Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Blue city thoughts in a red state

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- I'm sitting in a joint called the Bier Garden watching girls make their way down Haywood Street.

Downtown Asheville is a happening place, even on a sleepy Wednesday night. Folks are everywhere. A series of shops, bistros and cafes pepper the place. It can give a guy from Knoxville a complex. Or at least a sense of envy.

The big news in the local alternative weekly is that a new book, Eric Weiner's "The Geography of Bliss," declares Asheville a happy place to live. And why not? I know I could stay here awhile.

The author will be here tomorrow night, across the street from the Bier Garden, signing books at the quaint Malaprop's. I ducked in before dinner and almost bought Weiner's tome just to see what the fuss is about.

Found the regional authors section and was tempted by a Thomas Wolfe novel I don't have, since he's a local and all. But I shied away from the $50 price tag and snagged instead a 50th anniversary copy of "On the Road." Kinda in the mood for Kerouac.

It's beautiful here tonight. Mid-70s, not a cloud in the sky. This is to-die-for weather, a "Please, God, don't let this ever end" kind of a day. I'm tempted to sit here the rest of the night. Curiosity gets the better of me, though, and I settle the bill and explore.

A little later I pass an art gallery I wish hadn't closed an hour before. I listen awhile to the street musician near the bookstore play his banjo. I laugh at a local newspaper's moniker. (Think "Superman.")

And I'm glad I found my way to this eclectic little blue city snugged into the western mountains of this ruby-red state. For the second time in three days, I shake my head, and wonder what could have been back home.

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