A little after midnight, the first birthday text buzzed my phone. My goddaughter. I conked out before thanking her.
When I awoke a few hours later and unlocked my phone, my incomplete and unsent message was the first thing I saw. More texts and a 7:37 am missed call from my brother. I replied to texts as I spoke to my goddaughter who had me on speakerphone so my aunt could participate. After another call with a cousin, I showered and headed downstairs.
I made it to the Gerard St Kitchen shortly before breakfast stopped being served at 11 am. As I scooted into the booth in the empty, but gorgeously-sexy-dark-wood-everywhere restaurant, I worried that the waitstaff would be annoyed with me. I was “one of those” who scurried in right before a deadline. I detested those types when I worked retail.
I ordered the omelet with bacon, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, bacon, sausage and ham thankyouverymuch, but told them to hold the cheese. I love cheese, but I planned on doing a whole lot of not-good eating the whole weekend. I had to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Don’t judge.
When I asked my server to take a birthday photo of me and my meal, I had no idea he’d surprise me with cake and ice cream. “I told the chef it was your birthday,” he said with an accent as he presented it. “You must have a candle.” He jogged to the back and returned with a small, thin, and burning birthday cake candle atop an upturned ramekin. He snapped more pics as I blew out the candle. Not sure if I made a wish. I restrained tears as I indulged in every child’s fantasy of having cake and ice cream for breakfast. They weren’t out of sadness or loneliness, but gratitude for the kindness of strangers and for another birthday. They almost stopped at 27.
I alternated between dessert and finishing my delicious omelet, potatoes, and big ol’ piece of buttered and jellied toast, a $7 small glass of grapefruit juice. Menu claimed fresh-squeezed. The dessert was complimentary, but I scribbled a thank you note on the check and tipped almost the entire amount of the original bill. It was the most expensive solo breakfast I’ve ever had my entire life, but worth it. I’m all about creating memories and experiences.
Full belly and backup portable charger in tow, I was ready for tourist mode after receiving more calls and texts in my room. Google said the nearest Big Bus Tours stop was a 15-minute walk away from The Darcy. Thanks to wandering the previous night, I knew where to go. By the end of the weekend, 15th St would be my
bitch best friend. Taking a bus tour that allows you to hop on and off at various sites was the genius recommendation of a friend My non-researching ass assumed that all the monuments were stationed in a close, walking-distance area known as the National Mall. Remember what I said earlier: don’t judge.
En route to the bus stop, I passed the Treasury flanked by gates and armed security. I hesitated to ask where this bus stop was that the errant GPS blue dot indicated I was at. Across the street. As I waited for the forever light to change, I regretted my pink multi-colored sweatsuit from Souk and Sepia. I would’ve been ok in the 60-degree weather had it not been for the unrelenting bright sun. I kicked myself remembering that the purchased and packed lightweight sunscreen specifically for this trip was not applied to my face and ears. My melanin would be unprotected during this day of walking. I couldn’t blame my forgetfulness on a mimosa I didn’t have.
I snagged a seat next to a stranger on top of the double-decker bus. First stop: The Capital, which still had construction structures around it, assuming from the damages from the January 6th Insurrection. Walking up that long pathway and steps, I was awed by the beauty of the white building and by the crowd’s sheer determination that day. They had a lot of time to reconsider from the street to the Capital grounds. I asked other tourists to snap pics of me, took selfies, and walked around snapping more photos.
At the bus stop, I watched a Black male panhandler bounce around, getting rejected by group after group. As the sole Black woman, hell, Black person in sight, I felt doubly obligated to give. Problem was, being a traveler who had stopped at the ATM before departure, I only had 20s, save for a dollar I knew was lingering in my mini-wallet. Dummy that I am: “I only have big bills,” I volunteered.
“That’s ok. I’ll take what you got,” he said.
He started at $5 and increased. After 100, he said, “Well, shit, ain’t no such thing as a thousand dollar bill.”
I chuckled as I continued to search for the single dollar in my brown and yellow Ankara wristlet. He asked if I had a man. I lied and said yes, worried that he’d ask where he was. I was prepared to say he’d join me soon. Instead, my new buddy asked, “You want a side n—–?” I chuckled and declined.
“Why not?” His voice was laced with indignation.
“Because fair is fair. If I have a side dude, he’s allowed to have a side chick and I’m not having it.” I unfurled the single dollar bill and handed it to him, feeling a tinge of guilt I couldn’t give more. That dissipated as he tried to coax more out of me, similar to how men beg for an undeserved kiss after a horrible first date.
“That’s all I can spare. I gotta go,” even though I was already at the bus stop. He sucked his teeth and sauntered to a group, who shook their heads. He moved closer to the cluster at the Capital. I was baking in the sun and decided to walk around as I waited another 10-15 minutes for the next bus. My battery was already in the 60% range. I turned it off to conserve energy.
