Buzzworm news briefs

Bears repeating

Panda bear collection
photo by Amy Rowling

Jene McGlamery is not the model of restraint, at least where panda bears are concerned. Her West Asheville home has grown into a preserve that currently holds 3,085 of them, primarily of the stuffed-animal variety.

This year, she’s more or less abandoned plans to decorate her house — which she shares with her friend, Porter Holder — for Christmas. Garlands, lights, bells, balls: She’d need a shoehorn to get them in here. Pandas have simply overwhelmed the place.

The present situation began 22 years ago, when Holder, smitten at the time, gave McGlamery a gold panda pendant for Christmas. “That’s when we started going together,” she says. And then there were two: For Valentine’s Day the next year, he gave her a plush version of the fuzzy, bespectacled Chinese bears.

“It’s the ugliest bear I ever saw,” she confides. “It must be down in the basement now.”

McGlamery grew up an only child. For a period of time during the 1980s, her two daughters lived far away. She was lonely. She needed a hobby. Bears fit the bill. In December 1985 she returned from a visit to one of her daughters, in Tulsa, Okla., with seven pandas.

“I was hooked,” she says. “I just started playin’.”

“Playin'” seems to be McGlamery’s modus operandi. She laces conversations with adjectives like “cool” and “awesome” — unexpected words from someone in their 70s.

“I’m a Gemini,” she explains. “That’s why I’m a such a kid inside.”

A radio plays “Feliz Navidad” as McGlamery gives the grand tour of her home, showing off her pandas. Sassy, her blind, 15-year-old teacup Yorkie, ambles between her feet, dressed in a knit sweater gone askew. “Sassy, you’re losing your shirt, honey,” McGlamery says.

Her collecting habits have transformed a front staircase into a Niagara Falls of pandas. An upstairs tenant long ago took to using a different entrance. Her sitting room has hundreds of bears arrayed in a half-circle, staring at her easy-chair, whether or not she’s in it. The biggest is 4 feet tall. Others in the same room are thimble-sized and made of ceramic. McGlamery owns panda dish-towels, panda backpacks, panda ashtrays, panda earrings and panda yo-yos. Her favorite is a panda lamp that rests atop her bed stand, glowing with pinpoints of fiber-optic light.

Outside the house, weather-worn pandas peek from the crook of a dogwood tree. Several others, in similar condition, watch traffic from a bench by the side of Brevard Road.

And still, the bears keep coming. “Porter’s still buying them for me,” she says. “He got me two this week.”

As if to complete the theme, here and there around the house are sprigs of plastic bamboo. McGlamery explains with a smile and a wink: “They’ve got to have something to eat,” she says.

— Kent Priestley

Local filmmakers get financial boost

Wander Down, a film-in-progress about local philosopher/vagabond/activist/former Asheville mayoral candidate Mickey Mahaffey‘s search for meaning, made the very short list of “buzz” films at this year’s Asheville Film Festival. A production of 6;14 Films, based in West Asheville, the documentary looks in on Mahaffey’s paint-contracting business (where, he says in the film, he preferentially hires illegal aliens — at a fair wage — because he has no respect for national boundaries), visits the site of his former campsite (when he was homeless while running for mayor) and travels with him to the Copper Canyon in central Mexico, where he has become a welcome intruder in the lives of the Tarahumara Indians, who’ve invited him to participate in their religious ceremonies.

Now the Media Arts Project has established a fiscal-sponsorship agreement for Wander Down. Rod Murphy, the film’s director, says he’s honored and notes that the partnership will greatly enhance 6;14 Films’ ability to secure funding.

6;14’s previous films include the documentaries Greater Southbridge, which won top honors at numerous film festivals in 2003, and Rank Strangers, a story about the Asheville roots of modern old-time music, which is now in post-production.

Because MAP is an established nonprofit organization, any donations made to Wander Down through the organization are tax deductible.

To donate to MAP’s Wander Down sponsorship, contact Murphy at Rod@614films.com or 225-5942. Checks can be made out to the Media Arts Project.

— Cecil Bothwell

Who’s still on the bus?

Back in the sultry dog days of August, life was good. It didn’t matter if you were penniless, with pockets containing nothing but bits of lint. You were still welcome to climb aboard an Asheville city bus to be whisked away to any point on the service route map, free of charge. For a time, folks who had previously never laid eyes on a transit map flocked to their neighborhood bus stops and swarmed the interiors of the transit vehicles.

