CVIndependent

Sat08152020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

There was no Palm Springs Power baseball on Friday, May 29—what was supposed to be team’s opening day.

Rather than an umpire calling out “Play ball!” and cheers from the crowd wafting on hot evening breezes, Palm Springs Stadium—like virtually all baseball stadiums around the country—was empty, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re hopeful that we’re going to be able to play some sort of season later in the summer,” said Power vice president of baseball operations Justin Reschke during a recent phone interview. “Kind of the silver lining in this is that the college players who would come out to play for the team are (uncertain) if they’re going back to school, and they are very eager to play. We have local players, and even from other parts of Southern California, who are close enough to commute back and forth for Power games. So we’re not looking at bringing in 30-35 (collegiate) players from all over the country—like we normally would—and having them stay with host families like we have (in the past).

The Power is usually the leading team in the Southern California Collegiate Baseball League, and consists of college players—usually, at least—from around the country.

“If, at some point this summer,” Reschke said, “we’re allowed to open up and host games for even a small number of fans, that would be kind of our ultimate goal. So we don’t have a definite plan for the Power, but we have players who are eager to play. We have coaches who are willing to get on the field. We’ve heard from dozens of fans who call our office every week for an update. We’re ready to go as soon as we’re able to—but we’re not going to jump the gun and do something before it’s safe and before we’re sure that it’s the right decision.”

In the meantime, team owner Andrew Starke and Reschke have other baseball enterprises that will operate this summer despite the pandemic

“We also operate the Palm Springs Collegiate League, which is a league for all levels of college baseball players,” Reschke said. “Whereas the Power team is mostly focused on Division I college players from all over the country, the collegiate league is focused on Division I, Division III, NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) players and junior-college players. Last year, we had 10 teams in the PSCL, all playing in the mornings at Palm Springs Stadium. The goal (for the players) is to play some summer ball, so that when they go back to campus in the fall, they have improved their game, and they can compete for a more prominent role on their school team.”

The Power brain trust has moved this year’s PSCL program to a little town called Ranger, Texas, onto to the campus of Ranger College.

“The biggest (attraction) was that, in the county where this school is located, they’ve only had four cases (of SARS-CoV-2 virus), and they haven’t had a new case since the middle of April,” Reschke said.

(Since we spoke to Reschke, that total had, as of today, risen to seven, not counting a possible nursing-home cluster.)

“We like the isolation of it,” Reschke said. “And we like that we can go and, essentially, take over this whole college campus for a month and play all of our games in that type of (closed) environment. Everything will be self-contained. The players will be staying on campus, playing there and eating there. The players can get their work in, because a lot of them will not have stepped on a baseball field since March, and they’re eager to get out there.”

Back to Palm Springs and the 2020 Power season, we asked about protocols that might be necessary for players, staff, fans, etc., to observe while operating safely and confidently during games at Palm Springs Stadium.

“We have started to put together our plan,” Reschke said. “Because if Gov. Newsom says sports can resume, and … we can have gatherings of, say, 50 people or whatever (the number) is, we’ve got to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. We’ve reviewed the protocols that the NFL will be using when they return—and obviously, those are a lot more beefed up than what we may be able to do—but we’re looking at what some of the MLB proposals are as well. We’re definitely looking at social-distancing factors, and luckily, Palm Springs Stadium is big enough. It has a seating capacity of around 4,000 (spectators). So if we’re talking a couple of hundred fans in the stands, we can absolutely make sure that (everyone’s) spread out. We’ve got (spray) misters all over the stadium, so wherever they sit, they’re going to be comfortable. We’ll follow whatever local guidelines there are for face masks, and for checking the temperatures of customers who enter the business. Whatever it takes, that’s what we’ll do.

“From the players’ side, we’ve looked at everything from what’s being done with the Korean Baseball Organization, which has been playing for a few weeks now in Korea, with umpires and coaches wearing masks. We’re looking at doing some social distancing with our players, like having players who aren’t actively in the game sit in the stands or stay in the clubhouse while spread apart, because we have two very large clubhouses in the Palm Springs Stadium.”

Fortunately, the potential lost season has not caused an insurmountable financial obstacle for the operation.