I took my time walking up to the MLK Memorial. A decade-old wish. I wanted to attend the dedication ceremony, partly because my then-TV crush Tavis Smiley would be. He talked about it incessantly on his PBS talk show The Tavis Smiley Show. I’ve attended two of his book signings, both at the Union Square Barnes & Noble. My Journey with Maya, his memoir about his friendship with Maya Angelou, and Death of King, about Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his idol.
There were several groups of kids and teens with weary chaperones milling around at the base of the statue. I missed school field trips. I recruited a teen to snap a few pics of me in front of the memorial. I had to step away from the crowd to gather myself for the second time that day. Not only had I finally made it to the memorial, but I took in the gravity and meaning of it. The first and only Black man, the only non-president to be honored at the National Mall.
The warm and fuzzies didn’t last long. I spotted a group of kids, not quite tweens, not quite full-blown teen-teens, wearing MAGA hats, posing with thumbs up in front of the statue. I have no idea where their parents were, or if they were present. This was my first time seeing a MAGA hat in person. Sure, I’d seen it online and on TV countless times. Seeing it on kids… I didn’t know if they were joking. I let them be. What could I do—alone? Admonish them? They had the hats and made the trek there. No telling what they’d say or do to me. The MLK Memorial is in the cut. They were not there by accident, even if their main goal had been to visit the nearby Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. Thomas Jefferson’s memorial, which I did not disembark to view, was across the water. I admit that what I saw from a distance was beautiful.
Speaking of Jefferson, I read that MLK’s memorial was built between Lincoln and Jefferson’s memorials for symbolic reasons. You can Google. After the crowd dissipated, I got some clean shots and deleted the ones with photobombers. I took photos of some quotes along the wall but stopped when I realized they continued for several dozens of feet. My phone was bordering on limited storage and juice. Before moving on to Roosevelt, the only president to serve three terms, I purchased an MLK magnet and bookmark.
I felt like Lincoln was playing peek-a-boo as I climbed the steps. The Lincoln Memorial left me in awe. The grandeur of the court, the steps, the size of a seated Lincoln with his arms splayed on the armrests. Despite being in a semi-enclosed area, he was well-lit. I found a couple to trade taking pictures for each other, then another for pictures of me with the Washington Memorial and Reflection Pool over my shoulder. It was nearly empty, looking nothing like the full pool Jenny jumped into to get Forrest’s attention in Forrest Gump. Standing atop the Lincoln Memorial, I also recalled a night scene of Olivia Pope in Scandal overlooking that very same majestic view.
After that stop, I took a cue from my deodorant and quit. There were more stops on the tour, but I couldn’t do it. There’s no way I could’ve walked the Spy Museum or Native American Museum earlier during the tour. I was tired, sore, and damp. Sweat beads had been skiing down my back all afternoon. My backup battery was drained. As I scanned for the next bus, a red cab was parked, waiting for its next passenger. I hopped in, happy to be resting my now 43-year-old bones. From my dying phone, I texted my friend Glory to see if she still wanted or was able to meet up.
It was a relief that she was in for the night and invited me over. By the time I arrived at her home after showering at the hotel and returning more calls and texts while charging my phone, her two-year-old was asleep, allowing us some unabashed girl talk while sipping on chilled champagne. We barely talked about Well-Read Black Girl, though I congratulated her on the growing success of the book club, podcast, and her books. I missed attending the in-person meetings in Brooklyn, (now done via Zoom) and admitted that while a loyal member, I was (and am) delinquent because I read according to mood. I packed the latest WRBG selection, a poetry book called Black Girl, Call Home but hadn’t cracked it open. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is visible in some of the breakfast photos. I meant to eat and read, but fielded birthday calls in between bites and watching a photoshoot in the restaurant.
I was a-ok not having a fancy birthday dinner. Candle, cake, and ice cream at breakfast were enough, and I was happy to be in the company of someone I actually knew on my birthday. I love my own company, but sometimes, it’s nice to be around someone else.
I did end up meeting Glory’s toddler, thanks to neighborhood folks launching firecrackers like it was July Fourth. Just like Brooklyn. He wasn’t awake for long, falling asleep nuzzled in his mother’s arms, disinterested in the gift bag I’d bought him. We chatted a bit more before I had to throw in the towel. It had been a long day and I had another one coming up.
Back at the hotel, I checked on the status of a friend who would be driving up from Virginia to join me for a comedy show Saturday night and the National Museum of African American History & Culture if I could get tickets. I planned the trip last minute, not knowing timed entry tickets need to be requested at least a month in advance. The sliver of hope: day-of tickets released at 8:15 am.
Before dozing off while watching the first episode of the docuseries We Need to Talk About Cosby, I set my alarm for 7:45 am. I’d been to NMAAHC years before but hadn’t finished all floors. I’d been waiting for over two years to return. Though my birthday day was ending, I hoped the universe would grant me another gift.
Stay tuned for Day 3 of my Birthday weekend in DC. What will the universe grant me?
If you missed it, catch up on Day 1 in DC, and how I got catfished by a hotel.