Mazes are deceitful, but you'll never get lost in a labyrinth. All that circling brings you to a center held together by vectors of connection. Having no particular destination, a path nonetheless unfolds. And for some reason, the walk itself refreshes, bringing us back to this moment.
As Billy Jonas puts it, "Any way you go you're gonna get there!" So with that in mind, let's take a stroll around downtown Asheville.
On my way out of the WriteMind Institute on Lexington Avenue, I bump into Kurt Mann, our current artist in residence, and consider his 20 years of thoughtful filmmaking here. Just outside, I notice broken glass and bend down to pick it up. My neighbor from the Honey Pot offers a broom; I decline, then reconsider. I go in, but she's in back, so I head next door to Flipside and borrow one. Returning the broom, I spy Voltage Records, where a poster informs me that "March is Punk Month" — I had no idea! Crossing Hiawassee I come to Heiwa, the real thing. I head up to Downtown Books and News, peruse the dollar cart, and pick up J. Weber's General Relativity and Gravitational Waves (don't understand the formulas). Next is Shady Grove, which brings us flowers every Wednesday. On to GAEA, the wind-chime-etc. shop, where a T-shirt in the window declares, "I do not intend to tiptoe through life only to arrive safely at death."
Passing Nest Organics, where my wife found our bedcover, I admire the Buddhas in Terra Nostra before turning right up Walnut Street. Passing Zambra, I think of Douglas Madaras, the designer and builder responsible for so much of downtown's character. Douglas hand-built Zambra — everything from the wrench buried in the concrete bar to the tin-can lights. At the top of the hill I make a right on Haywood at Malaprop's, a labyrinth unto itself. Popping into Origami Ink, I discover that people still use fountain pens. Then I'm on the corner of Vanderbilt and Haywood — Basilica against cobalt sky still comes as a surprise.
Crossing the street, I pass Café Ello — my friend Joyce had her art up there awhile. I duck into the Spice & Tea Exchange and sniff some brown cardamom pods that smell like earth. After that it's into Woolworth Walk for a tuna on rye and an egg cream at the counter (my grandfather really does live in me). I take a right on Battery Park, pass the Flying Frog on the corner of cool and cross over to the giant iron, where tourists are gathered for a snapshot.
Up Wall Street, I pass the Early Girl (love that herb gravy on a biscuit!). A few doors down sits Mark Rosenstein's old spot — a real teacher. Farther on is the Laughing Seed: Amazing that they started in the basement of the Y. And then there's Jubilee: Howard Hanger intermixing Christianity, Judaism, Taoism and Cindy Lauper all in one shot — a blast!
At the end of Wall Street, I take a left onto Otis and head back down Patton. Passing Jack of the Wood, I wave to the guys outside with their 4 p.m. pints. Next door, WRES-LP ("The Urban Sounds of Asheville") is blasting "Everyday People." A woman outside Empire Tattoo sports a small emblem behind her ear that has me wondering. Tupelo Honey is packed, and nearby, an older Woody Guthrie character straight from the rails plays guitar and a Dylan-rigged harmonica. Across the way, a model in a purple dress gets her picture taken beside the silver sculpture.
Now I'm on the corner of Haywood and College, heading back down. I pass Table, my date-night place (not often enough), then Tops for Shoes. Crossing Lexington again, I spy BoBo Gallery, which hosts Asheville Green Drinks and other community events aimed at bringing business together with art, philosophy and science.The Costume Shoppe, Cosmic Vision, Chevron bead shop — all offering great ways to dress it up! At the courtyard gate, I pause to reflect on a couple of the businesses inside — Top Floor Studio, a Web-design firm that makes mutual collaboration an art form, and Sound Mind Media, whose owner, Jenny Greer, is also the "Jen" in the band Jen and the Juice.
After that, it's Bouchon, Mela and Izzy's — France, India and pure Asheville, all in a row. Passing Static Age, Lexington's other independent record store, and then Vintage Moon, I re-enter WriteMind's big wooden doors, sit down on the bench, remove my shoes, empty my pockets and step inside the meditation hall: silence.
All this is just one circle. I can walk another one tomorrow and another the day after that, discovering more particular worlds. But whichever labyrinth I choose, it always take me to the root: community connection. Asheville's small businesses are about right livelihood, about people working for the sake of the work. Yes, economic support is vital, but it's not viewed as an entitlement or a reason: It is simply a consequence of right action. Small businesses in Asheville work hard, but it's a labor of love. And when you walk among those who love their labor, you are treading holy ground — the ground of right now.
[Jonathon Flaum is director of the WriteMind Institute (84 N. Lexington Ave.). To learn more about the institute, call 253-1733 or visit www.writemindinstitute.com.]
Asheville's small businesses are about right livelihood, about people working for the sake of the work.