“From a revenue standpoint, we do generate revenue from our PSCL, because those players pay a fee to participate in that,” Reschke said. “We generate revenue from our California Winter League, which is kind of the same thing (as the PSCL), but for professional players and aspiring professional players. Those are the two (initiatives) that drive our business (model). The Power is more for the community and the players we commit to giving a spot to play for the summer, as well as the coaches that we work with. Of course, it’s for the community, No. 1, and certainly we want to have fans in the stands so we can entertain them, and let them come in and have a hot dog and a beer and enjoy baseball the way it should be enjoyed.

The Power may play games without fans as well.

“It’s about getting the players on the field. It’s about having something for them,” Reschke said. “We’re there in the stadium whether fans are there, too, or not, so we might as well use it and have something going on. I guess our biggest expense would be turning the lights on, so if there’s no fans, maybe we look at playing earlier in the day—say, in the mornings, when it’s cooler.”

Reschke concluded on an upbeat note: “We’ll be focused first on getting players back on the field, and then we’ll be looking at whether we can have 50 fans, or 200 fans—and what does that look like? Hopefully, there will be some good news, and we’ll see. Obviously, there are a lot of questions.”

For more information, visit palmspringspowerbaseball.com.

Published in Features

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.

Published in Visual Arts

The coronavirus has made a lot of people realize they’ve been living life with a gross underappreciation for human connection—including the ability to go to a museum and learn with others.

So … how do museums serve the public when people can’t physically connect?

We recently spoke to representatives of the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, the Coachella Valley History Museum and the Palm Springs Art Museum about how they are each handling the closure—and what attendees can expect when they finally reopen.


The Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert wanted to keep reaching people during the shutdown—so it implemented a new online learning program called “Discover at Home,” which can be accessed via the museum’s website, cdmod.org.

“Not having visitors anymore, we wanted to continue being a valuable community resource for children and families, especially now during these uncertain times,” said Gregoria Rodriguez, chief programs and exhibits officer at CDMOD. “We created this series, and everything is offered completely virtually. It’s on our website and social-media platforms, and now on YouTube at CDMOD. The series offers everything from conversation starters, to story times, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) lessons, cooking—and we even brought back our toddler program. We offer toddler programs year-round at the museum, and this is the first time we are offering it at no charge to the families, as well as all of the other programs.”

The museum is posting a weekly “Conversation Starter” on Mondays. One example: If you had 1 million marshmallows, what would you build?

“They are simple questions for the families that they can talk about together, and get their creative juices flowing and ready for the rest of the programs during the week,” Rodriguez said. “The rest of the curriculum is the stuff we do normally at the museum. I’m hoping that families new to the museum or families who knew about us and have forgotten can see what we do year-round—and when we reopen our doors, will be coming in to participate in person.”

The museum’s weekly video series—a new one is uploaded every Wednesday morning—does a great job of emulating what one may learn from a day of visiting the museum.

“The videos are a collaboration of myself doing the story times; and Ashley (Whitley), our makerspace and art coordinator, doing some arts and crafts activities,” Rodriguez said. “Kory (Lloyd), our early childhood-education coordinator, does a lot of the toddler classes. We provide a walk-through video, just in case the written-out steps we provide aren’t clear enough.

“We didn’t want to provide Zoom classes right now, so as to not interfere with some families who have just started distance learning and may be having to share a computer.”

The idea of an online museum had been on the minds of some at the CDMOD prior to the outbreak, Rodriguez said.

“We’ve been getting really great feedback, and this has been something we have wanted to do anyway,” Rodriguez said. “This was really the push that we needed to go online and reach more families this way. I don’t anticipate our online presence ending at all, because I’m still not really sure how people are going to react when everything’s open. I hope they aren’t hesitant to come in, because we are amping up our sanitary procedures—but if they are, we will still have the online lessons available.

“We’re so interactive, and we really encourage hands-on play and exploration. We want to ensure that families feel safe when they come back to the museum.”

All of the programming is being offered for free—and Rodriguez said she hopes the museum can rely on families and donors to continue to preserve this community asset.

“Even though we are offering everything for free, we do appreciate donations,” Rodriguez said. “We normally rely on admissions, memberships, birthday parties, field trips, camps, etcetera. … The museum has been a part of the community for over 30 years. We have some people on our staff who were museum children, came back with their kids to visit, and are now on our staff. To see that we are so involved with people’s lives and the community—we just can’t wait to get these doors open again.”

Carol Scott, the chief executive officer/executive director of CDMOD, talked about how the closure has caused a serious financial strain.

