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ABCity Inception

Today on Alphabet City: In Chicago, Jon Paul celebrates 10 years with Chef with a possibly illegal act of Inception inspired by Erma Bombeck.

Chef at the spot we first met at World Financial Center

It’s hard to put into words all of the things that I have come to love about my partner Chef over the past 10 years.  But on the dawn of our anniversary last Thursday, before I even poured my first cup of coffee, my morning surly disposition turned sunny just recounting some of his lovable quirks.

I love that when I am trying to get his attention when he walks around with his earphones in he’s not listening to the latest Lady Gaga but to a news podcast in French.

I love that after years of complaining about his snoring that he never complains about his Darth Vader breathing machine that travels around the globe.

I love that he puts up with my ribbing whenever he jumps onto the latest Whole Foods endorsed diet fad including becoming a vegan for a week.

I love that despite telling me he was never a “dog person” he has become one of the most doting puppy fathers imaginable.

I love that he is so supportive of my writing that he never batted an eye when I wanted to share with the world the most intimate details of our meeting.

Self-portrait 10 years later

It’s one of the greatest joys of the Alphabet City Book Tour to have him along at some of the events.  So when our 10th Anniversary coincided with the Chicago stop on the tour, unlike many partners who might have complained, he signed up enthusiastically for a trip to the Windy City.  Truthfully, a few weeks before the event, we recreated our famous (to us) first date—a meeting at the World Financial Center, stroll up the river on the West Side, and dinner at Pastis.  Pretty much the only thing that had changed in a decade was us—our backs were killing us and our feet hurt.

We’ve always had a soft spot for the Second City.  It was our first trip together a couple of months after we started dating.  I remember being in my cave like bedroom at the Alphabet City apartment telling him I’d like to buy him a plane ticket to accompany me on a business trip to Chicago—and nervously admitting to him for the first time that I had this butterfly feeling in my stomach that I was in love.  Tears welled up in his eyes, and he gave me a huge hug, and said, “Me too!”  We’ve never looked back.

Ten years later, we stayed in one of Chicago’s newest and most buzzed about establishments, Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar.  Traveling to various Kimpton Hotels over the course of the book tour (honestly, their sponsorship is golden, please give them your business) I love seeing how different the hotels are in each market, and how consistent they are.  And not just in the service or the amenities (the 6am coffee in the lobby is a god send for a coffee addict).  It’s the fellow guests that I love.  At the sleek and modern Hotel Palomar Chicago, Chef and I showed up at guest wine hour.  Sometimes I set up a little display of books and encourage guests to attend my one-hour book event later at the hotel.  While I was feeling shy this particular evening, Chef was not.  His Whole Foods Demo Specialist training kicked in and the next thing I knew he was scattering the lobby area with book displays and talking to a couple encouraging them to come to the reading.  I rolled my eyes—why was Chef ignoring the cute boys at the back of the room in favor of this straight couple?  I could see the woman nod her head and smile politely at Chef when he walked away.

Visiting Kimpton couple!

We headed upstairs to the gorgeous reception room overlooking Chicago’s bustling State Street.  As I welcomed several area friends to the reception, the visiting couple from downstairs showed up.  They looked a little hesitant, somewhat shell shocked, but I walked them over to the bar for a glass of wine and found out they were visiting on vacation from Philadelphia.  Chef smiled at me and pulled me aside.

“See, you never know, right?”

“Yeah, but I’m a little worried they don’t know what they’re in for.  I am reading the chapter about our first date—it’s a little racy.”

“It’ll just be part of their experience.”

The couple found a spot on the couch, and laughed along with my friends at all the right places.  Chef was the only person in the room who looked embarrassed when I read from the chapter about our Internet hook-up.  First in line to buy a book?  The couple, of course.

“I’m buying it for my boss.  He recently came out.  I think he’ll really enjoy it,” the woman smiled as she posed for a picture with me.

And that’s what I love about Kimpton.  Their guests—no matter their background—are smack dab my target audience.  Thanks Kimpton for sharing them with me.

Back in our suite, Chef and I were recounting how lucky we are to have such wonderful friends who turned out for the party.  I stared at a small bookshelf that had various novels all covered in brown butcher paper.

“Don’t you think this is odd how they wrapped the books?” I asked.

