I moved to Asheville — well, technically, Black Mountain — in the winter of ’83. It was pretty rough. The night I moved into my little no-insulation cottage, temps plunged to minus 50 with the wind chill. The pipes froze, the toilet cracked, and I tried in vain to stuff newspaper in places where the wind was gusting in. Dogs ran off with my pet rooster, “Mr. Bill.” My rent was $115/month. I couldn’t find a job for months.
Asheville was a mostly boarded-up dead zone. Bele Chere was smaller and more intimate. Everyone knew everyone, and I don’t recall much violence and trashing of downtown. I actually liked it better then than with the much larger crowds of later years.
I hung out a lot at McDibb’s in Black Mountain, which hosted some amazing acts. I was actually friends with David Wilcox, who got his start there. We contra danced at the Old Farmer’s Ball out near Warren Wilson College every Thursday night. This shack of a building, where we sweated profusely in the summer and froze in the winter, finally collapsed. But until then, it had a long history of mountain folks kicking up their heels to local bands playing traditional music! On weekends I would check out the music at 45 Cherry, Thomas Woof Music Hall (where Jubilee! is now) and, years later, Be Here Now.
I couldn’t afford to eat out much, but we did go to a Turkish restaurant called Ike’s that actually served up good veggie burgers. Ike would whip out his balalaika and play songs from his homeland, entrancing us all. His place was located on North Merrimon, under what is now Stein Mart, I think. There was also Stone Soup and that Mexican restaurant down in Biltmore, Pedro’s or something.
I want to give a shout out to Joe Roberts, who around ’85 or ’86 got the bug to make some clay doumbeks, a Middle Eastern drum. Friends would gather round and jam on the drums he had made. Connections brought amazing drum teachers Daryl Rose and the famous Babatunde Olatunji. Joe switched to making wooden West African ashiko drums, taught some others how to make them and the drum community in Asheville was born! And downtown began to change in the ‘90s and grow in amazing ways.
I remember attending Goombay in ‘84 or ’85. The event was in its second or third year and I had the unsettling experience of being the ONLY white face in the crowd. I realized in that moment how a black (or any minority) could feel in a sea of white faces. I remember wondering if I was welcome there. I really wanted to hear and see the steel drums being played. A guy who was standing in front of me, turned to me and said, “Here, step up here so you can see better,” as he moved aside. My question was then answered and I relaxed and enjoyed the show!
But you know even in the ‘80s, there was a lot to do. Malaprop’s brought in wonderful authors, and spiritual centers held workshops and talks. There was no end to the hiking, swimming or biking.
I love many of the exciting things that sprouted up in Asheville in the last 20 years. It took a lot of guts and work to revitalize a dead downtown. And it was done tastefully and looks beautiful. But with all this progress there has been a downside.
As Asheville’s popularity has grown, so has the number of developers who want to rape the mountaintops and build homes that mainly serve the wealthy. I got involved with Mountain Voices Alliance because my stomach was literally tearing up witnessing the devastation of the mountains I loved so much!
Traffic has clogged downtown to the point of gridlock and I don’t see how the infrastructure can handle much more. I now live in Alexander, too far out of town to ride a bike. Buses don’t come out here and, frankly, they take way too much time. I find myself just gritting my teeth as I try to get to the French Broad Food Co-op to shop and get back out.
There are so many restaurants popping up that some close before I ever set foot in them. And I used to know everyone. Now I am lucky if I see one or two familiar faces.
Rent has mostly become unaffordable for the kinds of service jobs that prevail in the area. For all my hard work, my income has remained at poverty level.
Hikes up on the parkway were once a way to get away from it all and hardly see another soul on the trails. Now it’s practically a steady stream of people. I guess there is always a consequence to becoming unique and popular and living in a very beautiful place!
Still, I have sunk my roots deep. I bought my place, gave birth to my daughter in my little house that I worked on for years (never finished), built a pottery studio (also never finished), and worked hard trying to homestead while raising my daughter, working odd jobs to supplement my business — all as a single parent. I found my spiritual community, which took me to other countries around the world, as well as many parts of the U.S., was an active volunteer for the environment and planet, and often picked up abandoned dogs and cats, as well as unfortunate injured or orphaned wildlife along the roads. I have found my place here and I love it very much despite any hardships. And, no — there has never been a dull moment!