MATT: On Thursday, Feb. 24, the Year of Our Lord 2022, I received the gravest news of that semester: I, Matthew James Vitelli ’24, had tested positive for Sars-Covid-19. I had thought I was safe. How could this disease have reached such a talented and attractive individual as myself? I thought I was safe in my ivory tower of universal affection. And yet, there I was, faced with the awful reality that even the best amongst us can fall victim to the horrors of illness.
My only consolation was that I had the luxurious rooms of the Boltwood Inn to look forward to, even in the depths of a Covid-driven exile from the campus community that so depended on me. I was poorly prepared for the disastrous news that awaited me upon receiving the call from the nurse, in which my fate was pronounced: not to the Boltwood was I headed, nor even to the dreaded Rodeway. Instead, dear reader, I was being sent to the wasteland that is the Econo Lodge, Hadley.
With 1.25 stars on Google reviews, I was on the road to disaster. This news was later confirmed by the follow-up email I received, which again declared that I would be spending at least the next five days in that dismal dungeon. Upon sadly gathering my things and heading to the van, I was informed by my driver that I was on my way to the Econo Lodge. I sank into a deep depression. After exiting the van and entering my new home’s doors, my days were a whirlwind of Zoom classes, sleeping, disorientation, and attempting to work out and maintain my smoldering physique within the confines of my new living quarters.
Unfortunately, my plans to #bulkup were thrown into disarray when the administration evidently forgot I needed feeding, and stopped sending the meal bags assigned for me to the Lodge. I would go days without receiving bags as my stay was extended from five to seven, nine, eleven days. I called the front desk every evening to remind them that, yet again, no food had been delivered to my cell, and to receive the extra food bag that they had just in case such a situation arose. In this squalor I trudged on, kept going only by the occasional breakfast burrito that appeared in my ever-sparser food bags …
LUKE: My Rodeway room offered few amenities, but it did allow me to indulge an instinct to people-watch. Just outside my window, mere feet from the Inn, patrons gorged themselves on the delectable smoked meats of Wildwood Barbecue. Each day, I eyed the shrink-wrapped, bone-dry chicken breasts delivered to my door, then compared them to the choice cuts just across the way. Unblinking, I stared at the diners, like a castaway on a deserted island sizing up a luxury yacht. It took me a few days to realize that the customers could see me, too — a pale specter in a window watching from above. Whoops.
Whatever the case, by now it was Sunday, March 6. My five-day sentence was nearly complete. My unfortunate roommate, Matt, who tested positive again and again, had served twice my time in the Econo Lodge. Pity welled in my heart, and so I plotted with Lena to deliver Matt a congratulatory final night feast.
LENA: Luke and I couldn’t help it — we’re both, like, natural empaths and extremely generous. Dotting all our Is and crossing our Ts, I called the Econo Lodge earlier in the day to verbally certify that the hotel staff would be able to get the food to Matt. Strangely, when I inquired about the delivery situation, the receptionist seemed puzzled. She relayed that all of the Amherst students in quarantine had been moved back to campus that morning. I begged to differ, giving her Matt’s name to double-check on the roster. “There’s nobody here by that name,” she said. Standing my ground, I rebutted with sass, “I’m 100 percent sure he’s in the Econo Lodge,” remembering Matt’s increasingly distressing descriptions of his isolation experience. At 5:30 that evening, I put in the order on DoorDash.
LUKE: After she alerted me that the meal was delivered, I sent Matt a message at 6:23 p.m.: “Stay strong soldier. We just sent you a little gift.” Satisfied, I returned to my new full-time job — someone’s barbecue ribs had just arrived, but they didn't have any napkins! High drama.
Five minutes later, Matt responded: “Awwww thank you! When should I expect it?” Something had gone terribly awry. No food had arrived at all. I shot back: “Have you checked outside of your door?” I regretted the text as soon as I sent it — Matt’s not an idiot.
MATT: Did he think I’m an idiot?
LUKE: After he assured me that no delivery bag had been placed outside of his door, I confirmed his room number. Room 202… just as I thought. The room would consume my waking hours (for the remainder of the evening). As far as I am concerned, it remains a room far more sinister than Room 237 in “The Shining,” more scandalous than Room 214 in the Watergate Hotel.
The delivery confusion continued with no resolution, and I finally called up Lena. I heard the scraping of metal on ice, distant laughter, general merriment. She was enjoying Amherst WinterFest — another opportunity my pesky positive test had whisked away from me. She was skating across the majestic Orr Rink while speaking to me on the phone, her Android mobile pressed against her ear (a dangerous decision coupled with a contrarian contraption).
LENA: My feet hurt, so I took Luke’s call as an excuse to get off the ice. I got lots of worried looks as I paced back and forth in the penalty box, playing phone tag with Luke, DoorDash, and the hotel. Matt couldn’t take another hit like this, not when he had already been punished enough… also we had spent like $40 and I wanted to see some concrete returns; sue me.
LUKE: Lena attempted to contact the DoorDash delivery driver… no luck. We needed to track down this Chinese food. Each minute that passed meant that Matt’s steaming dumplings were another minute colder. I had to act — so my Rodeway residence became a call center. I call Matt again, Lena again, the confused but congenial receptionist at Oriental Flavor, the unamused clerk manning the front desk at the Econo Lodge. Nothing made sense. My head spinned. This delivery had seemingly disappeared into the ether.
The Econo Lodge attendant confirmed that a man had entered the hotel at the right time with a bag full of Chinese food. Matt assured us that no such food was outside of his door. Every avenue explored, Lena and I had no choice but to assume foul play. The delivery must have been stolen in the five minute interim between the DoorDash notification and Matt opening the door. Perhaps some enterprising fellow Covid-afflicted student had noticed the bag and couldn’t resist the temptation. Perhaps the delivery driver himself, hangry after a long day of work, had decided to skim a bit from the top. Criminal conspiracy theories ran rampant.
