Magic in the Hampton (Inn)
Nia Sylva | Monday, February 15, 2021
When I climbed into the backseat of the quarantine minivan and shouted hello to the driver through that thin, humiliating layer of plastic keeping all my infectious aerosol particles out of the front seat, I was worried about exactly three things. The first concern was that I actually had COVID, that I would have symptoms and that the next seven days of my life would be positively hellish. The second was that I would go crazy from cabin fever— more on that later. And the third was that I would have nothing to fill the many, many hours of isolation.
As it turns out, all three fears were unfounded. I did not, in fact, have COVID. Mercifully, I did not go crazy. And although each individual hour felt a bit like waiting at an airport gate after hearing that your flight has been delayed by five hours, the 60-minute periods still seemed to pile up, if not gracefully, at least subtly. That is to say, I felt every minute of quarantine, but the larger chunks somehow blended together so that I would reach the end of a day and not be able to account for, say, the entire afternoon.
What was I doing? Who knows. Often, I was watching TV. And not Netflix or Hulu. The key to quarantine, I know now, is distraction, and I can’t think of anything more mind-numbing than flipping through the channels on cable TV. At some point, even deciding on a show began to feel intentional, and I embraced the pure mindlessness of channel surfing.
Some show recommendations: “90 Day Fiancé.” This gem, which can be found on TLC (I think?) and discovery+, helped me kill an entire evening. Apparently, the original show was successful enough to spawn an entire 90 Day extended universe (think Marvel, but with more green card marriages), so I got to watch lots of young Eastern European women struggle to communicate with their off-putting, slightly creepy American knights in armor. Another quarantine favorite of mine: “Just My Luck.” This Lindsay Lohan movie is a perfect time capsule of the early 2000s, featuring a truly terrible British pop-punk band, young Chris Pine (!!), a baffling premise about good fortune that is, for some reason, transferable only through kisses, and a scene in which Lohan proves unable to use a washing machine. The world-building in this movie is truly unprecedented; watch and have your mind blown.
Whoever may heed my TV advice should be warned that the commercials are positively infuriating. Either commercial breaks have gotten longer since I stopped watching cable/network TV or the stations have been giving away extra ad time during the 12:00-2:30 a.m. time slot, because there were times when the series of ads were so lengthy that I actually forgot what I was watching. An hour into my “90 Day Fiancé binge,” for instance, I mistook a minutes-long “Fixer Upper” commercial for the beginning of an episode and was surprised to see “no neck Ed” (90 Day icon) reappear on screen a few minutes later. At a particularly low moment, the mere sound of a commercial for people with “moderate to severe plaque psoriasis” that had already been played at least ten times had me yelling at the TV screen.
But I swear, I didn’t go crazy — unless you count jogging in place for hours at a time as a sign of insanity. You see, I have a slightly neurotic workout schedule to begin with: I run seven miles each day for a total of about 50 per week, and I don’t take days off unless I am physically incapacitated. The prospect of five to seven days without a run was, obviously, less than thrilling. So I spent about an hour and a half every afternoon jogging around my hotel room, doing jumping jacks and watching German aerobic workout videos. Boxing tutorial and German language immersion? Don’t let anyone tell you that quarantine can’t be a time for self-improvement!
If I had been stuck in the Hampton Inn for any longer, I think I would literally have turned into a tortilla chip (you are what you eat and all that). When I panic-ordered a week’s worth of snacks through InstaCart after my first regrettable boxed dining hall dinner, I thought it would be a good idea to purchase not one but two family sized bags of Tostitos— one Cantina style and one Hint of Lime, mind you, I’m not an animal. The chips disappeared at a rate inversely proportional to my fear of testing positive on day four or day seven; if you’re wondering whether I ever paced around my room, stuffing fried corn down my gullet with such ferocity that the sharp edges of the chips left cuts on the corners of my mouth, the answer is, unfortunately, yes. I did do that. But you can’t blame me, really. Quarantine will do that to you.
I wish I could tell you more about how I spent my time in “the q,” but the truth is, there just isn’t all that much to tell. On my first afternoon at the Hampton, I made a list of all the things I wanted to get done while in isolation: applying to internships, planning my thesis, reading “Mrs. Dalloway.” Obviously, I did none of that. But at least I learned about the 90 Day extended universe, developed an addiction to tortilla chips and learned how to box in German.