Letters to the editor

You can’t get home again

Having been disabled by mass transit — challenged during regular service and rendered immobile in the evening and Sunday — I was incredulous to learn that the Transit & Parking Services Department also regulates taxis: 43 taxis (74 percent owned by the same company) operated by private enterprises, all of which render tardy service and prohibitive fares, but all regulated as public interests and entitled to extra representation through the transit department and the Fees and Charges Committee. Compare this to public riders’ representation with no public transportation from City Council meetings.

Please consider that City Council will vote on taxi fare increases on Nov. 22 and will only revisit fares at half-year intervals, though gas prices are in flux. Consider that Council will determine fares without audit. Consider how we could grow the economy if Asheville were accessible to all — including all employees. Consider the impact of extended bus service on public safety. Consider desegregation and racism euphemized by the more inclusive — and insidious — phrase, “economic discrimination.” Please consider the conflicts of interest between public mass transit and private taxi service.

As the transit department, the Fees and Charges Committee and the City Council are invested in private enterprise, we can only approach public equity by making taxi regulation contingent upon expanded mass transit, expanded liaison with Mountain Mobility, adoption of the Raleigh Plan for the disabled, exploration and adoption of alternative fuels, thorough investigation of taxi ownership, and the seating of a pro-active city government that will anticipate and remedy antiquated law and management.

If you want to take action on this, please write to City Council, P.O. Box 7148, Asheville, NC 28802, or clip and post this letter with your name and address attached. And please, if you have a way of getting home again, remember Nov. 22, when City Council will entertain public comment on this matter.

— Bradden D. Burns

Thibault’s performance was artful, not giddy

Regarding, Hanna Miller’s review of “The Syringa Tree” [“A Hard Play’s Work,” Oct. 12], I find myself totally at odds with Ms. Miller’s view that Anne Thibault gave an “overly giddy interpretation” that “simplifies a character without moods or nuance.” Not at all. Thibault’s portrayal of 6-year-old Elizabeth Grace — as somewhat hyperactive, friendly, very smart, but terribly confused by her major task of trying to make sense of the rules of apartheid that violated everything she felt was right in her own experience — was an artful, successful and essential accomplishment.

For me, her characterization gave us the message of the play: Society’s repressive practices don’t only affect the people they’re directly aimed at; the privileged classes are hurt, too. As a child, Elizabeth was crisscrossing her hands on the dirt trying to make the rules make sense (an image that was repeated a couple of times and continues to haunt me). Later, as a young adult, she had to flee the country that massacred children at Soweto, among them her black “little sister.”

No insights to be gained? Audience members claimed the play altered their very lives! Anne Thibault deserves praise not only for her incredible energy but for her insight into this child and the score of other characters she made live for us.

— Sandra Beckman

Play inspires these audience members

I don’t think Hanna Miller’s review of The Syringa Tree in the Xpress could have been further from off [“A Hard Play’s Work”, Oct. 12]. I and several friends and coworkers saw the play over the three-week run at N.C. Stage Company. The play was truly moving, and far more professional than I would have expected in Asheville.

The critic mentioned in her article that the actress was a local. She may have been born here, but N.C. Stage flew her down from New York to perform for this show. She is a professional actress.

Hanna also wrote, “Little is expected of the audience,” which felt far from true when literally the entire audience was clutching tissues by the last scene. The play caused a lot of thought and conversation about racism, and inspired us. The play demonstrated that things do change one person at a time.

— Hillary Logan

Train derailment has happy ending

Over the past months, I’ve noted periodic debate in the “Letters” pages of Mountain Xpress over why — or more disturbingly, whether — to support local merchants over chain stores. I have a story to share regarding the superior service at least one local merchant provides.

Recently, I found that my children’s battery-powered toy train had ceased working, so I went down to the nearest toy store, Dancing Bear Toys on Tunnel Road, to buy a replacement. During the course of checkout, I mentioned that our old train was broken and was immediately informed that this brand of wooden trains carries a lifetime warranty, and that I could just bring the broken train in for replacement by the store.

“But I didn’t purchase it here,” I replied.

