“Are you the minister?”
“I am not that, sir,” he answered, “I’m the vacuumer.” Our short tour ends abruptly as the loud whir of the cleaning machine rises to meet the southern-fried rock classic on the sound system here at Fleetwood’s in Asheville, North Carolina. Ours, and his, is a quick sweep through this small city of 90,000 in the Blue Ridge Mountains known for its progressive ideas, punk squats, Thomas Wolfe, and a harmonious alliance between sanctioned murals, organic street art, and graffiti.
En route through town to the edge of the French Broad River, which flows 218 miles northeast from Rosman, NC up to Knoxville, Tennessee, we see the signposts of hippie/skater/crafter/artist community along the two laneway. Here’s a coffee shop, there’s an art gallery, over there is a radical bookstore with Black Lives Matter signs in the old plate glass windows.
Here at Fleetwoods’, you can rummage around vintage ceramics and fur-collared coats, and belly up to the small bar, and of course, get married. Advertising itself out front as a Rock N Roll Wedding Chapel and Bar, they are happy if you come to shop, drink, and get married – after passing the motorcycles, banana seat bicycles, and long thin cat laying in the sun near the side door.
On one clothing rack near the gold velvet chapel, there is a wide selection of used wedding dresses to rent for the occasion.
“Usually there’s a few a month,” says the friendly vacuumer. “Sometimes there’s a few a day. In fact, we got one coming up at 2 pm if you want to see it.” It’s certainly tempting, and the porcelain rooster on the bar points to the cocktail sign, where you can order an Electric Chair, Witch’s Tit, Starry Eyes, or, most appropriate, a glass of Love Potion, made of champagne, cranberry juice, blood orange bitters, and a CBD sugar cube.
As sweet as that entreaty is, we hit the road and head for the hippies down by the river. We find old converted factories that now house artist studios, and galleries, and cleverly named eateries. It’s not as pretentious as it sounds – it’s actually a warm and welcoming vibe. We head for the railroad tracks and get lost wherever the graffiti gods lead us. We’re happy to find some splendid examples of style writing, some smart social critiques, and a number of political stencils with an attitude. Here are some of the findings, or as some here might say, “the pickens”, which were not slim!