ICYMI: Xpress feature reads of the week

Looking for some longform (or longer-form) reads to cozy up with over the weekend? Here’s a round-up of our leading feature stories from the last seven days. Happy reading!

News

Digital Love: Dating in the Internet Age
By Hayley Benton

When I moved to Asheville in 2013, I didn’t know a soul.

Hoping to make friends but not really knowing my way around, I aimlessly wandered downtown at dusk, vaguely intending to just waltz into bars and maybe make a new acquaintance or two.

INSTANT CONNECTION: “It almost seems too obvious to mention, but we’ve become so dependent on digital technology — it’s so firmly embedded in our lives,” says Peter Nieckarz, a sociology professor at Western, who teaches pop culture and social change. “So it only makes sense that more and more of our experiences with dating will move to online.” Edited photo by Lester Kamstra
INSTANT CONNECTION: “It almost seems too obvious to mention, but we’ve become so dependent on digital technology — it’s so firmly embedded in our lives,” says Peter Nieckarz, a sociology professor at Western, who teaches pop culture and social change. “So it only makes sense that more and more of our experiences with dating will move to online.” Edited photo by Lester Kamstra

As I walked around, feeling increasingly anxious, I repeatedly checked Yelp on my phone, looking for prospective stops. Do I want to meet people here? Or here? What would the people be like here?

At Random Asheville Bar No. 1, most were deep in conversation. Rings of bodies — drinks in hand, backs to me — laughing loudly at a friend’s joke, their voices blending into an indistinguishable static.

It’s not socially acceptable to just approach a group of people midconversation and introduce yourself, so I scanned the bar, seeking someone unaccompanied. Not one. Meanwhile, some in the clusters scrolled through messages on phone screens, faces illuminated by white light.

Clearly, the overall approach to dating and relationships has changed wildly in the last century or so — and more recent advancements in technology and gender equality have only accelerated the shift. At the same time, though, smartphones and dating apps didn’t invent the mating game. So, digging below the surface, how much has really changed in the eternal quest for love and romance? (continue reading)

Regulatory process for new Duke Energy plant speeds down fast track
By Virginia Daffron

A highly specific piece of North Carolina legislation is forcing environmental advocates to act quickly as the expedited approval process created by the law barrels toward a Feb. 29 decision.

Sen. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville filed the bill, the Mountain Energy Act of 2015, last May 21, the day after Duke Energy announced plans to replace coal burning generators at Lake Julian with new, natural-gas-fired units. The legislation established an expedited decision-making schedule of 45 days from the date of Duke’s application to the North Carolina Utilities Commission for approval. Although unusual, this type of legislation has been employed at least once before in the state, when Duke Energy replaced coal-fired generating units at the H.F. Lee Energy Complex near Goldsboro.

The western region of Duke Energy Progress is a nine-county area serving over 160,000 homes and businesses. The company's eastern and western regions are separated by the territory of Duke Energy Carolinas, which serves the Charlotte area and surrounding counties. Graphic provided by Duke Energy
The western region of Duke Energy Progress is a nine-county area serving over 160,000 homes and businesses. The company’s eastern and western regions are separated by the territory of Duke Energy Carolinas, which serves the Charlotte area and surrounding counties. Graphic provided by Duke Energy

Things haven’t gone entirely smoothly for Duke Energy since the tailored legislation passed the North Carolina Senate on June 11, 2015. Duke’s initial plan to bring a new high-voltage power line into the region from upstate South Carolina eventually was scrapped on Nov. 4 in the face of massive public opposition. At the same time, Duke brought forward a revised modernization plan for two new gas-fired units at Lake Julian, with a contingent unit to be built by 2023 if the region’s demand for electricity continues to grow at its current rate.

Even as they celebrated Duke’s decision to pull the plug on the transmission line plan, environmental and community groups immediately shifted their attention to the specifics of the utility provider’s new proposal. (continue reading)


Arts

Andrew J. Fletcher improvises live piano soundtrack to Chaplin’s The Kid
By Edwin Arnaudin

The art of improvisation has long come naturally to Andrew J. Fletcher, dating back to piano lessons as a child when he would take liberties with classical compositions — much to his instructor’s dismay.

A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE: In his improvised soundtrack to Charlie Chaplin's The Kid, Andrew J. Fletcher plans to play up the film's many comedic elements as well as its tearjerker moments. “I’m there to grab those emotions and anticipate and embody them musically,” he says.
A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE: In his improvised soundtrack to Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, Andrew J. Fletcher plans to play up the film’s many comedic elements as well as its tearjerker moments. “I’m there to grab those emotions and anticipate and embody them musically,” he says.

The Asheville stride (i.e., early jazz) pianist combines that gift with his love of movies in a live improvised piano soundtrack for Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid on Sunday, Feb. 21, at The BLOCK off Biltmore. The performance marks the sixth film Fletcher has accompanied in this manner, including works by silent film comedians Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

“Solo piano goes really well with the comedies. When you get into the dramas and the historical films, things like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, piano lacks the tonality that I think you need to bring to those things,” Fletcher says. “I’m playing to my strengths going straight to the comedies.”

Donning the role of a 1921 movie theater pianist, Fletcher will essentially offer a historical re-creation of what it would have been like in a cinema the week of The Kid’s debut. (continue reading)


Food

Dawn of the oak age: Local wineries and breweries collaborate on barrel programs
By Scott Douglas and Edwin Arnaudin

Brewers in Northern Europe have been aging their beers in oak barrels for centuries, from traditional Belgian lambics to the first IPAs that made the long journey from England around the horn of Africa. American craft brewers began to modify these time-honored techniques in the late 20th century, using repurposed wine and spirits barrels to impart unique flavor profiles to small-batch ales and lagers.

