A little over one year ago, I returned to Asheville to meet Brian Rider and exchange my 1962 Pionier 450 S kayak for a small sum of money and a 1990’s mid-range lugged steel Mississippi-built Schwinn Traveler bicycle in celeste green with Suntour drivetrain. A little higher end and more modern groupset than what I’ve got on my Miyata. Swapped the bike to my friend, Bruce, in exchange for some metal-smithing, and he’s made it ride-able, but has yet to venture with it beyond his neighborhood. Also, he’s scared of wearing Lycra.
I got two blog-post installments written and published here, but before I could really begin the third, got what turned out to be a life-changing injury on a Friday afternoon in September, then found kittens on our front porch and had to teach them to feed and find homes for them, then had to deal with the ensuing flea-infestation after the cats had got homes, then hit the half-century mark, then embarked on a complete vocational rethink that involved considerable upheaval. Difficult it is returning to something left off after this much time has elapsed. I’d planned something more elaborate, but this post may end up as more of an image-dump than a cohesive narrative providing a meaningful end to the two posts preceding it here and here. Click on any picture for a full-sized version.
The Cat That Walked By Himself
Although I like to think of myself, and actually do often function, as independent of most people in many circumstances, that’s probably an adaptation I’ve made to a social awkwardness you’d have to be me to understand. I’d been looking forward to a chance to visit with Eric, my best friend from seminary days. Eric’s niece, a young woman who is a freelance writer as well a musician, also planned to meet us for supper and accompany us to a local music festival.
I got up pretty early Saturday morning and looked up local bike shops in order to engage in a little bicycle tourism. I picked out three or four shops in the Asheville area and wrote out their addresses, took a shower, went downstairs for breakfast, finished getting ready and then headed out.
I remember my dad once telling me that, according to his then recently acquired religious orientation, it is considered unethical to enter a retail business having previously made up one’s mind not to buy anything. He said that would produce a false hope in the mind of the shopkeeper, and that it’s plain wrong to intentionally disappoint another person, especially in regard to his or her livelihood. My intent that morning? I was shopping for bargains – maybe some heavily discounted Endura shorts or some chain-lube or an incredible deal on some new old stock bike that’d been gathering dust under a stairwell or had been demoed for a couple of years. Also, Asheville’s a little cooler, weatherwise as well as in a social sense, than Stepford, and I’d forgotten to bring a windbreaker or sweatshirt, so I reckoned I needed one of those, too.
The first bike shop I went to was near a Walgreens on the city’s outskirts, but not far from the hotel, in a newer brick stripmall, but it was closed when I got there. I did stop in at Walgreens and buy a good toothbrush, because I’d forgotten to pack one and the toothbrush supplied by the hotel as a courtesy was not fit for the purpose.
After that, I drove to the local R.E.I. which is situated in a sort of outdoor mall intended to resemble a groovy urban village public space and square. Actually not horrible, and with adequate parking, families out for early strolls with their little ones in strollers, kind of upscale. I got a gray, house brand water-resistant hooded, full-zip synthetic material sweatshirt on sale and some waxy chain-lube. Then I drove on the freeway to the other side of town where there’s a large, upscale, full-service bike shop on the property of a large shopping mall of the sort that sprang up in many places about 20 years ago.
I test-rode or demoed a 2012 Raleigh cyclocross bike in carbon fiber all over the largely deserted parking lot and the adjacent huge new-car dealer’s lot. What a great bike, but the price was still beyond what I could justify spending, even at a large discount. One of the guys at the shop had previously lived at Stepford and worked at a bike shop in Stepford when the town had a bike shop, back in the 1990s. He sent greetings to one of the founding members of the Stepford bike club, and I wrote down his name and eventually did pass along the greeting.
After that, having spent the greater part of the morning out looking at bikes and driving around, I went back to the hotel. Eric called up after a little while and arrived by about lunch time, I think.
We drove to the downtown area where Eric managed to score the best parking place in Asheville – a prime slot with a municipal canvas bag padlocked over the space’s parking-meter. Weather was amazingly pleasant – clear, blue skies, warm, sunny, cool mountain breeze – really beautiful day. The sidewalks were crowded with walkers, buskers in evidence everywhere. I listened to the Carolina Catskins at one corner and bought one of their homemade CDs (turns out they’re A LOT better live than recorded). I snapped a photo of the band – the female playing the washboard looks irked at being photographed (indeed, I have taken her soul captive thereby – not really; what would I do with it?). The woman with the dog was not, as I recall, a band member – she just looked like a spacey hippie and seemed to want to be a part of the picture.
