Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

The worst of times can bring out the best in people—and all over the Coachella Valley, folks are coming together (virtually, mostly) to aid health-care workers and first responders in need of personal protective equipment (PPE). These are just a few of the ongoing efforts under way to help protect our protectors.

C.V. Mask Project

When entertainer and philanthropist Lucie Arnaz got wind of the valley-wide need for personal protective equipment, she reached out to her idled entertainment industry pals, who set up a command center at The Five Hundred building in Palm Springs. Crafty costumers put their skills and ingenuity into play to source the fluid-resistant material needed to make isolation gowns. Enter Lowe’s, The Home Depot and others with donations of landscape weed barrier (talk about a “grassroots” approach!) and upholstery-lining fabric.

That got the pipeline flowing.

“We are fortunate that we have a community that comes together when the need is there,” Arnaz said. “What started as a small network of people who were willing to step up is now growing quickly, as everyone wants to help. In a very short period of time, we have brought together the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of community leaders and people of incredible talent and passion.”

The head honcho at The Five Hundred building, John Monahan, helps coordinate the cutting, packing, pickup, delivery and administration of this volunteer assembly-line operation. Sewers pick up gown components and return the completed articles. Transport folks whisk the precious cargo off to medical staff on the front lines.

Even if you can’t sew, you can find out how to volunteer or make a donation through the website:

Coachella Valley Mask Makers

Shelley Blume, Judi Britt and Kay Gerhardt have recruited well more than 1,000 volunteers who are, in turn, recruiting more helpers in dozens of individual communities and neighborhoods to fashion no-sew masks from common items like shop towels. Makers get kits to make 25 masks at a time; materials and instructions are included. All you need is a glue gun! Pickup and delivery is coordinated by captains in each community. Check the website to see if there’s a group in your neighborhood, or find out how to start your own:

In less than a month, the group has created a partnership with Eisenhower Health Foundation to accept donations at; received in-kind donations from the Indian Wells Golf Resort, Ace Hardware, Staples, Decorators Depot and others; and fielded requests to share their game plan with groups in two-dozen states and several countries around the world.


Meanwhile, other groups have found their own ways to get involved. Eisenhower Medical Center Auxiliary members were sidelined when COVID-19 restrictions prevented them from volunteering at the hospital—so they commandeered bolts of fabric normally used to make volunteer-services smocks and got to work making face masks. They’ve made a commitment to provide each of the 4,000 Eisenhower Health staff members with two masks.

“We are not in the mask business, so we are definitely learning as we go along,” said Aadila Sabat-St. Clair, one of the volunteer project coordinators. “What’s been wonderful to see is how volunteers, many of whom do not know each other, have collaborated over email on making the perfect mask and have offered advice as needed. It is rather fitting that during the month of April, we celebrated volunteers nationally. The efforts of the volunteers reflect, once again, how incredible all volunteers everywhere are.”

When the 25-member Vietnamese Choir at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in La Quinta was forced to stop singing together, they decided to turn their energies toward sewing together. Even though some of the choir members had never used a sewing machine, one of their own, Jade Nguyen, said they found a helpful YouTube video.

“We coached each other through the steps to make face masks,” Ngyuen said.

The singers each work up to 11 hours a day with cotton material they’ve purchased or found, to honor their commitment to make 10,000 masks. They are well on their way and have so far donated more than 2,000 to local hospitals and front-line healthcare workers all over the valley.

Several thousand medical and non-medical volunteers have signed up with the Riverside County Coronavirus (COVID-19) Workforce to answer the call for all types of manpower assistance at sites throughout the county. The volunteer workforce is filling in as drivers, custodians, office staff, food service workers and security guards. Go to if you can join in.

Published in Features

While COVID-19 is obviously the world’s biggest current health challenge, people still have other health problems that need to be addressed in a timely fashion—and if you happen to be a low-income, uninsured resident of the Coachella Valley, one of the few options for good, quality care is Indio’s Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine clinic.

According to the clinic’s website: “CVVIM is a member of Volunteers in Medicine, a national nonprofit alliance with more than 90 free clinics across the U.S., whose mission is to provide healthcare services in a compassionate, caring way to our neighbors in need.” The Indio clinic opened its doors in November 2010, and is the valley’s only free health center.

However, CVVIM is not set up to directly treat COVID-19 patients like the local hospitals and the Desert AIDS Project are.

“LabCorp, our lab-service provider, (won’t) process the (COVID-19) tests from us, because they are saving the tests for the people who are needing them the most, and an ambulatory clinic (like CVVIM) that doesn’t normally see very ill patients wouldn’t qualify,” said Dr. Stewart Fleishman, a volunteer physician and the board chair at CVVIM. “So we send people to the appropriate test sites.”

The clinic’s operations have been severely impacted by the ramifications of the virus’ spread. The shelter-at-home restrictions and the threat of exposure to the coronavirus have greatly impacted the daily operations at CVVIM. In fact, the clinic stopped allowing in-person visits on March 19, when Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order took effect. Since then, the clinic has been communicating, diagnosing and refilling prescriptions for patients through virtual and telephonic channels every Tuesday through Friday.

“We only have a few paid staff members, and they’re all coming in,” Fleishman said. “Our volunteers are almost all over 65; maybe 75 percent of us are over 65, so it would have been very tough to ask them to come in. The rest of our volunteers are trainees from Eisenhower Medical Center, from the internal-medicine and family-practice-training programs, but they’ve been needed at the hospital. So we’ve had to change things around.

“We have medical technicians coming in, and they’re fielding all the phone calls and the faxes. They’re calling each of the providers with questions about drug (prescription) renewals, transportation, or X-ray or scan results, and then we call the patients back and give them the information. We answer any patient questions and make sure they’re OK. It’s a bit cumbersome. I am the main bilingual provider, believe it or not, with a name like Fleishman. I can operate on my own, but (the technicians) are here to help all the other providers make phone calls (to patients), because they need to have a conference call with a translator.”

Fleishman said he believes the clinic is continuing to serve its patients well, given the circumstances.

“For what we’re doing now, we have Doug (Morin), the executive director; an operations manager; a front-desk coordinator; a diabetes nurse; a med tech; and a volunteer coordinator. So, we have six people. We spread them out so that they’re not all in the same little area at the same time. We’ve really kept all of those folks employed, because we feel that’s a commitment that we want to make to them—and we need them to be the middlemen amongst all of these services and patients.”

Fleishman said many of CVVIM’s patients, in normal times, are working—but uninsured.

“Many have jobs, although some don’t have jobs now,” he said. “Luckily, most of the patients do have access to a cell phone. Since the government relaxed the rules on privacy and confidentiality, we’ve been using FaceTime and Skype to do telehealth visits. We’re not (yet using) a regular telehealth platform, (which hopefully soon) we should be getting from the national Volunteers in Medicine board.”

The one exception to the strict “no patient contact” policy: CVVIM’s Indio-based Street Medicine Team, to which one member of the clinic’s personnel is attached one night per week.

“They’ve been getting to some of the homeless people who were not being serviced by the (Coachella Valley Rescue) Mission or one of the other wonderful programs all over this valley,” Fleishman said. “These are folks living under overpasses and in small encampments. (The team) goes out on Tuesday nights with an Indio police officer, somebody from the Narrow Door (an Indio service organization) and some food. So, there’s food, clothing and medical care (being offered) to the homeless. They skipped two weeks, but they’ve started going out again.

“It’s a sad situation, but there are people congregating in small groups all over the place. Many of them have insurance—many of them have Medi-Cal, but they don’t trust the system. They feel that the system has wronged them. So, if they came to our office, by our usual rules, we wouldn’t see them, because they have insurance. But if they encounter the Street Medicine Team, then we can. Right now, a smaller team is going out, because the medical assistants are mostly needed at the Eisenhower hospital. Because the police officer is from Indio, we don’t cross the city lines into other cities. They see a number of patients every week. People trust them. They know that they’re coming, and they know there will be food and clothing with them.”

