Best Bacon Lady 2009 | Heather Lauer | People & Places | Phoenix

Heather Lauer wasn't always into porcine belly meat. As the author/blogger told a correspondent for last May, her infatuation with the heart-stopping delight began in the summer of 2005, when the then-partner at a D.C. consulting firm and her brothers got drunk, tipsily lit on the subject of bacon, and came up with the appellation "Best Meat Ever."

"The next day, when I was sober, I still thought it was a good idea — perhaps the first time that has ever happened after a night of drinking," says Lauer, who now splits time between Arizona and her native Idaho. "I fired up and thus began"

Four years later, riding the crest of the social-networking wave, her blog about the doings of "Bacon Nation" is going strong, and her first book, Bacon: A Love Story — A Salty Survey of Everybody's Favorite Meat, garnered a largely favorable response when it was released in May '09.

Though she took up bacon idolatry as a joke, Lauer's serious as a heart attack about her mission: detailing America's fascination with the crispy breakfast staple. Both the blog and the book are chock-full of recipes, gossip, history, and high-on-the-hog arcana, and the site is brimming with tweets and posts along the lines of "Bacon Wrapped Tater Tots," "Diet Coke with Bacon," "Bacon Candy Bar," and "Baconvision: Jim Gaffigan on Bacon."

As hard as it is to believe, waxing rhapsodic about bacon doesn't pay the bills, so Lauer focuses on cured pork strips when she gets off her day job at Tribe Effect, a socially conscious public-affairs consulting firm that she co-founded.

But for her long, black mane and the constant chirping, buzzing, and tweeting of her social-networking accoutrements, you could mistake good-time girl Raven Valdes for a film noir minx. With her exotic dress and carriage, she seems out of another time. The irony, of course, is that she's the very definition of her linked-in age.

The 50-year-old divorced mother of a 10-year-old son has been throwing professionally engineered parties in the Valley since 2004. Thanks to their creative themes and Valdes' innate knack(s) for marketing and detail work — not to mention her 10,000-plus-member database — Raven's dialed-in events draw nightlife crowds that are half the native Texan's age, though her target demo tends more toward business-casual folks in their 30s and 40s. And Raven herself is a core attraction; she personally hosts each gathering, and you'll find her at the center of things, holding court in the eye of the storm.

Her staples are business mixers, happy hours, and charitable events, but several times a year, Raven lets down her jet-black hair and unleashes something massive, like her annual Red Light District Costume Ball at the Wrigley Mansion. Last May's edition featured music by Nineball and DJ Old School, a costume contest, celebrity MCs Amber M. and Amber B. of the Bad Girls Club, and pole-dancing lessons courtesy of the PussyCats Pole Dance Company.

Sound like fun? In classic Valdes style, it was hellacious merriment disguised as a fundraiser for domestic-violence shelters.

That's so Raven.

What? You haven't heard about Let us introduce you. Meet Up is all over the country, including Phoenix — a free Web site where people with all kinds of interests can hook up. We don't mean that kind of hook-up, though we suppose a few love connections have been made this way. The rules are a bit complicated — you'd do best by checking the site, But the most important thing you need to know is that Meet Up is about finding people with similar interests — like crafts, or sushi. Or wine.

The Arizona WineBats, run by Aaron Leeming, is a group of 642 (and counting) wine lovers from across the Valley. Leeming and some assistant organizers scour the local wine scene, finding deals on tastings and wine-related social events with the goal of arranging "blind" taste contests. Guess the variety of wine, win a prize. You'll have to pay to drink, but the prices are nominal, the company's good and the wine's sure to be even better.

By now you've heard of Meet Up. And you've probably heard of Twitter, another social-networking site that allows you to . . . Well, so far, all we can see is that it allows you to waste time at work when you've exhausted your options on Facebook. But have you ever heard of a tweet-up? Believe it or not, we had trouble choosing the best in town — there are several regular events, a hybrid knock-off of a meet-up for Twitter users curious to see the people they're tweeting with.

Created by Twitter user and local social media expert @Evo_Terra, a.k.a. Travis Unwin, "East Valley Friday Nights" is designed to give anyone looking for a good time a place to meet new people — away from the keyboard. EVFNs have gone down at such places at Roka Akor in Scottsdale and (at the end of every month) Whole Foods in Chandler, where the bar staff triples to account for the 40- to 60-person crowd. Often, venues hosting EVFN will offer incentives to attend such as extended happy hours. Search for "#evfn" to join in the fun. If you're not on Twitter, visit for details.

