Asheville traveler opts out of society

By Erika Williams – ewillia6@unca.edu – Contributor | April 8, 2015 |

Reflected in the wire-rimmed circle of glass which rested on the musician’s nose, the dusty workshop itself became a sphere. His old almond eyes, glistening like they could recite the knowledge of the world, rarely strayed from his wife while he spoke with an earthy, yet eloquent tone.

“I build homes, sometimes like castles for the people in Toxaway,” said Rob Olrech, fiddling with the grey hairs of his beard with a calloused hand that was splattered with black caulk to match his jeans.

Olrech, who has no permanent residency but in the heart of his wife, May Goring, said he would never own a house like this. Olrech said he doesn’t think anyone really needs to own a $3 million home.

“I could drive you around the county, and show you about 50 houses I have built or renovated, and I am proud of that. Someone has to do it,” Olrech said.

He spent many years of his life working odd jobs in exchange for food and shelter.

“I never really thought of myself as a homeless person, just hobo­ing around, I guess,”  Olrech said. “I spent some time living in my car, camping and in cabins.”

David Williams, one of Olrech’s previous employers, said he works harder than anyone he ever hired. Williams, 47, said Olrech worked with him while they renovated a house near Asheville about a year ago.

“Some people do not own larger homes because of bad circumstance or addiction, but not Rob,” Williams said. “Rob is smart, and I respect his choice of lifestyle.”

Olrech said he began traveling at a young age when his father worked with field medics for the Army. He also lived in France for a few years.

“We moved around a lot. You learn to make friends quickly, but you also learn not to make strong attachments,” he added.

After graduating with a degree in music, he left his hometown of San Antonio and began traveling around the country. Olrech said he worked his way from San Antonio to Chicago and then to Georgia as a bartender, building homes and working on a shrimp boat. He said he also enjoyed working in various professional choirs along the way.

“I rolled into Asheville about 35 years ago when there was only one bar downtown. I am not kidding,” Olrech said.

While Olrech lived in Asheville, he said he worked at the Pisgah Inn and joined a three­-piece orchestra in the community theater that performed Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.​”

“We were invited, God knows why, to perform this in Kiev,” Olrech said.

Olrech enjoyed his time in Ukraine so much he later returned to work a construction job in downtown Kiev for many years. This is where he met his previous wife, a Russian jeweler and electronics engineer, who later passed away.

“It was an interesting time,” he said, removing the glasses to rub his eyes with the back of his hand. “The smartest people — teachers, scientists and musicians — were all out of work and were just trying to find a niche.”

Goring and Olrech said they identify themselves as anti­-materialists and anti-­capitalists.

“We don’t want our possessions to control us,” said Goring, who had listened quietly for quite some time. “Once you buy a house and a nice car, you become too focused on maintaining and paying for things, rather than just living,” she said.

Olrech agreed. He said they now spend half of the year in Nova Scotia and the other half in Asheville, living off the grid in both places. He says soon they will leave the country for good.

“We want to work to live and eat, and that is all,” added Goring, a Canadian. “We know how to do a lot of things.”

A bird began to sing in the falling dusk outside of the open door.

Olrech looked around the room for a second and leaned in to say, “So, once I finish fixing up this old house, we’re gone. We’re out of here.”

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