Monday, November 12, 2012

Asheville and Great Smoky Mountains trip, Day 1: In which I sin against Texas.

Morning on the Blue
Ridge Parkway, Asheville
Morning on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville

I have started to trend toward vacations where I see old friends or family and then visit a National Park. It’s not completely purposeful[i]; it’s just worked out that way recently. We had the great pleasure of seeing my old friends the Gibsons and my Uncle Dave and Aunt Shelley on our Yosemite trip, we jaunted out to see friends and family in Seattle on our way to Rainier, and just recently I got to catch up with my friend Joel on this, our recent trip to Asheville and the Great Smoky[ii] Mountains National Park. I know my wife would probably like a little more “Oh look, they have a bar right on the beach” and a little less “hey, is the tent supposed to be this wet?”. However, given that the past couple trips have been based on her family’s events, I think we have settled into a grudging karmic balance. It makes for odd packing[iii], but I think I’ve found my niche. I could easily spend the rest of my life wandering our Nation’s parks and dropping in on friends and family[iv].

Asheville Area from the
Asheville Area from the Air

Asheville was our jumping off point for our early October trip. Kate’s brother Dave and his lovely fiancĂ©, now wife, Jessica were getting married in Asheville, and Kate was part of the wedding party[v]. I have a lot of friends who have spoken highly of Asheville, but I’d never been. When I heard that was where they were holding the wedding, I was fairly excited. I think my wife was as well, until she saw me scrolling the map slightly westward to the Great Smoky Mountains.
We flew into Asheville through Charlotte, where I blasphemed against all that is Texan-and-therefore-holiest-of-the-holy[vi] by sampling North Carolinian barbeque. I could digress here for some time to speak of the finer points of regional barbeque production and rivalry. Suffice it to say that the middle east has seen less sectarian conflict than occurs in discussions of proper barbeque technique[vii]. I could picture my Texas colleagues recoiling in horror from the North Carolina pulled pork sandwich I selected. Not only did it have plenty of sauce, but THEY PUT THE COLE SLAW RIGHT ON TOP OF THE SANDWICH[viii]. That being said? It was pretty damn good. It was accompanied by a long-coveted Yuengling[ix], which may have affected my judgment to some degree.
Why can’t we all just get along??

After a ludicrously short flight from Charlotte to Asheville[x], we picked up our rental at the airport[xi], picked up some supplies at REI[xii], and headed into town. I’m not sure what I expected Asheville to be. From all the descriptions from friends, I had expected neverending music in the streets, lush green parks, moonshine flowing in the streams, etc[xiii]. Asheville, however, was a lot more historic than I expected. There was a lot of mixed architecture, a reproduction of the Flat Iron building in NYC right across the street, and even an old F.W. Woolworths building around the corner. I think I had expected more of a Charleston/Atlanta feel, and it ended up feeling a bit more like an Ithaca/Rochester, but with a Seattle/Portland obsession with local businesses[xiv]. Our hotel was on the national registry of historic hotels[xv], and greeted us with a glass of champagne and elevators that still called out the floors from its old department store days[xvi].

Haywood Park
Flat Iron Building,
Old FW Woolworths Building, Asheville street, Historic Haywood Park Hotel, Old school hotel room, Flat Iron Building.

After a quick settling in to our fairly ludicrously large hotel room, we met up with Kate’s parents for a bite to eat at a great little Italian place[xvii] down the street. It was a nice chance to catch up and relax before the whirlwind of wedding activities kicked off the next day.


[i] Though to be honest, I have rated you all based, in part, on your proximity to the nearest National Park or other natural point of interest.  You may want to consider moving to improve your score. 
[ii] Yes, Smoky, not Smokey. That’s some authentic frontier gibberish at play right there.
[iii] Trips in which you bring both a dress fedora and also ranger cord are pretty much guaranteed to be awesome.
[iv] This is yet another addition to my “Why is this not an actual job” list. Right below “Social Worker for Dangerously Under-Photographed Lingerie Models”.
[v] From all of the weddings I have been to, I think I have most enjoyed the “spouse-of-wedding-party-member-who-is-not -in-the-wedding-party-himself” role.  You get backstage access without having to be in all the photos and other wedding rituals. It’s the wedding sweet spot.
[vi] Our Aggie, who art in College Station, mesquite-smoked be thy Brisket…
[vii] Texas is a dry brisket-centric with an emphasis on perfect smoking. Sauce is added, almost reluctantly, as an afterthought. Texans take great pride in their smoking capacity. As I mentioned before here, I have known Texans with trailer-towed smokers valued far beyond the vehicle towing them (or often, the yearly salary of the tower). Contrasted with Kansas City who occasionally adds some meat to their barbeque soup, or New York who considers grilling hot dogs and hamburgers “barbequeing”, etc. And never the twain shall meet (meat?).
[viii] For lack, I guess, of a local church door on which to nail it, if one wanted to visualize the potential impact of this bold move.
[ix] My favorite domestic beer from my Delaware days, which is sold pretty much everywhere except Texas because we hate America and want to be unhappy, apparently.  
[x] Seriously, the captain’s announcement went something like “Welcome on board flight 1040 to Asheville. Please refrain from using electronic devices while we’re in the ai…oh, wait, we’re already here. Welcome to Asheville.”
[xi] I am hard pressed to call the Asheville airport an airport in the strictest sense. It is an airport in the same sense that a kid’s lemonade stand is a “business”…or Rhode Island is a “state”…or Donald Trump is “demonstrably sane”. Yes, technically these are all true statements, but only if you’re being very, very generous in your terminology. Asheville is an airport in that they have a “plane” and “some baggage” and “a terminal” and once in a while, “a passenger.”
[xii] For some reason the airlines frown on carrying compressed cans of canister stove fuel in one’s carryon.
[xiii] In all fairness, an appreciable number of these acquaintances may or may not have inhaled, thus influencing the descriptions given.
[xiv] And hipsters. Unfortunately.
[xv] Though not for anything of interest…it used to be a couple old department stores. Its tie to the past mostly consisted of incredibly creepy displays of mannequins in period dress. That being said, it was a pretty nice place. Still, not as cool as The Menger, my favorite hotel on the Registry, which I hit up when we’re in San Antonio (a story still to be blogged.)
[xvi] We were staying in the children’s clothing floor, if memory serves. There were a pair of the creepy mannequins looking directly at you as you exited the elevator. Danny isn’t here, Mrs. Torrence.
[xvii] It was a tenuous mix of trendy foody and authentic Italian. We had to ask the waiter about half the words on the page. However, the food was fantastic, so I’ll give them the “earnest food enthusiast venue” benmefit of the doubt, over the “overly self-righteous foody house of pretension” they were flirting with getting stuck with. I’m sure they’re all very relieved to have done so well in my mental rankings that they’re not remotely aware of whatsoever. 

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