When we got a press release last summer stating that a self-proclaimed "superfan" of P.F. Chang's China Bistro was about to go on a seven-state road trip in order to eat at as many different (and yet exactly the same) restaurants as possible — all for the sheer joy that Mongolian Beef brings him — we were a little skeptical. To say the least. The kicker was that this fan was going to document every noodly, rice-filled, or fried meal of his trip on Twitter. C'mon. Would you have bought that? But the biggest surprise came when we met said superfan, Adam Aponte, at the send-off party Chang's threw for him (and as many members of the press as they could muster). He was completely serious. He really loves P.F. Chang's. As it turned out, what had really taken place was not an event of extreme marketing genius, but an event of extreme marketing luck — taken to shameless, tweet-filled measures, of course. But we can't blame you, P.F. Chang's marketing team, for taking advantage of a crazy fan and a new social-networking tool for publicity purposes. For, indeed, Mr. Aponte had written you an e-mail explaining his love and dedication to your mu shu chicken and lettuce wraps (which just happened to mention his upcoming road trip). And we have to admit you were really quite generous (in return for the continual tweets): At least you comped his meals!

Though he's since sissied out, changing his handle from "JoeArpaio" to "FauxSheriffJoe" and adding a clear disclaimer explaining that he's "satirizing" our sheriff (who twitters under RealSheriffJoe —or at least, someone on his staff does), for a while JoeArpaio seemed to have some people fooled. Then a local TV station killed the joke, sorting out the whole matter in a light-hearted piece. Still, tweets like, "The common taco? Just a cheap knockoff of a hot dog. Don't be fooled into thinking it tastes better because it's 'different,'" are at least better than the trite slogans posted by the real deal, whose most interesting post so far was a parting shot at beloved Mesa Police Chief George Gascón, who left to take over San Francisco's department: "Bye [sic] the way, i woudl [sic] like to wish the new San Francisco chief of police luck. I think this is a good move for both cities . . ."

Everyone seems to complain about Phoenix's lack of natives and abundance of out-of-state transplants. And though we love this city, that mix can lead to a shallow sense of history. What a shame. Prideful nostalgia is a crucial ingredient for a sense of place. But in our modern world, the Internet can give us anything we lack, and the tweeter @azhistory knows this. Add it to your Twitter list and you'll be treated to a healthy peppering of (what else?) AZ history. Through YouTube slideshows of old photographs, links to articles, and announcements of new books, you'll be an Arizona native in no time. Or, at least, you'll probably know more history than anyone really born here.

It wasn't as ill-advised as blabbing about her sex life — or noting something euphemistically suggestive like "Christa is higher than a kite." But Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon's soon-to-be-ex-wife, Christa Severns, certainly touched off a firestorm when she posted this on Facebook last spring: "Christa Severns is thinking of changing careers and taking up lobbying the city of Phoenix. Hell, everybody else does. I can write a fabulous RFP."

The update was immediately assumed to be a dig at her ex's sister, Gail Gordon, who works as a lobbyist and whose team had been hired by the winning bidder for the airport Sky Train project. The Arizona Republic reported on the comment, reportedly without even contacting anyone it was quoting — and that angered at least one state public information officer to the point that he de-friended his reporter "friends." (Yes, the fallout did remind us of junior high schoolers getting their notes intercepted in the hallway.)

For her part, Severns, communications director for SCF Arizona, handled it with grace; we've heard she's agreed to be a guest speaker in at least one journalism class this fall. And she taught us all a valuable lesson in Media Ethics 101: Reporters are your friends only until they can use you for some really juicy copy. Sorry!

In the current hyper-digital age of instantaneous tweets and Facebook status updates blasting out the latest news and gossip 24/7, it seems downright Luddite to use something as lo-fi as a bulletin board to get the lowdown on downtown Phoenix culture. Such is the case with the bulletin board on Fifth Street in front of the Tumbleweed Center's Drop-In Gallery, as we regularly check out its colorful cornucopia of Xeroxed fliers, silk-screened posters, handbills, and other DIY ephemera for the latest events and announcements. Erected last fall by the community-minded cats at the gallery (which features works by homeless artists), the cylindrical-shaped board has clued us in on upcoming indie and punk gigs, future gallery exhibitions, local bicycle co-ops, and a nearby organic garden. (There's often also info on chemtrails, UFOs, and other tinfoil-hat topics.) A few hand-written missives are also occasionally pinned up, including one hastily written note asking God, "Why hast thow [sic] forsaken me?" Dunno, but thanks for asking.

Imagine this: You need answers. But you're not sitting in front of a computer or within reach of an iPhone. Never fear, telephone reference is here. Forget Google, and Wikipedia — at the Phoenix Public Library telephone reference desk, real people are ready to answer your calls and give you useful information. Picture the Katharine Hepburn movie Desk Set, in which Ms. Hepburn plays Bunny Watson, the head of the well-run research department at the Federal Broadcasting Company. Bunny's world is full of reference books and chatty banter, and the filmic predecessor to PPL's Telephone Reference department. Need to know the population of Vatican City, or the year Wade Boggs was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame? Telephone reference is only a call away. Oh, sure, the librarian on the other end of the phone might do a Google search to answer your question, but isn't it nice to know you can still pick up a phone and speak to a human being? One note: The staff cannot give medical advice.

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