Southern Monuments

Confederate War Memorial in Sylva, NC
Confederate War Memorial in Sylva, NC

Monuments tell the story of a people. Overlooking the town of Sylva, North Carolina, stands a Confederate War Memorial. The statue was erected in 1915, at the height of Jim Crow in the South. Bands played and dignitaries came from as far away as Asheville. The copper soldier stands guard atop a stone base in front of the courthouse, with a commanding view of the town below.

If you read Cold Mountain (or saw the movie), then you know that the people who lived on the slopes of the Blue Ridge were reluctant participants in the Civil War, for the conflict brought nothing but chaos, murder and starvation to this remote corner of North Carolina. It took decades to recover. Northern money brought the region back, as Sylva became a manufacturing center, its paper mill belching white smoke even today.

I’ve been coming to the region for twenty years, ever since friends moved here from Florida – a very common story. The mountains are filled with Floridians retiring from Florida to North Carolina.

Trump supporters are proud of a map colored red, all those counties away from the coasts voting for a new kind of war against the federal government.

All-Gender Restroom

But the red states are red just barely. In Asheville, which went for Clinton, restaurants and coffee shops make a point in identifying their bathrooms as “all-gender,” appalled by their legislature’s bumbling efforts to regulate toilets.

The cities and towns are blue, while the rural areas are red. A man who worked in a remote valley said that people just assumed that he voted for Trump. After all, he was in his 60s and white. But he didn’t. Old enough to remember segregation, he recognized wrong then and he recognized it now.

“We fought the Civil War once already,” he told me, not interested in another red versus blue battle.

I-26 east of Johnson City

On the way home, I took I-26, a four-lane highway soaring over the Eastern Continental Divide and down into the green valleys of Tennessee. It’s a monument to the genius of America, with passages blasted through granite and tons of concrete used to create ramps and bridges, allowing me to drive 70 mph over mountains that formed an impassable barrier during the Civil War.

I nearly had the road to myself, just me and a few other drivers enjoying the monumental views of the Blue Ridge. Where other generations valued segregation and identity, our generation values progress, as memorialized in the monuments that we build. Rather than casting bronze renditions of a lost cause, we’re connecting cities with all-weather highways.

When I was in North Carolina, I kept being asked, “What’s going on in DC?” Even in the mountains, people recognized that calamity in the nation’s capital would eventually touch their lives.

Retirees can only afford to live in these red counties with Social Security. The federal government battles the opioid epidemic that plagues trailer parks in the hollows. Highways like I-26 are only possible due to a much-maligned administrative bureaucracy.

Government is a monument that some would tear down upon themselves, happier to live among the rubble. That’s what taking back America means to them. Like those who precipitated the Civil War, they would rather see the country burn than change.

Monuments like the one in Sylva represent the past. Those who cling to these symbols want to return this country to the days of segregation and oppression. If you truly want to make America great, then it is government that you must support. It’s the monument that we all depend upon – and one that we build together.

Waynesville is the Next Asheville

crossing Main Street in Waynesville
Main Street in Waynesville, NC

The world has discovered Asheville, anointing it the next Portlandia.

It’s easy to see why. This beautiful city ringed by mountains is surrounded by natural beauty and filled with breweries and a vibrant local food scene. Plus, it’s artsy, with dreadlocked kids playing drums downtown, a great indie bookstore and a literary history that includes Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald. And it possesses an easy Southern charm, where you can tube down the French Broad River with several hundred friends while enjoying a cold beer.

I’ve been visiting the area for twenty years, ever since friends of mine moved from Florida to the mountains. (If you live in Florida, you retire to western NC for something different.) I’ve seen Asheville develop from a sleepy downtown lined with empty art deco buildings to a booming mountain town with a half a dozen new hotels under construction.

But now that Northerners have found this once sleepy town and decreed that it is hip, the search has begun for the “next Asheville.” Roanoke has a good case to make. It has everything Asheville has – a nice farmer’s market and a historic downtown set amid the mountains. However, it still feels a little industrial. A little too real.

The Washington Post tried to convince readers that Sylva was the next Asheville. I remembered it as the town with the paper plant on the way to Western Carolina University, where my friends went to school. It smelled. And it still smells, a lingering sulphur scent on certain days. Though it does have a beautiful view from the courthouse.

outside Panacea Coffee in Waynesville
Frog Level in Waynesville, NC

What’s the next Asheville? I’d bet on Waynesville, which has developed from a semi-dry mountain burg (there used to be only one bar on Main Street and it only served beer) to a busy county seat that’s home to several breweries, a Mast General Store and a hipster coffee house called Panacea. The coffee place is located in the delightfully named “Frog Level” down along the creek and the railroad tracks.

But what I like about Waynesville is that it still feels like a real place. It’s not just cutesy shops. The largest town west of Asheville, it’s where the mountain folk come to shop. And not just at Wal-Mart. Main Street is home to City Hall, the courthouse, the local newspaper, restaurants, art galleries, a bookstore and more. It’s the place where you’ll see your friends and neighbors.

From Waynesville, you can take NC-276 up into Pisgah National Forest, a lovely winding road that passes Looking Glass Falls and other waterfalls as it makes its way over the mountains. NC-215 offers a similar serpentine route. Or hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, located just out of town, and take a day trip to Smoky Mountains National Park.

So, if you’re looking for the next Asheville, you need to go just a little west. Thirty minutes outside the city, and over another range of mountains, you’ll find it. Waynesville. It’s a little colder. A little foggier. But it has everything to be the next Asheville – except tourists.

Fall Foliage, Flickr and the Search for New Business Models

Flickr’s potential as a resource for photo editors everywhere has yet to be fully tapped. Though some more old school photogs may complain that Flickr has undercut the stock market, the world has changed. Cheap, easy to use DSLRs (like the Canon Digital Rebel XT that I own) have democraticized the expert culture of photography and made a universe of free photos available.  Changes like this make the stock photography business model no longer viable.

I’m certainly no expert, and I’m not sure I would even claim the title of “photographer.” I’m just someone who enjoys taking and sharing pictures. For this reason, I’m pleased whenever my Flickr photos get picked up by web sites, like the Go Blue Ridge Card Blog, which included one of my pics in their blog. I took the photo almost exactly a year ago, on the way back from a family vacation in Blowing Rock, NC. I was amazed by the colors, especially the reds, and did my best to capture what I saw from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Go Blue Ridge Card Blog is produced by Go Card USA.  What do they do?

Go Card USA produces all-inclusive attraction passes for 12 US Cities. Make the most of your vacation with a pass that gets you unlimited admission to top attractions for one low price.

In addition to the Blue Ridge Blog, they’re rolling out blogs for all of the cities they serve.  They also have a group on Flickr.  It’s a smart marketing strategy to use free or low-cost tools to get the word out about their product.

And, as someone who works in the web field, I’m really intrigued by these creative strategies and the possibilities of social media. I, personally, love Flickr and believe that its model of community photo-sharing is just getting started.