News & Politics

The Quarantine Questionnaire: Elaina Plott of the New York Times

The national political reporter shares her best purchase, most memorable fail, and more.

Coronavirus 2020

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What’s the best thing you’ve streamed? Most useful thing in your freezer? Dream day when this is all over? In search of inspiration—and, let’s be honest, a bit of voyeurism—we’re asking Washingtonians how they’re passing the time and getting through quarantine. Here’s Elaina Plott, a political reporter for the New York Times (formerly of Washingtonian and The Atlantic) who is also working on a book about the relationship between Alabama governor and segregationist George Wallace and federal judge Frank Johnson.

Best book you’ve read in quarantine: Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey. This novel was the literary equivalent of light rainfall — quiet, spare, detached. 

Best thing you’ve streamed: Raining in Osaka” — it’s a Lofi/Vaporwave beats mix on YouTube that I’ve found so calming during the workday. I love the illustration the video uses of a dimly lit street corner. It reminds me of a late-night walk I took in Osaka last August.

Best meme you’ve seen or shared: Homer Simpson washing dishes with a pensive look, the caption for which is: “Me in quarantine thinking about the good times when I also didn’t leave my house but I wasn’t in quarantine.” 

Best virtual event you’ve attended: I remain as anti-social as I was before quarantine, which is to say my general disinterest in happy hours IRL matches my feelings toward virtual ones. 

Most useful thing in your freezer: Ice, maybe? I think quarantine has sufficiently reminded me that I am regularly short of useful foodstuffs.

Least useful thing in your freezer: An expired tub of Jeni’s ice cream. 

Best purchase: I love lists, and for a long time I’ve wanted a massive white board for to-do lists, story ideas, etc. I finally got one on Amazon, and it’s amazing how much more organized my thoughts feel when I write them down with a dry-erase marker. 

Quarantine goal: The one bright spot of all this is that I’ve gotten lots of uninterrupted time to work on my book. I traveled constantly for work in my pre-quarantine life, which made it hard to find time for research and interviews. My quarantine goal is to finish a comprehensive outline and have a game plan for what papers I’ll jump to first when the Library of Congress reopens. (I’d love to say my goal is to bake bread or some such, but I’m lucky if I can make myself cereal on a given day.)

Favorite takeout: I’ll never tire of drunken udon with chicken from Absolute Noodle. 

Worst part of the day: Mornings! I figured I’d finally start Breaking Bad in the midst of all this, which has regularly kept me up until 3 AM. 

Favorite quarantine activity: Did I mention I started watching Breaking Bad?

Most memorable quarantine fail: I ordered a little harness and leash for my cat, Merlin, thinking it would be fun for us to walk around the neighborhood together as we ride this out. I’ve tried multiple times in the apartment, and as soon as I tug on the leash, he flops over and starts dragging against the floor. Needless to say, I’ve done my walks solo.

Best coping mechanism: Cleaning. Whenever I feel claustrophobic, dusting and de-cluttering does wonders for my mood.

Dream day once this all ends: I became a certified scuba diver just before the virus hit the United States, and I can’t wait to take a boat out to some brilliant blue sea off the coast of somewhere I’ve never been before. On that day, putting on a mask won’t feel so dystopic. 

Kristen Hinman
Articles Editor

Kristen Hinman has been editing Washingtonian’s features since 2014. She joined the magazine after editing politics & policy coverage for Bloomberg Businessweek and working as a staff writer for Voice Media Group/Riverfront Times.