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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Kevin Allman

Perhaps you’ve thought about getting some work on your arm, or maybe adding some colorful scales to the massive dragon inked on your back. Maybe you have a yen for a nipple-piercing … or something more south of the border.

If so, until Stage 3 of the reopening process begins in earnest, you’re out of luck in California—unless you find a tattoo shop or piercing parlor that’s opened up again, either secretly or in deliberate defiance of state law.

Four months ago, Jay’e Jones spent $30,000 to move her Yucca Valley tattoo shop, Strata Tattoo Lab, to a new location. The timing, as we all now know, couldn’t have been worse. Jones is obeying the law and trying to stay optimistic until tattooing and piercing parlors, along with hair and nail salons and gyms, can reopen during Stage 3.

“Newsom was teasing (in one of his daily press conferences) that he might be ready to (fully) reopen Stage 3 in early June,” Jones says.

(For the record, the Independent contacted four area tattoo parlors for this story. Jones, who has owned Strata since 2008, was the only business owner to return our texts, calls and emails.)

California is being one of the most cautious states when it comes to reopening tattoo shops. Mississippi—whose governor, Tate Reeves, stated “there is no such thing as a nonessential business”—has taken the opposite approach, reopening the state’s parlors on May 15, albeit under a new set of rules that may provide a template for states like ours: All tattoos and piercings are done by appointment only, and there is no public waiting room inside the building; customers wait outside or in their cars. One customer per employee is allowed in at any one time; in other words, you can’t bring a buddy for moral support. Both customers and employees must wear masks, and employees must wear gloves (as is done in most tattoo parlors already). There also are specific rules about cleaning and sanitizing workspaces and the common areas of the business.

The artists at Strata will implement similar practices and procedures when the shop reopens, says Jones. The shop will operate at 25 percent capacity, and public areas will be deep-sanitized every 30 minutes.

“We as an industry are well-versed germaphobes,” says Jones, “and pride ourselves in our cleanliness and prevention of cross-contamination. We know how to correctly use masks, gloves and many other types of PPE.

“All body art artists (at Strata),” she adds, “are required to annually pass a bloodborne pathogens exam, as well as update their Infection Prevention and Control Plan, including proof of sterilization receipts for single-use pre-sterilized materials that have been purchased.”

Reputable tattoo and piercing parlors are already sanitary places, with single-use needles and ink, along with other items being autoclaved, similar to surgical instruments. Jones says she had “three to five months” of PPE gear stocked before the coronavirus crisis hit.

The Association of Professional Piercers, an international nonprofit and alliance that provides information for both piercers and piercing aficionados, has provided best-practices guidelines for its members and others in the age of COVID-19. (Strata no longer provides piercing.) But Jones says that in the tattoo world, “it’s every man for himself.” The state of California has not issued its own specific guidelines for reopening tattoo shops, and, she says, there’s no umbrella organization to issue top-down best practices—so owners are tasked with coming up with their own safety standards, beyond the ones that already govern tattoo parlors.

“We have received zero information or support from both the state and (San Bernardino) County, aside from the closure order, which was indefinite, until further notice,” Jones says.

While she waits to reopen, Jones and the tattooists from her parlor are trying to keep busy. She works with four other tattooists, each of whom has a specialty, and all of whom qualify as gig workers, rather than employees.

“Everybody’s got their side hustle on,” she says.

Those side hustles include selling gift certificates for future tattoos, custom art, prints and paintings. The Strata Tattoo Lab’s webpage is selling gift certificates, as well as offering at-home consultations over Skype and other video-chat services. A business-owner grant from the city of Yucca Valley helped, Jones says.

But to a tattooist, nothing will replace the sound of needles buzzing.

Strata Tattoo Lab is located at 7257 Mohawk Trail, in Yucca Valley. For more information, call 760-369-8288, or visit www.stratatattoolab.com. Kevin Allman is a Southern California-based journalist. Find him on Twitter @kevinallman.

Selling takeout meals—with a side of hand sanitizer. Cooking for the health-care professionals who are fighting COVID-19. Or just hunkering down and waiting for it to be over.

These are a few of the strategies being employed by Coachella Valley restaurateurs since March 19, when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the stay-at-home order that has shut down all but the most essential businesses in the state of California.

Before Kurt Gardner’s Rancho Mirage bar and restaurant, Dringk, was shuttered for in-house service, Gardner had 33 employees. Today, he’s down to four. They, along with Gardner and his wife, are running a skeleton takeout business six days a week. Gardner says he and his wife are at Dringk “literally 18 hours a day,” assembling what he calls “family-style large-format meals.”