Nearly all nonprofits are dealing with financial worries due to the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn. However, Fleishman expressed limited optimism about the clinic’s future, as well as gratitude for the help that’s already come their way.

“We’ve been lucky in that before we even contacted them to let them know what our plans were, the foundations who have granted us money are being extremely understanding,” Fleishman said. “Our major fundraising event for the year, the VIMY Awards, was to be on March 21, so we’ve had to postpone that until Nov. 13. That’s a big issue.

“We have been trying to communicate that we’re still here to help the patients in the best ways we can based upon the circumstances. For the foreseeable future, yes, we are stable, but I don’t know how to quantify what ‘foreseeable’ is. Our foundations have given us latitude in how we can spend their (grant) money, because some of it was restricted to use for only certain programs. One of our funders did spontaneously send us some extra money, which was unrequested and quite lovely. But we haven’t yet (made requests for additional funding), because we wanted to see what was really happening, and figure out how long we’re going to have to operate like this.

“If we get the telehealth system from the national VIM, then I think we’ll be in a lot better shape.”

For more information on Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine, visit

Published in Local Issues

I miss being able to go to record stores. When we’re not in the midst of a pandemic, much of my time and money is spent flipping through and purchasing vinyl that I may or may not need. On the plus side, this means I’ve amassed a substantial collection that will last me through the quarantine—but I’m still having withdrawals from visiting Finders Thrift and Vinyl.

Finders, as you’d guess from the name, is part thrift store, and part record store, on Calle Tampico in La Quinta. Matt Lehman is the owner who keeps the shop packed with rare finds and classics at great prices. Most of the records I own came straight from his famous discount bin.

In recent months, Lehman has been working on taking the record-store portion of his business online, using the name Spatula City Records. Turns out his timing could not have been better.

“I was extremely lucky when this whole quarantine came down,” Lehman said. “I had been building Spatula City Records for over three months, with the intentions of launching in May. The day I shut down Finders was a Tuesday, and I spent the next three days working as hard and as fast as I could to get the site up. I had a friend test-buy one item to make sure the process was working—surprise, it was not, and took me another day to figure that out—and it was sink or swim from there.

“Again, I was very lucky that I had a customer who became a friend that had coaxed me for years to go online. He had been selling books online through his site for decades, and I was apprehensive, because the work to sell a $3 record is insane, which is why most online record stores don’t do it.

“For the non-website people, think about this: Each record has a listing and a grade for the record and jacket, three pictures, a track list, internet search words, categories for surfing the site—and that’s just the front end. When I launched, I had 1,800 records on the site. That’s a lot of work. Generally, the idea for a website is to have multiple copies, and once the work is done, you sit back and reap the rewards. Records don’t work that way, because of grading, re-issues, represses, variations, errors, etc. Realistically, each record has to have its own listing to be done right, and that doesn’t even get into the cleaning, boxing, shipping, returns, etc.”

Still, Lehman put in the work.

“It wasn’t a particularly hard transition—just tedious, and I spent a lot of time surfing other sites and deciding how things need to be organized,” Lehman said. “I’m still doing that and will probably always be doing that. One of the things I learned is that most online stores don’t cater to new buyers; they are boutiques that deal in one specific genre, or maybe two.

“I started out Finders with no intention of becoming a record store. I had to make mistakes and learn from them. I wanted to help those people starting out. I don’t care if they like Dionne Warwick, Kenny Rogers or Birth Control. I didn’t want Spatula City to be a boutique. I want anyone and everyone to be able to come and get info and not feel like it’s a hassle to ask what WLP means, or how to read a matrix code, or what’s the difference between a scuff and a scratch. Eventually, I will have a blog, vlog or posts—something that will explain all of these things for new collectors. Some are listed on the site now as FAQs.”

What’s up with the different online name?

“I have always been a Weird Al (Yankovic) fan, and Spatula City is a reference to the movie UHF,” Lehman said. “Finders was created to be a thrift store, and when I started seriously carrying vinyl, I added and vinyl (to the name). But being online, your name needs to have zip.

“OK, I just wanted to name it Spatula City Records in the hopes that someday Weird Al would buy something or stop by.”

For a short time, Lehman experimented with a delivery service.

“I did my last delivery (on April 10) for records in the Coachella Valley,” Lehman said. “With the new laws, I didn’t want to get fined, and more importantly, this virus needs to go away, and that’s not gonna happen if rogue idiots are driving around delivering records. … I haven’t been out of my house and shop in three weeks except to (go to) the post office to drop boxes and a few deliveries. I never touch anything other than my truck.

“After this is over, I will not do deliveries; it’s too hard to run a brick-and-mortar (store) and an online store and find inventory and do deliveries. … All the inventory online is in the shop, but it’s separate from the shop. Neither Finders nor Spatula City is going anywhere anytime soon. I have a few weeks to figure out how I’m going to juggle them both when Finders opens back up.”

It also should come as no surprise that the owner of a record store is turning to music to help brighten his spirits during this dark time.

“There are so many albums that I have emotional attachment to that I lean on in times like this,” Lehman said. “When I know I have a lot of orders to fill, I need something to motivate me. Sometimes it just sucks walking into the shop and having to flip the sections back and forth so they don't warp out from the weight of the other records, and I need something to pick me up or maybe something that feeds the pain to motivate me more. … These last few weeks, I’ve really been able to shake the windows, because all of my neighbors are closed, too.

“Generally, I try to listen to three to five new records a day, but I honestly have just been listening to my staples during this quarantine.”

The Academy of Musical Performance, also known as AMP, is a music-education program for Coachella Valley students in grades six through 12. Since 2015, AMP has held after-school programs and summer camps, with local musicians teaching students about the basics of learning instruments, stage performance, songwriting and many other facets of music—all of which rely on the ability of people to get together.

So how does a program in which students learn by forming bands and performing continue at a time when we all have to stay home? Will Sturgeon, the executive director of AMP, explained how he, his fellow mentors and their students found a way.

“We’re currently still running our spring band program, which is ending in the coming weeks,” Sturgeon said. “I’ve been deep in trying to finish that and get the grants that we need to get us through this difficult time. It’s been a unique challenge trying to finish the band programming without having people in the same room together. How are we going to have some sort of final showcase so that the session doesn’t end in a fart?”

Each AMP session has ended with live performing showcases—some of which, I must say, were pretty fantastic. That, of course, won’t be possible this spring.

“So what we’ve been doing is drawing on some business-course lessons from AMP’s Rockin’ On program, which is our band-entrepreneurship program, and we are also working on our first-ever AMP album,” Sturgeon said. “We found a collaborative recording software that we are remotely teaching the kids to use, which had been something we had been wanting to do for a while. In mid-May, we’ll release that album in place of our usual final showcase for this session.”

The ability to record one’s own music is a useful skill in this current age of DIY music—pandemic or not—and the release of this album will give the young musicians an immediate platform they will be able to capitalize on when the COVID-19 scare is gone.

Meanwhile, AMP is offering online education using some of the same lessons used in the face-to-face sessions—and even looking at broadening its mission.

“We’re offering one-on-one instruction over video chat, and taking private students and pairing them with a teacher,” Sturgeon said. “We’d love to offer some more enrichment to our students and to our community, so we’re also going to be working on offering panels eventually. We have been wanting to start this for a while, and we were just getting ready to launch these (online) programs, and it was a perfect opportunity to give these virtual lessons out. People have a lot more time and may want to take up learning a new skill, and we want to be where people go to learn music and be in a music community.”