It didn’t matter. Dancing Bear Toys happily replaced it free of charge, taking on the inconvenience of returning it to the manufacturer and the attendant paperwork that entails. That they halted in the middle of a sale to ensure that I got my money’s worth from the toy — something I’m sure would never happen at a chain toy store — impressed me all the more. With customer advocacy and service like this, they have gained a customer for life.

— Rich Rennicks

Here’s looking at you, Asheville

I am writing to express my disappointment with Mackensy Lunsford’s most recent restaurant review [“Mela Indian Restaurant,” Oct. 5]. I do not have a problem with her actual review of the food. My chagrin is with her description of its clientele: ” … and the beautiful people are celebrating its arrival.” This term is one I hoped never to hear in Asheville.

Before moving here five years ago, I lived outside Charlotte and received a complimentary subscription to that city’s self-promotional magazine. On the back page, it had a splashy full-page spread detailing some social gathering full of smiling, inoffensively homogenous twenty-somethings with the caption: “Where the Beautiful People Are.” I have never forgotten this magazine, nor my pleasure in leaving a soulless city that so prized appearance and affluence. Imagine my disappointment when I saw these very words pursue me like a plague to Asheville.

Who is beautiful, and by whose standards? Are the dreadlock crew on Lexington Avenue the beautiful people? How about our senior citizens sitting in front of the Vanderbilt? Is Asheville truly a city that is willing to abandon its appreciation of diversity for a beauty defined by youth, wealth and appearance?

Maybe Mackensy was speaking ironically and sought to poke fun at people’s vanity. I certainly hope so; Charlotte is close enough as it is.

— Keith Levi

[Mackensy Lunsford replies: I was being ironic. I can’t possibly feel justified in poking fun at other people’s vanity, however, as getting all gussied up is something I often do for fun. Thanks for allowing me to clear that up.]

Tear down the Basilica?

One of the definitions of a beautiful city is that it gives a feeling of wholeness, of unity, of comm(unity). The most wondrous cities of the world have an architectural consistency that is a feast to the eye and soul. Asheville still has some remnants of its old beauty (only, as I understand, because the Philistines of the ’50s and ’60s couldn’t afford the money to pull them down). It has enough loveliness left to draw tourists and new residents. So — we need more space for cars, and apparently a new parking deck is being planned that will blight one of our most special places: the Basilica/Battery Park area.

I have a revolutionary suggestion — not really revolutionary, as it is the norm for places like Urbino, in Italy, Michaelangelo’s town. That spectacular old city just won’t accommodate the cars of the people who want to see it. So you park outside of the town and walk in. It’s about eight or nine blocks. Now for the U.S.A., that would spark revolution, the idea of walking.

Why not put this parking deck away out of the center and people can (Oh, dear!) walk. Or even better: Let’s tear down the Basilica (you won’t be able to see it properly anyway once the deck is up) and put another parking deck there.

And then when even more people come to Asheville, tear down the whole center and build more square, blank structures all over Asheville. Then those who propose such travesties (city fathers a.k.a. deadbeat dads) can live in the Asheville that they’ve uncreated, and the rest of us can move to somewhere else where Those Who Run Things can recognize Beauty and flaming well leave it alone.

— Peggy Seeger

Divisive tactics are not attractive

At a meeting on Oct. 1, I mentioned to Vice Mayor Carl Mumpower that I would be interviewing the people protesting the plans for a new parking garage later that day. He asked if I would find out how he could view the DVD they said they were going to show at an informational meeting with City Council. He had been waiting to hear something back from the group. While I was on the street, I repeatedly heard protesters badmouth Mumpower, Joe Dunn and Charles Worley, all running for office at the time, for being unresponsive.

Later, I learned that three other candidates for Asheville office had already spoken at an invitation-only meeting held by the residents of the Battery Park Apartments. I e-mailed Mumpower to ask if he had been invited. He said no. I next called Mayor Worley. His wife gave me a number where I could reach him at a League of Cities meeting. He returned my call, saying no, he hadn’t been invited either. Joe Dunn also returned my call and said he had only been asked to meet with a couple people to discuss moving the garage. He turned down the invitation, having been told the [garage’s] location was a “done deal,” but said he would have been more than happy to discuss design changes. At a recent candidates’ forum, I saw Dunn talking at length to a couple of the protest’s leaders.

