Although I’m only scheduled to stay in Washington DC for a summer, I am still eligible for a library card. With an electronic copy of my signed sublease stored on my phone, I made my way to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library downtown to sign up. I had a simple afternoon itinerary planned for myself. After work, I would pick up some books at the library and head towards U Street to Hana, a Japanese grocery store that promised to have soy sauce and fresh produce.
As luck would have it, the sky split open. In the same moment that I stepped off the bus, it began to downpour. To say that it merely rained does not capture how the water fell in a thick sheet that rippled in the wind. I stood under the awning of the bus stop along with half a dozen others as the storm continued outside. A fork of lightening struck nearby. Everyone stopped talking when the thunder tore through the sky. A few buses passed by, their windshield wipers flinging water onto the slick streets. Small waves of liquid lapped the curb of the sidewalk as the cars paused at the traffic light.
Because I still haven’t quite figured out how to navigate this city, I had gotten off at the wrong stop. I only had an extra block to walk, but even with an umbrella, I would have been drenched. So I waited. The crowd thinned when an X9 pulled up to the corner. I watched the people across the street. Some tried to sprint and outrun the rain while others walked stoically as if the heavy raindrops were simply a light morning mist. Twenty minutes later, the rainstorm eventually thinned into something manageable. I tiptoed around puddles and finally stepped into the library.
The lobby was large, the carpet in the adjacent reading rooms brown, the lights fluorescent. I had to fill out the registration form twice because I did not list my DC address. The woman at the front desk was amiable and did not mind that I wasted a sheet of paper. She handed me my card. As I made my way to the Popular Media room, I walked past rows of plastic chairs and a makeshift stage. Large crowds of preteens and their parents lounged in the seats or stood in line to pick up their copy of the latest book written by Chris Colfer.
Chris Colfer? That guy who plays Kurt on Glee? He writes books? Yes, apparently he writes very popular books. And he was hosting a Q&A at the library. I had arrived at about 5:00, and by the time I finished browsing, it was 6:00, leaving only a half hour before this famous preteen idol would emerge onstage. I decided to stick around.
At this point, all the seats had been taken. I stood in the back, next to a middle schooler peering at the thick layer of foundation on her face with her iPhone and a boy and a girl who complained about their mothers posting their picture on Instagram. At about 6:20, another gaggle of children pushed past. About fifteen minutes later, Chris Colfer appeared, flank by security guards and waving to his adoring fans. “It’s raining Republicans and Democrats out there!” he said. I’m pretty sure that he could have said anything, and everyone would be happy to laugh along.
The Q&A only took about twenty minutes, but during that time, I learned that Chris Colfer’s literary crush is Bellatrix Lestrange; his preferred sandwich involves turkey, avocado, and provolone on white bread; and that he thinks Snow White needs to reevaluate some of her life choices. I have a feeling that he rehearsed his answers beforehand, but to his credit, he sounded at ease and earnest in front of his fans.
I didn’t stick around. As soon as Chris Colfer finished answering his last question, I slipped past the middle schoolers and walked three blocks to catch a bus that would take me north to Columbia Heights.
My mission to find soy sauce was complicated by a number of factors. The first problem is that I’m picky, which is nothing surprising, but I’ll be the first to tell you that the offerings at your normal grocery store just won’t do. The second problem is that Chinatown only exists in name only. The Friendship Archway is the only emblem of something that is even remotely from the eastern hemisphere of the world. Otherwise, you’ll find some cafes, a Chipotle, a Verizon store, and other retail establishments whose only claim to China is their translated signs. The third problem is that although the buses are supposed to arrive every ten minutes during rush hour, they actually materialize once every half an hour.
Hana is a small corner store, and they did have some interesting offerings. But as a small corner store, they charged higher prices than what I expected at an Asian grocery store. And their soy sauce selection was mediocre at best (although still cheaper than your average grocery store–I suppose all was not lost). I remembered my parents being disappointed by the Chinatown in Chicago and wondered what they would say about the offerings here in DC.
I returned home at 9:00. In my bag, I had Remainder by Tom McCarthy, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, a travel book on Japan, a Chinese grammar book, a small bottle of soy sauce, a bag of green onions, some mushrooms, and a package of wheat noodles. I also returned with a battered umbrella, seven mosquito bites that I acquired as I waited for the bus, and two pictures of Chris Colfer on my camera. As I was putting away my groceries, someone asked me how my day was. “It was good,” I replied. “I got a library card today.”