The latest COVID quandary: when is it safe to travel?
After a year-plus of living like cave-dwellers, when is the right time to emerge, blinking and trepidatious, into what we used to call normal life?
The answer is different depending upon whether you’ve made a Faucian bargain or you’re a Berenson Bear (as in former NYT reporter Alex, whose COVID skepticism has been Big-Tech and Corporate Media suppressed to the point where you may not even have heard of him).
The CE has been solidly in the Berenson camp while I’ve wavered back and forth in a gray area somewhere between terror and rebellion. Yes, I am the reason we’ve had seventy-five pounds of rice stored in the garage since March of 2020. On the other hand, I also have moments of clarity when it occurs to me that we were wandering all over NYC for almost a month before the shutdown and didn’t get so much as a sniffle.
The truth is out there somewhere. Good luck finding it. For us, the combination of our double vaccination and cabin fever finally convinced us to get those dusty suitcases out of the closet and get on a plane for the first time in over a year, especially when we discovered that Southwest Airlines was initiating a direct flight from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas. Sweet!
What we didn’t realize was that we were actually booked on the inaugural flight! Celebration party scene at the airport and zero social distancing. Leave your cave and you take your chances:
Las Vegas airport was quiet when we arrived on a Monday afternoon. No wait for a taxi. No wait at the Wynn Tower check-in lobby. Easy room upgrade. Sat right down for a late lunch at our favorite Wynn restaurant, Tableau.
The menu was a miniature of the usual, but who could complain when one of the choices was a sumptuous lobster salad?
We discovered that some of our favorite restaurants are currently only open on the weekends, but things were starting to open up even as we arrived: we were able to book at Bouchon that night, their first Monday opening since who knows when. Steak frites is only half as sinful when you share it:
And thus, after a year of mostly eating take-out, began the restaurant parade. Lunch next day was at the Encore’s outpost of NYC darling Cipriani. You can’t go wrong with a beverage line-up of Pinot Grigio, espresso and club soda:
Or with Cipriani’s famed meringue cake, which we are used to savoring while seated on the rail overlooking Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall at Cipriani Dolci. Made us homesick for NYC!
In the past we’ve avoided the Wynn’s Lakeside restaurant due to exorbitant prices and poor service. But they were open while Sinatra, our Italian standby, was not, and we were pleasantly surprised by a truly fine dinner with excellent service. Yes, the prices are still steep, but how can you pass up a cocktail that is called the Lake of Dreams…
Alaskan halibut with nicoise vegetables and artichoke sauce. Yum.
We had another wonderful dinner at the Wynn’s lakeside Mizumi:
And a lunch at the newly opened Milos at the Venetian – just like our beloved Milos in Hudson Yards. You just have to imagine the view of the river…
Love their lunch prix fixe – best Greek salad!
There were a few service hiccups, mostly having to do with staff shortages at the restaurants. We were told that many employees are opting to stay home because collecting COVID grants and unemployment is easier than going to work. Same story with cab drivers. Your federal tax dollars at work…
But those who are working are cheerful and trying hard. The atmosphere was buoyant and hopeful – dare I say – almost normal!
We settled into our usual Vegas trip pattern, albeit with masks. We’ve largely avoided dealing with them by rarely leaving the house, so it was an adjustment. For the CE, masking up to play Texas Hold Em gave a whole new meaning to the term poker face.
The Wynn’s spacious hallways and mostly sedate clientele made the masks seem a bit superfluous, but them’s the rules and there were extremely polite employees stationed throughout the hotel to remind the forgetful to mask up. There were hand sanitizer stations peppered throughout the hotel so no worries should you experience the horror of touching a door handle or stair rail. Other than not being able to breathe, we experienced zero concern on the Wynn and Venetian properties, or on a brief jaunt across the street to the Fashion Plate mall. Well, there was one moment of concern when I pointed to this and looked pleadingly at the CE:
Lucky for him that Louis Vuitton was limiting visitors in its boutique and I wasn’t inclined to stand in line. Who says COVID rules are all bad?
It wasn’t until our final evening that we ventured out onto the Strip and found an entirely different scene. Basically a mob scene. Vegas is apparently re-opening in a very big way and there were A LOT of people, many of them who seemed to be visiting for the first time and were determined to let everyone know it. Many who may or may not have concerned themselves with bathing before they arrived. And, sadly, some sprawled along the sidewalk lost in a trance of meth or alcohol or despair. I generally hold to the belief that you can’t contract COVID outdoors. But in that crush of heat and humanity, I put my mask on. Hey, I wasn’t the only one…
The walk may have been questionable but it’s never the wrong decision to sit down to a steak frites followed by a dessert of chocolate mousse at Mon Ami Gabi and watch the Bellagio fountain show. A perfect last evening in Vegas…
We even caught the volcano eruption as we walked back past the Mirage.
We had a wonderful week. Vegas is back and everything’s coming up…daisies.
We’re safely home now, giving the trip an A++ and pretty sure that we’re never going back into cave-dwelling mode.
Anyone need seventy-five pounds of rice?