Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   the ghetto of Asheville
Friday, May 8 2015

location: AirBnB in a basement in West Asheville, North Carolina

We made coffee using our apartment's french press, and then sat out on the stoop watching the birds. It (35.572894N, 82.572088W) was a great place to be at this time of year.
For lunch, we drove down south of Asheville some miles to region of big box stores, strip malls, and other assorted retail clutter common near cities everywhere in the United States. Our destination was Bean Vegan Cuisine, a fast casual restaurant specializing in vegan comfort food. This was the second franchise of a restaurant first started in Charlotte, and had only been open about a week. We ate out on the front porch overlooking busy Hendersonville Road. Our first food was an order of fried pickles, because why not. They were extremely greasy but great. Unfortunately, though, by the end of the meal they turned out to be the only good sides on the menu. The bean salad I'd ordered tasted like it had been cut with a non-natural disinfectant, and the mac & cheese was completely inedible. That said, my "fish" sandwich was great; somehow they'd even gotten the texture right (that's hard to do; often fake fish ends up being unconvincingly rubbery). Our waiter was a bit sensitive about our reaction to the mac & cheese, but, as Gretchen likes to say, it's important for vegan food to be done right for vegan evangelism to be effective.
On the way back into Asheville, we made a detour to the River Arts District (down on either side of Wedge Brewery, between the railway tracks and the east bank of the French Broad River). The River Arts District is the site of an old sprawling hide tanning factory. Parts have been abandoned, graffiti'd, squatted in, and used for various purposes through the years. Now, though, a large fraction of it is given over to artists' studios. We walked the halls, checking out the various works posted outside the studios. It was the middle of a weekday and most of the studios were closed, but Gretchen found a print she liked in a box in the hall, on sale via the honor system. When it comes to small local artists, Gretchen has a great deal of honor, so she put $20 in an envelope and slipped it under the door.
Past an indoor dog agility gymnasium, we found another group of studios, and soon were invited into one run by a guy named Paul who made rubber masks, headdresses, and other clothing. His specialty was ancient-looking costumery for folks to take to Burning Man. "Without the internet, I wouldn't exist." He insisted Gretchen try on a headdress being worn by one of his mannequins. Then he went on to explain the history of the River Arts District, including ongoing battles with developers, occasional troubles with burglars from the 'hood (just across the tracks and up the hill, though most get stopped by police at the tracks), and visits by Barack Obama to the 12 Bones Smokehouse (where he goes to eat his non-vegan/non-Muslim/possibly-communist ribs).

Me with my food at Bean Vegan Cuisine.

Paul with his mannequin in the River Arts District. (Click to enlarge.)

A dress that Gretchen liked in the window of Hip Replacements.

In downtown Asheville, Gretchen spent a lot of time trying on different dresses at Hip Replacements on Lexington Avenue. Meanwhile, a sudden downpour was happening outside, though it only lasted about 15 minutes and then the sky began to clear. Hip Replacements has a nice couch for non-shopping companions of dress shoppers, and that was where I sat, flipping through a picture book about the Rolling Stones, gradually watching Mick Jagger and the boys (and their girlfriends and wives) grow older and increasingly less-stylish, starting in the 1960s and continuing into the 1980s. Everybody looked terrible in the 1980s except me. (In the 1980s, I was still wearing clothes from the 1970s. And I never received a professional haircut.)
After Gretchen gave up on finding a dress to buy, we went across Lexington and up to a restaurant with a large outside seating area and ordered drinks. The IPA I ordered turned out to be unavailable, but Laguinitas IPA (not Little Sumpin' Sumpin') was on tap for only $2. It would, of course, end up being the best IPA of this trip. Gretchen, meanwhile, had some sort of champagne cocktail. A group at a nearby table were having a very loud conversation about the recent gay marriage dust up in Indiana, with a woman expressing embarrassment at the Governor for his Neanderthal ideas. A man at that same table was arguing unconvincingly against gay marriage, though I think his entire reason for doing this was his concern that women at the table would think him gay otherwise (and thus he would diminish his chances of getting lucky). His strategy, though, seemed to be backfiring, and pretty soon Gretchen was shouting encouragements such as "you go, sister!" at the pro-gay-marriage woman at his table.
After some downtime back at our AirBnB, Gretchen and I drove back into downtown Asheville, making a detour along the way to find the 'hood (the ghetto) of Asheville that Paul had told us about. We found streets that led to the edge of the bluff above the railroad tracks and eventually we found maybe two red-brick buildings that appeared to be modestly-scaled public housing. But that was it. The lawns were mowed and there was no trash or graffiti. And there certainly weren't any rotting couches where low-level drug bosses supervised corner-based heroin retail operations. If this was its urban blight, Asheville must be the most prosperous city in the world.
We caught the tail end of a reading and book signing by Dave Berry at Malaprops Bookstore mostly so we could meet up with some acquaintances of Gretchen's: Lauren and D. She'd met them at the bookstore in Woodstock, and they're part of the animal rights scene. At the time, they were living in the New York City area, but recently they'd moved to Asheville. The four of us decided to go to a Thai restaurant (Suwana's Thai Orchid Restaurant) where I proceeded to be the only one who ordered an alcoholic beverage. Lauren was a bit batty for my tastes, but I really liked D. He had an understated self-effacing quality that is rare in men (he reminded me of a townie in Oberlin named Curtis). I made the mistake of trying to eat more than a trivial amount of a very hot pepper that had been presented floating in a thick oil, but other than that I had a great food experience. [REDACTED]

For linking purposes this article's URL is:

previous | next