Courtney Chambers, an AMP teacher and veteran of the local music scene, said that while the shelter-in-place order has forced them to change the way they teach, it’s also made them change some of what they teach—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“We have been teaching the students about social-media marketing, as well as promotional content, and how to practice efficiently and challenge yourself with new music and techniques,” Chambers said. “Our biggest project has been teaching them how to record and collaborate remotely with an online DAW (digital audio workstation) called Soundtrap. It’s been great to use this quarantine as an opportunity to touch on things we don’t normally have the time to in our regular sessions. I’m hoping that when we are able to resume band sessions in person, we can figure out a way to incorporate these into our regular format.”

Josiah Ivy, a current AMP student, said the program has helped him “a ton” to become the musician he wants to be.

“I joined my first AMP camp session after about a year of playing bass, and it was really my first experience playing in a band setting,” he said. “After that, I signed up and auditioned for the following AMP fall session, where I got a chance to really grow with a single group of musicians and learn how to be part of a band—on more than just a surface level. During that session, I was also invited to join a band separate from AMP that has worked out really well for me. If I hadn’t been invited by a friend to join AMP, I wouldn’t have been driven to improve so much at my musicianship.”

Ivy admitted he was unsure how the move to online lessons would work out.

“I was a bit skeptical of the online lessons at first, as I had joined to play with a band and already was recording music for personal projects,” Ivy said. “That said, I think that the focus on recording and collaboration has been really helpful for me and my bandmates, as it has gotten some of us more familiar with the software side of music and recording, as well as learning how to communicate politely and efficiently with each other to keep each other accountable on collaborative projects that take more than one day.

“The lessons have helped me learn to adapt to different types of software and learn to troubleshoot common problems for different software and different types of recording hardware. I’m really proud of the stuff my band has recorded so far, and I’m excited to wrap up what we’re working on—and hear what all of the other bands contribute.”

While the format of AMP’s future sessions remains up in the air, Sturgeon said he’s optimistic about the academy’s future.

“We run a big summer camp and are planning to still move forward with it as of now,” Sturgeon said. “We will adjust to any changes that will need to be made, but are still planning to have summer camp and our next AMP session in the fall. We are very lucky to have a lot of support from our community and board, who have done a great job of fundraising, to a point where we are not worried about AMP shutting down anytime soon. We are just focusing on how to provide types of programming that align with our mission in a time where people aren’t allowed to get together.”

Sturgeon said people will like what they hear from the current batch of students.

“Watch out for the AMP album in mid-May,” Sturgeon said. “I’m hoping to get some of our AMP-lumni bands on the record along with our current bands, and show off what we can do digitally versus on a stage.”

For more information on the Academy of Musical Performance, visit

Ted Pethes is a lifelong musician who is about to turn 92.

In this time of the coronavirus pandemic, many people are pausing to reflect on the twists and turns of their lives—and looking back at his long and lucky life, Ted readily admits that most of it might never have happened without his clarinet.

There’s one more thing you should know about Ted: He’s my husband. He’s the only person I can really interview in person right now—and he’s got an amazing story to tell.

Born in Chicago in 1928, Ted was an only child. His musically talented mother played the piano and even the concertina; his father, an engineer, was a wannabe musician father who struggled with the violin, battling tone-deafness.

Ted grew up in a huge extended family of hardworking Polish, German and French-Canadian immigrants who often played and sang music at family gatherings. When he was given a clarinet early in life, they all soon realized that he was the true talent on the family tree. His grandfather—something of a celebrity who played Polish polkas on the clarinet on live radio, today’s equivalent of being a serious rock star—was his first teacher.

He went on to study with symphony musicians and freelanced with the NBC staff orchestra, extending his skills to include the flute, oboe and sax—both tenor and alto. But his true delight was sneaking, underage, into the smoky nights at the jazz clubs in the Black sections of Chicago.

“I would carry my sax in a case, and when they came to throw me out and then saw it, they would invite me up to play,” Ted said. “I was often the only white face in the club. I learned improvisation from those great guys.”

While in college, he was suddenly drafted to join the military for World War II. The day he was to report, he boondoggled away the day before finally dragging himself into the Army office around 4 p.m.

“Beat it!” a recruiter snapped at him. It was the day they stopped the draft.

However, in 1950, the strange experience of the “Korean conflict” began—and guess who came up first on the list for recruitment? Ted showed up at the Army recruitment office and was assigned to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

“Don’t take anything with you,” they admonished him. “No clothes, no nothing.”

Well … he did not want to leave his precious instruments behind, but he knew they’d be confiscated if he smuggled them in and they were discovered. His clarinet, however, could be disassembled into four pieces and squeezed into a little case. Sure enough, any of the Army higher-ups who glanced at him thought he was carrying a “ditty bag”—a case for personal toiletries—and ignored it.

Fort Leonard Wood was a former training base which was rapidly being reopened. “Local farmers had been given permission to use it for grain storage,” Ted remembered, “and they were still sweeping chaff out of the barracks when we arrived.”

In the chaos, Ted asked where the general could be found, and was pointed to his office. With his clarinet bag under his arm, he shuffled in and announced himself to the sergeant.

“Get the fuck out, grunt!” the sergeant bellowed.

But the general, hearing the commotion, stuck his head out of his office. Ted bravely suggested the need for a band at the base so the newbies could learn to march to music. The general thought.

“Dismissed!” he barked.

After a few days of basic training, Ted was summoned back into the general’s office. After some reflection, the general had decided a band was a good idea.

“I know a bunch of great musicians here from Chicago,” Ted said he told the general. “I can practically find all you need.”

The Army gets what it wants, and soon after Fort Leonard Wood received shipments of band uniforms, instruments and sheet music. Ted played his clarinet, but eventually was re-assigned to be the drum major—complete with a shiny whistle for communicating to the musicians, and a giant baton to establish the beat.

The march tempo, 120 steps per minute, was faithfully kept by the gigantic bass drummer they nicknamed Punjab. They rehearsed in a special hall that was part of their barracks, but played outdoors, with the music soon memorized for training sessions as greenhorn recruits stumbled past. The band also learned concert music for the camp’s entertainment on Saturdays.

The musicians came from all walks of life. “The band was built from auditions with the infantry, and they were accepted only if they were professional-caliber musicians,” Ted said. “We had some strong players—some from the symphonies, some from dance bands. Some were instructors! We didn’t teach anybody to play. They were all trained before they got there.”

“Regular Army,” or RAs, determined what would be played at the daily rehearsals. “Some were of questionable musical ability,” Ted lamented, “but they had the job, so they literally called the tunes. … We played for everything, including the graduating recruits and their families, who would first be treated to speeches from the general. Then, when they called ‘pass and review!’ that was my signal. When I blew my whistle four times and stepped off, everyone did, together. We were on our way.

“The relatives were sitting with tears in their eyes. … It was a touching moment for them, watching their sons now marching snappily in front of them, because they might be seeing their sons, or husbands, for the last time. They were being sent to Korea, to ‘defeat the enemy.’ This was the end of their training. They were now real soldiers.”

Ted, however, was never sent to Korea.

“My tour of duty kept me in the camp for my whole two years. The entire band stayed there,” he said. “We must have played for graduations every month or so. We were a unit, a training unit for the new recruits, so it was easier for the Army to keep us there than to constantly find new musicians.

“Fort Leonard Wood was the 6th Armored Division. Fort Leonard Wood became famous when a newscaster’s son was killed there in a training exercise. He was firing a bazooka when a live round fell at his feet and exploded. … It was a little rocket.”

After that, his celebrity father closed every nightly newscast by saluting “all the boys at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.”

“Accidents did happen in training. We used live rounds,” Ted said.

Word of mouth would sometimes seep back to the band members from the front lines about friends who had lost their lives. Many of the band members struggled with what is now called survivor’s guilt—but Ted was always grateful for that clarinet, which very well may have saved his life.