Dringk’s poké rice bowls and chicken-and-peach pizzas have been replaced by disposable foil pans of comfort food: beef Stroganoff, pasta bakes and ready-to-serve pot roast. Homemade soups are sold by the jar. The takeout menu also includes beer, wine, a “DIY mimosa” kit and a few whimsical-but-practical items for the age of COVID—jigsaw puzzles, hand sanitizer spray and 12-packs of toilet paper.

Gardner said his staff consists mostly of young bartenders and servers. “At first, it was like a vacation for some of them,” he says. “Now some are getting nervous; some are getting scared. I don’t have a point of reference for them, and I’ve been in the restaurant business 25-some years.”


In mid-March, the James Beard Restaurant Association surveyed 1,500 of its members to provide what it calls “an immediate snapshot of the industry’s needs.” Three out of four restaurants in areas that had been forced to close believed they wouldn’t be able to open again in two months. Respondents said they had already let go of 78 percent of their hourly workers.

“We unfortunately had to lay off 100 people,” says Willie Rhine, owner of the popular Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge in Palm Springs. “We have 10 people working at the moment. This morning, I had a Zoom meeting with about 25 people, and it was nice to see their faces. Everybody wants to return to work and resume some sort of normalcy.”

Until then, the “new normalcy” at Eight4Nine is handwashing four times per hour, according to the restaurant’s website, along with single-use plastic gloves being discarded after every food preparation. Guests picking up food are encouraged to order and pay online to further reduce contact.

Eight4Nine’s takeout menu consists of “things that would travel well,” says Rhine. Like Dringk, Eight4Nine is serving comfort food in family sizes, but its menu also includes sandwiches, salads and some sophisticated entrees: sourdough-encrusted Chilean sea bass with crab-stuffed piquillo peppers, for instance, and a grilled Scottish steelhead with fennel and orange. The restaurant also offers delivery through Grubhub, Postmates and UberEats.

“We’re going to bring in a bartender and do our regular cocktails as well,” Rhine says. “Some of our clients are missing their cocktails.”


Of course, it’s not just the Coachella Valley that’s hurting. The National Restaurant Association estimated in 2019 that 11 percent of the jobs in California were restaurant-related, and that the state has more than 75,000 restaurants. Estimated sales in 2018 were $97 billion.

While some restaurants, like Eight4Nine and Dringk, hope to keep some cash moving with takeout efforts, for others, that didn’t make sense—at least at first

Robb Wirt, owner of the casual Palm Springs dining spot Bongo Johnny’s, has had a bad patch of luck. Two years ago in March, the building that housed his restaurant burned down. The fire forced the restaurant to move, a process that took nearly a year, “and now we’re closed again,” he says.

Unlike some other Coachella Valley restaurants, Bongo Johnny’s hadn’t switched to offering takeout.

“I couldn’t see how it would be possible” to be profitable, Wirt told us when he first talked, adding that he thinks the takeout field might be saturated at this point.

However, a little more than a week later, Wirt emailed and told us he’d had a change of heart.

“Just FYI, I plan on reopening (soon) for curbside pickups, and I will also be bringing back our famous free delivery,” he said.

Of his 29 employees, he says, only half have been able to get unemployment help.


Katie Stice, president of the Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce, says the agency is in constant contact with restaurateurs in the city, offering advice and information both macro (regarding the federal Payment Protection Program, or PPP, for instance) and micro (a liquor company offering small grants to out-of-work bartenders). The city of Rancho Mirage also has launched its own version of the PPP, of sorts, giving between $5,000 and $8,000 to restaurants that commit to staying open 30 hours a week in some form until the end of May.

“All the cities and chambers (in the Coachella Valley) are in a conference call once a week” sharing information and coordinating aid, Stice says. Out of those efforts grew a directory of valley restaurants via the website dinegps.com that are open, along with their hours and information about their menus.

Stice also started a GoFundMe campaign to assist both first responders and restaurants (www.gofundme.com/f/operation-feed-the-frontlines). Money raised through the online fundraiser goes toward purchasing meals from Rancho Mirage eateries; those meals are then delivered to the area’s three major hospitals.

Rhine, of Eight4Nine, began sending meals to Coachella Valley medical centers and the Desert AIDS Project on Good Friday, and has kept up the practice since, with help from some generous customers. The restaurant now provides 150 meals each Friday. Gardner, of Dringk, has been doing the same, providing family-style pans for doctors and nurses.


