Strange look

The baggage claim area at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas was like a ghost town Sunday afternoon.

A couple of weeks ago in this space I wrote about how I was going to start living day-to-day as close to how I lived life prior to when the COVID-19 bug graced our shores. This past weekend I took that opportunity, but the experience was pretty surreal.

At the end of February, before the entire country froze in its tracks due to the coronavirus, I was in Las Vegas for a Blake Shelton concert.

Everybody was packed like sardines at the entrance to the MGM Grand Garden Arena, waiting to enter the cavernous space.

I remember some rumblings about the virus at that time, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. The first reported case in the United States was Jan. 19. The man, who was in Washington state, had just returned from Wuhan, China.

I remember getting on the plane for my trip back to Texas and noticed one woman wiping down every inch of her seat, the tray table, and even the air vents, before sitting down. I also remember thinking to myself, “That’s overdoing it a bit.”

There was nothing else out of the ordinary about that flight.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.

A few of my friends invited me to go to Vegas and watch the NASCAR race. I decided to take them up on the offer, even though I realized too late the race was on a Sunday and there was no way I could go to it. I met them in Vegas anyway.

It was the second time I’ve flown since the virus blew up, and was made even worse by the political shenanigans played out in an election year.

The road trip to San Antonio was uneventful last Friday, and the flight to Vegas on Southwest was pretty typical, with every seat filled (except for the middle seat, unless family).

The one big adjustment I had to make was trimming my cigar to a nub so that it fit comfortably under my mask.

Upon landing in Vegas, the mental games began. What I was thinking, and what I was seeing, didn’t jive.

Even with Uber and Lyft, the taxi line at McCarran Airport is usually relatively busy, but nothing like it was before ride sharing came along.

As I crossed the walkway to the garage to catch my ride, I looked down to a complete open space where taxis once loaded people up 24/7.

The vision of the huge mass of people waiting to get through security two months after 9-11 flashed through my head. This was more like end-of-the-world stuff. Nothing going on.

I climbed into my Uber ride and started talking with the driver. This is one thing I really like about ride sharing – the drivers actually carry on a conversation.

He was a nice enough fellow and even told be I could lower my face covering as we talked. I gladly obliged, dropping the cloth below my lower lip.

The weekend itself was filled with more visuals that didn’t match past experiences to Vegas.

The strip was void of any real traffic, and all the buffets were closed, as were many of the restaurants. The big shows were “dark”. One pit boss told me he can’t imagine when, or if, the Cirque shows will return.

Inside the casinos there was a two-machine gap between slot machines to ensure social distancing, blackjack tables had only three spaces, with each seat boxed in Plexiglas.

The poker rooms were vacant, but the roulette tables had no apparent protection. I thought, “Maybe Dr. Fauci determined those who like roulette aren’t as susceptible to the virus.”

All weekend I behaved and kept my mask one – except once. I had it pulled down, and was chomping on my cigar shortly before heading to bed about 2 a.m. Nobody was within 20 foot of me.

This nice enough lady approached me and told me that unless I light the cigar and smoke it, I have to pull my mask up.

I didn’t complain, of course, but just thought about how strange a statement that was, as in, what difference did it make if the cigar was being smoked or chewed? The mask would still be down!

When I left Sunday afternoon it took almost 30 minutes to get a ride to the airport. I’m glad I left about two hours early.

When the Uber driver finally showed, he told me most of the drivers started doing Uber Eats, instead of driving people. That made sense, since, comparatively speaking, there aren’t many people in need of a ride.

Same thing happened on the way to the airport. Basic conversation.

As I talked I pulled down my mask like during my ride from the airport to hotel.

If you’ve ever been to Vegas this next statement will floor you.

There were only two security lines open at the airport.

When I got to my gate I managed to change my flight to an earlier non-stop to San Antonio. During normal times, that is nearly impossible to do because every seat is booked weeks in advance. But, not during pandemic times.

As I settled into my seat at the gate I started to check my emails. One was from Uber. I expected it to be the usual request to rate my driver and give him a tip.


Instead, it was a notification to this hardened felon that my Uber driver had turned me in for not properly wearing my mask for the duration of my trip to the airport.

My penalty for my felony Uber offense?

Next time I ride, I have to take a selfie and send it to them to prove I know how to properly wear a mask!

By the way, in line with all the other crazy rules, which are enforced differently in different places, for different things, the Democratic governor of Nevada was the one who gave the order keeping everyone away from the NASCAR race. Many people said he was mad at President Trump for holding a rally in his state, so he was getting back at Trump supporters. Who cares?

Maybe they should have held the race around a roulette table, where Plexiglas and mask police aren’t allowed.

Can’t wait until this election is in my rearview mirror. I can handle the virus, but not the asinine politics.

Until next week, have a good week, and wear your mask in public places … property … through the duration!

Mike Probst can be reached at

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