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I have been to the mountains and I didn’t want to leave. No cell phone coverage. No internet. Sky–lots of it. Also more maple syrup than I technically needed, but that’s Highland County’s thing, so can’t really argue with it. It won’t make me popular at Monterey’s doughnut-selling shack, but I just think maple-glazed doughnuts are a bad idea. Maple-glazed chicken I could get behind–and my mouth in front of, and maple syrup on buckwheat pancakes tasted as maple trees intended in their infinite wisdom. The folks who still make the syrup the old way are a different sort than most Americans. Spend time outside. Touch trees. Wonder if bears might wake up too soon and cause some trouble at the sugar shack. That sort of thing. The early summery weather made it tough on syrup production this year, FYI.


During my two night visit last month during the Maple Festival, I was able to come up with t-shirt slogans that will make someone other than me not the least bit rich, tour several sugar camps, stare at countless gorgeous views with sun and shadow and mountains and meadows playing so well together-almost as well as maple syrup and Jack Daniels purportedly get along over ice. Perhaps the highlight was having wine and cheese alongside a rushing creek with some friends. For the rest of the story, you’ll have to read whatever else it is that I wrote in a travel piece for the May issue of Richmond Magazine.

My first task upon taking the job writing  Insiders\’ Guide to Richmond, VA was to come up with a Table of Contents and outline the book, pitching whatever chapters I thought relevant to Richmond.  Are you surprised I didn’t write one on monuments? Instead I suggested a river chapter since I don’t think you can appreciate Richmond without experiencing the James River here. (and yes I was on the board of the Friends of James River Park when I wrote the book–still am.)

Some cities’ guidebooks combine Recreation and Parks in one chapter. I knew we had more than enough to split that, so I did. I added an Architecture chapter because RVA is so strong and quirky in that area–Agecroft and Phillip Johnson’s WRVA building and Thomas Jefferson’s Capitol, oh my! And for that war you’ve probably heard about, I paired it, a la Future of Richmond\’s Past, with Emancipation, so visitors don’t think we’re living in some twisted, glorified past. What happened here is more complicated than most people realize and there are lots of compelling and illuminating stories that still need telling.

I didn’t like that in the Houston guide, which oddly enough was my template, art galleries were listed only in the Shopping chapter, so I paired our art galleries with museums in one chapter. Historic houses get their bit in the Attractions chapter.

In the Restaurant chapter and several others, I decided to do things differently than most dining guides around here and not go alphabetically. It made no sense to me to let Ashland, no matter how many times I’ve heard it referred to as the center of the universe, get top billing in Richmond’s book when it’s 15 miles out of town. And Brandermill and Chester!!! Um no.  I started Downtown and circled around within the city north of the river and then went south of the river for the rest of the city. Only then was it the counties’ turn.

Let’s not kid anybody–the best attractions are within Richmond’s city limits. Sometimes in the guise of regional cooperation, people fudge that. I put the city front and center as often as it made sense to. There’s just no question where the action is even if the counties offer some interesting and worthy destinations now and again-the State Fair in Doswell is one such event.

I could psycho-analyze Richmond all day long and share my various theories about why we hide our light under a bushel, but I’d rather blow the lid off and show people how worthy we are–even if we’re not  quite ready.

See my article online at Richmond Magazine, Richmond, You are Here, for more of my thoughts on improving the visitor experience in Richmond. I’d love to hear yours.

Richmond is real, but doesn’t quite know it. Perhaps that’s part of its charm.  I had my shot at framing the real Richmond when I wrote Insiders’ Guide to Richmond, available at or and in bookstores around the country and Richmond’s fabulous local gift shops and bookstores (Fountain Bookstore, Chop Suey Books, Book People) soon:

They just had to have a statue somewhere

 I wrote the durned thing so I’m responsible for much of what’s in the 312 page book–though I had little say in the cover and little control over the maps, including the screw up on the Richmond Overview map where Chesterfield County is missing its field. Sigh. [And I just found out today, Sept. 23rd, that a local photographer, Al Wekelo, took both photos on the cover and unfortunately Globe Pequot didn’t give him photo credits. Groan.]
It could have been worse–because it was for a while.  The first I heard about the cover was that it was a cityscape–snooze–and not the river shot I had suggested, but I was just the lowly work-for-hire writer, so what could I do? Months later my editor mentioned in passing that it wasn’t a cityscape after all, but “some statue.”  Apoplexy set in immediately. This is Richmond we are talking about. Statues mean war here.  I could see all my hard work framing Richmond as a dynamic, artsy, outdoorsy, historic town gone with the wind, so to speak….