My point is, all three of these wascally villains have demonstrated a willingness to go out of their way to be responsive and listen. Segregation and the withholding of information often nurture prejudices into self-fulfilling prophecies. When implemented, these tactics can make a candidate — as well as a parking garage — look ugly.

— Leslee Kulba

[Editor’s note: Kulba is a member of the campaign committee to re-elect Carl Mumpower.]

The beauty and the beast

Yes, Asheville’s City Council has undermined the spiritual and aesthetic atmosphere that the city is well known for by proposing the construction of a several-storied parking garage between the Basilica of St. Lawrence and the Battery Park Apartments on Haywood Street. Besides having the massive gray concrete mass tower over the Basilica and block apartment residents’ views, there is the possibility that its construction could cause damage to historic buildings nearby.

The amount of money the city would be spending on the garage is insane! According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, the total cost will be $20.8 million ($32,000 per parking space). How the hell has our society come to so highly value parking space — so much so that they are willing to use taxpayer dollars to enclose space with concrete to create places for our vehicles? How many homeless could be housed with that money? Or more pertinent to the issue of transportation, what new public transport systems could be funded with it?

How representative is the City Council? Would they want to wake up to a view of concrete? Or attend church with an ugly concrete tower competing in the skies with the Basilica for a connection to heaven?

Does convenience take precedence over beauty? Why not build more stories to an existing parking garage? Or build a parking garage outside of the downtown area. People can walk. Perhaps those who support the proposal of the construction of this parking garage should try walking a mile or even only half a mile to work. Maybe these early morning strolls could increase their oxygen levels in their heads and make them a bit happier. For if they were a bit happier, maybe they would notice the ugliness they are planning to construct.

— Kristalyn Bunyan
Mars Hill

Vote for Asheville

Milton Ready’s well-written commentary concerning the narrow-minded tunnel vision of our former city leaders was timely and right on target [“Asheville’s Tunnel Vision,” Oct. 5]. He presented a well-qualified comparison of past mistakes in leadership and our current direction towards repeating those same mistakes in the near future.

Asheville already has a strong tourist trade. People are drawn to its wonderful outdoor activities and unique downtown, small-town feel. Why would anyone want to travel to a city that has the same faceless atmosphere they can find at home?

Asheville’s future needs vision that includes resisting the urge to allow the big-money, multinational companies to take over our town. It also needs leaders that have the capability to stand up to those said companies when the battle lands in the courtroom. The voters of Asheville need to [make] Asheville’s future as a unique city a top priority when placing their votes in the upcoming election.

— Brian Burns

No problem — clowns we’ve got

The circus doesn’t come to Asheville anymore, but that’s OK. We have clowns on the City Council.

Terry Bellamy, Holly Jones, Brownie Newman and “ex-Mayor” [Charlie] Worley voted against a request to permit a bed-and-breakfast in North Asheville because the neighbohood is zoned “single-family.” These same officials recently OK’d dumping a 44-unit development in West Asheville in a neighborhood zoned “single-family.” All of this under the legal advice of Ringmaster [Bob] Oast. I guess folks in North Asheville deserve protection more than those in West Asheville.

By the way, only 20 of the proposed 44 units are what are considered “affordable housing.” If the city is serious about being involved in providing homes that are affordable, why not make them all affordable?

Keep this in mind on election day. Your neighborhood may be next.

— Richard Rice

Nanny-government means you lose

I am dismayed to learn that most candidates for Asheville mayor and City Council want government to continue expanding in size and influence. What can these aspiring political “commissars” be thinking? Show me the proof that more government intrusion, central planning and micromanagement ever solved any community’s problems. Are the people of Asheville really willing to sell their personal liberty for a vague promise that nanny-government knows best and will take care of them? I don’t think so.

On Nov. 8, reject the false promises of so-called progressive candidates, because they offer nothing more than socialism with its higher taxes and lost freedom. Vote instead for Joe Dunn and Carl Mumpower, the two candidates who understand that one freedom we shouldn’t exercise is the freedom to sell our liberty. Both are veterans who understand the price and the value of the freedoms we enjoy, and will fight to preserve them.