Ted returned to the university after his discharge, and went on to have a successful, wildly varied career—and his lucky ebony clarinet traveled everywhere with him. He has lived in the Coachella Valley since 1990. He played with our local symphony for many years, and regularly appeared with dance bands, jazz combos, show orchestras and even klezmer groups. At one point, we played together in the same band; that's how we met. We married in 2004.

Ted recently had to give up playing music, due to two cancer surgeries that altered his embouchure. That means his clarinet waits, for sale, at a shop in Palm Springs—and for a new home with someone who will hopefully honor its service and its history.

Who knows? Maybe the clarinet will save its next owner’s life, too.

Published in Local Fun

About a month has passed since the first restrictive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were felt here in Coachella Valley—and no group has been affected more than the valley’s seniors, who are at a much higher risk for serious illness and death from the coronavirus.

In turn, the valley’s senior centers have taken on a daunting task: Finding ways, with suddenly depleted budgets, to serve their clients remotely—many of whom are already battling loneliness and isolation.

“When all the centers shut on March 16, we started on our call-back list,” said Laura Castillo, the director of nutritional and operational services for the Mizell Senior Center in Palm Springs. “We were on the phone with clients, sometimes 45 minutes to an hour, just talking to them.

“This (COVID-19 crisis) has created a real issue for a lot of our seniors. They’re scared. They don’t know where to go or what to do. They haven’t been given directions on anything, and half of them don’t know what’s going on. They don’t understand why there’s no toilet paper at the stores. They don’t understand why they can’t get eggs. So … we talk to them.”

Over at the Joslyn Center in Palm Desert, executive director Jack Newby said his clients are facing similar problems.

“One of the things we’re doing is calling every one of our members,” Newby said. “We have over 2,000 members, so we’re working our way through the alphabet, basically. We’re contacting them to see how they’re coping.

“We have a program called Problem Solving Strategies, which is a counseling program designed for short-term situational issues and to help people solve those problems. What we’re finding from (those contacts) is that, the longer this shelter-in-place order stays in place, the more frustrated people are getting with having to stay at home. You know, they’ve read the books; they’ve walked the dog a million times—so much so that now the dog is hiding in the corner. They’re starting to feel the stress of being at home alone. … One of the most serious issues that seniors and older adults face is isolation and the loss of their social network. So, for our senior members, it’s as if, a few weeks ago, their best friend suddenly passed away—that social network that many of them built after their spouse or partner passed away was suddenly just gone. So, we’re doing everything that we can.

“We’ve started doing a daily Facebook live video at 11 a.m. to help keep people exercising. In fact, we’re trying to turn our Facebook page into a virtual senior center. Some studies show that isolation among older adults can be as serious as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, in terms of health consequences. So that’s why we’re here (as a senior center)—to keep people active, engaged and exercising. Suddenly, that’s not available.”

Many people also depend on the area’s senior centers for much of their nutrition. Castillo said the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Mizell Senior Center to alter its routine in many different ways, both in terms of Meals on Wheels clients and members used to getting meals in person at the center.

“Meals on Wheels (represents) both of our (nutrition) programs rolled into one,” Castillo said. “We deliver food to congregate sites, which includes most of our senior centers in the Coachella Valley, and then we home-deliver meals as well. In the home-delivered aspect, the changes mostly (involve) our drivers, who are being very conscientious about social distancing. They’re trying to make sure that (our senior home-delivery clients) don’t look sick or troubled by something that’s going on. Also, they wear gloves and face masks, and they have sanitizers in their vehicles.

“The food hasn’t stopped (being prepared) and provided by us. The only challenge in making the food is that, during this pandemic crisis, the deliveries from our food providers have changed, and I find myself substituting in our menus more frequently than I used to before. Our congregate (on-site meal offerings) have completely closed down. Now nobody comes into our building on a daily basis except for our nutrition staff and our senior management. We do still make meals for our congregate clients, but now we have a drive-through set up to distribute them. We give our seniors the food to-go while they’re still in their vehicles. That program runs Monday through Friday every week, from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Also, we still provide (meals) to the Cathedral City (Senior Center), which does a pickup-and-go service for their senior clients as well. We also (support) programs at the Indio and Coachella senior centers, as well as the Desert Hot Springs senior center. So we’re still trying to feed all of our seniors the way we did before.”

The Meals on Wheels program is still functioning, albeit with extra precautions—and the number of clients is growing.

“Our (Meals on Wheels) clients were home-bound anyway,” Castillo said, “but we facilitate the program for the Riverside County Office on Aging, and this has brought to light a lot of seniors who are mobile, but really can’t go anywhere now, because they have underlying health issues, and they need to stay home. This has created a big ripple effect where we, along with the Office on Aging, had to come up with a new plan. Now all the applications (for new services) have to be funneled through the RCOA, and we are adding new clients at a rate of about three a day.”

Over at the Joslyn Senior Center in Palm Desert, Newby said the coronavirus has created an increase in demand—and a more stressful environment for his Meals on Wheels drivers.

“It’s volunteers who are making our deliveries,” Newby said, “and as a result, we have to be constantly aware of (the well-being) of our volunteers. If anyone should become ill, or not feel comfortable doing their routes, then we need to replace them. We’ve been able to keep up with that so far, but that’s one of the challenges that we are facing. Currently, we serve between 60 and 70 (clients) a day, and we have gotten new requests for Meals on Wheels service from clients over the past weeks. We keep (our drivers) at about 12 clients per route, so we are reaching capacity—and considering adding an additional route, too.”

At the Cathedral City Senior Center, executive director Geoff Corbin said the center is determined to keep its nutritional-outreach efforts operating at full strength during the crisis.

“We provide two essential services during the pandemic,” Corbin pointed out. “One is the lunch program, which is now extended into weekend, and the other is our food bank. With our lunch program, we’re one of the few sites that offers it five days a week. So it’s become very important to the people who use it.”

However, the Cathedral City Senior Center has had to transform the way in which its food bank—something Corbin referred to as “an essential service”—gets food to clients in need.

“It used to be that our large activity room would be turned into what looked like a Trader Joe’s. In fact, Trader Joe’s is one of our biggest sources of food, other than FIND Food Bank,” Corbin said. “Every Saturday and Sunday, we pick up van loads of food (at Trader Joe’s) that’s about to date out, and it goes into our Monday food banks. They’re donating tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of food products annually. But, right now, that (walk-through food bank) is suspended. Still, all the folks who come by and pickup curbside meal service (on Monday) will get a couple of pre-packed bags of food now.”

The closures of the senior centers’ physical locations has led to dramatic revenue losses—and the three centers have joined forces to overcome that and other obstacles.

“The Joslyn Center, the Cathedral City Senior Center and the Mizell Senior Center have been working together and meeting regularly for the last month or so,” Newby said, “first in person, and now via teleconferencing. We share information, and all of these nonprofit senior centers share the same concern. This epidemic hit at the peak of our season, which helps provide us with the resources to make it through the summer, quite frankly. During the summer, our electric bills go up to $5,000 a month, and our income is reduced. So we’re all working together to share resources regarding grants that are available; information about the Small Business Association loans that are becoming available; (and reaching out) to local foundations and encouraging them to make emergency grant funding available to senior centers. Our own executive committee has been meeting every week for the past month to work on these various issues and develop a cash-flow analysis. We’re being sensitive to the foundations, because so many of them who provide funding have their funds in investment accounts—and we all know what’s happened to those in the past few weeks. It’s similar to what happened in 2008, and it’s come very suddenly.

“The senior centers depend on donations, class fees, memberships and all of that, during this peak season time of year when the snowbirds are here and taking advantage of our services. Suddenly this year, on March 16, all of that came to a screeching halt.”

Corbin said he’s spending a lot of time looking for funding.

