Beat from the street (Oct. 4, 2016)

Many stories lurk throughout Asheville, whether they are behind the Vaudevillian jazz-folk played by buskers around Pritchard Park, the colorful businesses decorated with funky, hand-made crafts or the laughter echoing from a patio as locals and tourists alike enjoy delicious beer. 

Cynthia Villa, 23, textile designer originally from New York

Cynthia Villa creates clothing using
natural dyes. Photo by Megan
What would you say, in terms of your clothing, is your primary inspiration? What inspires you to make and create clothing?
“Definitely the movements and colors of nature. I work a lot with natural dyes, so a lot of the color I can get from any plants are really soothing and so beautiful.”

That's awesome. So if you were to describe your style in three words, what would you say?
"Comfortable. Autumn-like, those are two words I guess."

No, that could be one word in this sense.
"And probably whimsical."

Whimsical, and so in terms of moving around, what would you say the most interesting, prolific experience was for you on the road, whether it’s a place or a memory?
“I think a place was probably South America. I was there for about a year. My family’s from there, so it was really nice to be around what they had gone through. I’m a first-generation American, so being able to go back and understand my upbringing essentially, if that makes a lot of sense.”

Which country is your family from?
“Columbia. It’s beautiful. I definitely recommend that you should go.”

Do you have a life motto or a saying in particular that you live by?
“Not exactly, but I do always find myself saying, ‘Why not?’

Nice. Like the Hilary Duff song?
That’s so funny. But it’s kind of like that idea of just saying yes to anything, just be open for any of that, what may unravel.”

So if you were to describe one thing you like about Asheville and one thing you dislike about Asheville?
“One thing that I like is that there are probably a lot of like-minded people. One thing I don’t like is that it’s not close enough to the ocean.”

Yeah, oh yeah, that's true. It's definitely landlocked.
"Yeah, but it's still beautiful. If you're not in the ocean, you might as well be in the mountains, so. There's a lot of swimming spots."

Yeah, swimming spots, waterfalls, peaceful retreats.
"Yeah, exactly."

James Ferrin discusses how he became interested in traveling. Photo by
Megan Authement. 

James Ferrin, 22, train-hopper originally from Pittsburgh

"Have you ever heard of the Beat Generation, like Jack Kerouac? But their description of what 'beat' is, like what Neal Cassady's description of what beat is, like why he's beat? He's not beat because he's not a poet. He's not beat because he's a beat poet. He's not beat because he's an artist. He’s beat because society has beat him down. He’s like really a traveling, starving artist and he’s trying to do things but he’s not really an artist yet and he’s really just beat up.”

He was crazy.
“That’s art only in death. We’re art incarnate, but we’re art in death as respected in death. Most artists are only recognized in death and that’s what I’m talking about. You’re on the streets. That’s how it is. These people that are out on the streets that are fucking crazy wingnuts, these people are art. I mean, there are real artists out here. There are people who are — ”

So-so, kind of pseudo artists, but then you have the real deal here and there.
“I mean, we’re all artists in our own right, so who am I to say? But there are things that you can view as art and respect as in art, but do they view it as art, know what they doing and know what they do in art? No, not really.”

That’s a good point.
“There are writers that wrote about it, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg. I mean, and not a lot of people have done it for a long time and it’s kind of like a rebirth of culture right now. It’s a good time to write about it. There’s a lot where people, I don’t know, we all have stories and shit.”

We’ve all been places, we’ve all seen things that other people haven’t and it’s a way of sharing that with other people.
“I’ve been out on the streets since I was 15 years old and then when I was growing up on the streets, the traveling kids were like, ‘Hey, you don’t have to stay in the same place. You can check out America and do a lot of cool things.’ I got older and I hit 19. I got into a little bit of trouble when I was 18.”

What happened?
“Well, my mother was a heroin addict and she started giving me heroin when I was 15 and when I was 18 I got in trouble for selling drugs and when I was 19, I got out of trouble, out of jail and I decided that I was talking to some traveling friends, you know, because I had always let them stay at my apartment and stuff. They were like, ‘Hey, you can go around the United States and kiss pretty girls every place you go to and drink the dankest of beers and you can go play guitar and you can go have a good time anywhere you are as long as you’re a good time.’”

That’s awesome, yeah. It’s very beatnik.
“So, I walked 400 miles. I didn’t hitchhike. I didn’t hop trains. I walked 400 miles and I decided that I was going to see everything beautiful and I was going to experience the beautiful things and I was going to play instruments and I was going to see the world and that those were the most important things, than like, drugs and women and other things, like things that can be experienced along the way. You know, drugs suck.”

Yeah, they do.
“So I did that. I walked for 400 miles and started hopping trains, started hitchhiking. Then, I fell in love with the lifestyle. I fell in love with being free all the time anywhere, I can’t think of a poetic way to say it. I fell in love with real freedom.”

