I started writing this piece on Sunday morning the 22nd, in the Weaverville Walmart parking lot￼ – and am completing it on Tuesday evening the 24th, in the (toasty warm) café at the Ingles in Burnsville.￼
Welcome to Dr. Footloose Dance Church!
Rather than simply being a weekly dance that is held in a church or on Sunday morning, this is a “kind of a (virtual) church” with a￼￼ special focus on movement and dance.
Our maiden run today is gonna be a little rough. I had big dreams of packaging this thing kind of slick, but that would really violate what this is all about, wouldn’t it?
My now-17-month journey into discovering who I really am was launched – on June 26, 2019￼￼ – with really a pretty strange experience, walking my sick dog at 3 a.m. on Patton Avenue right out the back entrance of Jubilee.
I “woke up” to the realization that I had gotten seriously depressed by betraying my own integrity.
It was a hop and a skip from there to realize that I have actually been selling out my integrity for 30 years by accepting the judgment of a bunch of doctors that I’ve had a mental illness.
(“Bipolar disorder” – for which I took very strong cocktails of drugs for 30 years. After a six-month, psychiatrist-supervised process of getting off of them￼, I have now taken none for a year￼. After being in what I now think of as a psychiatrically-induced coma for 30 years, being free of those drugs has given me my life back.)￼
My quest to discover my integrity led me to flee the comfort and security of the Battery Park Apartments subsidized senior living facility in April. I took off convinced that the building was about to become quarantined. (That actually happened two days later.)
Me and my doggy Panchita and my buddy Eric – who had been already sleeping in my little Suzuki for two weeks￼￼￼￼ – spent the next week parked just on the north side of 240￼.
I’m thinking now that this two-block geographic relocation represented my first step towards the “north country” of Western North Carolina.
Then my friend “Petula” (as I have been calling her to protect her privacy)￼ – who had been following my misadventures on Facebook – texted me, “Get out of the city, with its boarded-up buildings￼ and Covid infections. Come up to my house in the mountains, where my little ‘mother-in-law apartment’ has just been vacated. Stay here for a while and figure out what you’re going to do next.”
Little Panchita and I actually did stay at my friend’s sacred preserve in the mountains for the next six weeks. Pancho and I almost instantly got happy – and I realized that a lot of my problem in the city was the city itself. Much as I love Asheville, I was clearly meant to live in the mountains.
When – after four weeks at Petula’s house – ￼an initial plan to move out fell through, Petula (who is one deep woman), said to me,
“Yes, I would kind of like to have my privacy back, but I think my mountain is not through with you yet. The spiritual property of this mountain is grounding. You clearly are a lot more grounded now than when you came here four weeks ago, but I think the mountain is not prepared to release you yet.”
Petula also encouraged me to check out Marshall, with all its artists who moved out of Asheville when studio rents in Asheville started to climb￼￼￼￼￼. It was love at first visit – in spite of being officially greeted to the town by the 75-year-old senior sheriff, who caught me pissing behind the county courthouse.
(I could easily write a whole blog about places I have peed and pooped over the last six months – and the handful of times that I have been busted doing it.￼ For this blog, I might go light on photos.)￼
This old codger sherrif’s greeting to me set the template for so many encounters where someone from the north country has greeted me to their property by saying some variation of￼ “What the fuck are you doing here?”
And – also parallel to so many other encounters – it proved to be the case that my old working-class Irish Chicagoan gift of gab saw me through and he and I kind of got to like and respect each other.
After six weeks at Petula’s house, my absolute time for leaving there happened – because her husband was moving down to join her. They absolutely needed that first floor apartment for storing their stuff.
So Pancho and I headed for Marshall.￼￼￼
Our stay in Marshall lasted until 1 o’clock the next morning. We were parked for the night in the first of many Ingles parking lots.
We will be staying in our new camper van in the Ingles parking lot in Burnsville tonight. Brrr – cold! Narwal’s heater throws nothing but cold air.
My next $100 it’s going for a propane heater like the one our new friend Abbie “The Spoon Lady” uses in her little “schoolie” (school bus converted for living in￼￼ – see video below).