“Our maintenance and cleaning costs have gone up, and we still have to keep the building (running for the slimmed-down programs) and keep it staffed,” he said. “… We’ve lost all of our earned income. We made all that money playing bingo and mahjong and other games where people pay activity fees. So, our earned income has absolutely ground to a halt, and our contributed income is suppressed—and we don’t have large reserves, so we are in crazy fundraising mode. Just a couple of days ago, we applied for $10,000, which is the limit of what we could (request) from the Desert Healthcare District’s emergency funding option. Now I’m trying to put together a response to the SBA for a Paycheck Protection Program (loan) which, if we were eligible for that loan and got it, could keep a portion of the payroll going. We do have a ‘donate now’ (link) on our small MailChimp list, and believe it or not, we raised $750 from that, which is something we have not done. We will do more in terms of community fundraising as we move along.”

Castillo said the Mizell Senior Center had to lay off 10 staffers.

“I know the financial (realities) are always an issue,” Castillo said. “Right now, I can only keep the development director on, but I can’t afford to keep her staff on. How can I? All of our (in-house) programs are shut down, because the center is closed.”

Castillo said that despite the tough times, seniors should know there’s help available to them—whether or not they’ve been senior-center clients before.

“Right now, my main concern is that we’re still able to serve our seniors and bring on any other seniors who have concerns about food insecurity at this point—and there’s so much of that going on within the senior community,” he said. “Any seniors looking for help should call 800-510-2020. It connects them to the Riverside County Office on Aging, and they’ll get guidance there as to whether they can come on our program, or whether they can pick up food vouchers. They’re doing a lot for our seniors.”

For more information on the Mizell Senior Center, visit For more information on the Joslyn Center, visit For more information on the Cathedral City Senior Center, visit

Published in Local Issues

Even in the best of times, an average of 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. That adds up to more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.

But these aren’t the best of times. As the nation and the world try to limit the damage of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are told to stay home as much as possible—and that means that under these stressful circumstances, a lot of domestic-abuse and sexual-assault victims are being forced to constantly stay under the same roof as their abusers.

Angelina Coe is the executive director of Shelter From the Storm, the Palm Desert-based shelter and service provider for victims of domestic violence. She said the organization has needed to make a lot of changes during these unprecedented circumstances.

“Clients who are not currently in shelter but are receiving services from us are impacted, because everything is being done by teletherapy and telephonically,” she said. “There are no in-person meetings, for their safety and the safety of our staff as well, in order to maintain social distancing and make sure were not adding to the spread of the coronavirus. We don’t know what interactions (our clients) have had, and they don’t know what interactions (our staff members) have had.

“To not be able to come here for solace, safety, counseling and guidance (makes) a huge impact,” Coe said. “They (in the past) came in to receive in-kind donations and food distribution, things like that. Now they don’t have that readily available to them.”

Over at Coachella Valley Sexual Assault Services (CVSAS), program director Winette Brenner and her team help victims of sexual assault and human trafficking. She said it’s important for people to know that there is still help available.

“We have had calls, but I feel that we are getting fewer calls, and I do think that it has to with the pandemic,” Brenner said. “People are afraid. People do not know what to do, or who to call, because everyone is in panic mode. Now, do I think that’s going to continue? No, I don’t. I think the more that the media get out there and let people know what services are available and where, that’s going to help. That’s our No. 1 focus—to let people know that, yes, we are in a pandemic, but we are still here to help you in the best ways we know how, and to the best of our abilities.

“We still have our 24-hour crisis hotline up, and anybody can still call that number and get a live person, not an automated recording,” Brenner said. (That number: 800-656-4673.) “We work closely with the law-enforcement agencies and SAFE services at Eisenhower Medical Center. We all work as a team for the sexual-assault victims, (and) we had to come up with a plan for the best way to continue to give services. Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 pandemic going on, at this time, we’re not able to respond physically to be at the hospital or the police department, but the hospital’s SAFE services (personnel are) still able to do the exams, and then they are referring the client to us, and we do the follow-up work. The same is true with law enforcement: Each particular law-enforcement agency has established their own protocols as to how they (participate), but we’re all still continuing to provide services for the victims and their family members.

“Because of the pandemic and because of the world we live in, sexual assault and human trafficking does not stop. Sad as that is, it doesn’t. So we’re really trying to come up with new ways to use the platforms that we have available, like Zoom (the video conferencing platform) and telephone conference calls.”

Back at Shelter From the Storm, Coe said that she, too, wants people to know that some help is still available.

“We are seeing a decrease in calls,” Coe said. “But we’re not sure exactly what the dynamic is. Is it because everybody’s home? Is it because of the uncertainty about where they’re going to go? Is it because there’s an additional fear about what happens next, and, ‘Am I going to be even more exposed (to the coronavirus) at a shelter than I would be staying home?’ There are a lot of factors there. But our hotline is still available. Our staff is still present and available in both English and Spanish.

“Our main focus now is safety planning—not safety planning around the client leaving (an abusive environment), necessarily, but safety planning if they have to stay.”

Coe ran down a list of challenges her team is trying to address.

“We are in the process of working on teletherapy via video conferencing, but that takes some time to set up—to make sure (victims) have a confidential location where they can take that video conferencing,” Coe said. “Our service is all about anonymity and confidentiality, so they can’t open up and disclose what’s really going on, or what the issues are that they really would like to discuss, if their children are in the room, or if their partner is still in the household, or if they’re living with other people for their safety. You really can’t get into that one-on-one dynamic. … A lot of (victims) do not want to participate in the telephonic counseling, because they don’t feel it’s effective, or they don’t have a phone available. Not everybody has a cell phone that they’re not sharing with someone else, or (they don’t have) the minutes to do that, especially if they (have no) income right now, because they’re not working due to the businesses being closed. Or they don’t have child care, because the schools are closed, which is a huge impact to our community clients.

Coe said Shelter From the Storm has needed to stop accepting donations of physical items during the pandemic.

“That creates a huge impact, because a lot of (clients) rely on those items of clothing and food and hygiene (products), backpacks and other every-day regular things that you’d (normally) just run to the Dollar Tree for,” she said. “… Without an income, they need those items even more, and we’re unable to provide them. So, it’s just huge for our community clients.”

The pandemic is causing challenges for the nonprofit’s in-shelter clients, too.

“The biggest impact for them is the uncertainty about what happens to them when their time (in shelter) is up,” Coe said. “Maybe other programs aren’t accepting new clients, or everything is on hold, because a landlord doesn’t want to take in a new tenant right now, since they don’t know what (that tenant) could expose them to. So that’s a huge fear factor, in addition to (the realities that) the client has already left their family; they’re here by themselves; and there’s no outlet, since we’ve restricted their movement in and out, because they’re sheltering in place. California has said everyone should stay at home, and that’s their home. They’re interacting only with the staff at the shelter, and they are missing out on many support services that would have been available to them during a normal stay. That’s causing additional anxiety, and our counseling has changed its focus to anxiety and coping skills, along with understanding the factors of: (What happens) if you are exposed? What are we doing to keep you safe? Why are we keeping you on ‘lockdown?’”

Coe said Shelter From the Storm is currently unable to accept new in-shelter clients because of concerns over COVID-19.

“We’re not taking in any new families, because we have no way to isolate them and to ensure that they’re safe, (while) not exposing our current clients to additional factors that we can’t afford to expose them to—and the same thing with our staff,” she said. “So what happens to them?”

Then there’s the financial picture: The nonprofits rely on government support, as well as community support via donations—and the pandemic and shelter-in-place reality has financially devastated both government budgets and members of the community. However, both Brenner and Coe said their organizations will do what it takes to keep offering the much-needed services they provide.

