Oh, I'm starting to feel a little tired. I have less energy to get out and fill my days as completely as I can. Right now, I'm cozy on a porch in Asheville, North Carolina, a small town nestled into the Appalachian Mountains, and I'm quite content to take it easy in this sweet spot.
I did not have such a breezy time getting here though. To make a long story short, I got one of those too-good-to-be true rides from Craigslist. He decided mid-trek that he could no longer drive to North Carolina. Instead, he left me in downtown Indianapolis and drove off to New York City. This sudden change of plans came after a miserable day of riding with him, so I was actually relieved to be free. I did some quick thinking, called a back-up rideshare leaving the following day and found a surprisingly comfortable hostel for the night (with a little tech support from back home). All in all, I was delayed a day but the reward was found in traveling into the night, weaving through the looming shadow mountains with a feminist sociologist, a giant dog and a veggie oil Jetta. We had dazzling and deep conversations and by the time we rolled into this nook of town, we had developed quite a liking to one another.
Asheville is an anomaly in this part of the country. Whereas the rest of the Appalachian region's economy depends upon coal extraction and refinement, an obviously unsustainable practice for both the earth and for the miners, Asheville's economy thrives on tourism and the colleges in the area (also not sustainable, but in a less obvious way). The town is racially segregated and teaming with new babies, new-agey healer types, educated progressives and boutique-lined downtown boulevards. It supports a fledgling Local Exchange Trading System (LETS)
as an alternative economy, yet local sentiment laments its lack of energy. The initiators of the project in Asheville have been consumed by the new worker-owned infoshop project, Firestorm Café & Books
, but are on their way to revitalizing the local barter system.
Besides the community economics, I'm loosing my breath at scenery out here. I'm surrounded by the Smoky Mountains on all sides (guess where they get their name), luscious greenery and wild sunsets at this altitude.
When I last updated you, I was chasing a storm to St. Louis. I had heard nothing but frightful stories about both racism and crime in the city, but I wasn't deterred. My new friend, Sean, describes St. Louis as the crossroads between the Southern Bayou, the Midwest and the Wild West. I found it to be a friendly, though troubled, city that provided for me beyond my needs. Within hours of arriving, I had a place to stay, new friends, a loaner bike and an extensive St. Louis Collective Autonomy list in hand.
I was inspired by St. Louis and its housing possibilities. I stayed in a house that was purchased 10 years ago for $800. I met an urban farmer who is living rent-free along with the other farmers from New Roots
with permission from the Latin American property owner. There are kids who are living in railway cabooses on an abandoned lot, now called Cement Land. There are abandoned and dilapidated buildings throughout the North side and more trees growing out of the cornerstones of buildings. There is a small but robust squatting movement specifically targeting a speculation mogul. I also saw a building completely fallen in on itself. A man riding by noticed me gawking and said that the fire department had just demolished it earlier that day.
Mark Bohner, a legend among the local subculture, has assisted in diverting at least 17 units of crumbling real estate commodities into co-ops, community non-profits and radical strongholds. Later in September he is hosting a discussion focusing on radical rehab, confronting sexism in construction areas, and minimizing participation in the mainstream economy while still meeting construction needs. He is also the founder of the Red Brick Land Trust
, which takes properties permanently off the housing market and puts them under the community's protection.
I rode my borrowed bike around the industrial wasteland and found treasures along the Mississippi: the longest city-sponsored graffiti wall, a recycled glass recycling plant, warehouse ruins with signs of secret night lives. After a few days of this, I heard from someone in Kansas City so I hopped onto the Missouri Mule, the five-hour train line that trudges along the entire width of the state, connecting the eastern most point and the western most point of Missouri.
When I arrived in Kansas City, I instantly fell in love with a tight knit group of friends, travelers from across the prairie who had come together for the demonstrations in St. Paul. They welcomed me into their "family," fed me and offered me floor space alongside 6 others. It was crowded and wonderful. We had insightful political theory conversations and green versus red anarchy debates that persisted until morning. We passed a hurricane together on the porch, singing songs and laughing. We spent days inside the apartment, content with our secluded world. We took a "road trip" to Lawrence, Kansas (which was only a 40-minute drive) in a borrowed retro pink boat-van.
I was almost sweet talked into to going to Oklahoma City with those kids, but in the end I trained back to Chicago, to catch that deceit-filled ride out to North Carolina. It was a tough departure for all of us going our separate ways, but the calls of "I love you" as I walked away will stay with me longer than a photograph.
The prairie lands were exciting. Cheap enough that radicals could live without wage slaving, they also had deeper solidarity to each other as exiles from the rest of society and were more serious about revolutionary change.
Over the course of this letter, I have since left my porch. I managed to escape Asheville despite the ration on gasoline and the mile-long lines. Apparently, the entire Western North Carolina experienced a petrol shortage. Are other parts of the country also experiencing this? It was quite a sight to see: lines of cars idling for hours for only ten gallons, vacant stations with plastic bags over every pump, and fearful faces all around.
Yesterday I spent the day in Greensboro, North Carolina. I found my way to the community resource center, the Hive
, and met a handful of friendly folk. They had their very own Food not Bombs kitchen that volunteers constructed from scratch, using donated materials, 1000 measly dollars and one day a week for six months. Later this month, they will host a Really Really Free Market inspired by Carrboro, North Carolina, the RRFM capital of the country. I met up with a woman who may be my favorite on this trip so far. Liz Seymour
, a 50-something practical anarchist, eloquent speaker and writer who cares deeply about homeless rights, is behind the infoshop, Food not Bombs, her own housing collective and several other initiatives still to come.
Right now I'm rolling into New Orleans. I really don't know what to expect. An old friend of a new friend offered to pick me up from the station and get me to the house of another friend of a friend. I am overwhelmingly grateful to the strangers I have met along the way who have been willing to go out of their way to welcome me to their cities. The sun is setting on the bayou-licked lands and I am truly fortunate. I have rounded this beautiful Southeast corner on the Crescent line today and from now on I am westward bound.