What will the restaurant world look like when California cautiously reopens? No one knows, but a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek article on the restaurant scene in the recently reopened city of Wuhan, China, indicates that customer behavior has changed—social distancing has continued, and people still are getting takeout rather than sitting at restaurant tables.

Wirt, of Bongo Johnny’s, thinks Palm Springs “may go back to the way it was five years ago” before the city’s recent growth.

“It’s just hearsay at this point,” says Gardner, “but there’s a lot of talk about keeping tables (in California) at a six-foot distance, which means many restaurants will be operating at 50 percent capacity, at best. And with certain restaurant plans, it will be next to impossible.”

Wirt has heard the same thing. “We’re probably going to be required to reduce our occupancy,” he says. “I think customers are going to be a little apprehensive at first; half the people won’t be ready to go out. It’s going to be a very slow uptick, especially here in the valley. (If we reopen during the summer), we’ll have no tourists, and some of the Palm Springs population leaves town. Everybody’s in the same boat.

“I try not to be so negative,” he adds, “but I’m kind of a realist.”

Rhine is more optimistic. “I do believe that we’re going to get through this quickly,” he says. “I’m hoping we’re going to have a strong summer. If we can open up in the next four or five weeks, maybe people in L.A. will be taking driving vacations rather than flying.”

Kevin Allman is a Southern California-based journalist. Find him on Twitter @kevinallman.

To the characters in The Boys in the Band, someone like Pete Buttigieg would have been inconceivable—a happily out (and married) man who was a serious candidate for the U.S. presidency.

When Boys premiered in 1968—one year before the Stonewall riots—a same-sex couple still could be arrested for dancing together, even in a place as purportedly free-thinking as New York City’s Greenwich Village.

“Younger actors have to be very, very mindful that they’re not aware of the level of repression of these characters,” says Michael Pacas, who is directing the production of the play that will open at Palm Canyon Theatre for four shows on April 30. “Back then, you could be arrested for just being in a gay bar, have your name in the paper and be fired. Younger actors enjoy a much more permissive society.”

Boys, the story of a group of gay friends who have gathered at a Manhattan apartment for a birthday party, is a drama with flashes of bitter comedy. The birthday boy is Harold, a self-described “32-year-old ugly pockmarked Jew fairy” with a wicked wit, a stiletto tongue and an endless well of self-loathing. Many of the characters share Harold’s self-loathing to some degree, including Michael, the party’s host; Michael’s boyfriend, Donald; the promiscuous Larry; and Larry’s boyfriend, Hank, who is separated from a woman.

Many of the play’s most outrageous (and quotable) lines come from Harold or Emory, an interior decorator who’s the campiest of the camp. (It’s Emory, via playwright Mart Crowley, who coined the phrase, “Who do you have to fuck to get a drink around here?”) A film version of Boys came out in 1970, and the play was revived in 2018 in a 50th anniversary edition in an all-star edition with gay actors Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer and Zachary Quinto. That revival, with a slightly updated book, was filmed and will air on Netflix later this year. It’s the revival version, with the addition of an intermission, that will be performed at the Palm Canyon Theatre.

“We’re setting production in 1968,” Pacas says. “Everyone has a cell phone now, and the landline is a major plot device.”

Despite the many changes in LGBT rights since the play was written, Pacas says, “it really is sort of a snapshot of gay life.”

And not always a positive one, either. Of course, when George and Martha go for each other’s throats in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, no one expects their relationship to stand for every heterosexual marriage. But when Michael and Harold declare emotional war on each other, with devastating results, it was seen by some critics as an etched-in-acid portrayal of gay men at a time when mainstream portrayals of gay people still were rare. (“Show me a happy homosexual,” declares the cynical Michael, “and I’ll show you a gay corpse.”)

“People have two takes on the show,” Pacas says. “One is: ‘But it’s such a negative portrayal of gay men!’ Another is: ‘Oh, that’s such a fun show; this is what life really was like in 1968.”

Pacas says the latter attitude brings its own challenge, particularly for those audience members who come for the campy dialogue.

“We also have to communicate to those who want to quote the lines with the characters that there’s a lot of internal and external homophobia” mixed with the humor, he says.

Pacas grew up in Baton Rouge, La.

“I came from a rather—let’s just put it, Southern Baptist upbringing,” he says. “Back then, it was quite brave of you even to go to a gay bar. People were taking down the license plates of the people inside and trying to make trouble.”

