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You Won't Believe Las Vegas During Quarantine

A sobering journey through the shut-down Sin City.

The hyper-crowded Las Vegas we're used to seeing during events like the SEMA show sharply contrasts the empty, lifeless quarantined Vegas of today. Indeed, while the Las Vegas Convention Center halls and surrounding streets could trigger a fear of confined places during SEMA (claustrophobia), today it's more likely you'll be struck by the fear of open spaces (agoraphobia) in shut-down Las Vegas. While we normally capture the one extreme (Las Vegas at capacity during SEMA, the automotive industry's largest trade show) this time we experienced the complete other end of the spectrum. Both are awesome sights.

Las Vegas Convention Center

We're not sure what should have been going on at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC)—and we certainly weren't expecting to see any crowds—but we can safely assume it wouldn't normally be the ghost town we found. Construction debris covered the outdoor area normally occupied by Ford Out Front, Hot Rod Legends, and all the other massive outdoor displays during SEMA week. The construction may be related to Elon Musk's Convention Center Loop underground transportation system, but we didn't see any signs indicating such. The massive North, Central, and South Hall buildings were colorless and bare, void of any convention advertisements, banners, or hype. Barricades were strewn about in efforts to keep lookie-loos and wanderers out. A place once so welcoming looked like a demo site. Although we didn't see any security guards or police, we knew they had to be there somewhere. We saw only one construction worker among the sea of parking lot rubble. The silence was concerning; the stillness made us want to leave. We can only imagine what the inside of the Central Hall looked like.

Las Vegas Convention Center Expansion

Surprise! Construction is well underway on an expansion project that will add a 1.4-million-square-foot West Hall to the existing 3.2 million square feet. Basically, they're expanding and revamping the Convention Center, and we could definitely see the work in progress in the form of the sky bridge (over Paradise Road where it meets Convention Center Drive) and front fa ade of the new building. There's apparently a livestream of the expansion project, which could make for a quarantine boredom remedy. This project is why the sky bridge has been closed and the SEMA Cruise rerouted. The expansion is set for completion in December 2020 in time for CES in January 2021, and the whole project is slated to be done in 2023. The bottom line is the expansion project is insanely massive, and we can't wait to see it completed and the whole thing bustling with life again.

Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas Boulevard, the busy thoroughfare through the heart of the city's iconic strip of hotels and casinos, suffers from intense traffic gridlock during the SEMA show—as well as most of the rest of the year—as many attendees can attest to. Not this time. Right now, it's a normal street with normal traffic flow. At traditionally busy intersections like Flamingo Road, traffic was eerily light. At one point, we saw literally no cars behind us on the boulevard. It was so empty even with the southbound side of Las Vegas Boulevard completely closed due to construction near the North end of the strip, there still wasn't a traffic concern. That would be unfathomable during normal Vegas.

The lack of traffic paralleled the lack of people we saw while cruising the strip. Las Vegas void of its joyful, inebriated, cocktail-carrying packs of pedestrians is so strange. Sure, there were a few people strolling around here and there, but their motives were certainly to capture the strange, desolate landscape. Fountains were dry. Outdoor eateries were chairless and patron-free. Some windows were boarded up. Escalators were still. We all knew the only thing that brought us together on the strip was the nothingness of it all.

Main entrances to hotels, normally bustling with taxi and valet lines and often with exotic cars parked out front, were vacant. If you wanted to capitalize on the empty landscape by cruising through the hotel properties, you couldn't. Entrances were literally barricaded and monitored by security or police. We saw dozens of police cars on the strip, guarding entryways and keeping the deserted city from devolving to chaos from the unprecedented quietness.

Fremont Street Experience

We couldn't resist heading to Downtown Las Vegas to the Fremont Street Experience. The huge outdoor mall, known for its huge LED canopy above the street that comes to life with exuberant light shows timed to jubilant music, was silent. The shops were closed. A sole security guard prevented entrance to the Experience. Where the LEDs had once twinkled along to Don McLean's "American Pie," the Fremont Street Experience at least temporarily resembled a solemn day where music died.

And that was that. We had had our fill of emptiness. Sin City sins no more—for now, at least.