“All of our services are free of charge, and we work hard to keep it that way,” Brenner said, reassuringly. “I think right now that the best thing I’m doing for my staff is telling them not to panic, and that we will continue to offer the services that we have and that we can. As far as our financial security, right now, it’s a day-to-day issue. I think it’s too early to say what the future holds. But as long as we’re still working, I think we’re going to be OK. I haven’t heard anything different from the state. We’re still being supported (by the state), and our doors are still open, and we still have some (staff) in here for the victims.”

Coe said Shelter From the Storm is planning for the worst, but she remains optimistic.

“We are working on contingency plans in case we do have to reduce staffing numbers, or if we need to shut the shelter down (due to) whatever mandate might come down the line,” Coe said. “But we don’t think that will happen, simply because of the kind of shelter that we are, and what we’re doing to support the individuals who do reach us. But if that happens, how would we be moving forward? What would that look like? How would our staff survive? We don’t have anyone working here just because they enjoy the job. They all need an income—so we have to make sure that they’re sustainable as well.”

Despite all the darkness, Coe—whose shelter for victims of abuse is the only such refuge in the Coachella Valley—managed to find some proverbial silver linings.

“It’s been an intense time,” Coe said. “The Coachella Valley has been really good. Supervisor (V. Manuel) Perez’s office and the county have been really good about having weekly call-in meetings with providers and sending out updates. The (California) Partnership to End Domestic Violence has been a wonderful support network as well, (providing) scheduled weekly and bimonthly meetings to check in with other shelters, other leadership and get the most updated information.

“Again, we’re always pushing everyone to wash their hands, to keep social distancing, and to clean hard services as much as possible. We’re just doing our best to keep going.”

If you are dealing with domestic violence, call Shelter From the Storm at 760-328-7233. For more information on Shelter From the Storm, call 760-674-0400, or visit If you are a victim of sexual assault, get help by calling the 24-hour crisis line at 800-656-4673.

Published in Local Issues

Getting sober is one thing—and staying sober is another.

Since 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings have been there to help members stay sober—offering a safe place for people to air their thoughts, questions and problems, with the tacit understanding of “what’s said here, stays here.” At least 10 percent of Americans deal with addiction issues, meaning AA and other 12-step programs are huge parts of many people’s lives.

Then came the coronavirus—and a societal shutdown the likes of which the United States hasn’t experienced in more than a century. When people can’t attend meetings … what happens to sobriety?

Enter the internet—and, specifically, Zoom meetings. While some local AA members continue to meet in person—risks to themselves and society be damned—most have turned to Zoom to continue to get the community and support they need.

We recently reached out to nine AA members and asked them how they’re coping as we all ride out the pandemic. We’ll start with D. and D., a couple who met in the program. Instead of physically attending meetings, they’re hosting online meetings daily via Zoom ( at 9 a.m. The first meeting they held had 22 attendees. Within four days, attendance had soared to 92—a meeting featuring a screen full of faces on computers, tablets and smart phones.

Zoom’s basic service is free, but meetings on the basic service can last only up to 40 minutes. Therefore, people happily chipped in to upgrade the service, with the extra money collected going to support the AA Central Intergroup Office of the Desert, which remains open on Date Palm Drive in Cathedral City. There, people have always been able to phone in or visit in person to pick up literature, ask questions about meetings, or simply learn about the mysterious disease of alcoholism. The central office now includes a list of Zoom meetings at

D., the wife, got sober at the age of 14 and is a grade-school teacher with 43 years of sobriety; her husband of 14 years has 28 years of sobriety. They found out about Zoom after the husband took a course online several years ago.

“We were contacted for an (online virtual) AA meeting a year and a half ago—an early morning 6 a.m. meeting that went around the world, and we were both asked to be speakers,” the wife said. “There were people in Iceland, Cambodia, on islands, in remote areas of the world, or people here with jobs who had weird hours, and it was difficult for them to get to regular meetings. We had some apprehension—but we liked it.

“Zoom is free for 40 minutes, and anyone can use that. To upgrade, you have to pay. … We have unlimited time now for a whole year for $149.

“My favorite part of our meetings is at the end when everyone reaches toward the screen, and we say a final prayer. We feel a closeness of the spirit, and it’s like holding hands.

“Unfortunately, some people are too afraid of the technology to join us. This morning, there were a couple of people who had ‘slipped’ (drank again) during this coronavirus. … People are struggling, and they are not all finding Zoom right away. For newcomers especially, it’s difficult.

“Initially, we were just going to do this on Sundays. I wasn’t sure that I hadn’t been exposed at school to the virus … so it was a strange time. I wanted to do something normal like our Sunday 9 a.m. meeting. But I saw on Facebook an ad for (online AA meetings), and they were looking for hosts—and our first meeting was so great, and everyone was so touched, that we decided to do it every day.

“We are supposed to be in lockdown. We may be isolated—but we are still connected. That’s why we call this meeting Stay Connected.”

The husband added: “It helped me so much. When you share your sorrows, they divide, and when you share your joys, they multiply. It’s true! It still works online at a Zoom meeting.

“Because of the virus, I couldn’t see my mother in hospice the last two weeks, so it caused me to concentrate more on the meetings. Then I actually found out by being texted during a Zoom meeting … that my mother was beginning to transition. … We interrupted the meeting, which I have never done before, and told everyone what happened, (and) that we had to go. Another member stepped up and acted as host. … We ran out and left our computer on. As we were traveling, we were texted that my mom had transitioned. We were back home 10 hours later, and the computer was still on—the meeting had closed, but we had no idea when it had ended!

“Since then, it has helped me to share at the Zoom meetings, and hear others’ stories about family who had passed away. I felt like I wasn’t alone by sharing at this meeting. … It was the best, to feel the group support … and to my unexpected amazement, I found myself being more open with my emotions, even to a group with a lot of strangers. I didn’t know I was going to do that. People from all over the country chimed in; it was like we were all on a life raft together. Just like AA’s creation of the Grapevine magazine for the loners, it was this forward thinking that got Zoom (meetings) started.”

The wife added: “With phones and texting, we all check on each other and offer support—and we still do that too, being self-quarantined. The technology is harder for older people, but we have younger people who stick around after every meeting to help them. Everyone is helping each other. We have to talk each other through it, so there is an incredible amount of communication going on.

“You’ll see a girl, 18, helping someone who is 85. It’s great.”

Kirk is a snowbird, a retired firefighter with 23 years in AA. Accustomed to attending five meetings a week, he now relies on Zoom for his meetings at 6:30 a.m., as well as another meeting originating back home.

“I see my old friends at the meetings! I almost feel like a newcomer—I had a lot of fear and uncertainty about the technology, like when I first walked into the rooms of AA,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I am going to keep doing what they tell me.

“I need a hip replacement and am taking a lot of Advil and Tylenol—we can’t do surgery on it right now. My doctor says this virus thing is a monster; everyone is so overwhelmed. It gives me goosebumps.

“I have not heard of anyone picking up a drink over this yet … yet. I am pretty bewildered by this; I think we are totally underestimating the power of this thing. None of us has ever done anything like this. … I think it’s going to get worse. I hear the doctors interviewed on TV, and their voices shake sometimes.

“I was cleaning up the yard yesterday, just to get out of my own head. Hopefully we will know more in another month or so. … We have to go back (home) at the first of April, and then we will come back down here until the end of May.

“I suggest that people pick up the phone and call someone you haven’t called in a while … and get connected! When I do, I can feel the anxiety leaving my body. Clean the closets; clean the garage—and stay away from the refrigerator! Bicycle riding is great. … Walking the dog is great.”

L., from Indio, has 29 years in the program; his wife, has 32. They met in the program years ago.

