Los Angeles’ traffic is made up of an intricately connected network of arteries, veins and capillaries. On any given day, it’s humming and red — sometimes grapefruit-orange, if you time your commute just right. The city’s busy roads are as much a part of its identity as its ubiquitous palm trees and film industry.
Now, everything’s changed. As shelter-in-place orders started taking effect due to COVID-19, Los Angeles’ red turned green. In just a handful of weeks, California (and the rest of the country) went from low-key concerned to full-blown terrified. Not only are streets so empty you might wonder if you’re on a set of a post-apocalyptic movie, but grocery stores are out of staples like toilet paper and cleaning supplies. I never thought, in a million years, that I’d be bidding on a roll of toilet paper on eBay. Shoes, sure. But toilet paper?
I’m one of those people who followed stay-at-home orders before they were even issued. I had no reason not to. I work from home, so that solves the job conundrum, and I actually, for one, don’t mind staying in — especially if there’s a possibility it’ll help “flatten the curve.” To make my time at home a little more fun, Kristin (who’s also cooped up indoors) and I decided to host a virtual brunch.
I live about an hour away from Downtown Los Angeles, where Kristin and I typically plan our weekend brunches. I punch in the address of Nomad Hotel in Google Maps, and realize that what would usually look like a hellish drive from Santa Clarita (where I live), is a 37-minute affair. It doesn’t matter. I’m not leaving my apartment, anyway.
My commute is short — it’s a hop and a skip away to my desk. I dress up (finally! I have an occasion to do so!), pour myself a glass of wine, nestle into my chair, and wait for Skype’s famous beep-boop-beep to signal an incoming call. Kristin is running a little late — and that’s after I ran a little late. Clearly, not having a commute to brunch changed nothing. We’re still us. We’re always running just fashionably late. (Never with other things in life, just whenever we plan a date together).
This all feels a little too familiar. Having moved around from country to country, state to state my whole life, I’ve learned how to maintain friendships virtually. In fact, one of my closest friends lives in Cairo, Egypt, where I grew up. Over the course of nine years, we’ve kept our friendship going, bolstering it with daily WhatsApp chats and Skype calls.
There’s a small moment of excitement when you first see your friend’s grainy face on your screen — and of course, those first few minutes of adjustment. Can you hear me? Can you see me? Wait, let me call you again. Wait, let me restart my computer.
Ah, the joys of video chat. Kristin appears on the other side, clad in a leopard print dress with a mimosa in hand. We greet each other with the same kind of exuberance reserved for in-person meetings. As we get to talking, something becomes obvious. When you strip away the fancy location, the wine poured by someone else, the bustle of other people having their meals around us, our relationship is still the same.
Unlike our usual brunches, however, our conversations are laced with a more serious note, hitting some sore spots — the possibility of a vaccine, death rates, skyrocketing unemployment, overrun city hospitals. We mourn Italy’s devastating situation. We wonder when it all will end. When the world is collectively going through something this tragic, it’s no surprise that our thoughts and concerns pivot.
But there’s another topic that takes up a large chunk of our conversation — and it’s about taking the time to enjoy la dolce far niente. Or, in other words, the sweetness of doing nothing. In times like this, we might be pressured to make the most of every idle moment. The messaging I’ve been seeing on social media is this: you’ve got so much more free time now, you should use every ounce of it to become fluent in another language, take up a new workout, master a new recipe and so on.
My strategy is: Sure, you can do all of those things. Pursue your passions, take that online workout class, and learn French, if you will — but only if that’s something you really, really want to do. Otherwise, don’t beat yourself up for not doing anything at all. You don’t have to be pressured into making the most of your quarantine and of a global pandemic. Try to find moments of peace. Just like we’re doing right now, taking some time off to reconnect with friends.
Here are a few things you can do to make your video chats more fun.
1 – Watch a movie together, and discuss!
Kristin and I both agree to watch Casablanca and La Dolce Vita before our conversation. To be honest, talking about Ingrid Bergman’s outfits provided a much-needed relief to an otherwise somber conversation. Not to mention, Netflix is now making it super easy for you and your friends to simultaneously watch something together.
2 – Plan food and drinks!
All stocked up on booze? Put your bar cart to good use, and whip up a cocktail you and your squad can enjoy. A simple gimlet, mimosa or cosmopolitan can make things a whole lot better.
3 – Think of topics to chat through
With everything that’s going on today, it might feel impossible to talk about anything else. But taking a break from thinking about negative things is important. Have a few topics handy so you can change the course of your conversation whenever you feel overwhelmed. If all else fails, celebrity gossip is always a good option.
4 – Plan entertainment
Don’t want to watch a movie together? No worries. There’s still so much you can do together. Try playing a game. (Charades, anyone?) Host a virtual book club. Pick a wild recipe (Bûche de Noël. I dare ya), and cook together. If you’re the musical type, try recording a song together. There’s a lot you can do — all it takes is a little bit of creativity.