I don’t remember clearly, but I think Eric and I had both eaten something before we met at the hotel on Saturday. We did, I think, get something to eat while out walking around. I snapped a bunch of pictures – amazing sights in Asheville. I liked the old buildings, odd retail establishments, and the crowded streets. There was a even a pedal-powered pub, allowing patrons to legally drink and drive, after a fashion. Saw a transvestite costumed as a nun riding around on a strange bicycle. Saw some different bikes chained up; I guess bicycle theft is a problem at Asheville. Here are a few photos:
Hearn’s Bicycle Shop
Hearn’s Cycling and Fitness, actually; they claim to be the oldest continually operating bike shop in the United States. Eric and I stopped in there and looked around. That’s Eric in the picture above and left in the blue shirt and tan hat. Hearn’s has a bewildering array of used bikes, funky bikes, super old bike, really odd bikes hanging from the ceilings and in racks on the garage floor. The building’s obviously a former garage, possibly auto dealer property. The building looks as if it were built about the middle of the last century.
The fellow with whom Eric is exchanging speech in the image above is, if I recall correctly, named Clark, and he was an interesting and helpful fellow. If I had to guess, I’d say his FSIQ falls in the well-above-average range of measured intelligence. The bike he’s holding in both pictures is consists of a 58 or 59 cm (it’s bigger than you’d think if you judged it solely by the headtube) Milanetti lugged steel 1980s frame with full Campagnolo groupset, don’t recall wheels and hubs, and cage pedals. The bike’s gears are indexed and shift at the brake levers – to me, totally space-age refinements of bicycle technology. I liked the bike, but couldn’t justify expenditure of $500 that day in Asheville. Since then, I’ve occasionally regretted not buying the bike.
That August 2013 weekend I went back to Asheville was the last weekend of the mountain music festival called Shindig on the Green, and that turned out to be the reason I’d been unable to find inexpensive lodgings near downtown.
Megan Northcote, Eric’s niece, accompanied us to supper at a vegetarian restaurant the name of which I no longer recall, and then to the music festival, and then on a walk through the downtown area where we observed graffiti, street musicians and doorway singers. When we met her at her apartment, she agreed to play the banjo for us – she is musically inclined and I asked her to play the song she liked best. Below’s a still snapped while she was tuning the instrument, and then a short video Megan playing a song the name of which I noted at the time, but have forgotten. Well, the short video if I can figure it out after posting this from Windows Live Writer. She was unwilling to sing while she played, although I would guess she has as pleasant a singing voice as her speaking voice.
We ate dessert at a red, double-decker bus that’s been permanently moored and converted for use as a coffee-shop/confectioner’s shop. I took way too many pictures there because I thought it looked really cool and I liked the ceiling.
The festival musicians and singers ranged from traditional bluegrass or folk singing about spiritual strength and bearing up under the vicissitudes of a life sometimes harsh but worth living to dirty-living trash-culture singing about and taking perverse pride in booze and infidelity. You may as well know I preferred the former.
Asheville appears to have a vibrant street-musician scene. During my earlier walkabout with Eric, I noted an older man playing a zither near a hookah bar, as well as the Carolina Catskins, already mentioned.
After the sun had set, Megan, Eric, and I walked around the downtown area where we watched and listened to various street performers and artists. One of the singers, and I am annoyed with myself because I didn’t get her name, sang the ABSOLUTE best version of Funny Valentine I’ve ever heard. That song’s a sort of benchmark by which I measure the talents of buskers wherever I find them. This lady belted out a version that nearly stole my soul – I mean, it was a moving, evocative rendition of that old song. My stars, but I was an idiot not to have gotten her name. If there’s going to be choir in heaven, and this lady’s numbered among the elect, she’ll be in it. There she is, in the picture below
We also saw a man juggling tools including, if I recall rightly, chainsaws. I feared for the safety of the children crowded around with their parents. The guy had an array of household items and tools on the sidewalk, around where he stood, and he invited the children to choose things for him to juggle. From what I could see, his performance was flawless, but I stood well enough back to avoid getting struck by anything if he missed. Didn’t get a picture or a video – the Iphone’s limited as to shutter speed and low-light video. A woman standing near the juggler sketched portraits and was remarkable for her graceful posture. We also saw a bigger band, similar in composition to the Catskins, but with a different sound, playing and singing a song the chorus of which I recall went something like, “There’s soooooo muuuuuuuch bloood.” The woman with the banjo, center, was the one singing, and she sang the words slow and with an audible awareness of the oddity of meaning that I was not expecting.
The rest of these pictures are all out of sequence, but they’re snapshots I took of graffiti I saw while we were walking around Saturday. Megan surprised me with a spontaneous and clever photobomb; I was really annoyed for a second until I realized what a cool thing she’d done. But joking I did ask her what her parents would think. The Charlie Brown artist’s work I saw two or three places around town, and I liked it best. I probably have some more graffiti pictures, but I think the time has come to abandon composition and publish this post.