The mystery, however, had to be put on hold. We had to make things right. Lena and I settled on an ice cream apology. Justice is best served cold.
LENA: Because there was a 65 percent chance that Matt was lactose intolerant, we actually settled on a sorbet apology. Borrowing a friend’s car (Natasha), I raced to Target thirty minutes before closing to buy a pint as well as two kombuchas (for myself). I pulled up to the Econo Lodge and sauntered up to the front desk, ready for a showdown with the clerk lounging behind the counter. With bravado, I announced that I was there to deliver food to a hotel guest. The man waved me through, and I made my way up to the second floor, my stomach turning at the idea of breaking school protocol via my nimble infiltration of the sick ward.
When I got to Matt’s door, I was shocked. There it was. The supposedly “missing” bag of food. Right there, where it was supposed to be. I knocked on the door and waited. No response. Suddenly starting to doubt my sanity, I called Matt and asked him to step out of his room. Was I on the wrong floor? Had I somehow entered an alternate plane of existence, slightly askew from wherever Matt was?
MATT: At Lena’s request, I went to my door, prepared to step out and see her there with my long-awaited Chinese meal. However, as I ripped open the door to my den of despair, no Lena greeted me on the other side. Naught but empty air met my expectant and upturned face, as of yet innocent as a child.
“Lena, I’m outside my door now, and there’s no one here.”
What was going on? Was I hallucinating? In a time warp? Sent to an alternate dimension? Had Lena shrunk to such a small size that I could no longer see her in the hallway, some sort of Gulliver’s Travels-esque misadventure? I desperately searched for the truth. As Lena continued to hound me about my whereabouts, I glanced into my hall, around my room, and out my window. I began reciting to Lena what I saw outside as my grip on spatial and temporal reality began to fade …
“An empty parking lot with four parking rows. A U.S. branded dumpster, half-full. A sign declaring ‘Get your Seeds! Spring has Sprung!’”
Nothing clicked. In a last desperate attempt to anchor myself to this reality, I pulled up Google Maps. As the pin began to locate, horror spread onto my face. It began to zoom in on a building but not the Econo Lodge, rather an auto store. How could this be? What was going on? Where am I? Suddenly, the pieces began to click in my mind.
I prepared to inform Lena about my sudden realization.
“Lena, this is gonna send you.”
I sent the text.
LENA: Matt’s text sent me into a spiral of rage. How long had he been lying about being in the Econo Lodge, huh? He was probably just hanging out in Val. I felt like a fool. Grabbing the O.F. takeout, I stomped out of the hotel and back into the car. I raced down Route 9 back to campus, calling Luke to share the bitter lies I had just unearthed. An irrational conclusion… perhaps. But things were. Not. Adding. Up.
LUKE: I was ready to disown Matt and everything he stood for. How dare he put us through this rigmarole! “Let us dine on his feast in his stead!” I declared, in so many words. His behavior had been utterly unacceptable. The lies had to stop. But first, an unscratchable itch lingered on the dark side of my brain. Like Carmen Sandiego, the question remained: “WHERE IN THE WORLD IS MATT VITELLI?”
LENA: After getting back to Hills lot, I checked my phone only to find that Matt had sent me his location. After about 5 seconds of google map triangulation, everything became clear:
To Matt Vitelli, 9:35 p.m.:
“Dude, I think you’re at the rodeway.”
LUKE: Neurons fired. Dots connected. A shiver ran down my spine. This time, I kept Lena on the line. I slowly opened my door, breath caught in my throat. Then, I stormed down the hall, passing room numbers as I did so: 214, 212, 210, 208, 206, 204… 202. I knocked, terrified of what I might discover on the other side. I heard shuffling within.
Suddenly, the door creaked open …
MATT: And there he was. My knight in shining armor. Luke Balin Herzog, the man I had been cruelly ripped away from by the winds of fate 10 long days ago, was waiting at the other side of my door, ready to greet me. This unexpected reunion sent us both over the edge, completely blown away by the absurdness of the truth that now stared us both in the eyes.
For the past ten days I, Matthew James Vitelli, had been staying not at the Econo Lodge, but rather, The Rodeway Inn.
LUKE: The call was coming from inside the house. For a week, unbeknownst to either of us, my roommate and dear friend Matt had been isolating a mere six doors down from me.
MATT: And until that very moment, looking Luke in the eyes, I had no idea where I really was.
LENA: Speeding back to Hadley, I rolled up to the Rodeway to find Matt Vitelli peeking out of his second floor window. After sitting out for nearly four hours, the now cold and soggy food was finally delivered through the locked double-doors into the right inn. Matt and I chatted for a bit through the window until I finally drove out into the night, my duty complete, feeling like a much dumber James Bond.
MATT: Looking back on my time spent unknowingly (and unwillingly) in the Rodeway Inn, I have had the opportunity to glean several life lessons from my experience. Reality is always relative. Truth is often stranger than fiction. Home is what you make of it. Sometimes, the shower water isn’t getting warm because you turned the knob the wrong way.
But more importantly, I learned that true friends will order you Chinese food to make you feel a little less lonely. They’ll drive up and down Route 9 out of concern for your unknown physical location. They’ll talk with you through a screen window two floors apart in an inn in Hadley for two hours to keep you company. They will even buy you gelato because of their uncertainty about your lactose-tolerance status. My time in the Rodeway made me value my friends even more and deepened our friendships.
Oh, and of course, one more important lesson:
It never hurts to look at the name of the building you’re staying in. It’s usually plastered outside.