I live in Weaverville, and we Weavervilleans have pretty firm ideas about coming to town. “Town” here refers to Asheville as we consider ourselves an idyllic little village just outside of town.
In many ways, we are idyllic. Our neighborhoods have sidewalks that busy themselves with bicycles and baby strollers, our big trees boast swings with deep ruts underneath as evidence of dedicated use, and our Main Street populates itself with an ice cream parlor-the kind with a soda fountain — and even a day spa.
We speak to our neighbors in person and, even if we can’t quite recall their names, we remember the names of their pets which, depending on your proclivities, may speak to a higher order of relational commitment.
A journey into town conjures up images of hippie kids and bearded buskers crowding the streets in front of slick specialty shops with sophisticated names like Malaprops and the daring Chocolate Fetish. In Weaverville, our fetishes, if we even have any, would not be carved into a sign hanging along Main Street. Every once and while, though, even as self-contained and insular as we are, we must venture into town to perform some task and today was just that day.
I was to meet a new friend, and while Weaverville has three distinct coffee shops, my friend suggested a tea shop in Asheville and I could offer no local competition. So I packed my “I’m going to town” bag that holds essentials like a water bottle, an actual tangible road map (I find online maps suspect and invasive with their tracking GPS devices) and an extra tube of lipstick. Should I find myself in some sort of “town peril,” the lipstick is pragmatic in its own kind of way. After closing but not locking my front door, I headed for town.
The tea shop was housed on Lexington Avenue, a busy road near a shoe shop and a popular sports bar called The LAB, which conjures up images of brewed concoctions that may or may not be legal, and several boutique clothing shops. My husband warned me that the tea shop may be burrowed in a place where nefarious characters hang about in malodorous clusters clutching guitars or leads connected to shaggy ill-kempt dogs.
I approached the establishment, called Dobra Tea House, and easily found a parking spot directly in front of the shop. The street was near vacant, which I found alarming in a horror film kind of way. The scary bits in film always occur when the frantic music stops and there is that quite moment of slow-motion, silent, fevered anticipation. I needn’t have worried in that I noticed signs in the neighboring windows announcing that they would not open until 1 pm.
“Must be a city thing” I thought as I exited my car, wondering if I should lock it or not. I drive one of those automatic key cars that starts without any external metal key. We rarely lock it and I wasn’t even certain I knew how to lock it. In the end, glancing up and down the street, I made the last minute decision to trust the town and left the car unlocked.
I entered Dobra and was instantly put at ease with the meditational music and a certain aromatic sweetness in the air. I tried to define it-part cinnamon, part fennel, part citrus — but it escaped a detailed detection. I was relieved to see a clean room with scrubbed tables and bright happy windows. The waiter, a young man who has worked there for over a year, brought a booklet and a little bell to the table. The Tea House seemed dedicated to education with its 32 small white sample dishes, all filled with different types of teas arranged on the main counter.
It was reasonable to conclude, then, that the booklet served as a lesson in the complicated and layered world of tea leaves and likely doubled as a menu. But the bell? I might be required to actually ring it in order to beckon the waiter back to take the order. It felt aristocratic, and I didn’t see how I could, with a dainty bell-ringing, summon the waiter after we had spoken pleasantly on equal terms.
I pushed the bell across the table to where my friend would sit, hoping she would feel less inhibition than I. My friend arrived, our tea shortly afterwards and I forgot to worry over the crowds and the thieves and bearded men. I felt so at ease that, when it was time to go, I did ring that little bell. It required less courage than I had imagined. I had entered Asheville with trepidation and anxiety. But inside the homey tea house, I felt cozy and safe and pampered.
When it was time to come home to my beloved Weaverville, I glanced in my rear view mirror warmed with the tea and sweetened by my time the big town.