“I was all for the meetings shutting down because of the coronavirus. The meetings can be Petri dishes, because people go to them even when they are feeling sick,” the husband said. “They should have been closed sooner. I support them staying closed as long as this virus is a threat. I have a lot of people I am close to, and we are staying in touch on the phone, going to online meetings a bit, and practicing prayer and meditation at home.

“I met with one sponsee, wearing a mask, sitting seven feet away, sitting outside. It is the last face-to-face I will do, because he is in a recovery home, and people there are sick. Who knows how widespread this is?

“Having a wife in the program is an advantage, as she has a source of interaction other than me, with all her AA girlfriends, so the pressure is not on us to be each other’s source of entertainment. The online meetings I like, but not as much as in person, though it is a good way to stay connected.

“I am not living in fear. … We are taking all the precautions we can. We are in quarantine and go out only when we have to. … We have one N95 mask, and I wear that when I go out shopping. When I bring food home, I have a Tupperware container with water and bleach, and I wipe down everything.

“(My wife) and I are actually getting along better. … I don’t know why, but it is. We are on the same page.”

His wife adds: “I appreciate the online meetings. … I’ve been doing meditation and music—and making cookies! I’m trying to keep a positive attitude. I am doing good, staying healthy and feeling good.

“This is really strange, isn’t it? I think in the end, good will come from this. A lot of people are coming together in love and peace and gratitude.”

Scott, in Redlands, just celebrated three years of sobriety.

“AA changed my life, because it allows me to help other people,” he said. “I am a 100 percent disabled veteran with dual diagnosis—I have to treat everything. I had to learn skills to stay sane and sober, both. I work the 12 steps, and my sponsor allows me the freedom to work with my psychologist as well.

“… In AA, I learned to practice ‘radical acceptance.’ When I came to AA, I had no place else to go. Now I help other people, especially at (a center in Redlands)—first, by staying sober, and also by being involved in my 1,018 days.

“At first, I was a chronic relapser, but now I don’t relapse anymore, because I take every day as a gift from God. I have learned to build a life worth living, rather than destroying things. Part of the process is learning to love yourself. It was difficult, but I learned to believe in myself. Now I teach the guys I sponsor about assets and liabilities; you can look in your heart and decide who you want to be.

“I sponsor two newcomers, and one has relapsed, but came back; it had nothing to do with the coronavirus. You see, the opposite of addiction is not sobriety; it is connection, and that’s why the rooms of AA are so valuable—that’s where we connect. We have to learn to pick up that phone and call our sponsors, call our sponsees, and join meetings online.

“The way to get through this time is this: If we don’t change our paradigms to changing circumstances, it isn’t going to work. We need to accept the change and be willing to change our behavior. It is a battle for all of us … but we’re not doing this alone. Even if technology is too much, we can all still use the phone!”

European-born Lena, now with 22 months of sobriety, lives in Palm Desert with a sober roommate.

“We actually have open meetings outdoors at noon each day, out in the fresh air, and we have a meeting (where) we hike to up at the cross at 8 a.m. … We are between four and nine people there every day,” Lena said. “I never had so many friends in my life! My sobriety is completely different as a result of this. … It’s like I didn’t know who I was.

“I started to use alcohol late in life, like after 40, and the progression was very fast. I came to California in 2017. I now volunteer and have a part-time job, but I am a dental assistant and don’t have my license yet. I went back to college late.

“I miss meetings … but Zoom meetings, thank God for them. It’s all over the country, which is great. So I am hiking in the morning, walking in the evening, and (having) Zoom meetings in between. I know several people who have ‘picked up’ (relapsed) over this, out of frustration, fear or justifying it—or they don’t want to go to meetings. Everyone who goes to meetings regularly stays sober, even with this stupid virus.

“I am very active. I have a very good sponsor, and we usually go to women’s meetings together. … I feel positive—it’s a great life, even with financial insecurity. God is everything or nothing, right? So I guess He’s everything!”

John, of La Quinta, celebrated 36 years of sobriety two weeks ago.

“When the meetings shut down, I knew I had to take care of myself—by phone, online, or even at outdoor early-morning park meetings … where I went only once,” he says. “I am now in a 15-day lockdown.

“I respect what the president is doing; he is the CEO of the country. … I can’t imagine where we would be if we hadn’t shut down. I have five sponsees right now, and I have to take care of them! I am going to stay in contact with them, and with other people, and with God.

“I am kind of retired from physical work. The online meetings have been a challenge technologically. Yesterday was the first day I seriously tried to do an online meeting, with partial success. I plan to definitely try again. My sponsees are doing really good; one guy is home with his kids, painting the house together!

“There are still (physical) meetings actually happening, and he is going to those in person. I didn’t get on him about it, but if we are all staying home, I think he should, too. I have another sponsee who is a nurse, and he is still working; he is doing OK. I say to him, ‘Take care of yourself, even with that protective gear!’ Another one is a kind of a hermit who never leaves the house much anyhow; we are only in touch by phone now, although we have met in person every week for five years.

“Another sponsee is moving! In the middle of this! He is lugging stuff right now.

“I used to go to meetings every day, and I love them. Acceptance is a big part of our program, and now we have to accept this new way of life. … We can’t get uptight about the new rules. Like the 12 steps of AA, we have to stay sober by doing them, and so we have to follow these rules in our civilian life to stay alive.

“God is asking a lot of us right now, but I think everyone will be just fine.”

In the city of Coachella is Joe, who plans to celebrate 21 years of sobriety in April.

“While this coronavirus is impacting people worldwide, I think it’s brought us closer than ever before,” he says. “We educate each other and stress the importance of being connected.

“We now have meetings in our home every day—sponsees and family, about 10 people. We aren’t worried about the virus; we are sanitizing and keeping our distance a bit, but we are not locking our doors.

“When I was overseas as a Marine, we had an Iraqi translator, and he used to walk around freely where everyone else was ducking flying bullets. He had no weapon. We asked why he did this, and he replied, ‘If it is meant for me to die, I will.’ I remember two other Marines under fire—one was taking cover; the other wasn’t, and he said to his friend, ‘Don’t bother hiding; you can’t die yet. You gotta get those teeth fixed first!’

“I won’t live in fear! I have to remind myself not to listen to my head, to live in a neutral zone … so I can’t go around thinking I might get the virus. My head will always try to feed me negative information. Every time we cough or sneeze now, we think we have the virus!

“There is a reason for all the principles of AA—we have to use the ideas, not just think of them as words. Now that we are home with our family all the time, I stay away from the news, because my mind gets worked on by it. AA tells me how to direct my day, and I am a whole lot better. It is a daily event, and if I don’t live in faith, then I can hear my mind talking to me. … It is stuff that is no good for me or anyone else. That’s why we hold these little get-togethers.

“People are so grateful for these! One gal just got 30 days (of sobriety). Another guy is 14 years old, and he just got two months of sobriety. To hear them say they need this makes it worth it—every time. I think I have had more get-togethers now than ever before; it is making us closer, while the rest of the world is isolating!

“I’m not yet going to meetings on Zoom. I say: Keep removing fear whenever it comes up; we are not running the show!”

Published in Features

It’s hard to believe that about two weeks ago, I was at a Joshua Tree art opening, socializing and having a good time. Today, that night feels like it was months ago.

Like many of you, I have been isolating at home—here in Morongo Valley, in my case—and I have only ventured out to the mailbox and grocery store as of late. I’m seeking respite and human connection online via Facebook and through phone calls with family and friends.

Among my local acquaintances, I’ve noticed a lot of crankiness about out-of-towners in AirBnBs who are staying here to ride out the pandemic. There’s a real “don’t come here; go home” vibe, and a locals-only feeling within the high desert communities right now. While Joshua Tree National Park closed all roads to vehicles, bicyclists and hikers can still go in—yet I’ve seen online "reminders" to tourists that Joshua Tree park is CLOSED, so please stay away.

