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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
JP- The last thing your readers need is another blah, blah, blah about your prep school posse, BUT the mystery of the First Lady’s suede fabulousness might very well be solved by another Hornet who was kind enough to offer me a back stage tour of the Smithsonian’s American History Museum (to be continued…).
I love it! Nancy Drew and the Case of the Missing Suede!