Letters from Asheville and Beyond: A Fictional Journey into Western North Carolina by Ellen J. Perry.
Part Two: “Get on the Bus” dedicated to Heather Vaughn.
Dear sweet grandson Nicky,
I’m glad to tell you, me and Shelby made it from coast to mountains in the van but not without incident. We had everything all planned out: go down 26 to Columbia, eat some Maurice’s barbecue, catch 20 to Florence, then 95 to 74. Leastways, that’s what Joanne at Triple A and the map said, but somehow we got twisted around near Lumberton and ended up at a truck stop that had a McDonald’s tacked on to it. Right before I went to order our Filet-o-Fish sandwiches, Shelby asked a man by the hot dog machine for directions. He looked at us funny and said, “Why would y’all want to go to Asheville? That’s where all them hippies and gays and liberals and stuff is.” We didn’t take too kindly to that and stormed off, but the McDonald’s people weren’t much better help. The young girl that took my fish sandwich order said, “Well, head toward the flea market and take a left at Miss Jackson’s house, then you’ll see Tommy Higby out there painting the church and you can ask him the best way cause I don’t know.”
The Lord must have been with us, though, because we got back on the interstate and headed in the right direction without having to bother Miss Jackson or Tommy either one. We felt so tired and aggravated after driving all that way but now we’re settled in at the Hampton on Tunnel Road, which is a good place to stay since they have that shuttle that takes people into town. The man at the front desk gave us a bunch of brochures and said that the LaZoom tour would be a great way to get introduced to Asheville. Boy was he right. Me and Shelby had the biggest time on that purple bus! (Don’t tell the preacher we did this because it was pretty wild.) We chose the City Comedy Tour and our guide went by the name of Augusta Wind. She had this fluffy blond wig on and hiked up her leg a bunch of times, even grabbed a passenger’s head and wrestled it onto her bosom. That old man turned red as a fire hydrant. Shelby laughed like crazy at that! My favorite part of the show was this fellow that ran around in a nun outfit, Sister Bad Habit. There’s even a local beer named after her which I hope to try while we’re here, though for sure don’t tell the preacher that.
The LaZoom bus took us all over downtown. We learned some about the history of the city and how people here made sure their home-place stayed good and local. You know how lots of towns in the South all look the same now with their strip malls and Long John Silverses and Wal-Marts? Not Asheville. Oh, Shelby says tell you about poor Zelda Fitzgerald who died in a fire in the Montford area. Did you study her and her husband F. Scott in school? He wrote The Great Gatsbsy and some other stuff. We sat in front of a lady named Heather who’s an English teacher in town (it was her 40th birthday!) and she told us this great thing that Daisy, one of the characters in Gatsby, said: “What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon? And the day after that? And the next thirty years?”
I don’t know about the next thirty years, but on the bus we saw a bunch of places we want to come back to in the next few days at least: Malaprop’s book store, the Grove Arcade, French Broad Chocolates, Tupelo Honey restaurant, art galleries, shops. Later on in the week we might head over to the Biltmore House and the Grove Park Inn just to strut around and act like we own the place. But for now we’re happy over here at the Hampton, thinking about our day and feeling young again, like there’s nothing we can’t do in the world. Hell, tonight after supper at Frank’s Pizza we might even ride the shuttle over to the Yacht Club and suck down a Painkiller. Or two.