Otherwise, things up here seem similar to things in the Coachella Valley, based on what my friends and co-workers down there tell me. Last week, my husband, Shawn, went to Stater Bros., and while it wasn’t too crowded, the store was lacking in paper products, bread, cleaning supplies like bleach, and big bottles of ibuprofen. (He did score a small bottle—just in case.) Posted signs indicated a one-per-person allowance of rice, milk, what bread was left, tortillas and a few other things. A handful of shoppers wore masks, with one person carefully covered from head to toe—in sunglasses, a mask, gloves and long sleeves. All store employees were wearing gloves. Shawn carefully wiped down all our groceries when he got home.

Non-essential businesses are not open, of course—but auto-parts stores are deemed essential, and their busy parking lots reflect that folks are happy about this. Fast food drive throughs remain open, and there are lots of them along Highway 62. You can order a pizza to-go at Domino’s—but you don’t go inside; they slide it out the door to you.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace has cancelled all shows through late April—but the legendary spot is offering takeout food four days a week. Tourist-trap eateries like the Joshua Tree Saloon are also offering takeout, as well as beer or wine to go. Joshua Tree’s popular Crossroads Café went further than most, offering free essential food packages on March 22 and 23 as a “way to give back to our loyal community.”

Meanwhile, I’ve been catching up on TV via our DVR. I tuned into an episode of Ancient Aliens on the History Channel from a couple of weeks ago. To my surprise, the show featured Landers’ giant rock and George Van Tassel’s Integratron, with some commentary from our own Ken Layne of Desert Oracle fame. Pretty cool.

Less cool: I also watched MSNBC’s On Assignment With Richard Engel: The Outbreak, which originally aired on March 8. It was a thorough, inside look on how the coronavirus started in China, covering what happened there before COVID-19 spread to other countries like Hong Kong and Singapore—and how their governments all fought to contain it. It was eye-opening and scary. I was glad I watched it, but I went to sleep disturbed and cranky.

The next morning, I woke up and dragged myself out of bed—it’s been like that a lot lately—to do my usual a.m. exercise-bike routine. As I climbed on my stationary bike and readied myself for a sweat, I looked outside—and saw a beautiful rainbow creeping up out of some dark storm clouds. During my workout, the rainbow slowly grew until it was full, and then stayed—in a brilliant blue sky—for more than half an hour. It helped remind me: It’s best to focus on the little things, breathe and stay in the present moment. It’s all we can really do right now.

Later that day, as I walked my dog to my mailbox, I ran into a new neighbor, out on our unpaved road. He had his truck and a shovel and was digging up and moving rock obstacles—to make driving easier for all of us.

That’s another comforting thing to remember: We are all in this together.

Oh, and to the dude out on the street in Yucca Valley selling “I SURVIVED CORONAVIRUS 2020” T-shirts … here’s to hoping we do, my friend.

Published in Features

It all started—or, well, seemed to start—with Goldenvoice’s cancellation of Coachella and Stagecoach.

“I completely understand the stance of Goldenvoice in postponing Stagecoach in light of the virus threat right now,” said Alice Wallace, who was slated to play in Nikki Lane’s Stage Stop Marketplace at the festival. I had an interview scheduled with her, and she was kind enough to give me a statement after the postponement was announced. “From everything I'm reading, the postponements and cancellations of this festival and others are warranted and necessary, and I certainly want all of my fans to remain safe and healthy.

“But as a musician who makes her living playing music on stages across the country—as so many do—the next few months could prove to be pretty devastating. I think we are only seeing the beginning of cancellations, and I worry about the impact it could have on the music industry as a whole.”

Of course, we now know that Wallace’s fear of more cancellations was correct.

Giselle Woo and the Night Owls were selected to bring their Latin rock to this year’s Coachella festival. Before the cancellation, I spent a few hours talking with them about the upcoming performance—and I could see how excited they were for the show.

Then the news broke about the cancellation.

“It was a shock to us all, but I’m glad that it was postponed rather than canceled,” said drummer Jose Ceja. “We’re all in good spirits. We are excited to play, and now we have more time to prepare a better show. For some of our friends, it has affected their shows, and it has unfortunately canceled a lot of really important events, but our hope is that all safety precautions are being taken, and that it will help prevent the spread of this virus.”

When the governor of California directed that all bars be closed, a shock wave went though both the bar and music scenes.

“It's hitting the local economy pretty hard,” said Josiah Gonzalez, of Little Street Studio and local band Avenida Music; he’s in a unique position, being both a gigging musician and a talent-booker. “Multiple hotels have suspended music programs and residencies until further notice. Events are either moving to the fall or being cancelled altogether. Enquiries about new events have slowed to almost a halt.”

I, too, am a musician, and I’ve seen all my gigs pushed back or flat-out cancelled. Not surprisingly, morale among local musicians is very low—but if there’s one thing I know about music, it’s that it will never die. People aren’t letting the fear of the virus take over; they are taking precautionary measures to combat spread of the virus and “flatten the curve”—to ensure music is still able to be enjoyed by all.

One of my favorite musicians—also a friend—helped pioneer an idea that is now being used by other performers during this shelter-at-home stage. Garage-rocker Ron Gallo, out of Nashville, Tenn., as of this writing has so far hosted two Instagram live shows, during which he and his band performed a set to anyone watching—from the safety of home. He is encouraging everyone to #StayTheFuckHome, while throwing up a Venmo so people can support the band. Check out his Instagram, @rongallo, for more info.

“As artists, our livelihood depends on traveling around and cramming as many people as possible in not-always-big spaces, so if we all sacrifice that right now, it’s 1,000 percent the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s a really powerful message to get people to take this seriously, and in turn, do our real job—which is make people happy and use our voice for truth and positive influence on the world.”

“This kind of lifestyle change doesn’t have to be a bad thing, either. Trust me: I can’t sit still for five minutes, and I’m enjoying it. … The time is NOW, and there is a lot of positive in slowing down, being with loved ones, and returning to simplicity and pausing the chase for a minute.”

He said he came up with the Instagram idea when the show cancellations started.

“My brain started racing to figure out how to get creative with this situation,” Gallo said. “So I got some necessary gear and we … broadcast two shows from my house on Instagram live (one for the U.S., and one for Europe). This gives people what they need right now while also being in the safest place we can all be—home. Not to mention, there’s more freedom in this way to be conversational directly with people in the audience—from afar! We can offer comfort, play new songs, etc. Feels like everybody wins.

“Until this looming crisis, I never even considered something like this, but now that I have, I do see a future in it. I kind of want to find a way to do the first online world tour, or even the first world virtual-reality tour. … Possibilities are endless, and I think artists just have to get super-creative with it right now. Hit me up. I’m ready.”

Ron is setting an example for what could be the (at least temporary) future of live performances. If we need to stay inside for longer than anticipated, we could very well see many bands turning to live-stream shows. Along with those shows, Gallo is hoping the kindness of others can help substitute for the money being lost due to the inability of musicians to play in-person gigs.

“I’ve been telling people to Venmo or PayPal me if they can or want,” he said. “It’s not exactly covering the money lost on cancellations yet, but even one day after announcing (the first show, contributions by fans) at least covered the flights to get my drummer, Josh, here for the show. That's a positive, and I will give and take any and all of that I can get right now.”

Other artists have followed suit. The Purple Room broadcast a show by Michael Holmes and Keisha D live on March 16 (which you can watch at, and there are talks among various local bands to begin live-streaming shows. I’ll be posting updates on the Independent’s Facebook page as these develop, so please follow along, and feel free to message us.

The Coachella Valley is one of the world’s music epicenters. The current situation is less than favorable—yes, that’s a gross understatement—but it’s up to all local musicians and music-lovers to band together, and make sure that music continues to thrive.

Page 2 of 3