“We have really made an effort in the last few years to bring back new life into the museum,” Scott said. “After 20 years, things can get pretty stale. Last year, our attendance was almost 85,000. The museum doesn’t have a huge donor base, so we have really worked on getting our revenue up. Our budget is about 85 percent earned revenue—attendance, memberships and people walking through the door. This (closure) is really hurtful for us, because we’re so dependent on earned revenue. We’ve been working on donations, writing grants, etcetera.”

The fact that the pandemic hit in mid-March—the height of the busy season—was especially painful, Scott said.

“Many businesses in the valley rely on the extra income that comes in during the season,” Scott said. “We lost that time, and that usually is what helps us through the slow seasons. Our two major fundraisers, which happen in March and May, could not happen. When do the locusts fly in?

“We’re here to serve the community; we just need to stay afloat so we can do that. We’re doing the best we can at researching how other organizations and museums are addressing the issue. Nonprofits like us have an extra burden—because we’re dependent on fundraising, and it’s a hard time to ask people for money.”

As for reopening, children’s museums face a significant challenge, as they rely on direct interaction—unlike, say, art museums.

“The reason a children’s museum exists is to provide informal learning that is away from technology,” Scott said. “You want kids to be doing things hands-on, creating and interacting with real things. That’s the value proposition of children’s museums across the country—so now we’re all having to redefine that value. The children’s museum (concept) has been around for over 100 years, and has really focused on being the alternative learning space to what goes on in the classroom. As the classroom has to redefine their delivery, we have to redefine what we’re doing.

“When museums do start to reopen, we will have to drastically change our delivery, because we are very much an active, play-learning environment. All of the new sanitary requirements will have to be adhered to strictly, as now there’s the fear of children having secondary infections. We are really looking at all of the consequences of this, both intended and unintended, and determining how to continue to be a valuable community asset.”

Scott understands that families may be hesitant to return to the physical museum at first, but said she and her staff have always made sanitation and safety a top priority.

“The beauty of a children’s museum is that it is seen as a very safe place for family play and learning, and we are working to continue that perception going,” she said. “We are very picky when it comes to cleaning the exhibits, and we are looking at other museums when they start to reopen to see what will work best.

“We will border upon being incredibly picky and cautious—as I take the job of protecting children very seriously.”


Gloria Franz, the second vice president of the Coachella Valley History Museum’s board of directors (cvhm.org), said the Indio museum—dedicated to “preserving and sharing the history of the Coachella Valley”—will not rush to reopen its doors.

“We are working on cleaning and organizing our archives and also trying to do a lighting and fans project for the blacksmith shop,” Franz said. “Most of our volunteers are seniors, so they’re on lockdown. Our one staff member comes in three days a week to check the campus, return calls, pick up the mail and pay bills.

“We’re just getting the exhibits ready for when we reopen—and we’ve decided, as a board, not to reopen until Oct. 1, because in the summer, we’re kind of quiet anyway. We’re trying to prepare for a deep cleaning prior to opening, so that everybody can be assured that we’ve cleaned as much as we can, and that we can make it as safe as we can for our guests and our volunteers.”

While the stay-at-home order has meant that the museum had to halt at least one large project, Franz said she’s hopeful the closure won’t be too damaging to the museum’s finances.

“We have a 15,000-square-foot piece of land that’s still empty on our campus that we’ve designed as a community drought-tolerant garden,” Franz said. “We also are designing an outdoor railway exhibit, and bringing in an older Southern Pacific Railroad dining car that used to come through the Coachella Valley. So as soon as things open up, we’re going to go full force back into that project so we’ll have something new to offer.

“Our annual fundraiser isn’t until November, so we’re hoping that by November, we can still have our fundraiser—because it would put a little dent in our operation if it didn’t happen.”

Franz and her team are saddened that the virus has affected events that were planned at the museum.

“We get donations just here and there—for example, we have a family that supports our rose garden, and we also have reserves for all the basic costs,” Franz said. “Because our staff is so lean, we don’t have a huge overhead, and the city has been very supportive in handling our utilities, gardeners and any major repairs, because the city actually owns the property. What hurt us was that we had been working really hard for the last five or six years to make the campus become an events venue for weddings, retirement parties, quinceañeras and everything else. We were just starting to pick up momentum on that—and we’ve had to lose all of that progress. We have some events scheduled in the fall, so we’re hoping that that’ll continue.

“We want people to know that our venue is available for private events. It’s actually a gorgeous campus—so when you have a wedding there, the photos are just spectacular. We had a teacher get married in the school house and she loved it. It was just perfect.”

