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Flying in the Age of the Mask



I may have watched too much TV. Too many shows where a face mask meant the bank was getting robbed or the bad cowboys were about to shoot it out with the town sheriff. Masks used in Hollywood and those with bad intentions suggests that the purpose of a mask is to hide your identity. Might keep you out of jail.


Today, a mask might keep you from catching the invisible little bastard. So my wife handmade me a mask. She fashioned it out of an old dark shirt and some elastic banding. It works like a charm, but when strapped across my face along with a pair of sunglasses, I look menacing. Criminal. Dangerous even. I’ve caught a glimpse in a mirror and nearly ran away. Even the neighbor’s cat scattered in a hiss.


After initially being told that wearing a mask might not be good for ‘us folks, ‘we then were told that wearing a mask is such a good idea, we might make it mandatory. I read stories that airlines are going to require the wearing of masks to fly the friendly skies.


Two months ago, I booked a flight to Arizona. It’s nice in Arizona in May, and it’s only a two-hour flight. And it was an excellent way to test this idea of wearing a mask while flying. So along with my boarding pass, a small suitcase, I take along my mask. So did many others.


The TSA, the folks that make sure you harbor no ill will towards your fellow passengers or the country and it’s tall buildings, is about the first thing one must navigate before boarding the plane. I was a bit concerned what looking like a bank robber might do to these serious folks who seldom smile. Would they assume I was there to rob them of all the ‘left-behind’ laptops they’ve collected or maybe the coffee and candy kiosk just around the corner?


Curiously, they were not wearing masks. And the only person interested in what I looked like sans the mask was the gentleman who checks your ID and boarding pass. No one else seemed to care with the possible exception of the person down in the basement that is looking at all the scanned images of people who hold their hands above their head. Rumor has it that the image is the same as if you weren’t wearing any clothing. If so, then it is likely that the scanning camera can see right through my cloth mask too. So I smiled. Evidently, I got a thumbs up from the basement and was allowed to proceed.


The flight was delayed a bit, giving me ample time to examine the other passengers, including their masks. The boarding area had taken on the ambiance of a large hospital waiting room without the hospital smell. Officials wearing badges were busy scurrying around adorned with masks. I would have thought the airline would have supplied them with color matching coordinated masks complete with the company logo in the corner. But it appeared they wore masks made by grandma too. In fact, with a few exceptions, everyone wore masks made by grandma. And some grandma’s were better at it than others. Some were really quite creative, while others should have gone back to the drawing board.


I understand it is difficult to purchase elastic banding today, so some grandma’s had to improvise. Some masks were held to the face with yarn or string. Some crisscrossed the head back and forth many times. In one case, it looked like duck tape is what kept the mask on. One ingenious design used what looked like a baby’s pacifier. The pacifier appeared to have been glued to an old painters mask. As long as the gentleman kept sucking, the mask stayed on his face. That mask nearly mesmerized me. The more he sucked, the more the mask would move up and down and around his face.


The public address system announced a further delay so I started to categorize the masks into a couple of groups. I was inspired by a mask that appeared to have been made from a square piece of carpeting. I kid you not. But it had elastic which had been knotted into the four corners of the square carpet. It did not look comfortable or effective. So it went into the ‘bad mask’ list.


I would have never thought ‘the folks’ might need some instruction on how to wear a mask, but I’ve come to believe they might. It was clear that many believe that the invisible little bastard they’re trying to protect themselves only enters through the mouth, not the nose. Many noses were left unprotected.


One older gentleman, possibly uncertain how to talk with a mask on, would lift a corner of his mask open every time he said something to his wife. Up and down it went. Next to him sat a young boy who was working up a big sneeze. I could tell he wasn’t certain as to sneeze with the mask or without it. At the very last millisecond, he snapped the mask off and sneezed into his arm. It is possible that he feared catching the virus from his own sneeze. Better to let the little bastards out than to sit and breathe them in all flight.


My attention momentarily goes to the TV mounted to the ceiling. CNN is showing a governor angered by people frolicking on a beach. Nothing angers a governor more than people, who he is trying to save, pay him no heed. The next story was which airlines were going to require passengers to wear masks. Then the public address speakers tell me it’s time to board my flight. I decide that I’m going to try to hold my breath for two hours and twenty-seven minutes.

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