms. A simpler three-dimensional model was prepared by the Asheville Design Center, which is working on French Broad River bridge options with a grant from the American Institute of Architects (see “Room to Think,” Sept. 27 Xpress).

The ADC model was surrounded by onlookers, while the state displays were mostly ignored. Architect Jackie Schauer, president of the local chapter of the AIA, said that “many people told us they couldn’t understand the state drawings, but that our model made it clear.”

In response to the interest shown by attendees, Schauer said, the ADC obtained the state maps for display at the center, together with explanations and comments from local architects. The ADC will be open to the public on Thursday and Friday evenings from 5 to 7 p.m., from now through Nov. 3. The DOT will be accepting comments about numerous design options until Nov. 10, Schauer noted, adding that “we want to help residents understand the options so they can make meaningful comments.”

Adjacent to the model, a PowerPoint presentation prepared by Alice io Oglesby, a West Asheville resident and business owner, in conjunction with the city’s I-26 Connector Aesthetics Advisory Committee, offered glimpses of creative approaches to bridge, overpass, intersection and sound-barrier design from other cities, with illustrations of how they might be implemented here.

Local architect Michael McDonough offered his preferred rearrangement of Asheville traffic, which would reroute I-240 traffic off the Smoky Park Bridge, reclaim the interchange space where “the future I-26″ currently runs into Patton Avenue and I-240 (known to many locals as “spaghetti junction”), and free up large swaths on both sides of the river to be redeveloped by downtown and West Asheville. In McDonough’s design, the Smoky Park Bridge would handle local auto traffic and offer bicycle and pedestrian lanes. By comparison, the state’s offerings appear to expand the area of interchanges, taking even more land out of use, particularly in West Asheville.

The workshop offered reminders that despite past public opposition to expanding I-240 to eight lanes in West Asheville, the DOT remains committed to that plan. A looped PowerPoint presentation repeated the message that Asheville needs eight lanes. For years, the DOT has argued for the eight-lane configuration, citing studies in the mid-1990s that predicted fewer than eight lanes would result in unacceptable congestion (though later studies projected a lower level of congestion and relatively short delays).

The DOT expects to begin land acquisition for the project in 2009 and construction in 2012. Comments and questions can be submitted online at or by phone at (919) 319-8850.

— Cecil Bothwell

Campaign calendar

Wed, Oct. 18: Buncombe County sheriff candidates Bobby Medford and Van Duncan will be the guests at the 11:30 a.m. Asheville Leadership Forum at the Country Club of Asheville. Reservations are required; contact Terry Wooten at or 683-0910. The $16 fee includes lunch; no jeans, please.

Wed, Oct. 18: Meet-the-candidate reception for Heath Shuler, candidate for Congress, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Pack Place in Asheville.

Thu, Oct. 19: One-stop voting begins and runs through Nov. 4 at 10 locations around Buncombe County. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday (exception: the Buncombe County Training Center opens at 8:30 a.m.). The last day for early voting is Saturday, Nov. 4, ending at 1 p.m. Locations are as follows:

Buncombe County Training Center, 199 College St., Asheville

Black Mountain Library, 105 N. Dougherty St., Black Mountain

Enka/Candler Library, 1404 Sandhill Road, Candler

Fairview Library, 1 Taylor Road, Fairview

Leicester Library, 1561 Alexander Road, Leicester

South Buncombe Library, 260 Overlook Road, Asheville

Weaverville Library, 41 N. Main St., Weaverville

North Asheville Library, 1030 Merrimon Ave., Asheville

West Asheville Library, 942 Haywood Road, Asheville

Asheville Opportunity Center, 36 Grove St., Asheville

For more information, call the Board of Elections at 250-4200.

Sat, Oct. 21: Campaign kickoff for Gene Hampton‘s independent bid for U.S. Congress, takes place at 10 a.m. in the West Asheville Community Center, 970 Haywood Road.

Mon, Oct. 23: Candidates for the Buncombe County Board of Education (representing the Erwin and Reynolds districts) and for Buncombe County sheriff will be featured in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County. The forum will begin at 7 p.m. at Erwin High School, 60 Lees Creek Road, and is co-sponsored by Kids Voting.

Wed, Oct. 25: Environment North Carolina, the new home of NCPIRG’s environmental work, will be hosting Generating Solutions — A Candidate Forum on Energy and the Environment, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Pack Place in downtown Asheville. Candidates for U.S. Congressional District 11, N.C Senate District 49, and N.C. House districts 114, 115 and 116 have been invited to attend.

