Continuing my quest to visit and support indie bookstores, I swung by Loyalty Books in Washington D.C. last weekend following the Well-Read Black Festival.
Launched in Brooklyn in 2017 by founder Glory Edim, WRBG Fest was held there annually until the pandemic forced it to go virtual in 2020 and 2021. Not only was this the first year back in-person, but first time being held in D.C.
Not wanting to break my streak of perfect attendance, I made my way to the nation’s capital. Too bad I can’t claim perfect attendance for the monthly book club meetings that started years before the festival’s launch. In person or virtual, my attendance was spotty.
I’m a mood and poly reader. I get distracted by other titles. I’m also a reader who forgets 90% of a book once I close the back cover, including and especially main character names. I clearly remember how a book made me feel but not as clearly can I remember specifics. I usually try to time concluding the book a day or two before the scheduled meeting. Once, en route on the subway. As you can imagine, sometimes it doesn’t pan out—if I even remembered to read at all. I’m ashamed to attend if I don’t finish (or start) a book. I’m not a fan of spoilers, nor do I like not contributing to a hearty book convo. Book Talk is the rare instance in which I’m excited to engage in conversation with other humans.
In the long list of WRBG book selections, I own a few and have read fewer. It’s a rare, pleasant surprise when a book is selected after I’ve already added it to my TBR or read it. Makes me feel validated. That’s even happened with Oprah Books! Such was the case with Sex Lives of African Women by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah and the Jayne Allen novels. But, with both book clubs, sometimes titles are selected during their release month so they’re brand spanking new—and—gasp!—hardcover. Cha-ching.
Despite being a delinquent book club member, I support all things WRBG whenever I can. Glory holds author conversations on Instagram Live and launched a podcast of the same name. I own copies of both her books. Even if I didn’t know her, I would stan. I love this community.
I attended the festival by the skin of my teeth. Ever the procrastinator, by the time I booked hotel and travel, prices had jumped from when originally checked. I contemplated skipping. The pricetag for the quick local weekend getaway was almost on par with an extended vacation to a beautiful island bought with a special e-newsletter deal.
But you know what? Books and author events are my happy place, my comfort zone. Life is to be lived and enjoyed.
Where is that damn high-interest Capital One card?
I was on Cloud 9 when I booked a train scheduled to arrive in D.C. with enough spare time for me to attend a free pre-festival event being held at Martin Luther King Memorial Library Friday evening and a hotel a short ride from the festival the following day.
All set, right? Nope. Someone (who, me?) forgot to purchase a festival ticket and RSVP for Friday. When I remembered a day or two before I was to depart, the festival was sold out and RSVPs had a waitlist.
Swallowing the lump in my throat, I went to bed and texted Glory the next day. “Hi Glory. Sorry for contacting so early. Before I cancel my hotel and train, will more WRBG tix be released? I booked travel and forgot to buy my tix” followed by Black lady face palm emoji.
She replied asking if I’d be willing to help set up.
So, ladies and gents, that’s how I ended up as part of the WRBG crew, and not just an attendee. Note to self: update my LinkedIn. Just kidding. Not really. I worked at the check-in table alongside a lovely lady by the name of Chiquita. She has the most calming voice, was so sweet, and also had the best bouncy and full body hair. My hair could never, would never back when I wore it straight. She’s the proud mom of a handsome teenage son whose football game she was missing but stayed abreast via text updates.
I don’t know how many times I repeated “welcome,” gave directions to the bathroom, pointed to the refreshment hall, informed attendees that t-shirts and sweatshirts (one of which I was wearing) would be on sale post-festival in the “Green Room,” books on sale throughout the festival, snapped plastic purple wristbands like they give out at “da clerb,” handed out complimentary (and optional) black KN965 masks with the blue WRBG tote bag containing a paperback copy of Glory’s On Girlhood. I was kicking myself for not packing my hardcopy to ask her to sign, along with my copy of The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom, who was also in attendance.
Working the check-in table (and there were a surprising amount of latecomers—we’re talking by more than an hour!), I missed most of the panels. I’m hoping to catch replay, if there will be one. It’s bittersweet because I love panels, but at least my TBR didn’t swell by double digits. I bought Big Girl by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan and her autograph per Chiquita’s recommendation. Unfortunately, no photo with her, but I did get one with…THEE Bevy Smith! She spoke on the final panel with Broom, which I popped in for and recorded a few snatches of convo.
When Bevy arrived at the table, I couldn’t help but to fangirl and tell her how much I admired her, her career and thoroughly enjoyed her audiobook narration of her memoir, Bevelations: Lessons from a Mutha, Auntie, Bestie. She gave me a heartfelt hug, pressing her ample bosom against my non-ample one. She smelled divine! It wasn’t until later when she was setting up to sell and sign autographed copies in the Green Room that I requested a pic. We took about three. I was so giddy I immediately texted my cousins with the caption “I’m dead.” I relayed Tania’s message that she too loves Bevy, and she asked for her last name. I laughed and said “You don’t know her. She’s my cousin and knows you’re here today.”
I already owned the audiobook since its release last year. I couldn’t justify buying a copy just to get her autograph. Other than Big Girl, I couldn’t decide what other titles to purchase at the Loyalty Books vending table. As they were packing at the end of the evening, I asked if they were close so that I could stop by and browse before catching the 3:40 back to New York the next day.