“Maybe it’s a design thing.  They’re probably fake,” Chef said.

The site of Inception

I pulled one off the shelf, opened to the title page and did a comic double take.

“You’re not going to believe this.  It’s Erma Bombeck’s If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries What Am I Doing in the Pits?

The famous humor columnist’s book makes a cameo appearance in Alphabet City in the episode where my mother comes to visit.  I read that excerpt at practically every book tour stop.  Chef perked up.

“Oooh, it’s like a scene in Inception.  Maybe this is a dream and someone put it there.”

Another thing I love about Chef—his application of fictional plot lines to real life scenarios.  At least he was positing something Star Wars related.

“That’s fun.  I like that idea.  Why don’t we pull a reverse Inception?” I laughed.

I carefully tore off the butcher paper around Erma’s book, and wrapped it around a copy of Alphabet City—they are the exact same size.  Inside my memoir, I scrawled a note to the next Hotel Palomar Chicago Room 1004 occupant brave enough to look inside the book on the shelf saying they could keep the book, and to email me when they found it.  After all, Kimpton guests are my target market.

I crawled under the covers and snuggled with Chef, glad that ten years later, I have such a wonderful partner in crime.

At Chicago's Purple Pig

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Pride Cup Runneth Over

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s book tour makes the New York Times.

This just in: Kimpton Hotel‘s sponsorship of the Alphabet City Book Tour landed us in the Gray Lady’s Media Decoder column written by influential journalist (and die hard Mets fan) Stuart Elliott.  In addition to efforts by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau and Macy’s, Alphabet City gets a nice shout out:

As part of its pride marketing, Kimpton Hotels and Resorts is sponsoring a book tour by Jon Paul Buchmeyer, the author of the memoir “Alphabet City.”

Mr. Buchmeyer is appearing during the guest wine hour events at many Kimpton properties this month. And customers who have booked the “Summer of Pride” discount deal at the hotels or resorts will receive a 32-page excerpt from the book as part of a welcome package.

The Alphabet City Book Tour picks up again in August and continues through the Fall.  Check out the Book Tour schedule for information on upcoming appearances in cities including Austin, Lubbock, Chicago, Madison, Atlanta, Baltimore, San Diego, Denver, Portland, Seattle and of course—New York City!

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Seven Year Itch

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul realizes Frida has reached middle age, and that Chef may have got bitten by the seven-year itch.

Our little one soon after her birth

Our little goose turns 7 today, which effectively means that our incurably cute Bichon Frise Frida has reached middle age.  Chef and I have begun noticing the telltale signs of aging (early dementia?) that runs in our family—restless sleeping, irritability around children.  Then there are the mysterious new habits like randomly removing kibble from the bowl and leaving uneaten bits on carpets and stairways throughout the house.

It’s funny to think back now that exactly this time 7 years ago I had forged Chef’s name on the breeder’s adoption application and was plying him with wine to lessen the impact of the news that we were starting a family (Alphabet City’s Episode 15 And Baby Makes Three).  At the time, Chef claimed he wasn’t a dog person thanks a particularly unfortunate childhood experience with the family Weimaraner.

Chef and Frida on the ferry to Fire Island

Soon enough though Frida Carlota Xochtil Amarilla Buchmeyer-Chavez (her full Mexican birthright name) had charmed the pants off Chef, and those two have been in love ever since.

Sure, I’m still Alpha Dad—the one she relies on for food and walks and treats.  But Frida has a special bond with her Papa Chef.  His legs are the ones she curls up inside at night.  I’m the one she forces out of bed in the morning so she can snuggle next to him.  She’ll sit with him and watch World Cup matches no matter the time of day, no complaints.  Both of them share a love of True Blood, Smallville and Dexter.  They’re easy companions, through and through—like Father and Daughter.

The family in Provincetown

Meanwhile, I have classic Working Mother Syndrome.  I arrange the childcare, and interview the au pairs/dog walkers (all of ours have a painting background which we’re sure is a good influence on Frida).  I take her to the allergy specialist and dole out the meds.  I feel guilty when traveling, and get punished and ignored for a day upon my return.

