Observing America From the La Quinta Inn Breakfast Room

ELY, Nev. — Maude Flanders was not pleased. The plain-looking woman who was sitting two tables over from me in the breakfast room of the La Quinta Inn reminded me of Ned Flanders’ wife from The Simpsons. So as a breakfast activity, I named her Maude.

Maude, who looked like she recently became eligible for AARP discounts, was finishing the remainder of whatever up-and-at-em morning liquid was inside the diminutive disposable cup positioned next to her half-eaten muffin. Was it coffee or orange juice? I couldn’t tell. It didn’t really matter because more importantly Maude was irked.

The stocky mustachioed man sitting next to her — I assumed that was her husband — looked like one of Bill Swerkski’s Chicago Superfans from the classic 1990s-era “Saturday Night Live” skit. He had just used his finger to spoon up the last of the grayish-white country gravy from his now-devoured biscuits. He seemed quite satisfied as he sucked his index finger clean and finished breakfast with a clean plate.

But the finger sucking by Maude’s gravy-loving companion didn’t seem to bother her. I don’t think she even noticed since something on the flat-screen television across the way had captured her undivided attention.

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CNN’s Carol Costello had just introduced one of Jeanne Moos‘ quirky human interest features. This one featured “prancersice.” (Watch the video above to see glorious oddity.)

By the time Moos had found a reason to resurrect and recycle Joanna Rohrback’s strange exercise routine for CNN’s infotainment purposes, prancercise was weeks-old news. It had gone viral back in May. As Maude stared at the television in the neutral-toned breakfast room off the lobby, it was now June 20.

“We live in such a weird country but I love it,” Costello expressively declared as she wrapped up the segment, according to CNN’s transcript.

Maude shook her head in a most decidedly sour manner. But I doubt that she was reacting to CNN’s lame attempt to extend the shelf life of the stupid and stale prancercise story. Perhaps it was Maude’s way of lamenting the current state of CNN or the cable news industry as a whole. Did Maude find Carol Costello particularly abrasive to the ears and eyes? Maybe Maude was completely sheltered and prancercise was just too much to handle. Or perhaps Maude just saw a little of herself in the quirky prancercise lady. They did share a strange resemblance to one another.

Like Joanna Rohrback, Maude Flanders was wearing a similarly citrusy-colored top — in this case, a pink-lemonade-colored sleeveless golf polo — white pants and white tennis shoes. Their hairstyles were both big and wavy. But I got the sense that Maude would be horrified to see herself on YouTube flailing her arms and prancercising her way through a local park. Maude was a wonderful mystery best observed from a few tables away and not to be disturbed in this mundane setting.

As I pressed west along the Lincoln Highway, I never knew quite who, or what, to expect in the hotel breakfast room morning after morning. It was always a surprise. Prancercised-shocked Maude was an absolute gem, but there were other random hotel guests along my trip who were just as delightful to observe. I found the breakfast room at the La Quinta Inn — or Holiday Inn Express or Courtyard by Marriott — always a strange spectacle even if nothing truly notable happened.

But there were also bizarre and peculiar moments.

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