Post-festival, I was hungry and exhausted and thought I was going to retire to my empty hotel room with my takeout order from a restaurant in the beautiful Eaton, where the festival was held. I was adopted by the members of the WRBG Dream Team, as Glory dubbed us. After a failed attempt to dine at a restaurant across the street, we ended up eating at the same restaurant where I ordered my food. We had the same server who took my order at the bar. I sure did unpack and eat my cheeseburger and truffle fries at the table with Glory to my right, Chiquita to my left and about four other ladies with WRBG sweatshirts around the table. Great conversation and laughs. All I know is that by the time Chiquita and Glory dropped me off at my hotel, SNL was on.
The next day, Sunday, I indulged in cinnamon and honey-infused deliciousness of chicken and waffles and strawberry-pineapple mimosa at Honeymoon Chicken. I intended to continue reading Soulmate Setbacks by J.R. Mason, but I needed both hands for that jumbo wing, drumstick and thigh. I was front and center at the empty bar in full view of the kitchen to my front and the occupied booths and tables behind me.
I chose Honeymoon Chicken after Googling “brunch spots near Loyalty Books.” It was the only result that looked the most soul food-y. I wanted comfort food. Lucky for me, not only did it exceed my expectations in deliciousness, but when I plugged in walking GPS to get to Loyalty, it said one-minute walk. Skeptical, I almost pushed my carry-on past it.
I shouldered my overstuffed black WRBG tote from a previous festival, a blue and white Ann Taylor trenchcoat was draped over my eft arm, and I carried a small flower arrangement from the festival stage in a Loyalty paper shopping bag. As I helped with the clean-up, silver-haired Allison, one of the sister-duo event planners, urged me to rescue one or more from being thrown out. I spread the word to Chiquita who grabbed two larger ones. I grabbed the smallest and the most plausible to make the trek home with me. Hannah from Loyalty gave me a bag large enough to carry it for minimal floral smooshage. I’m not a flower person, so I have no idea what made up the arrangement.
Carrying my items, I entered the bookstore after taking pictures of the white exterior. Pausing to place my mask before entering the store per the outside sign’s instructions, I was giddy opening the glass door.
A chandelier caught my eye before I scanned the cozy and crammed bookshop. I flashed back to when I worked at Buck-A-Book, literally underground. Aisles so narrow only one person could fit, books and bookish things everywhere. To my immediate left at Loyalty was a wall of bookmarks, pouches and other reader and writerly things. To the right was a counter that I Iater learned was the register. Hannah recognized me.
“Hey! You made it! What cool earrings are you wearing today?”
The day before at the festival my wooden graffiti-painted afro-pick earrings garnered a lot of compliments, as did my colorful nails which I had wrapped and filed myself the night before in my hotel room. Sunday I wore optical illusion earrings that could read “one” or “love.”
The other 2-3 shoppers left right before Hannah helped me set my things against a back side wall. I had free rein of the place to myself, even though others popped in and out. Nothing made me happier. I snapped pictures with my phone. I spotted a composition notebook tote on the wall shortly before seeing the matching S’well metal waterbottle in a basket. I took my time gazing at book spines. Thanks to the festival, there were several titles brandishing “autographed copy” stickers. I only want books signed in front of me, preferably personalized.
Keeping in mind my already-overstuffed suitcase and hundreds spent that weekend, I allowed myself a book, bookmark, journal, and pen. Hannah joked that my selection was perfect training for her new employee to learn codes. After finalizing my sale, I asked the employee if she’d be my photographer and videographer outside. She took some directorial liberties by coming in hot for a zoom-in shot on a boomerang. Loved it!
They gave me directions to the Georgia Ave-Petworth subway and I bid them adieu. Not trusting my poor sense of direction, I plugged it into GPS even though they said it was one left turn and a straight shot. Google said 6-minute walk. Cool. Except not. It was UPHILL! Like the tourist I was, I snapped pics. Like the New Yorker I am, I marveled at the cleanliness and the emptiness. Where were the rats? The people of D.C.? Despite asking the tollbooth guy and someone on the platform, I went two stops in the wrong direction. Panic threatened to overtake me, but I course-corrected and made it to Union Station just in time to join the snaking line to board the train back to Penn Station.
My second trip to D.C. this year (third overall) was a high, even with the hiccup of my hotel. Chiquita and Glory gasped when they dropped me off. I told them I don’t know D.C. areas and they said next time I could stay with one of them, an offer I will happily accept. These hotel prices are ri-damn-diculous! The Ivy City Hotel was not nearly as bad as when I was catfished by the first hotel during my birthday trip in April, but it wasn’t the Darcy either. Just as I have a rule about ordering a meal or drink named after the restaurant, I now have a rule against booking hotels whose “hallways” are part of the exterior.
Other cons of the hotel/my room: no toiletries. No squirreling the mini shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and soapbar because there were none. The ironing board was broken, and the sliding bathroom door was off the track. I absolutely HATE when the sink isn’t in the bathroom with the toilet and tub.
I deserve better. Note to self: don’t procrastinate when booking and pay closer attention to pictures. Lesson learned for future trips to D.C. and elsewhere because there will be more.