In the early years, Frida traveled with me.  She was a regular on the West Coast prancing through the lobby of the L’Ermitage Beverly Hills and exploring the grounds of Montage Laguna Beach.  She took in the Cherry Blossoms in the nation’s capital and ran the corridors of Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco.  She lounged poolside in Puerto Vallarta.  She even went to New Orleans for Susan’s birthday and enjoyed beignets at Café du Monde.

At Montage Laguna Beach

Cherry blossoms in DC

Lounging in Puerto Vallarta

Beignets in New Orleans

The mad pumpkin

But middle age has brought on a bout of persnicketiness.  The girl likes a set schedule.  Up at 6am to look out the front window.  6:30am return to bed to push Papa (me) out of the way.  7am visit Papa downstairs and lay on couch.  7:30am back patio to chase stray cats.  8am check on Papa at his computer.  8:30am stretch and whine for walk.  8:45am walk.  9:00am Papa departs.  Any switch in schedule is cause for much concern, pitiful looks, cries and opportunities for lap sitting.  Except Friday, that day, she somehow knows is Papa-Often-Works-From-Home-Day when anything goes.

This week is National Take Your Dog to Work Week.  And so, Frida is right here in my lap, looking at me with her big saucer eyes—sensing that I am writing something about her, no doubt.

Lately, Chef has mentioned the possibility of getting Frida a sister.  He must have the seven-year itch.  I don’t know.  Maybe I’ve got my hands full with this one—especially as she moves into her twilight years.  I start to get nervous remembering the searing pain when my last little goose Winnie passed away.  And I hug Frida a little too close.

Then she winks, doles out a round of wet kisses, and I smile, knowing Chef and I have raised quite the little charmer.  Happy Birthday, goose.

Two proud papas

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Biz Savvy Blogger’s Peek-A-Blog: OneFoodGuy

Today on Alphabet City’s Peek-A-Blog: While on book tour, Jon Paul tweets up with @onefoodguy to find out the secret sauce for one of Boston’s most popular food bloggers.

OneFoodGuy likes to remain anonymous

Much has been made of Twitter as a virtual tool that can connect people in real life.  But I hadn’t experienced that until a new online friend @onefoodguy in Boston popped up at my Alphabet City Book Party event in Beantown.  A few months ago, I’d delved into the wonderful world of tweets to get a handle on how I could put cyberspace to use on tour, and began using a program called ReFollow— a “twitter relationship manager.”  Sounds like a title someone would have on The Office.

ReFollow allows you to see all the followers of a person or company and then you can choose ones to follow yourself.  Pretty genius way for me to see who is interested in my book tour sponsor Kimpton Hotels (@kimpton).  I figured if people were already fans of Kimpton, then they would be open to hearing about Kimpton’s support of my book.   That’s how I found @onefoodguy.  I could tell from the moment I linked to his blog from his Twitter account, that this was a guy who could be useful to know in Boston—he was heralding the Extra Funky Sandwich at the All Star Sandwich Bar.

A few 140 character messages later and we were tweet friends.  He even indulged me when I asked, “Where should I eat in Boston?”  Not the best open-ended question to ask a foodie.  It’s like when people ask me, a travelista, “Where should I go on vacation?”  If I don’t really know you, it’s hard to offer advice.  He managed to not let a smirk show through his reply, and I decided he’d be a great addition to the Peek-A-Blog series.

After Kimpton’s Nine Zero Hotel reception for Alphabet City, I was planning on grabbing some nibbles with @onefoodguy at the K.O. restaurant onsite.  Closed on Mondays.  That’s when my foodie hero had to jump into action.  Alas, the first three places he tried to take me were also closed.  What’s up with that Boston?  My Urbanspoon iPhone app road to the rescue—we headed to The Paramount in Beacon Hill. As we walked through Boston Commons, we got down to Peek-A-Blog business.

Your post today is about using a Vita-Mix for Strawberry Watermelon Juice.  My own Chef is obsessed with his.  What is it about you foodie’s and Vita-Mix?

It’s amazing, right?  I’m very lucky to have received it as a gift from parents.  They asked what they could purchase for me that was special—and I knew it had to be the Vita-Mix.

Well, I do love the fresh peanut butter he makes.

I need to try that.