He later moved to Chicago, where he met his husband, and the two moved to Palm Springs after visiting one weekend.

“If people think this play is a negative view of gay men,” he adds, “it’s my job, and the actors’ job, to make it empathetic. … We still have that same old bugaboo of hating ourselves.”

That’s not the only challenge in staging a 1960s period piece in 2020 Palm Springs.

“This show is a stage manager’s nightmare,” Pacas says. “People are onstage the whole time, moving around, eating food, drinking, eating birthday cake. And I need to talk to the actors just in case someone is gluten-free or has allergies.

“Unlike back then,” he adds with a laugh, “we may end up with a vegan birthday cake.”

The Boys in the Band will be performed at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 30; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 1 and 2; and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 3, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $29.50. For tickets or more information, call 760.323.5123, or visit www.palmcanyontheatre.org. Kevin Allman is a California-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter: @kevinallman.

Chalvar Monteiro was 11 years old when he first saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. One of his four sisters worked at a performing-arts center in New Jersey, and he came away marveling at “not only seeing beautiful dance, but brown bodies doing classical dance. At the time, dance couldn’t be a career for a black man or woman.”

He’s now in his fifth year with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which is on a 21-city tour that will come to the McCallum Theatre on Wednesday, March 25.

The program includes one world premiere, “Ounce of Faith,” by Darrell Grand Moultrie.

“It’s an abstracted way of paying tribute to the people who invested in him,” says Monteiro (@chlvrmntro on Instagram). “His direction to us was to think of the person who started us on our way in our dance careers.”

The dance is particularly meaningful to Monteiro, he says.

“I had four sisters. Growing up, I always wanted to dance, but money was tight,” he says.

Most of his extracurricular activities were centered on the Baptist Church, but after seeing the Ailey dancers, he began training in earnest. He spent several years performing ballet with other companies—but auditioned for Ailey every year.

“Six years later, I was invited to join the second company (of Ailey),” he says. The seventh try proved successful, and he was invited to join the main company.

“It was a loooooong journey,” he says.

“Revelations,” a ballet created by Ailey in 1960 when he was only 29, has become a staple of the company’s repertory; it also will be performed at the McCallum. It uses African-American spiritual music and tells the story of the black American experience in 36 minutes.

“‘Revelations’ is super, super special,” Monteiro says. “Growing up in a Baptist Church, there’s a lot I relate to. It’s cathartic. It celebrates humanity and the history of black folks in this country, highlighting humanity and how it could be if and when we all come together.”

The third ballet on the program is Jessica Lang’s “EN,” created in 2018 and described by the company as “a deeply personal reflection on the universal themes of passing time and returning to our roots.”

Monteiro is in all three works. He performs six to eight times a week, sometimes in as many as three cities each week. How does an athlete like a ballet dancer deal with all that travel?

“The biggest thing to ensure success is to make sure you’re getting a lot of rest and a lot of water,” he says. “Most people in the company do cross-training—weights, swimming and yoga. You’re constantly challenging your body and changing your regimen based on the dances you’re performing.

“Not only that,” he adds, “I have a good spiritual practice, and a support system on the road as well as at home to keep myself grounded. I read and journal every day as we travel. I’m more of an introverted type of guy. I find peace and solace in budgeting my energy.”

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater presents an evening of dance that includes the world premiere of “Ounce of Faith,” by Darrell Grand Moultrie, and two of the company’s repertory standards: Jessica Lang’s “EN” and Ailey’s most famous ballet, “Revelations.” It takes place at 8 p.m., Wednesday, March 25, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $70 to $120. For tickets and more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Much has been written about Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), the legislation signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year that redefines how California companies can hire freelancers and contract workers—and much of that writing has focused on Lyft and Uber drivers, as well as freelance writers, who have been hit hard by the law.

But there's another, less-discussed group of people whose livelihoods are being threatened by AB 5: freelance musicians.

As the law is written, a musician hired for a one-off gig at a club or restaurant could be considered both an employee and an employer, if he or she put together a combo for the occasion. A musician hiring a producer once to help out on an album also would be considered an employer. And if musicians perform paid work at houses of worship on a regular basis, according to AB 5 as it stands now, a church or synagogue would have to make them employees.

While almost everyone agrees a “carve out” needs to be made in AB 5’s language to allow small and non-union musicians to make a living, that has not happened yet—and musicians and club owners are grappling not only with the bill’s prohibitions, but also its confusing language. Many professions are exempted, including “fine artists,” but the definition of “fine artist” isn’t clear legally.

