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Gary Does Dallas

Gary Does Dallas

back on book tour with tyra

Today on Alphabet City: JP’s alter ego Gary Tyler Moore does Dallas in a Big Way. Guest star: Tyra Banks (sort of)

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Homecoming trips to Big D are always complicated affairs for me—add on book tour and I was one jumpy bundle of nerves.  I’d been practicing politic responses to probing questions about my father and our issues, while packing, unpacking and repacking my wardrobe—Mary taught me to always have on a cute outfit.  But a familiar face staring at me in American Airlines First Class calmed me down—although she did look paper thin and flat.  Tyra Banks eyed me from the cover of the American Way magazine, and I took that as an omen that things always work out in the end.

Stepmom knitted me a scarf!

First came the reunions.  One of the positive side effects of Alphabet City’s publication has been the surfacing of some new information as it relates to many of my life episodes involving Dad.  Dinner with my stepmother/friend was on tap for a much needed re-bonding, so I chose a spot that would let us take Dallas in style—the swanky Nana on the top of the Hilton Anatole towers.  The hotel is the site of some of the action in Alphabet City’s Episode 2—where I triumphed/floundered as the villain in a sticky sweet show Calling All Kids, that led to me meeting Tommy Tune and dreaming of being whisked right then to the Great White Way.

Nana's duck breast with a view

The Anatole and I have both grown up since those days—and Nana sits like the crown jewel offering stunning views of the Dallas skyline.  Over a perfectly grilled Texas quail and tender duck breast, we dished on tales of behind-the-scenes life on the set of Courtside Manner (the name that I gave to my father’s courtroom drama of a life).  Turns out, he was “a much more emotionally complicated person” than even I knew—a sound bite I would starting using in my press interviews.  And while the new information doesn’t change the betrayal I often felt at his hands—in fact it makes it worse actually—it was tremendously validating and fulfilling to reconnect with a person who was one (the only?) pillar of stability in my confusing teen years.

That night, I slept soundly with another old friend—The Stoneleigh.  My history with the hotel is long and fun.  My father lived in an apartment for a week or so when my parents split up.  On assignment a few years ago for Condé Nast Traveler, I returned to the scene after the hotel was renovated, reviewing the property for the magazine’s Hot List (original review).  As a travel writer, it’s gratifying to revisit and find out if first impressions are ever lasting—and I’m happy to report that the hotel is still in fine style, with large rooms and a bright color scheme that I’m still trying to recreate at home in NYC.

David Taffet proves everything's bigger in TX, including coffee & bagels

Truthfully, my first media appearance on KNON 89.3 Lambda Weekly—one of the oldest gay and lesbian radio shows in the country—made me nervous.  How would the gay media react to revelations about my father, a public gay hero, but who privately wasn’t always supportive of his gay son?  I needn’t have worried under the skillful direction of host and friend David Taffet, a New Yorker who has taken to calling himself Rhoda to my Mary.  My experience so far is that folks tend to understand that often public figures are often much different at home—and that my father separated intellectual issues from emotional ones.  As David advised, one hour on air flew by and boosted my confidence for future appearances.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book tour is the personal events and parties that friends are throwing for me all over the country.  With a hectic sitcom life, I’ll admit that sometimes I’ve lost touch with those who early on made sure I would survive and ultimately thrive.  I love that the tour is allowing me to reconnect, like at the party that my high school advisor (the woman who raised and furiously waved the red flag about my teen troubles) hosted with fellow alums from The Greenhill School.

Like old times

My dear friend Valerie (who should get a credit for one of the photos on the book’s cover—17 year-old me coyly using a scarf to cover terrible acne) drove up from Austin, and took up her spot by my side like we were back in high school—corralling the group to listen to a reading, and then peppering me with questions like a good audience plant.  Bless her.  Even better, we had a chance to catch up more at dinner at Ocean Prime, a trendy new establishment in Dallas’ Uptown area.

couldn't capture dry ice!

