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2003-11-30 8:54 PM
God Bless the Bouncer
Asheville looked good on paper and even better when Charlie, Jen and I made an enchanted, two-day, whirlwind tour earlier this month to see John Eddie and Robert Earl Keen at The Orange Peel.
Hearing our tales, Jessica felt she'd missed a trip to adult Disneyland.
Knowing the 16-hour Saint to Saint drive (Simons Island to Bonaventure University) might be overly ambitious, I planned a swing to the Jersey Shore for us to see John Eddie. Advance preparation uncovered the location in question had a strict door policy and I apparently have the only 20-year-old daughter in America without a fake ID.
Introducing Jessica to Asheville became an equally anticipated Plan B. She studied the Chamber of Commerce brochures carefully and I spent the six hour drive enthusiastically filling in every missing detail. Cocooned in anticipation and a car that does not display outside temperature, we got our first frigid clue with the snow on the roadside as we approached the town. Jess mentioned hoping she'd packed closed-toe shoes.
The online motel reservation brought us into the city, not past the Biltmore Estate, but a city mission. The mission looked decidedly more hospitable than our motel, which was, as promised, walking distance to the Grove Arcade and Wall St. shopping area.
Jess' only footwear alternative was slick-soled dress boots, a special challenge on black iced sidewalks of various elevation.
Within the first few shops, it became clear that issue of an Asheville retail permit is contingent on selling quilts, incense, magnetic poetry, essential oils or hemp products. Many shops covered all six requirements.
Once we identified the pervasive odor as patchouli, it followed us like a 60s fog. We found ourselves counting the number of white women with dreads and alarming number of ways the phrases "cruelty-free" and "organic" can be used in selling almost anything.
After a few hours, I wasn't sure whether we were seeing our breath on the street or simply exhaling incense. It did, however, mask the smell of the panhandlers.
Cold and cranky, I tried to shift back to charmed by reminding myself that back on on St. Simons wearing socks with your loafers is an alternative lifestyle and the statute of limitations is still not up on having voted for Dukakis. (Howevere, a JFK vote may be considered a youthful indiscretion, as long as it is not discussed in mixed company.)
At least attitude is altered by altitude in Asheville.
And this is a good thing, I repeated to myself as we arrived at the wonderful little wine shop discovered on the last trip and quickly filled a case with great value treasures recommended by the enthusiastic staff. None of these wines or prices would be available back on the island. I was warming.
We ate organically on cruelty-free pottery before heading to The Orange Peel for a billed acoustic show. Unlike certain Jersey locations, the Orange Peel allows 18 year olds as long as the bouncers are allowed to mark their hands with large XXs to prevent alcohol service.
Not anxious to reveal her just-months-shy-of-21 status to the good-looking kid of about 24 at the door, Jess fumbled in her purse and smiled gamely as she handed him a plastic card.
"Is this an invitation?" he said with a larger smile , as she turned crimson and replaced her motel room key card with her license.
He stopped me as I walked past and said he needed to see my ID. I made sure it was my license and handed it over with a laugh.
He held it up to the light, looked closely at the year and said "Hey, you're really well preserved."
Jess assumed that would have been the most horrifying moment of the night until we discovered the bluegrass nature of the incessant opening act and the not-well-preserved middle aged couple who took to dancing directly in front of us as we sat on the floor.
Amateur interpretive dance and clogging are best done in the comfort of one's home. They should never be combined in public while stoned, especially so near to a mother/ daughter pair with so much life and promise before them. Within an hour of arriving at The Peel, it was time to go. Had the computerized coat check system not found our coats, we would have seriously considered stealing a couple of the ponchos and parkas stashed around the edge of the floor.
Back at the room, the volume on the little television could not be made loud enough to drown out the clang, hum and buzz of the heater. We choose the machine shop serenade over freezing in our sleep. Jessica seemed relieved to see Asheville in the rear view mirror at 7 a.m. and even happier when we arrived at her dorm at 7 p.m.
I myself can't wait to get back to Asheville again soon. I love that wine shop... and Asheville bouncers are so perceptive.
(Writer's Note: After I posted this item, my cousin Bernie told me that back when he was a bouncer he used to occasionally ask "middle-aged divorcees" to show their I.D. "just to make them feel better." He used to be my favorite cousin.)
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