— Michael R. Harrison

Take care not to fight on poor ground

“I don’t want to fight here.” That is what General Lee said at Gettysburg, and what the movement for reproductive choice needs to learn from Lee: when to say, and (unlike Lee) when to do. We need to apply the activist maxim, “Think globally, act locally.”

Globally, choice is being contested in Cuba, Chechnya, Northern Ireland, Kashmir, Colombia, Kurdistan and Nepal. Locally, municipalities like New York City and St. Paul are setting abortion-funding precedents that can be followed by other cities, towns and counties, while local, residential zoning increases clinics’ costs and limits their locations.

However, the Supreme Court is neither global nor local, and in addition, it is not good political ground. Roe may have been a handy gift, but it came from government’s least democratic institution, which has had no offensive potential since and lost its defensive potential last year.

If the pro-choice movement and our allies exhaust our budgets, time and media space fighting on such poor ground, where Republican Sens. Dole and Burr aren’t likely to support such a filibuster, we can hardly make such a routine and symbolic gesture our flagship strategy and must not expect or invest too much. The battles that can be won are those that are closely contested, and [take place] both inside and outside the United States and Asheville. It just doesn’t look to me like the Supreme Court, or Washington, D.C., [would] currently [be] one of those places. It looks to me like a pro-choice Gettysburg.

Let’s not order a Pickett’s charge on the Supreme Court. We need our Pickett on Asheville City Council.

— Alan Ditmore

The bodacious Johnny Appleseed Kafka

I wake suddenly in a fit of laughter wishing that everyone with seeds would start planting them randomly around town. A crop to cover WNC would certainly be big news — a flood that many would enjoy enduring. And we all live happily ever, if only in our dreams.

In my dream, Johnny Appleseed joins the Riders of the Purple Sage and together they are madly sowing marijuana seeds throughout the countryside. Bodacious plants spring from the ground instantly. The dream morphs into local Johnny Appleseeds who are hangin’, gettin’ high, and then taking seeds from their stash and planting them in neighborhoods all over town — a practical joke due local-government types and stiff political talking-heads who discover, eventually, that the God-given herb is growing in their gardens and around their houses. Imagine the horror of local prosecutors when they discover their gardens include marijuana. They are maniacally yanking out the plants to avoid detection, driving to work and seeing the plants everywhere. A scene from Kafka. Rather than Michael Moore parties lamenting the “state of the union”, there are pot parties planning the widespread cultivation of herb.

Aren’t dreams wonderful! Deciding who in the community needs to get a grip and relax their anal and obnoxious attitudes. In a bizarre plot twist, a peace offer comes from those afflicted with the growth and re-growth of spurious plants. They will change the law, making marijuana legal, if and only if the campaign to plant it everywhere ceases. By this time there is so much marijuana that buds load the air with pollen and the wind carries it everywhere. Giggles and munchies are infecting city hall all the way to the ‘burbs.

— John Buckley

Buddy, can you spare a seat?

This entire buddy-selection process crystallizes for the American public that President Bush has his own interests at heart, not the good of America. Bush makes it clear that he sees the two as either unconnected or at opposing ends of his political reality by refusing to provide the very most basic information to the Senate about his nominee, to enable Senators to make a responsible decision on the future of this massively powerful institution in our country — the U.S. Supreme Court.

— Liev K. Aleo

Who’s on first?

So, John Roberts was confirmed despite nagging fears. He has been a judge, at least, and appears thoughtful and objective. How he actually behaves on the bench is anyone’s guess, but I doubt he’ll be the ogre some have portrayed.

Harriet Miers’ nomination is a different matter. She has never even served as a judge, at any level. The Supreme Court is the wrong place to gain that experience. If President Bush wants to nominate her for a federal judgeship, he should start lower. Supreme Court nominations are not favors to be handed out to friends.

Perhaps there’s more at work here. Maybe President Bush nominated Miers knowing that the nomination could be defeated. Thus, he’d make the Democrats feel good about themselves, while allowing himself to pick another conservative — someone who was questionable for first choice, but who might sail through after the Dems have had their way. Could the president be that devious?

— Mark H. Bloom

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