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Not sure why I stashed this in the drafts pile for several months, but setting up some book signings in the hinterlands for Insiders\’ Guide to Richmond, I was reminded of the autumn Sunday I spent out in Short Pump at the B & N there doing a book-signing. We will not go into the reasons someone would do book-signings for a book that doesn’t make her a dime when it sells.  I have ’em. Some of them are unselfish and boosterish;  some of them are selfish, or at least Real Richmond-ish. At any rate, I like talking all things Richmond with people.

The first half of my couple of hour stint was great–a writer friend I don’t see often enough showed up with her daughter to buy a book, James River Park lovers chatted with me about our website and the license plate, and I met a couple of exceedingly pleasant families who were visiting or had just recently moved to the area.  A perfectly great book-signing, by all accounts.

But then the clock chimed and the wind changed and the cafe ran out of caffeine or something and suddenly everyone who walked by sneered or coughed on me or used my table as their trash can–ouch. No one had heard of the James River Park.  Not sure they had heard of Richmond. This crowd couldn’t imagine doing anything on a lovely Sunday but driving around to stores to shop in high heels for more high heels and buy magazines with women wearing even higher heels.  It was depressing. It doesn’t hurt my feelings if people don’t buy my book, but if you don’t like being outside, I don’t know what to say.

Thank goodness, at my lowest point a knight in shiny leather walked through the door and winked at me. Never seen him before in my life, but he turned out to be the highlight of the day.  An older cool dude decked out all in biker black, he was wandering around with his family. I asked him if he spent time in the James River Park and he told me he used to date someone who is now married to someone that all of Richmond’s park lovers know and love.  That was a hoot enough and then I introduced myself and he said he was Ronnie Soffee. My jaw dropped. I had just finished reading his niece’s, Anne Thomas Soffee’s two books, Nerd Girl Rocks Paradise City and Snake Hips: Belly Dancing and How I Found True Love  and this very Uncle Ronnie whose hand I was shaking had shown up at crucial times in the books.  He has a way of doing that. He’s a legend, and I was tickled to be having a quintessential Richmond experience of making twelve intertwining connections with someone who had been a perfect stranger three seconds before…and in very un-Richmond Short Pump.  Thanks for saving the day, Ronnie!

I was out at Chesterfield Town Center B & N the other night, signing

It's funnier than it looks

which, believe me, I know is fairly ridiculous, and only partly because I don’t make any money when it sells since it was work-for-hire. Still, I have my reasons. I’m happy to get the book in people’s hands because it might help them love the outdoorsy, artsy stuff that’s all around us here in Richmond, and I’m happy to promote the James River Park System and our license plate campaign, and of course, I’m quite interested in yapping about Real Richmond food tours. I’ve had lots of pleasant conversations about Richmond with all sorts of people, and it’s been almost entirely enjoyable, but who wants to hear about that?

Standing or sitting in a store being ignored or ignoring people who clearly want to be ignored takes a special skill-set. I always knew my summer job at Dellas General Store in Cape May, hiding from customers who couldn’t find the other flip-flop or being treated like crap by mean managers would pay-off bigtime. 

I met a mother-daughter pair who were looking at a book about national parks right next to my table. When I asked if they’d spent time in any of the  James River Park’s 17 sections in the city, they sneered at me and said huffily that they live right at it and it certainly wasn’t  in the city. I gently and politely informed them that we were talking about different parks. To my credit, I didn’t say, “Um, maybe you should buy this book, cause you live near James River High School and Robious Landing Park, which is a perfectly fine place to live, but it ain’t the James River Park System.  Instead I offered them an enemies of James River Park sticker and left it at that.

Another memorable moment was when a woman feinted towards my table and when I asked how long she’d lived in Richmond, she answered, “one month.” I suggested the guidebook might be helpful. She looked at the cover that says Richmond, VA and said, “Oh, I don’t live in Richmond; I live in Salisbury,” and walked away.  Priceless. How mature am I that I resisted the temptation to shout after her, “Honey, you need this book more than most!”

We’ll see how I survive out in the wilds of Short Pump B & N today, from 11-2 and then in friendlier territory Tuesday, Nov. 9th from 5:30-7:30 at Libbie Place B & N.

You would not believe the fretting I did to try to get hotels, restaurants and neighborhoods in the right geographical location while writing Insiders\’ Guide to Richmond. It’s not that these  entities moved around faster than I, but they sure were hard to pin down. We are such a quirky, secret society in these parts that no one really knows where one is at any given moment.  I live in Richmond–in the city–but my zip code indicates to some that I live in Chesterfield County.  Nope, never have, unless you count the fact that my house was built in Chesterfield County but moved to Richmond (in a manner of speaking) during the 1970’s annexation.  If I run up onto the Huguenot Bridge from Riverside Drive I am greeted by a Henrico County sign on the bridge sidewalk when anyone driving on Riverside Drive beneath the sign should be ticketed in the city of Richmond for going too fast…cause they most assuredly are. 

If I drop a can from the bridge–and I would never do that or advise it–am I littering in Henrico County and Richmond at the same time? Regionalization might have a chance if the localities could figure out a way to ticket people in more than one jurisdiction at the same time. Of course, plenty of people have Richmond addresses and don’t live within the city at all. Virginia’s stupid independent city set-up is not the guidebook writer’s friend–or our region’s.

Glen Allen is a mystery wrapped in barbecue and office parks. It’s mostly in Henrico County but has a Hanover section, too. Its vibe says Staples Mill Rd. and Mountain Rd area, yet the reality is that Innsbrook and even much of what we consider Short Pump, including Twin Hickory, have Glen Allen mailing addresses.

Realtors fudge things all the time, as do hotels. My favorites are the ones that try to claim they are Holiday Inn Express Richmond-Mechanicsville or Something something Richmond-Short Pump.  Make up your mind. So much of the marketing is geared toward getting folks who want to go to Richmond stay way the hell outside Richmond. That isn’t very hospitable; it’s downright mean to trick people into thinking the So and So Hotel Richmond is in Richmond when it’s in an outlying county.  And when the web sites say the Fan and UR are right outside their door when they’re completely across town in another jurisdiction–I get annoyed. (Also annoys me that the Richmond Marriott which actually is in downtown Richmond says on its web site that the Union burned Richmond.  Not so. Oy.)

Restaurants cheat, too. Mediterraneo and Wild Ginger, two popular restaurants off Robious Road give their addresses as Midlothian VA. Not true. They are in fact in Powhatan County, but I can only assume that sounds too far out in the country for their tastes. Bon Air straddles the city/county line, haphazardly,  and I could go on and on about the muddled lines of the West End, Near West End and Far West End. Suffice it to say that the Far, Far West End is too far, and Henrico VA is nowhere. The cranky travel writer has had her say.

I’m back!

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