On your blog, you work at maintaining your anonymity, unlike me who puts it all out there.  You call your wife “J” and you hide part of your face in your profile picture.  Why?

I never wanted to be in a situation where my passion and hobby got in the way of my professional life.  My time with my wife is special to me, and I didn’t want to intrude on that.

Have you always been a food guy?

I have always been an eater—I grew up in a kosher kitchen in Boston eating favorites like tuna noodle casserole.  My wife J and I would often spend anniversaries going to expensive, well-regarded restaurants together instead of buying expensive gifts for each other.  At one point, I was a consultant and traveled to New York City all the time for work. I lived at the Grand Hyatt and went to the same place in Hell’s Kitchen almost every week.  They started treating me like a regular and I thought, “I could get used to this.”  On my expense account, I went to many terrific New York spots—that’s when I realized I wanted to share my experience through a blog.

What was your goal when you started onefoodguy.blogspot.com?

In my very first post, I stated my goal very clearly—“I plan on recapping my New York dining experiences and reviewing my favorite restaurants here in Greater Boston. I’m also going to try to convince myself in writing that my career should be in the kitchen, not in a suburban office. We’ll see how successful I am.” Like many bloggers, I was hoping to be able to pay a mortgage with it.  But that didn’t happen, so it evolved into a hobby.  I still enjoy sharing with people my passion for food and cooking.

Has your content changed over time?

When I first started, the site was mainly recipes, but now it includes restaurant reviews.  My first post was about how to grill a steak well, not well done. Later, I did was a post about a dinner party for my wife’s work colleagues.  It was a really big deal with 6 people coming.  I decided to make a rack of lamb, tuna tartar, and angel food cake from scratch. I didn’t really know things like how to time it out correctly, so I reached out to a food blogger Chef Scott Youkilis, owner of Maverick in San Francisco. And Scott was very helpful and wrote a response to my question I figured I could help people out by sharing information like that as they followed me.  Over time, with work and wanting to spend more time with my wife, I just didn’t have time to do the cooking.  So I started weaving in restaurant reviews.

Do you pay attention to your statistics to see what drives traffic to your site?

I use Google Analytics to track my site, and about half of the way people find my blog is through Google searches.  My most popular posts are a recipe for Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes and a story about French Street Food when I was on layover at Charles de Gaulle and went in search of this banana Nutella crepe near Notre Dame.  Also popular, the second most active keywords landing users on my site are “homemade turkey burgers.”

Do you like getting feedback from readers?

I respond to everything.  I think it’s courtesy.  If someone has taken the time to come to your blog and spend time with you and leave a comment, it’s the right thing to respond.  Early on, I emailed Zesty Cook a question about a recipe, and I never heard back.  He could have missed it or been busy with other things, but still it affected me.  So I stopped reading his site.

That sounds a little tough.

But I got into this to be part of a community.  I got to know a lot of terrific food bloggers   like EatDrinkNBMerry and Oishiieats.  They took me on a tour of Mexican taco carts in LA’s Silverlake and Echo Park neighborhoods.  When they came to Boston earlier this year, I went down to Island Creek Oyster Farm in Duxbury with them, and introduced them to Flour Bakery, Neptune Oyster, Myers and Chang, and Toro – four of my favorite places in Boston.  It’s cool to be part of that community.

That positive attitude definitely comes through on your blog.  Like other food blogs, do you get requests from PR people to cover products?

Many publicity people contact me, and whether I am interested in the product or not, I always respond.  My goal out of this is not to get free products.  So when I do take a product, and I don’t like it, I won’t write about it.  This is a hobby for me.  I’m not looking to destroy a business.  Similarly, if I go to a restaurant and have a bad experience, I won’t write about it.  I’ve worked in restaurants and know sometimes they are just having a bad night.  I’d rather focus on sharing good stuff with my readers, the things I want people to enjoy.

Sounds like maybe you had a bad experience at one point?

For Cinco de Mayo this year, J wanted to go to this restaurant she had been to several times.  It’s not a Mexican restaurant but they have what J said were very good fish tacos.  Unfortunately, I was terribly disappointed and shared my feedback with the restaurant manager and felt like it was well received.  Restaurants can not always please 100% of the people 100% of the time. I understand.

It impressed me how quickly you responded to me on Twitter.