While other museums have pivoted toward an online experience, Franz said such a thing would not be a fit for the Coachella Valley History Museum.

“If we did a video on the school house, it’s not the same as stepping into the building,” she said. “To me, museums allow you to experience something in a way that a photo or a video just can’t give you. I think things will return to people wanting to know the history and what has made the valley what it is—and that’s what we provide.

“I’m not worried that this is going to change everything permanently. I think for the next six months to a year, it’s going to be slow, even when we do reopen—but we’ll be careful. We clean all the time, and we’re planning now to have enough disinfectant to be able to wipe everything down every single time somebody comes through. We’re working to make sure that we’re prepared to clean in the best way we can for our volunteers and our guests.

“We do work on donations, so we’d love to have people become members. Join our email list and like us on Facebook, and just kind of see what’s happening. We had quite a few things lined up for the spring that didn’t happen, such as a mole-tasting which was going to connect to our exhibit about Mexican art. Everything’s online if anybody needs anything, and they can also just email the office, and we’ll get it to the right person.”


Louis Grachos, the chief executive officer and executive director of the Palm Springs Art Museum, said closing the downtown Palm Springs museum, its Palm Desert satellite location and its Architecture and Design Center was in and of itself a challenging task.

“We shut down on the 12th of March, based on the recommendations from the governor,” Grachos said. “We were literally in the middle of our season, as January, February and March are the most active periods. There was a lot happening, and it took a lot of coordination to officially close the museum and figure out how to resolve all the issues regarding staff and furloughing.”

Grachos said the museum will not rush to reopen—and instead is taking things one day at a time.

“We are keeping tabs on what the governor is advising on a daily basis,” he said. “We are trying to form a strategy as to when we do get to reopen—what will things look like? We are going to have to understand how to manage visitors, respect mask laws and social distancing, and remove any opportunity that would entice people to congregate, such as the labels and introductory panels for exhibitions.”

Grachos said it’s likely the museum will stay closed until the fall—and that he had an epiphany, of sorts, during a recent visit to the Palm Springs Certified Farmers’ Market.

“They have to accommodate distancing for people waiting in line,” Grachos said. “The amount of physical space and the wrap-around was pretty remarkable, and I started to envision what that could look like at our museum. It’s pretty daunting, because we’d need to have people stretched out to the sidewalk, which would require some tenting. It’s going to be a logistical challenge.

“Safety is a huge priority, and I believe that will determine when we actually get to reopen. We are hoping to reopen sometime in fall, but ‘reopening’ is going to mean something different—limited days, limited hours, etcetera. It’s our hope that the community will want to visit museums in the same way they’ll want to go to the park. The consensus between me and other colleagues, from The Broad in Los Angeles to the MoMA in New York, is that we are expecting about one-third of our usual audience when we open doors again, and it will probably be that way for the next two years.”

Grachos said the idea of how museums operate will need to be rethought completely.

“In my generation, there was a big emphasis on museums becoming cultural gathering places,” he said. “The concept was to create a social environment with experiential encounters. We’re really committed to that notion of museums being a cultural hub—and that is something that museum culture is going to have to rethink. The last 20 years have seen museums incorporating interactive designs that have enriched learning experiences. Observing distancing and the careful mediation of the number of people entering will shift museum programming.

“I won’t have a discussion with an artist and 25 people walking through the gallery anymore.”

Grachos said the Palm Springs Art Museum has been harmed by the economic collapse that has affected us all.

“The day the doors closed is the day revenue stopped coming in,” he said. “We’re relying on our traditional support base, but the stop of revenue is going to have a major impact on our museum. We are now going to have to downscale and streamline our organization, ask a smaller staff to take on more responsibilities, and rethink programming, cost-wise. We were going through a phase of being more resourceful with our permanent collection, including less tours and more investigation in growing and showcasing shows of our permanent collection. I see the Palm Springs Art Museum as being a great asset for the community in terms of exposure and education. We have to find a way to maintain a strengthened profile in the community to ride through this period.

“Those who love supporting art and culture do so on discretionary funds and confidence in the market. People who are very generous to cultural institutions are now a little more careful with their philanthropy, because of the stock market and economic impact of the virus. Frankly, we’re preparing for less support. People who support our museum also support other museums, so it’s going to make it very difficult for all museums to rely on philanthropy. The city’s funding support is also going to be challenged because of the lack of revenue. We are not going to be able to rely on the government to support us, either, outside of the Payroll Protection Plan. I’m bracing myself for a tough few years.”