The night that poncho and I watch the election results with her in her bus, I said,
“I thought propane heaters weren’t safe indoors.”￼
Abby: “is your very older than actually airtight?” Hardly.
“You could crack one of your little side windows while you’re running the heater, if you want to be really safe.”￼￼
So it will be very cold in the van tonight – as it has been several nights lately. ￼But I scored a great new 0°-rated down sleeping bag for $10 in a retail store today.￼
On our first night sleeping in our little Suzuki in Marshall, I had called the Madison County sheriff’s office to get permission to sleep in my car￼, and had been told (basically) “If you sleep in your car anywhere in the county and we find you￼ – if we cannot find some reason to arrest you, we certainly will run your sorry city-hippie-Covid-infected ass out of the county.”
When I made the same call to the Marshall city police, I was told, “Yeah, sure, we have no problem with you sleeping in your car anywhere in the city. But you probably will be safer parking someplace like the Ingles parking lot.”
Attempting to sleep in the driver’s seat of my little Suzuki was never anything less than a torture chamber. In two months of this little exercise, I don’t think I ever got more than two hours sleep in one night. I became toxically exhausted by the end of those two months. I treated myself to one good beer maybe once or twice a week, but￼ I was staggering around like I was drunk most of the time.
When I woke in the Marshall Ingles parking lot at one in the morning, I remembered the words the previous day of a kindly social worker at the ABCCM North food pantry:
“If you want to rent a little house in the country, head north to Burnsville – where rents are cheaper.”￼
After that encounter with the social worker, I had said to Panchita in the car, “At some point we’re going to have to check out Burnsville.”
￼When I woke at one in the morning – rather than struggling futile Lee to go back to sleep, ￼￼I said to her “Pancho, we’re moving to Burnsville!”
I will soon post the video I shot that night, at 3 a.m. (warm back then in June), of me and Pancho wandering in and around the Burnsville Town Square.
I had no awareness at that point that we had parked and spent the night just outside the abandoned building, just off the Town Square, which I would later envision buying as the new site of the Dr. Footloose Nightclub and Dance Hall￼.
The part of that decision that involved a “very soft-opening” of that club on September 26 (my birthday￼) never did pan out. But I did, on the afternoon of Sunday the 26th, shoot a very festive toast to the still-surviving dream for the Dr. Footloose club. The video is set on location on the huge expanse of parking lot behind the building – the proposed future outdoor dance hall.
At one point, I shared this vision with the Burnsville police chief, when he was coming back to that parking lot to see if we actually were going to stay there more nights.
He said, “That might be good for this town. Five years ago, when the whole county was still dry, I never would’ve predicted us selling alcohol by the drink – like we do now.” The rest of Avery County, outside Burnsville, is still dry – never did roll back prohibition.￼￼￼ It’s the same situation with mitchellcounty, where our beloved Bakersville lies. Only Spruce Pine has opened up alcohol in that whole county.
What Burnsville and Spruce Pine have in common is that they are on the newly-widened and straightened 19 E, which brings lots of tourists, vacationers and affluent retirees. These new monied people do want drinks with their meal￼.
A couple of weeks after that first night in Burnsville, we had moved even further north to Bakersville. My dear friend and 20-year men’s group buddy Tom had pitched in some money for me to get a better vehicle – one in which I could potentially sleep.￼
The morning when I was screwing up my resolve to drive 90 minutes down to Hendersonville – to go to Camping World and look for a vehicle￼ – I looked across the small parking lot of the Thomas General Store (which for months now has been our primary base just outside of Bakersville).
Glistening in the sun was the ’88 Ford Econoline cargo truck camper van which later that afternoon became our new mobile home.￼
Pancho was, at first, afraid of this big vehicle with its really high stairs. Greg Thomas and I tried to rig a board for her to walk up into it. That didn’t work, but within a few days she had found within her self the capacity to jump up the stairs.￼
By that point, if I asked her did she want to get into “the car￼” (our little Suzuki mini SUV, which she was very used-to after 13 years) or “the house” (the camper van), she started consistently choosing “the house”).