Honestly, that makes a lot of sense, because you’re not really constrained to a place.
“Well, I can’t remember the author, but she said, ‘True freedom means not being needed anywhere.’ It was by, she wrote ‘O Pioneers!’”

Oh, Willa Cather.
“What is her name? Willa Cather? One of the first feminists. It was beautiful. I love biking and drinking! I fell in love with the lifestyle. I fell in love with true freedom, like, having no constraints anywhere, going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras just ‘cause I feel like it, waking up one morning in Asheville and saying, ‘Hey, I wanna go touch the ocean. Let’s go to California because I don’t like warm water. I want to go to the cold water,’ saying, ‘Let’s hop a freight train anywhere because I’ve got nowhere to be and I just want to see everything.’ I fell in love with it. I wouldn’t change it for the world. You can meet people everywhere and they’re all close to the same, but there’s nothing like leaving. I love to come, not pervertedly, and I hate to stay.”

Yeah, exactly. Leaving has an air of surprise to it. It has an excitement.
“It’s romantic.”

“Leaving’s always romantic. You always hear about sailors writing their women because they had to leave, but you never hear about them, how they got to stay, you know?”

Yeah, yeah. Exactly.
“I’ve been doing this for about two and a half years.”

That’s awesome. So if you had a personal motto that you live by, what would you say it would be and why?
“I don’t have a motto. Do whatever makes you happy. I do what makes me happy. Live by whatever creed you want to. I don’t got any real advice. I’ve been traveling around the United States for a while. I don’t have any real substance to offer.”

“I do what really makes me happy, avoid the things that don’t. Do whatever you want.”

So, if you were to describe the most crazy or memorable experience you’ve had out on the road, as difficult as that is, what would it be and why?
“There’s a lot of crazy, memorable experiences. They happen everyday. I don’t know. We just hopped a freight train. Let me tell you about the last month and a half. I met up with my friend Christian. We played banjo in Oklahoma and we’ve been traveling around the United States together on and off for about two and a half years. He met me in Oklahoma and we hitchhiked from there to Arkansas. We went swimming at this waterfall and met up with a bunch of other traveling folk and housed up with a couple girls. Then, we hitchhiked from there out to Colorado and went to Manitou Springs.”

“Backpacked the Red Rock Canyon, which is right next to the Garden of Gods, but less touristy. Then we traveled from there to Boulder to Denver and then to Colorado Springs. We met Izzy. She said ‘Hey, I wanna hop freight trains’ and we said ‘OK, we’ll show you.’”

Ah, ok. You were kind of like her guide.
“She’s our greenhorn.”

What’s a greenhorn?
“Greenhorn just means fresh.”

Oh, ok. She’s fresh to the word.
“New, fresh, green.”

Yeah, green.
“So we green-horned her and we hopped in a unit, which is a push, which is the back, it’s like a modern-day caboose. It’s an engine car but it’s hooked to the back of the train and it’s the same mechanics as an engine car would have. You can control the train from it. You can operate it from there.”

That’s awesome.
“So we hopped back from there to Pueblo, Colorado. We stopped in Pueblo. We met a guy with a marxophone. We played with him for a few days, played chess at the coffee shop, read books. We do regular human stuff. We write. We read books and play chess and drink coffee in the morning.”

Yeah, live out and about.
“Yeah. Then he offered us an accordion, which we’ve all been trying to play somewhat.”

Yeah, it’s tough.
“Yes, the accordion is hard and then from there, we hopped an open boxcar, or an open coal car, somewhat of a gondola, but a little bit higher full of coal. We were, like, all black and we hopped on that and we stayed on it for a day before it moved and then when it finally started moving, we were happy that it was moving, but running out of supplies and then it moved for another day and a half. Then, we got pulled off by the railroad police, which we call bulls. Hobos since the trains were built call them bulls.”

“Yeah, bulldogs, bulls. So, he pulled us off and ticketed us in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. From there, we hitchhiked a ride to Amarillo, Texas. We ate steak at The Big Texan, which is like the popular restaurant in Texas, if there’s anything that’s popular in Texas.”

Yeah, yeah, besides Austin, maybe.
“From there, we hitchhiked a ride into Oklahoma, took care of some things there. I had some tickets that I had gotten ticketed for a while ago that I wanted to pay off, took care of some things there. From there, we hopped an open boxcar, which you have to spike the door. I mean, there’s a lot of details. But, you have to spike the door or else you’ll get trapped inside and then die of thirst. Time to mosey? Moseyin’ about? This is another thing, bumblebees. We call them the street police.”

“They come and tell us to mosey every now and again and then we mosey to the next street corner and play music there.”

Nice. Well, you gotta do what you gotta do. You guys are very calm and civil about it.

The original version of these interviews was published in The Blue Banner