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LaZoom in Asheville, N.C.
Popular among locals as well as visitors LaZoom’s big purple bus entertains passengers on comedy tours and haunted tours of Asheville.
A nun pedaling a lofty cherry red bicycle might well be the quintessential symbol of the current vibe in downtown Asheville, N.C. This carefree figure known as Sister Bad Habit – in reality Jim Lauzon – rides alongside the eccentric purple LaZoom tour bus that Lauzon owns with his wife, Jen.
Sister Bad Habit elicits double takes, but that’s what Asheville is all about these days. You have to look twice to discover the multi-faceted layers, whether it’s unpredictable humor on a LaZoom bus, a granite gargoyle overhead, or a tiny mouse-sized door on a Woodfin Street building. My daughter spotted the first of such miniature portals last year. Since then we’ve watched five more appear as the building’s owner installs these whimsical gateways to an imagined world.
Chicken Alley, just around the corner, sports one of Asheville’s most brilliant murals. I enjoy escaping there to admire artist Molly Must’s colorful work. On close inspection, one discovers the mural’s larger-than-life rooster and chicken, a woman holding a jar of honey and a snake named “Boy” all pay tribute to a long-closed poultry and produce shop. The modern energy and nod to history in this art never fails to produce a smile and spark the imagination.
Sightings of the nun, tiny doorways and an eclectic mix of murals, gargoyles and graffiti help validate my idea of what the bumper sticker “Keep Asheville Weird” is saying. “Weird,” as it relates to Asheville, means open, vibrant and unique – anything but ordinary. This town is deliciously quirky, decidedly progressive, and a destination that continues to offer surprises for even the most jaded.
Surrounded by awe-inspiring natural beauty, it’s also a foodie town, a microbrewery town, a music town, an arts and crafts town and a place that embraces buying local, eating organic and celebrating the kind of changes that transformed the ghost town atmosphere of the ‘80s into the vibrant city it is today. Asheville has been called everything from Beer City U.S.A. to the Happiest City in America to the Paris of the South to the Land of the Sky. For me, it’s just always been home.
That’s why I can ignore the naysayers who may claim Asheville has lost its charm in its newest incarnation. To the contrary, I know firsthand that Asheville has always been a delight to the senses with its natural beauty and enterprising citizens. You might hear of a controversy or two just like in the early 1900s when the town’s citizens gave Thomas Wolfe ample, sometimes not-so-flattering fodder to write about in his novel “Look Homeward, Angel.” Every generation before and since has found things to exalt about Asheville as well as things to complain about. For every person who says, “I miss the old Asheville,” there is usually someone who recognizes the “good ol’ days” are often sugar-coated from nostalgia.