Our new name for the van, Narwal the whale, came a few days later. That big 6000-pound vehicle intimidated me also for a few days. It does have a turning radius like an ocean liner – and drives totally different from the little Suzuki with handles those mountain roads so well that I started calling it “the fighter jet”.
And I also really liked winking at the dry Mitchell County establishment by naming my car after my favorite Sierra Nevada seasonal imperial stout beer.￼
Narwal actually has only 57,000 miles on it, after 32 years of life. I’m guessing it was owned by some old farmer who thought he was going to take a lot of vacations and never did.
A lot of Narwal’s components have rotted away from age and – over the course of four months of driving it- ￼it has been off the road almost as much as on. But I have learned the hard way that I can’t leave any lights on without the motor running – and we have not had to call roadside assistance to jump us for over a week now.￼￼￼
I have agonized at times about the idea of – at some point – “trading up” to a newer vehicle. But that old truck is a fortress. I have taken it places and done things with it that you probably don’t even want to know about.
One day a few weeks ago, a very reckless driver attempted to merge four lanes on Patton going west from the bridge and crashed into the side of us. I heard lots of shattering of glass and crunching of metal, but no screams – so I knew right away that nobody had been injured.
At the moment of the crash, Narwal was solidly coasting into a stoplight in the far-left lane. The collision had jostled my passenger-side mirror, so there was no way I could see what was on my right.
But when I examined the car later, holding my breath as to what I would find, I think I maybe found a new scratch on her.
If I am as prosperous as I hope to be a year from now, I may drop a new engine in it. And/or I may take it out to Vanlife Conversions in Marshall and have them either do some light work like putting in insulation and stuff – or do their whole number: gut it out completely and turn it into a lovely new house.
As we wandered further north – through Bakersville, the sacred Roan Mountain, And then down the Tennessee side of Roan Mountain to the sleepy little hamlet of Roan Mountain, TN – I kept thinking that eventually we would rent a house somewhere￼, for “the rest of the summer” – before heading south for the winter.
I actually have strong dreams around four houses in the big stretch of northern western North Carolina through which we “ride circuit” – one each in Asheville, Burnsville, Bakersville and Roan Mountain TN.
The quite fabulous and extremely historic ￼house in Asheville is very much occupied – and most likely of all the four to be a total pipe dream.￼
The very nice house in the mountains north of Bakersville is not abandoned, but shows no signs of having been used at all this year. The owner, who lives in Florida, may just be laying low because of the virus – or may have passed away altogether.
The very old, very stately house in Burnsville – just four blocks north of the town square – has been abandoned for 20 years. The neighbor tells me that he won’t even give me the name of the owner: “You have no chance of getting it. 100 people have tried. The owner doesn’t want to sell it because it might raise his taxes. He is fine with just letting it sit there.”￼
But I have, in fact, found out who the owner is – and I’ve had a very brief conversation with him. He told me that he is, actually, wanting to sell it. He is working on it now and said it would be fine for me to talk to him about it next spring.
The house in Roan Mountain TN is way at the end of a holler, right next to the huge Tennessee Roan Mountain State Park￼￼￼￼￼￼￼. It butts up against the National Park leading up to the Appalachian trail. It has been abandoned for several years.
One of the neighbors there told me that the owner lives in Hawaii and “wants to keep the land in the family” (a very strong motivation out in the Appalachia)￼ – even if she never does anything with it￼￼.
But when I saw that neighbor a week later, he said that she had actually been around to look in on her property. When he told her that there was a guy interested in buying it – or simply being the caretaker while it is fixed up to look like it did when her family spent time there – she said she would be willing to talk to me about it.
I still have never caught up with her – and don’t even know how to reach her. But who knows?
If I have learned anything from this six-mon
journey, it is that I sure can’t control what’s going to happen – and do a lot better if I happily let go when Life says to me, “Nope, you’re just not getting this thing or person you have been dreaming of.”￼
The other principle – that I have learned just as clearly as the first – is ￼that all things are possible.￼￼￼