The Palm Springs Art Museum is boosted its online outreach via its Palm Springs Art Museum at Home offerings (www.psmuseum.org/at-home).

“That was the brainchild of our terrific curatorial team, Rochelle Steiner, and our educator, who pulled together a wonderful way to keep our audience, our community and our educators engaged,” Grachos said. “We’ve been hosting art-making workshops on Fridays, and parents have been enjoying including it as an added activity for their kids.

“We also have been having online exhibitions. We’ve focused on Stephen Willard, and our great archiving collection, and we’ve focused on the Sarkowsky sculpture park in Palm Desert. These online exhibitions have been getting a lot of good attention, and reminds our audience that we have this great resource. Rochelle is also working on spotlighting parts of our collection, which will also reveal, both locally and nationally, how varied our collection is.

“It’s been an important deal for us to stay connected to the community, and I’m very pleased to say we’ve had a great response. Sometimes a crisis helps you create a different way to keep communicating.”

Published in Visual Arts

For one Uber Eats and Grubhub driver, the pandemic has led to more work—but she worries about health and cleanliness, because she can’t access many restaurant bathrooms.

Another Grubhub driver feels safer, thanks to the introduction of contactless delivery—while a DoorDash driver feels threatened by anti-Asian racism, stirred up by certain politicians based on the genesis of SARS-CoV-2.

The Independent recently talked to three Coachella Valley-based restaurant-delivery-app drivers about their jobs, and how things have changed since COVID-19 arrived. Here are their stories, in their own words, edited only for space and clarity.


Fabiana Bragagnolo

I drive for Uber Eats and Grubhub; I’ve been driving since December. I was new to the area, and everything was working really well.

With the pandemic, as soon as it started, I had more work. But then the whole dynamic changed because of the security measures. I used to wash my hands before deliveries. (Before), I was going to the restaurant restrooms, and they were very welcoming. Then all of a sudden, this stopped. It’s not in all the restaurants; some restaurants still have them open. But the majority, especially in Palm Springs—they’re completely locked. You cannot access them.

There two things: One, obviously, I cannot wash my hands. I initially made my own hand sanitizer with alcohol and essential oils, because I couldn’t find any. Second, we are in the desert; we’re supposed to drink a lot of water. We may have to use the restroom at some point. I have to be careful, because I tend to have kidney infections.

One day last week, my kidneys started hurting, and that obviously affected my whole day. I called one of the restaurants in Palm Springs before picking up food to see if I could use the restroom. To be honest, I was almost in tears, because I was in a lot of pain, and I was frustrated. The staff said, “No, let me ask the manager.” The manager said, “No, we’re not supposed to.” It was frustrating. I did that delivery, and then I went home. I live in Desert Hot Springs right now, and this job takes you wherever. It’s affecting me physically. It’s not safe for us; it’s not safe for the customers we deliver the food to, because there’s no washing our hands. Hand sanitizer is fine, but it’s better to wash your hands.

The other day, I went to KFC, and they said, “The restroom is closed.” When I looked at the Grubhub policies online, it says clearly that we are supposed to be using the restrooms. It’s under the COVID-19 guidelines. But Grubhub does not respond to my inquiries. Uber Eats hasn’t, either. It’s, “Sorry, we’ll investigate.” But they don’t. I was talking to a couple of other drivers the other day in Palm Springs; they said the same things. But these are two guys; for guys, it’s easier. They can stop (to use the bathroom) anywhere. (Laughs.) But they said it’s becoming a bit of an issue for them, too.

At times, there has been lot of work—especially early on. It got to the point that I refused jobs because it was too many. Lately, there’s been less work, and tips are a bit lower, too, but it’s all in waves.

Yesterday was a good day. I did only four deliveries, and the customers were very nice. A few people were thanking me for the job that we do. There was a kid in Desert Hot Springs with autism. He came out, and he was the happiest person. However, we don’t get to meet all of the customers anymore, because we have the option to leave an order contactless.

I really enjoy this job. It’s just becoming frustrating. Because I’m new to the area, it’s nice to see all these beautiful spaces. I’m Italian. I was in Detroit before. I lived in Los Angeles, and then I lived for three years in Detroit. I wanted to go back to L.A., but it’s so expensive; I can’t afford it. I’ve always loved this area, the Coachella Valley. I like art. I’m kind of an artist. I love the weather. It’s the landscape, the environment, and the views. So I drove down from Detroit in November. That’s why I do this job as well: I couldn’t find much work, and it’s pretty much paying the bills for now, so it’s good. You have your own hours, which is good, because I’m doing a degree online, so it fits well with my schedule.