Twitter is fun for me, but I don’t do it all the time.  Definitely not at work.  I have around 1300 followers and I follow 2000.  It’s so frustrating that I’ve hit the limit because of the ratio requirements right now.

How do you manage paying attention to all that?  I still haven’t figured it out.

I use UberTwitter on my BlackBerry.  On my computer, I use TweetDeck and have columns that include a general feed, mentions, 120-130 “friends” that I pay attention to, and a dozen or so private lists that I’m following.

I’m impressed that you’re working hard to not let the blog and Twitter overwhelm your life with your wife.  How do you manage your time?

I get up early in the morning and write.  Sunday morning I also sit on the couch and blog—mostly when my wife is away or busy doing other things.  I’m also kind of a DIY guy, so I often blog sitting in front of the TV watching HGTV’s Yard Crashers.  That’s my guilty pleasure.

What do you want to do more of in the blog?

I wish I could cook more using fancy ingredients, making them accessible to home cooks.  Writing more about technique.

All right, well the next time you’re in New York, you’ll have to come over and you and Chef can collaborate using the Vita-Mix!  If you’re lucky, he’ll make you some peanut butter.

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Ear Plugs

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s San Francisco Hotel stop reminds him of Connie Selleca and Josh Brolin

As a kid, I often dreamed of running away to San Francisco—not to be out and proud, but to join the dishy workers at the glamorous St. Gregory Hotel owned by Bette Davis.  When I wasn’t dreaming of life as Mary Tyler Moore, I hatched plots to land recurring roles in TV shows like Hotel, an Aaron Spelling soap opera appearing after Dynasty, starring Josh Brolin as the General Manager and Connie Sellecca as his romantic interest (and assistant general manager).  Although I was a long-time Love Boat fan, something about life on the high seas worried me (as it turns out, I have minor bouts of seasickness), so the land-locked drama about hospitality in the City by the Bay was where I wanted to leave my heart.

Things didn’t turn out so well for me the first trip there with my father.  He booked us into the Stamford Court hotel—not the Fairmont down the road that served as the model for my TV drama.  Forced into sharing a room with my father for the first time in my life, I was bombarded by his earth shattering snoring that must have chased the sea lions away from the wharf.  I called my mother in tears.  Divorced from my father after 25 years of marriage, she sympathized and advised me to ask the concierge for directions to the nearest drug store in order to purchase some earplugs.

“But this is important—don’t let your father find out you are using them,” she warned ominously.

View from my Harbor Court room

While Dad was busy having drinks with a friend, I ducked out of the hotel, snagged some nighttime soundproofing, and popped into the real-life St. Gregory Hotel.  I will never forget traipsing up the large staircase thinking that if I were staying there, Josh and Connie would have taken care of this problem—laughing at the antics, then upgrading us to a suite where I would have my own room.  No surprise that with that kind of imagination, I’d end up with a life on the road.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that a hotel’s charm and comfort often has less to do with the setting and more to do with the General Manager.  That’s the case at Kimpton’s Harbor Court Hotel, the host of my San Francisco stop on the Alphabet City Book Tour.  From my first conversations with General Manager Jason Stone as we planned my event, I could tell he was honestly interested in me, the book, my tour.  Although we had never met, he was friendly in that genuine Southern way.  His handiwork was on display from the moment I arrived.

My friend Diana first noticed the personal attention.  A fellow alum from Greenhill, Diana was my superstar “handler” for the day— driving me from Cupertino to San Fran via the scenic route through Half Moon Bay, then helped me schlep bags to my room.

Harbor Court's personal touch

“There are framed photos of Juan Pablo and Frida by the bed!” Diana exclaimed. “Is that normal?”

It certainly isn’t normal.  And while it might seem creepy to some that Jason had gone online to download pictures of my loved ones, it didn’t to me—after all, I live my life out there online.  When I called to tell him how touched I was by the gesture, he couldn’t have been more humble.

“You told me that they wouldn’t be coming with you on tour.   And I thought after three weeks on the road, you’d be missing them.”

With GM Jason Stone

That night at the Alphabet City Book Party in the back section of the lobby, he sat with my friends and listened to the reading—and even encouraged other guests to attend whom he thought my enjoy the event.