LOCK, STOCK AND BARREL: The rickhouse at Catawba Brewing Co.’s South Slope facility offers needed space for the brewery's barrel-aging program. Pictured is Shelton Steele, left, Catawba's director of commercial operations, with owner Billy Pyatt.
LOCK, STOCK AND BARREL: The rickhouse at Catawba Brewing Co.’s South Slope facility offers needed space for the brewery’s barrel-aging program. Pictured is Shelton Steele, left, Catawba’s director of commercial operations, with owner Billy Pyatt.

Western North Carolina beers are no stranger to oak, as evinced in the recent proliferation of barrel-aging programs in area breweries, where innovation continues to thrive.

Founded 30 years ago, the Biltmore Wine Co. has always maintained the standards of sustainability and community integration established by George W. Vanderbilt when he began construction on the Biltmore Estate in the late 1800s. To that end, Biltmore Wine barrels have found a new home after retirement, with secondary uses ranging from furniture to garden and landscape installations. (continue reading)


Living

Pilot recycling program targets public housing
By Cindy Kunst

The Housing Authority of Asheville recycles. Photo by Cindy Kunst
The Housing Authority of Asheville recycles. Photo by Cindy Kunst

“Recycling is a pain in the butt, to be honest,” Livingston Apartments resident Curtis Hadden said on a recent trash pickup day, while waiting for the school bus with his son amid a freezing wind. “I mean, it’s good and you should do it, I guess, but there’s too much sorting. This can go in there but not that, you know? I just like to get stuff out of my way in one can. My girl likes it, though, and my son, he does it all the time. He’s always getting on me, too, saying, ‘No, Dad, you can’t put it in there: It goes in the blue one.’”

Those and similar concerns helped derail a 2013 attempt to bring recycling to selected city public housing developments, which was soon overwhelmed by contaminated materials. But while Hadden apparently still has his doubts, another such program is showing more promising results so far.

The new effort, launched last Oct. 1, was designed to be more convenient for residents and to include significant educational and outreach components. And to date, the numbers show a nearly 23 percent drop in the total weight of solid waste collected in the pilot area since the program began, notes Amber Weaver, the city’s chief sustainability officer. (continue reading)

The great pet food debate comes to Asheville

CREATURE COMFORT: Kristi King of Green Earth Pet Food holds her cat Dora. Photo by Sheryl Mann of Flying Dogs Photography
CREATURE COMFORT: Kristi King of Green Earth Pet Food holds her cat Dora. Photo by Sheryl Mann of Flying Dogs Photography

By Nicki Glasser

Just like the unending (and ever-changing) debates over human food, opinions vary widely on the best diet for your cat or dog. Raw? Kibble? Canned? Homemade? And, also like human diets, a number of Asheville pet professionals say the answer lies in understanding the science behind a body’s needs.

First and foremost is understanding that dogs and cats have very different dietary needs. “Dogs are what we call opportunistic carnivores. Dogs can get some nutrients out of plant-based food; they just don’t do it as well as with meat,” says Jenn Yarosh, owner of Patton Avenue Pet Co. “But, over the years, because they’ve been domesticated by eating scraps, their body has adapted to be able handle some plant matter.”

Cats, she says, “are obligate carnivores. Cat bodies do not process carbohydrates — they poop out carbs. Their digestive tract, their teeth, everything inside of them is designed for meat. When they’re eating a carb diet, they’re not really processing it; it’s just passing through them and putting stress on the body,” she says. (continue reading)


Opinion

Faking it: Why Asheville needs new design guidelines
By Laura Berner Hudson

Laura Berner Hudson
Laura Berner Hudson

The news that the BB&T Building will receive a much-needed makeover has produced unsurprising shouts of praise from most Ashevilleans. Built in 1965, the reflective late-modern tower is tough to love with its dingy, fading facade, taut planes and lack of real connection to the plaza level.

But for many of us who grew up here, it’s served as our only bona fide modern skyscraper — a tangible, irrefutable sign that Asheville is a city, not just a town. The glass-and-metal exterior hangs from the steel structure in contrast to the heavy, load-bearing masonry buildings surrounding it; the reflectivity of the glass echoes the Vance Monument at sunset. And while it’s not deserving of landmark status, the former Northwestern Bank Building has made a significant contribution to Asheville’s architectural record, and its modernist design is a testament to the city’s continually evolving texture and diversity. (continue reading)

Not so fast: Tell Duke Energy to put the brakes on expansion plans
By Brad Rouse

Duke Energy should go small and slow with its planned Lake Julian expansion.

Brad Rouse, Citizens Climate Lobby
Brad Rouse, Citizens Climate Lobby

As a 20-plus-year veteran of utility industry economic planning, I have serious concerns about Duke Energy’s proposed “modernization plan,” which would double the capacity of its Arden plant with three new natural gas-powered units. I’m also disturbed that the General Assembly has required the N.C. Utilities Commission to short-circuit the normal thoughtful process that accompanies the billion-dollar investments we consumers will have to pay for. Big and fast is simply not the right approach.

The commission is now studying Duke’s application and all the ensuing public comments. Usually there are months of discussion for a project this size. But in this case, our state lawmakers basically gave Duke a free pass, mandating that there be no expert witnesses, no cross-examination, no ability to question Duke, and a compressed 45-day review. If the Legislature’s desired outcome were a really good idea, that might be OK. But it’s a really bad idea, and we all need to raise our voices and say, “Not so fast!” (continue reading)

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About Hayley Benton
Current freelance journalist and artist. Former culture/entertainment reporter at the Asheville Citizen-Times and former news reporter at Mountain Xpress. Also a coffee drinker, bad photographer, teller of stupid jokes and maker-upper of words. I can be reached at hayleyebenton [at] gmail.com. Follow me @HayleyTweeet

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