Fri, Oct. 27: The Buncombe County Republican Women’s Club will offer an opportunity to meet and greet Republican candidates. The event will be held at the Reynolds Volunteer Fire Department from 5 to 7 p.m. For details, call Loretta Reynolds at 274-7883.

Tues, Oct. 31: Last day to request absentee ballots in writing (except in cases of sickness or disability).

Candidates, organizations and residents: For our final Campaign Calendar on Nov. 1, send your campaign-event news no later than Thursday, Oct. 26, by e-mail to; by fax to 251-1311; or by mail to Campaign Calendar, Mountain Xpress, P.O. Box 144, Asheville, NC 28802. If you have questions, call 251-1333, ext. 107.

Get on the bus, Gus

Asheville’s experiment aimed at boosting public transit by offering free bus rides is slated to end next month. So far, the initiative has has been a success, with city buses averaging 6,400 riders a day, according to City Council member Brownie Newman. That’s a 61 percent increase from last year, when the average daily ridership was 4,000.

To keep that momentum going, Newman and fellow Council members Holly Jones and Bryan Freeborn are set to recommend as soon as Council’s Oct. 24 formal session that the bus system’s fare structure be tweaked when the promotion ends. Newman says increased use of public transit would likely continue if there remains an economic incentive to do so.

“One of the best ways to encourage people to continue using transit is to create an attractive monthly and annual transit pass that individuals can purchase,” Newman wrote in an Oct. 12 e-mail to Council members.

His proposal calls for dropping per-ride fares from $1 to 75 cents. A day pass would cost a buck. A 30-day pass could range from $15 to $20, and heavy users could purchase an annual, unlimited pass for no more than $120.

However, the proposed plan is not likely to get the greenlight from conservative Council member Carl Mumpower.

Mumpower is a proponent of public transit, even going so far as to personally coordinate efforts around the city to build bus shelters with donated materials and labor. But in subsequent e-mail exchanges, he questioned the soundness of a reduced-fare system.

“It is my own sense that you folks are working to provide costly life support to a transit system that is currently subsidized with about four dollars of federal, state or city tax money for every dollar patrons are asked to contribute to their ride,” Mumpower wrote. “Although I value efforts to uplift people, I do not support giveaways by those who feel they have a unique rationalization for why it is OK to take tax money from some to give it to others. The level of subsidy represented in the fair [sic] free program and continued in your new reduced fair proposal represents an exercise in excess.”

As he is outnumbered on Council, Mumpower’s opposition may well prove a moot point. For now, the bus-fare debate is still brewing. In an e-mail retort to Mumpower, Newman argued that “from a financial standpoint, the worst thing we could do is to spend taxpayers’ money to create a transit system where the buses run around empty.”

— Hal L. Millard

Asheville by the numbers

Every Friday afternoon, “City of Asheville eNews” — an e-mail missive from City Hall — goes out to some 3,000 people. The free dispatches offer the latest information on new city programs and services, upcoming City Council meetings and special community events.

Besides keeping residents up to date, eNews does its fair share of city boostering. “Countless publications have named Asheville one of the best places to live, work, play, retire, celebrate the arts, celebrate the outdoors and celebrate an overall quality of life,” one recent edition noted, going on to say that “some of the things that make Asheville a great place to live are some of the things you may never notice.”

What kinds of things? Here’s a number-crunching “snapshot of services” provided by the city’s roughly 1,000 employees, as listed in eNews:

• Miles of sidewalk Asheville is responsible for: 133
• Miles of street Asheville is responsible for: 385
• Miles of water lines in Asheville’s system: 1,400
• Number of building-permit applications processed by Asheville in 2005: 2,189
• Number of emergency medical- or fire-service calls responded to in 2005: 14,000
• Number of calls for police service responded to in 2005: 100,000
• Number of trash containers the city empties every week: 28,814
• Number of Asheville water customers: 50,000
• Asheville’s nighttime population (the number of people who live inside the city limits, based on the 2000 census): 68,889
• Asheville’s daytime population (the number of people in the city during the day): 102,472

Want to know more about what goes on in Asheville? Public Information Officer Lauren Bradley invites inquiries at

To subscribe to City of Asheville eNews, visit

— Jon Elliston


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