In a recent interview with KQED-TV, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the San Diego lawmaker who authored AB 5, said, “Obviously, a muralist is a fine artist. A musician is a fine artist.”

But Gonzalez’s words don’t translate into law.

“I think it will be very hard to find anyone complying with this law as it stands,” says Barry Martin, aka DJ Baz, a music promoter who stages the weekly Jazzville Palm Springs series at Wang’s in the Desert in Palm Springs. “And should any enforcement begin, thousands of musicians will lose their gigs across the state and not be booked again until an exemption for musicians is in place.”

Ari Herstand, a Southern California musician and author (How to Make It In the New Music Business) who has covered AB 5’s effects on his blog Ari’s Take (www.aristake.com), is more blunt.

“It’s a shit show with all the powerful organizations and unions,” Herstand wrote in January. “And while they are throwing their proverbial dicks around breaking out their rulers, thousands of independent, working musicians are suffering. We do not have time to wait for them to agree on where the commas should be placed (in carve-out language).”

Herstand began a petition on change.org urging the Legislature to enact an exemption for musicians. As of this writing, it has nearly 168,000 signatures

“If (AB 5) stands,” he says, “I figure I’ll lose about $6,000 a year. I’d have to carry workers’ comp insurance (and) have to enlist a payroll company, and file payroll taxes per employee—I may contract 50 people during the year. And I would be considered both an employer and an employee at the exact same gig.”

Josiah Gonzalez is one of the members of popular Coachella Valley band Avenida Music, which plays at parties, weddings and other events. He plays keyboards and does most of the band’s booking and management. The band has been speaking out about the dangers of AB 5 on its social-media accounts.

Gonzalez said that right now, a lot of people don’t know about the language in AB 5. For example, Avenida plays regularly at casinos, which, Gonzalez says, “don’t have dedicated music people. You get hired by a food-and-bev person or assistant manager.”

The more word spreads about AB 5, the worse things will get—until the Legislature fixes the mess it created.

“Beyond the financial, legal and administrative mess created by AB 5, communities face even more profound threats from the new law,” wrote Brendan Rawson, the executive director of San Jose Jazz, in a commentary for the CalMatters. “Segments of our cultural and civic life are at risk of going out of existence.”

Rawson wrote: “AB 5 unnecessarily complicates other work arrangements found in community cultural programming such as small festivals, neighborhood street fairs, parades and summer music series in our local parks.”

Indeed, non-Equity theaters and dance companies are grappling with the implications of AB 5. Island City Opera in Alameda has canceled its planned March performance of the opera The Wreckers over concerns with paying temporary musicians, and Herstand says he knows of a production of West Side Story where the singers now will perform to recordings rather than the live music that was planned, putting more than a dozen musicians out of a gig.

For what it’s worth, Tamara Stevens, executive administrator of the Palm Springs Hospitality Association (PSHA), wrote in an email: “PSHA has not taken a position on AB 5.”

Herstand was part of a coalition that met with Assemblywoman Gonzalez to explain the musicians’ dilemma. While he initially wrote on his blog that he was encouraged by the December meeting, when the Independent spoke to him for this story in February, he expressed concern.

“I think Assemblywoman Gonzalez is pretty much dogmatic about her position; she doesn’t seem willing to budge on this,” he says.

Several members of the Legislature have crafted new carve-out bills for a variety of professions, including for freelance writers, sign-language interpreters, and newspaper-delivery drivers. SB 881, authored by state Sen. Brian Jones, for instance, would exempt musicians and make many other tweaks to the law.

But Herstand says that the makeup of that particular bill’s sponsors—Jones and nine other signatories all are Republicans—may doom its prospects.

“A bill in a Democratic state like California needs Democratic backers,” Herstand says, “and Democrats will not buck the unions behind this.”

Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Gonzalez is touting upcoming carve-outs for freelance writers, but said in a Feb. 6 tweet that musicians still will have to wait a bit. “We are still pushing hard on industry and worker representatives to reach agreement on language regarding musicians,” she tweeted. “We plan to address the unique situation regarding musicians in the next round of amendments by March. We are working hard on musicians issues!”

While politicians tussle and posture over AB 5, it’s independent musicians like Josiah Gonzalez and the members of Avenida Music who suffer.

“Most of the bands are just oblivious to (AB 5),” he says, “but if they really crack down on this, it could really affect our gigs.”

Kevin Allman is a California-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter at @kevinallman.