That’s what the bumper stickers and T-shirts declare, the ones sold throughout North Carolina’s most singular city: “Asheville, Where Normal is Weird.” Which, of course, implies that the denizens of this remarkable urban circus revel in their weirdness.
But what constitutes weird? Well, first and foremost, it’s a matter of perspective.
Sure, weird might be the word to describe the diversity of street musicians that we encountered as we wandered through downtown Asheville—the fellow playing a red electric violin while adorned in a pair of mismatched striped socks, the guy playing an instrument known as the hand pan while resting against a massive sculpture of a flat iron, the duo playing mountain music (he was on the banjo; she made remarkable percussion with only two serving spoons and the palm of her hand).
And okay, weird was the array of folks we saw along the way—the guy in the Dr. Seuss hat juggling plungers and hammers, the six-foot-tall woman in eight-inch heels, the gal in the hot pink wig. Oh, and the man dressed as a nun and riding an old-fashioned high-wheel bicycle.
Perhaps the names of the eclectic array of business establishments might seem a tad weird—Rusted Buffalo (where they sell Himalayan salt crystals), TallGary’s, The Thirsty Monk, Enter the Earth, The Hookah Hook-Up. Not to mention a show on wheels known as the Lazoom City Comedy Bus Tour, which shouted its way through town. The bus, naturally, is purple.
Fine, it’s a little weird to walk into an authentic Woolworth building in the center of town only to find a remarkable juxtaposition — an old-fashioned lunch counter and soda fountain alongside a contemporary gallery of local artists’ creations. Here, have a rootbeer, then plunk down $5400 for a recycled-metal sculpture of “Chief Four Moons.”
And the food was weird, but only if your taste runs to unusually delicious. Local icon Tupelo Honey Café (our lunch choice) offered menu items with names like Grateful Dead Black Bean Burger, When Shrimp Met Taco, and Not Your Mama’s Meatloaf. Our dinner selection, Ben’s Tune-Up, was a sort of Appalachian-Asian joint housed in an old mechanic’s garage. In an urban beer garden, we drank local brew while eating dishes like scallop yakitori. Both meals were really, really tasty. And different.
The drum circle, that was weird. Every Friday night, a gathering of dozens of drummers and bongo players (along with some tambourines and cowbells and hula-hoopers to round out the entertainment) fill Battery Park and pound away into the night. Tourists and locals dance to the beat—and perhaps their own drummer. It is odd and mesmerizingly percussive.
It was weird to share dinner and the drums with my old college pal Erik — weird in that he’s a guy of Swedish descent, raised in Connecticut, but now so fully entrenched in the Asheville scene that “y’all” comes out as smooth as molasses butter.
And there’s this: During our city stroll, Amy and I happened upon a place called the Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar, which we concluded was just about the greatest place on the planet. Thirty thousand used hardcover books for sale, shelved amid a tri-level maze of narrow aisles. They serve 80 wines by the glass, as well as specialty drinks with names like Carl Sandburg and Zelda Fitzgerald. Champagne, too, of course. Books and spirits galore. Want some Laurent-Perrier with your Ray Bradbury? How about a peek at William S. Burroughs along with a taste of Roederer Premium?
But I haven’t yet gotten to the weird part. As Amy wandered the rows and nooks and countless books, she came upon a table upon which two books were displayed, almost like museum pieces. One of them — I swear this is true — was one of mine. It was States of Mind, the story of our first-ever RV road trip adventure. Yes, needless to say, it made our day.
So apparently most days are that kind of abnormal in Asheville. But weird is pretty wonderful.