One sweet family staying in the hotel Googled me, saw that I was from their hometown of Dallas, and joined in on the fun.  Turns out, the mother practiced law before my father at one point.  They ended up purchasing five books as gifts, and I gave them theater tips for their upcoming trip to the Big Apple.

My new fans from Dallas!

With Slaton and Kody

Later, Jason offered to pack up some of the left over sushi for Slaton and Kody—my new Bay Area friends connected to me via my sister Paige and Whole Foods.  That Texas connection just keeps on giving.

That night over dinner at new hotspot Thermidor, I marveled at Jason’s innate sense of hospitality.  He smiled graciously.

“I tell my team to treat the guests like they are welcoming them into their home.  At the end of the day, I want guests to feel comfortable, like it is their home.”

When I depart San Francisco tomorrow, I’ll be leaving my heart behind not at Josh Brolin’s grand St. Gregory, but at Jason Stone’s homey Harbor Court.

Oh, and the earplugs?  My Dad discovered me wearing them at our hotel in Pebble Beach.  Mom was right—he was oddly furious and offended.  If only Jason had been there to handle it.

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Mind the Gap

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul dabbles in LA’s Gay Pride before finding out what Hollywood thinks of his book.

New York and Los Angeles are two cities on opposite coasts that might as well exist in opposite worlds.  New York, the World’s Financial Capital—compact yet tall with the odor of money.  Los Angeles, the World’s Entertainment Capital—sprawling yet short with the smell of celebrity.  But cross-country flights act like an umbilical cord for these city twins separated at birth—remained inexplicably intertwined in ways that can only be comprehended by someone who lives in either, and has cause to frequent the other.  Growing up in Dallas, smack dab in the middle of the country, a three-hour plane ride to Hollywood seemed like a journey to the end of the Earth.  But New Yorkers think nothing of using the dozens of hourly trans-continental airline crossings like a commuter railway.

My own transportation to the West Coast got a little more palatable several years back with the launch of JetBlue—a company I got to know closely in my years of handing out the Condé Nast Traveler Top Airline Award year after year. So they were natural for me to approach for support of the Alphabet City Book Tour, and they nicely sent a few travel vouchers my way.  Alert: that was a full disclosure as required by FCC regulations.  But I don’t think my readers begrudge the support I get from some of my corporate sponsors.  An indie author/blogger girl has to make a living, right?  And I’m going to tell you like it is—including, quite frankly, these vouchers aren’t the easiest to use—a return trip from the West Coast requires 3 stopovers on the way back, ugh.

So here’s my take: having traveled through nearly a hundred airports worldwide, JetBlue has done a genius job of remaking its JFK terminal to look like it belongs more in Scandinavia than America.  The seat back TVs give me a chance to catch episodes of pop culture phenomenons that I have no interest in watching on the ground.  As if my standards plummet at 30,000 feet.   Just ten minutes of watching a painful Bethenny Getting Married? and I completely understood why there’s a question mark at the end of that title.  But give me a Kathy Griffin special and a few episodes of HGTV’s House Hunters International and I’ll forget that I had to pay an additional $60 to snag an Exit Row seat.

My national tour sponsor Kimpton has me staying at Hotel Palomar LA Westwood which earned my love with a just right infusion of ‘70s chic, along with a welcome basil & ginger mojito paired with fresh guacamole and chips.  They even gave me a complimentary ride to the 40th Anniversary LA Gay Pride Parade to meet up with my Texas friend Larry—who agreed to show me how they party in West Hollywood and round up some friends for a Book Party.

I highly recommend visiting any city during Gay Pride festivities—typically reserved boys turn into welcome wagons, and the gorgeous men at The Abbey were no exception.  Many guys stopped to ask me where they could buy the Aaron Krach original designed Alphabet City t-shirt I was wearing, as well as get a close-up look at my Sydney Opera House tattoo.  But the real stars were the acrobatic performers in AussieBums stretching their legs in ways I haven’t seen since Alphabet City’s Episode 13 at the Bangkok bathhouse.

The Pride spirit definitely continued into the next day as I went about spreading the gospel of Alphabet City.  The Four Seasons Beverly Hills hosted an intimate catch-up luncheon with some celebrity publicist pals.  The restaurant Culina that opened last March is a dramatic makeover of the previous space featuring rich woods and the only certified crudo spot in town.  If you’re in the mood for a celebrity helping with your meal, this spot always delivers—Smokey Robinson was in the house.

