It was July 1995, and the Miles Building, Mountain Xpress' beloved home, was hot. I showed up for my interview in a suit: dark blue, pinstripes. It would be the last time I ever wore that suit. The ad director at the time was industry vet Carrie Watson, a chain smoker and chain cusser. A day later, I was selling ads for Xpress. Welcome to town.
Fourteen years later, I'm the ad director. I don't smoke, but I might hold my own in the cussing department. A long, strange trip indeed.
Yes, Asheville has changed: of course it has. And as with most things, some of the change is great and some not. I recall my early days at Xpress, burning up shoe leather on Lexington Avenue, heading over to nascent West Asheville, hanging out at The Grey Eagle (still in Black Mountain back then).
The vibe was certainly more Wild West, there were no sushi bars, and Beanstreets was the place to start your day. Gatsby's was home to the rockers, Vincent's Ear had the hipsters (though no one used that term), and Barley's blew away every beer list in town.
Now, of course, dozens of places serve a dizzying selection of local brews, you can get fresh seafood all over downtown, and the West Side is its own world. Are we better off? I think so. I've seen so many people pursue their dreams in Asheville, including a lot of folks here at Xpress. Some failed, some made it, some just keep on trying.
Me, I feel like one lucky son of a bitch. I've had a front-row seat to the whole process: the good, the bad and the ugly. Bands put us on their tours and we pack out their shows. Our restaurants hold their own against cities five times our size. We've also seemed confused as a community at times, unclear about how to direct growth and ensure that the Asheville of the future isn't just another sprawled-out, generic town that lost its soul somewhere along the way. The future is anything but certain.
Fifteen years of Mountain Xpress is something we're proud of here. We may not be perfect, but I, for one, can testify that we work our collective tails off EVERY week. So many talented folks have come and gone. Here's to Danielle, Marsha, Sarz and Cecil, Melanie, Feirstein, Hammonds — just names to some of you but part of the Mountain Xpress family tree.
And here's to you, Asheville. You may not be perfect either, but we love you. And you can damn sure count on Mountain Xpress to keep at it for another 15 years. So keep on reading us, in print and on the Web. Keep on voicing those opinions. Keep on supporting local businesses. Keep on supporting local artists and musicians of all stripes. Because, as we like to say here at Xpress … Local Matters.
• James Fisher is the advertising director for Mountain Xpress.