I calmed down a tad when he sent me the cover shot of the George Washington Equestrian Statue in Capitol Square, but still not happy. Ok, not Monument Ave, so that was a relief, but it read as dull and static, and I knew most people would think it was one of those Confederates on Monument Ave. and think Richmond was the same old racist place it used to be.  I pushed back hard.

After several back and forths wherein I told them they were making a big mistake, and that of course, statues are static and Richmond isn’t, I heard there was a slight chance that they might use another photo. After a nerve-wracking weekend I got the image below from my very kind editor–the Poe Museum garden. Still not the river, and I wasn’t happy that they took out “and Emancipation” in the little sticker on the front…and there was one other slight problem.

Pictures are worth a thousand words and all that, but one wrong word can be bad news. Let’s just say you should click on this and look carefully: IG_Richmond poe

You see one capital, you’ve seen ’em all? So now I can say I’ve not only changed the face of Richmond, I’ve changed its name.  What a coup. Happy to report they straightened out the city confusion after I mentioned it.

But those Connecticut Yankees weren’t done messing with me yet. Unbeknownst to me until the advance copy arrived at my door the other day, they had switched out the photo of TJ’s State Capitol for a cannon that I bet a million dollars isn’t even in Richmond. Hey, I tried.  Who knew there was this much intrigue involved in putting together a travel book? And we haven’t even gotten to the part where all the foodies will have my head for not including their favorite spots….

I woke up before 5 this morning–a combination of nursing the ankle-impaired guy in bed with me and hearing my daughter getting ready to run out to her insanely early morning babysitting job, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. In fact I didn’t want to. I felt a little tug towards the computer, a little sentimental about the crazy old days when I needed to be up so early to transform the whirring in my head into the durned Insiders’ Guide to Richmond in between running around to wineries, Civil War battlefields, and restaurants.  

Ah, to work in the hushed, dark morning when the phone wouldn’t ring and when I couldn’t possibly have to call 500 people to fact check everything–such a relief. To see the empty cans piling up by the sink, and at 3 in the afternoon I’d pad out to the recycling bin in my pjs and chuck ‘em in. I think it was the only time in my life I felt a kinship with those gin-swilling, smoking fiction writers who  go on benders. I didn’t leave the house much either for days at a time, but the difference is the cans were sparkling water and what was hanging out of my mouth wasn’t a cigarette but a chocolate bar.

I was so efficient back in the day–the writing while sleeping, editing while peeing—time-saving multi-tasking. I never quite got to the point where I ate in the bathroom and I never figured out how to write in the shower, but it was close.  I do remember really missing the outside world–my yard, my weeds–anything tactile besides the keyboard and candy wrappers.

And now I’ve gone back to a semi-normal existence of not getting a damned thing done and there are still people at James River Cellars , just a few miles away, making wine today. I could use a bottle of their Chardonel (what they call their Hot Tub wine) right about now.

For the first day in months, I haven’t spent most of my waking hours at this desk, having turned in the two dozen-plus chapter manuscript of the Insider’s Guide to Richmond yesterday. I am four months worth of  tired today.

Most people’s reaction to hearing I was writing a guidebook was something like, “Oh, how exciting!”  Who wouldn’t want to visit wineries, restaurants, and museums and such? 

pining for wine at New Kent Winery

 I certainly did some of that during the last four months, but mostly I gathered more material than I could possibly use. I even read some of it. And the computer has been my constant companion. We’ve shared a lot of mediocre meals together, especially cruel as I was writing the restaurant chapter. So now that I’ve done what I’ve done, I think it’s more accurate to say regarding writing a guidebook, “Oh, how mental-illness-inducing!” I’ve been single-minded–all Richmond all the time–yet at the same time my mind has been racing in many different directions simultaneously–architecture and NASCAR and boat ramps and art galleries and antique shops and battlefields and jewelry stores. Which means the day-to-day reality looks  a bit more like this:

looks good to me

Reading the newspaper makes you smart.

The scary thing is that when I took these photos in late February, I was horrified at how the office looked–too much like my brain–but the next month only intensified the messiness in both places.  I don’t feel the need to post proof of that.

I’m back!