Task Force Board Member Vince Wong on right, with friends

More entertainment industry friends showed up for the Hotel Palomar LA hosted event benefitting the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.  I was honored that Task Force Board Member Vince Wong showed up since he had just finished organizing LA’s Gay Pride Parade.  Thanks to all my friends who showed their support with generous donations to my non-profit sponsor.

Then it was over the mountain and through the traffic to Larry’s Studio City abode, a drive made all that much easier in my very (eco) stylish Hyundai Santa FeLike Goldilocks, I’m usually never happy with my car situation in Hollywood—they’re either too large and garish, or too small and scary.  But thanks to the team at Hyundai (via my great friends at Ketchum), the Hyundai is just right in every sense of the word.  It has great pick up when I need to get past the irritating truck on the 405, and enough quick maneuvering capabilities when I’m about to miss a turn.  It also helpfully flashes a green “eco” sign when you are in the sustainability zone.  This is a great car for a girl on the go schlepping around books, blow-up posters, faux Oscar statues—everything you need to deliver an Alphabet City Book Club Party-in-a-Box!

Affordable party nibbles from Whole Foods Sherman Oaks

Larry and his partner Mike earn extra credit for turning out a crowd on a Monday night, many of whom were still recovering from Pride.  Whole Foods Market Sherman Oaks East helped out with some affordable and delicious party edibles.  As someone who shops pretty much exclusively at WFM thanks to Chef being a Chef there, I know you don’t have to spend your “whole paycheck” if you plan ahead and know where to look for value.  My hosts rounded out their selection of local cheeses with WFM’s 365 brand of crackers and salsa and olives, along with some other party necessities, all for under $100.

The result?  A happy crowd that bought multiple books as gifts for friends!  That’s what I call Happy Pride.

I’m thrilled to see that Alphabet City is resonating on the West Coast.  Maybe it’s like an ambassador really, helping bridge that divide between New York and LA.

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Alphabet City’s Alpha-Beltway

Today on Alphabet City: While on book tour in DC, Jon Paul gets an insider perspective courtesy of old friends, while wondering what happened to a Rosalynn Carter outfit.

In my Aaron Krach original ABCity t-shirt

For one brief moment I felt like a Beltway insider—I was six years-old staring at a fabulous approximation of Rosalynn Carter.  My parents were desperately trying to tear me away from the Smithsonian’s First Ladies Exhibit on my virgin trip to DC.  But I resisted, mesmerized by the mannequin’s outfit of a smart camel colored suede skirt, jacket and knee high boots.  You see, my mother had just purchased the same outfit from Neiman Marcus, and for one special nanosecond, I thought my Texas family had arrived at the pinnacle of power and fashion—just like the peanut farming Carters.

As you can imagine, the First Ladies’ exhibit holds a special place in my heart.  Over time, the curators chose to replace Roslyn’s rather unfortunate off-the-rack fashion choice with an equally disastrous couture statement.  No telling where my mom’s version ended up.  Despite repeat visits, I’ve never been able to recapture that sense of belonging in DC—a city, that much like Los Angeles, operates as a one-industry town.  Unless you are part of the entourage surrounding personalities chosen by popular vote (or box office tallies), then you’ll have to be content pressing your nose against the electoral glass.

As a writer, outsider status never much bothers me.  It gives me a perspective to observe, comment and critique.  And I’ve learned that you’ve just got to hook-up with the right local to help you learn the secret handshake.  On this trip to DC for the Alphabet City Book Tour a couple of old friends became newly trusted guides.

Kimpton's Paige Dunn has been a dream sponsor!

My base of operations was national tour sponsor Kimpton’s Topaz Hotel, tucked away on a cute street in DuPont Circle near a couple of spots related to my tattoos—the Australian Embassy and Green Lantern bar.  Needless to say, I felt at home.  Especially since the Topaz’s front desk team greeted me like a celebrity—telling me they had been handing out lots of Alphabet City excerpts that are part of Kimpton’s Summer of Pride Package.  For once on the tour, I felt like I was the star—and not Frida.  The rooms are enormous since the building was converted from an apartment building, and smartly, the hotel has chosen refillable shower product containers as part of their sustainability initiatives.

