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Monday, September 30, 2013

DC, Matteson, Chicago, Detroit, Nairobi

the inn I stayed at in South Holland, Illinois

Back in June, I embarked on a "bookstore tour" of sorts with the goal of getting the word out about Powder Necklace in key markets. I'd been studying my sales and noted that my performance was best in the cities I'd actually been to so I found lists of African-America, African and Independent bookstores across the country and started pitching signings at their stores. 

Since I'm paying for these trips, I was focused on making these trips cost effective. I have a phobia of printed bedspreads, for example, but I decided to put away my princess tendencies and deal with a little pea for the cause. 

My first stop was DC which didn't require me to make any comfort sacrifice. My good friend has a spot  in the heart of Foggy Bottom right near the Whole Foods and she let me crash on her couch. 

Then there was Matteson, Illinois. I didn't know anyone in the area that I felt comfortable bunking with so I booked the cheapest hotel I could find online. I figured it was so cheap ($39/night) because they weren't inflating for cost of living. There was a printed bedspread in the photos, but I calmed myself down. "It's only one night, Nan." Plus, the room came with free wi-fi.

I landed in Chicago, made the 45 minute journey to Matteson's Lincoln Mall where I was to sign at Kevin Roberts' Azizi Books; and stood on my six-inch platforms for literally six hours pitching my book and signing copies. At the end of the day, I was so ready to tumble into bed.

When I got to the hotel, 20 minutes drive outside Matteson, the attendant at the desk registered shock when I told him I had a reservation. He tried to let me know I might have made a mistake.

"Why don't you go check out the room first. It's non-smoking, but you might smell smoke." 

Huh? I was so exhausted, I didn't argue. I went to look at the room.  It was dark and I didn't see any immediate skid row signs, though the room did smell of stale smoke. I told him it was fine but on my way back to my room, I got it when I saw two prostitutes exit the room next door.

I studied my room properly now. There were kick marks and dents in the walls, and there was a cigarette hole in the (printed!) bedspread. Also, there was a kick dent in the door. 

I tore the curtains across the double pane windows, bolted the door and pushed a chair up against it for good measure. I also pulled the bedspread off and prayed there weren't any bed bugs lurking. 

I got on the free wi-fi and literally prayed as I Facebooked and emailed--there was either a heated argument or a banging party going on next door. 

The following morning, I was up and at 'em and out. I called a cab and waited for it by the empty fountain in the parking lot. That's when I noticed the upstairs veranda lined with men. One approached me, asked where I was from. Another asked if I needed a ride. When I finally got in the cab, I promised myself, Scarlett O'Hara-style, I would never go cheap again.  

So when I returned to the Chicago area for the annual GhanaFest celebration a month later, I booked a relatively swank boutique hotel. Since I was in the center of town, public transportation was nearby and a short ride to the festival venue. Azizi Books agreed to be my book selling partner at the festival and  it was a successful day. My sister joined me for the trip and was such a huge help selling. 

Ten days ago, I flew to Detroit to sign books at Underground Railroad Reading Station Bookstore and Gift Shop. Again, I booked the hotel ahead of time and resisted the urge to go cheap. I was so focused on a hotel, I forgot that my dad's cousin lives in Michigan and I could have stayed with him. I text my dad for Uncle's number the afternoon I was flying out. 

The hotel was amazing. I think because I paid in advance, I got upgraded to an executive room. The bedspread was fluffy and pristine, and the bathroom was as big as my living room. The only thing that made me take pause was the directive on the door to deadbolt it whenever I was in the room. 

I was so bored though. I Instagrammed aimlessly, ate a lonely dinner in the bar and called my uncle. He wanted to pick me up that night, but I had already dropped all this money on the hotel so I declined.

The good deal was the hotel was a ten minute walk from my signing. I walked to the bookstore which happened to be inside not just any church, but one of the oldest black churches in the country, and a stop on the freaking Underground Railroad! As in Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad. 

I thought the bookstore's name was a nod to the history, not an actual part of history. As people straggled in and out for the Saturday tour, I decided to join the tour before my signing. 

Ms. Bobbie, the bookstore proprietor and tour guide took us on a walk that started in 1837 in the old church building and ended in the church basement where my reception was. My uncle was waiting for me and after I signed the books and took a bunch of pictures, he took me to the hotel to get my stuff. I had to check out.

I would lose the money I'd paid, but my aunt had fufu and light soup waiting. He took me on a quick tour of a few spots in Detroit, including the waterfront that separates the city from Canada. I imagined the relief the passengers on Tubman's railroad must have felt when they made it to the other side.

It was a relief to wake up the next morning at my uncle's place. Even though I would have slept in, had I been at the hotel, it felt good not to be alone in a strange city worrying for my safety. Ironically, that was the morning I learned about the mass shooting at Nairobi's Westgate Mall.

For the next few hours, I was in Kenya's capital city as I read the horrible news of hostages held and dozens dead--Ghanaian poet and statesman Professor Kofi Awoonor among the fatalities. I had met Professor Awoonor last year when, on the referral of a mutual friend, he agreed to write a letter in support of a project I was working on. 

He was so cool. He was incredibly busy, but he took the time out to speak with me about my book and the project I planned, and recommended a book I should read. He told me his door was open to me anytime...

My uncle told me the same when we said our good-byes at the airport. As I waited in the terminal, I interviewed Ghana's High Commissioner to Kenya and began working on a story about the massacre. 

My journey resumes this month. I return to the Chicago area on October 19th at 2p for a book talk at Oak Park Library. If you happen to be in town, please come by. 

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