Over a dramatic theatrical presentation of oysters featuring dry ice, we laughed about the good ‘ole days—driving to fancy Greenhill in her Dallas Cowboys van, later at UT-Austin making stealth round-trips in the middle of night to pick-up/steal coffee pots and fans from our unsuspecting parents.

But reunions always seem to end too soon.  Reluctantly, we parted ways early as the next morning’s appearance on Good Morning Texas started to weigh heavily on me.  Gary Tyler Moore definitely needs his beauty sleep.

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Glamour Girl

Today on Alphabet City: Glamorous touches surprise Jon Paul on his American Airlines flight to Jamaica.

JP in the glamour days of travel

Every other year when Dad didn’t take us to The Grand Hotel on the murky waters of Alabama’s Mobile Bay, he planned some more eventful and memorable family vacations.  There was the white water rafting trip down the Grand Canyon where my mother’s fierce maternal instinct kicked into overdrive and kept my older sister from falling overboard into deadly rapids.  And I’ll never forget the car trip down the California coast where we played tennis with his old college buddy Chief of Staff/Secretary of State James Baker for the last hotel room available near Ronald Reagan’s ranch.

But it was my virgin trip to the Caribbean when I was about five when I fell in love with the glamour of air travel.  Since most of our family vacations involved car travel, this one was exotic in that it began at Dallas’ Love Field and ended at Caneel Bay in the Virgin Islands.  Today, the resort is run by Rosewood and is the epitome of island luxury.  But when my family vacationed there it was a true Robinson Crusoe immersion experience with limited supplies of electricity and hot water.

While I thought the whole sand and flashlights thing was kind of fun, my mother immediately burst into tears and never recovered.  She insisted my father gather the troops and hightail a retreat.  For several days, he put up a good fight but eventually yielded to her steady stream of tears.  The only seats available on the return flight to Dallas were in First Class, and so reluctantly he ponied up the cash (or MasterCard).

Stepping onto that plane in San Juan was like getting my passport stamped for entry into a world unlike any I had seen.  The flight attendants’ lipstick was a little brighter, her skirt a little tighter, her boots a little taller.  She showed us to our special seats—no, not some regular series of leather faux recliners—but a built in banquette!  Like we were at some mile-high diner, only classier with table linens and seatbelts!  My father and mother both looked miserable (turns out my mother was very sick), and my teenage sisters were devastated that summer vacation was cut short.  But I was in heaven and could hardly sit still the entire way.

Unfortunately, the glamour of air travel reached its zenith for me there at the tender age of five.  After that, it’s been a steady decline of expectations about First Class travel.  Over the years, I’ve acquired millions of frequent flier miles and only dispensed them judiciously for upgrades.  A three-hour flight back to Dallas?  Not worth cashing in miles just to be crammed into compact seats at the front of the plane when I can snag a roomy exit row for free.

So it was with some hesitation that I clicked the “upgrade” button on AA.com when choosing a seat on my flight to Montego Bay, Jamaica.  But seeing as how I hadn’t used any upgrades in quite a while, I figured why not.  Use or lose them.

Alphabet City enjoys the glamour of AA

Imagine my surprise when I walked into the lap of luxury—a redesigned business class cabin featuring flat bed seats and on-demand video worthy of a Pacific crossing!  We only had 3 hours and some change.  Barely enough time to learn the complicated seat controls, take a nap lying flat on my back, watch Michael Jackson’s swan song This Is It (is it weird that I cried?), eat broiled chicken with a spicy mango salsa, drink two glasses of chardonnay, enjoy a cranberry oatmeal cookie, flip through OUT magazine, eavesdrop on the flight attendant’s expert handling of a fussy older lady brandishing a bag of prescription bottles, and conduct a photo shoot to launch my new book tour gimmick—Where in the World is Alphabet City?

Whew!  I landed in Jamaica ready for a break, and grateful to American Airlines for putting a little sunshine back into air travel.  Granted, I have no idea what it was like back there in coach.  But for a few hours at least, I felt like a kid again returning from that first trip to the Caribbean, once again enjoying the glamour of it all.

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