Asheville’s Ride for Free campaign, launched Aug. 14 to increase mass-transit use, came to an end Nov. 11. In the weeks prior to the fare increase — it jumped from zero to a daunting $1 per trip — a ripple of disgruntled murmurs circulated among some riders, who said they thought few people would ride once they were required to pay again.

From the perspective of Detrick Morgan, a regular on city transit, the buses got emptier once Ride for Free came to a halt. “Seemed like a lot did slack off,” he says. “It slowed up a good bit.” Morgan, who grew up in the Shiloh community and says he’s been riding the bus all his life, uses public transit as his primary mode of transportation.

Still, it seems Ride for Free may have had at least partial success in its goal of luring new passengers. City Council member Brownie Newman says overall ridership may have increased by 12 to 14 percent, as compared with last year. But both Newman and Transit Director Bruce Black caution that those figures are based on preliminary data.

If they’re thrifty, regular riders may not actually be shelling out a buck for every ride, as a host of new discount prices were introduced to offset the rate hike. Eleven adult passes can now be purchased for $7, unlimited monthly adult passes are going for $15 and unlimited rides for one year can be purchased for $120.

Newman says the last option is the best deal, a claim that’s supported by the math. If a rider took the bus twice a day, five days a week for 52 weeks, it would cost $520 at the normal rate of $1 per ride. With the year pass, that same number of rides would average out to about 23 cents each.

For bus routes, schedules, fare information and the new night-service schedules, visit www.ashevilletransit.com.

— Rebecca Bowe, with reporting by Xpress intern Dana Henry

One small step toward affordability

Mountain Housing Opportunities Executive Director Scott Dedman
Mission accomplished: Mountain Housing Opportunities Executive Director Scott Dedman (left) congratulates Project Director James Dennis for a job well done. photo by Cecil Bothwell

“If you work in Asheville or Buncombe County, you should be able to live in Asheville.” That was the simple message Mountain Housing Opportunities Executive Director Scott Dedman brought to dedication ceremonies for the Griffin Apartments a 50-unit complex just a half-block south of Asheville’s federal courthouse.

The new one- and two-bedroom units rent for $300-500 per month, putting them in reach of residents who make as little as $12,000 per year. Wage-earners pulling down 80 percent or less of the regional median income (about $33,500) qualify for the low-cost apartments — some 50,000 workers in Buncombe alone, according to figures compiled by Dedman.

Dedman noted that he had just received the latest census figures (from 2005), which indicated that the number of county residents whose rent payments exceed 30 percent of their income (the benchmark for affordability) grew from 9,000 households in 2000 to 12,000. “To offset that increase would require completion of a project like the Griffin every month,” he said.

Mayor Terry Bellamy, whose day job is heading up fund-raising for Mountain Housing, spoke of her determination to balance the explosion of high-end condos with workforce housing and gently prodded funding-organization reps in the audience to help with the next project at the Glen Rock Hotel site in the River District. But it was Griffin Project Director James Dennis who set the pace during the ceremonies with his heartfelt dedication.

Dennis, described as “the author of the Griffin,” by Dedman, verged on tears as he invoked bellies, hearts, minds and spirits to the community building he saw as central to the project. “I dedicate this building to those who live here at present and to future residents,” he said. Bellamy gave the stage as well as a pair of scissors to Dennis, who performed the ribbon cutting.

Amid the generally supportive crowd of more than 100 who gathered for the speeches and free barbecue (with vegetarian options), at least one man remained skeptical. Clarence Parker owns structures on both sides of the Griffin, one an apartment building at 23 Grove St. He told Xpress, “I’ve been in the rental business for 20 years and I know — you’ve got to watch ’em. Some of these people don’t want to work. They’ll lose their jobs and just draw an unemployment check, maybe work under the table. And I’ve dealt with Section 8 [the federal housing-assistance program]. It’s impossible to evict these people when they stop paying. They’ll call in Blue Ridge Mental Health and they have lawyers — paid for by you.” Asked what effect the new units might have on his property, he replied, “Parking. They’ve got 50 units and 15 parking places. I’ve already had some parking in my lot.”

While Parker watched and waited, most others in attendance were upbeat, none more so than Asheville NAACP President John Hayes, also an MHO board member. “We don’t just build housing, we build community,” Hayes told the crowd. “And we build the best communities in the world.”

— Cecil Bothwell

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