The crowd that evening at the Topaz hosted book party was brimming with gaiety—literally.  The boys of the Big Gay Book Group turned out in force to meet me since they had just read Alphabet City.  And my Greenhill prep school posse just keeps delivering—thanks Carey & Kathryn.

Big Gay Author with DC's Big Gay Book Club

Carey, JP and Kathryn

DC has one of my favorite restaurant scenes in America, and I was lucky enough to enjoy it with Susan and my fellow alum Kathryn who had an arranged a sitter for a grown up night out.  Kathryn and I were friendly, but not close friends in high school.  But in a class of 89 people, you pretty much know everyone.  I was always in awe of Kathryn’s athletic prowess as a field hockey star—constantly wishing that I could sport a cute little kilt and whack a few balls.  Kathryn and I have kept tabs on each other over the years, though, as both of us became very out and proud—she runs GayWeddings.com a site developed by her mother out of experience planning Kathryn’s wedding to her partner. There was always a twinkling of interest and understanding between Kathryn and me about a shared experience of youth filled with complicated issues of sexuality.

During dinner at Acadiana, Susan generously suffered through our reminisces of old teachers and high school crushes, all lubricated with generous helpings of Tanqueray and Basil cocktails.  On our way from the bar to the table, Susan and I spotted someone who looked vaguely familiar to us, an overly tan gentleman who moved like a character from an SNL skit.  One of his bodyguards was so tall he could have been cast as a James Bond villain.  Like a political tour guide, Kathryn unlocked the mystery right away—John Boehner, House Republican Leader.  Instantly, I felt transported inside the Beltway—our first political celebrity sighting!  As a budding image consultant commentator, here’s my advice: lay off the tanning beds and easy on the tinted moisturizer, the orange hue makes you look like a caricature.

As Kathryn and I hugged goodbye that evening, I marveled at the continuing power of this book tour to connect me with people from past.  I’m looking forward to continuing the journey with Kathryn as a good friend, now.

Acadiana’s sister restaurant DC Coast is the capital’s answer to LA’s Ivy—guaranteed political eye candy given it’s perch on lobbyist occupied K Street.  My own insider tip: reserve a spot at 1pm—easier to snag a table at the end of the lunch rush, but you still get all the people watching.  Better yet, wander in and grab a seat at the bar.  Go local (and Southern) with Fried Chesapeake Oysters and Soft Shell Crab Sandwich.

JP & Kara

The final night took me deep inside the Beltway—right into a charming and comfortable home on Capitol Hill.  My dear friend Kara had jumped at the opportunity to gather her friends for a little Alphabet City soiree—especially since she witnessed first-hand some of the Condé Nast tales from the book.  At the time Kara came to work for me at Traveler, I had been branded the Murphy Brown of magazine publishing having run through something like 11 assistants in the course of as many months.  Publisher told me to shape up—regardless of how nice I was, I clearly wasn’t interviewing folks well, and if this final hire didn’t work out, then it might be my final hour.

For weeks, I agonized my way through interviews until Kara burst onto the scene—it was obvious from the get-go that she was a bundle of energy, intelligence and class who would fit right into the team.  Since then, Kara has blossomed even further into a grass roots PR and marketing expert, now a social work activist with an equally captivating and generous husband Matt.  Together, they transformed their townhome into a showcase of comfort—the perfect setting for an Alphabet City shindig.  On such a special night, Matt and Kara’s friends filled the backyard with generosity, transferring their love of the couple to my book and me.  Gazing out at the crowd, listening to their laughs as I read about “summering,” I knew I was experiencing a special side of DC that many don’t witness.

Kara studied for an ABCity quiz

Later, Kara handed me her well-worn copy of the book for me to sign.  I laughed at the dog-eared pages and copious amounts of underlines, circles and annotations.  She had attacked Alphabet City like a graduate course assignment—with passion, precision and an analytic eye.  She’d given Alphabet City an insider read, and given me an insider perspective on DC.

Now, if Kathryn and Kara could just find out what happened to Rosalynn’s suede pantsuit, I might finally make peace with our nation’s capital.

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