We were dirt poor, but had a wealth of pride

One of the first connections I made when arriving in WNC in 1991 was with Green Line and Jeff Fobes, and right away I got the go-ahead to do a piece on the proposed passenger rail service to Asheville. Now, 20-plus years later, rail service to Asheville is still “proposed” (dream on), but Green Line is alive and well and thriving as Mountain Xpress.

These days, most people I encounter say, “Huh?” when I mention Green Line, so here’s how I remember it — a crusading radical left-wing tabloid that did a surprisingly good job of investigative reporting for a paper of its size and with its resources (basically, none). With a mix of young and not-so-young staffers and contributors, it was gung-ho to make Asheville and WNC a better, healthier, cleaner, more honest place to live. As a bonus, it covered the local outdoor and arts/entertainment scene, which for a while were my beats. Green Line was dirt poor, but those of us who worked there were proud of what we did.

But Green Line didn’t have much of a future as it was constituted at the time. The paper was attracting about as much advertising as it could, given its crusading nature, and that wasn’t enough to survive without help. So the decision was made: Go out on a limb and grow up overnight into something you might find in a bigger city — something like Atlanta’s Creative Loafing. Skeptics didn’t think it would succeed, that Asheville was indeed too small to support a free paper that ambitious, that there wasn’t really enough going on around here to fill its pages, that no one would read it.

Fobes proved everyone wrong, and today, two decades later, Mountain Xpress is celebrating its 20th anniversary — and what’s amazing is that the new version of Green Line hasn’t abandoned the principles that drew me to it in 1991.

I left not long after Xpress made its debut, deciding to leave it to the younger kids (and Fobes, who must have discovered the fountain of youth). Not that I was ancient, but with a magazine background, I was used to a monthly production schedule and the weekly grind was getting to me. I still think about those days, though, and of the stories we did, and of the pride everyone had as each issue came off the press. I think of Peter and Andrea and Jim and the two Danielles and Mark and Rob and Rusty and Cecil, and all the other reporters and staff, and I miss them all. It was like a family then, and I’d venture to say that it still is.

Semiretired in Black Mountain now, Bob Rufa does some freelance book editing and works part-time for the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry. He is co-author of the recently published eBook Maybelline Takes a Powder.


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