Alex Callego

I currently just do Doordash, and I have been driving since December. Obviously, there’s been a huge increase in the demand. I drive here in the desert, and I sometimes drive in other places outside of the desert—in San Diego, particularly. Sometimes I’ll work out there for a week. The adherence to wearing masks and social distancing has been good, for the most part, out here in the desert. People tend to be OK with me asking for zero-contact delivery.

At the very beginning of the pandemic, people were a lot more generous. They knew how heavy this whole thing was, and how much of a burden it is on the economy. At least here in the desert, people were being generous. I was getting $20, $30, $40 tips. This was incredible to me. I was like, thank you. They see the risk that you’re taking when you’re driving and having to be in contact with people—although to be quite honest, delivery is probably the lowest amount of risk that anybody can take as far as anybody “essential.” You’re not having to be cooped up in a building with co-workers, where you’re not sure where they’ve been. I’m just by myself, and the most I have to do is walk into a restaurant and pick up the food.

As for the difference between driving in the desert versus San Diego: Obviously, different counties have different mandates for masks and sheltering in place. I believe that Palm Springs was one of the first places to require it. As far as masks are concerned … (early on in San Diego), I was always wearing masks, and I got these weird looks from people—even kind of mocking looks. It was almost culture shock to have these huge differences in how people were reacting. For me, I believe the more protected you are, the better, so why not take the precaution and be on the safe side? Wear a mask!

As far as the generosity goes—it’s like old money versus new money. A lot of elderly people, they’ve been through certain things, and they’ve seen hardship. For a lot of them, it feels right to reach out and be generous. … Also, here in the desert, we tend to understand (the importance of tipping), because most of us work in hospitality or have friends who work in hospitality, whereas a friend of mine who lives in San Diego made this comment: “Yeah, it’s the city of champagne dreams on beer money.” You see a lot of young people who have money, but they’re not willing to be generous. I had to do a delivery in La Jolla. I drove through all these hills, putting my car through the paces, and this house was overlooking the ocean. For a sandwich that cost the guy $12, from this mom-and-pop deli in University City, I was getting a delivery fee of $6. For a tip, he gave me nothing. … That’s a whole hour; I could have, here in the desert, made $20 in just 30 minutes. So it’s very defeating when you have that happen.

For the most part, I feel safe. There is still that slight anxiety where I feel that I have to keep constantly washing my hands. I have a spray bottle of liquid sanitizer where I can spray down my steering wheel and all of the surfaces that I touch. I even have a bar of soap in my car just in case I need to wash my hands somewhere, and I wear masks all the time. But most of my anxiety stems from the stigmas created by the coronavirus and its origin. For me, being Asian, seeing (discrimination) on the news and the media, and seeing all these physical attacks—I’m Filipino, but we get lumped in together, and it’s very unfair. It’s not fair for Chinese people to have that at all, either. Racism is not good. But that’s one of those things I always see. The president should be a person who denounces hatred and racism. Even though he says he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body, he has yet to denounce racism publicly.

I’ve noticed a lot of side eye. I’ve seen certain people (look at me strangely), especially working-class people, which is sad, because working-class areas are where most of the Asians are. I was at a Chipotle picking up an order, and I was going to my car. This other car pulled up; two guys were in there. The passenger got out and was going into Chipotle, but the driver was sitting in the car. He was looking at me, and there was definite disgust in his eyes. He was looking at me—with hatred, almost. I could feel it. And I was like, “I don’t even know you; why are you looking at me like this?” And he would not stop looking at me.

(The lack of bathroom access) has not really been a problem. Like I said, I always carry around sanitizer, so I feel pretty safe if I can’t wash my hands. When I go to a restaurant, if the restroom is available, I will use the restroom and wash my hands before I exit the building. If it’s not, I look for a sanitizing station and use that. And if they don’t have either of those, I immediately use my hand sanitizer. I don’t touch my face anymore. I even won’t eat in my car anymore.

DoorDash is being very conscientious about how they take care of drivers—making sure that their drivers have the proper personal protective equipment. You can order face masks; you can order gloves; you can order hand sanitizer, which is great. It’s very important that we’re protected, and I’m glad that DoorDash is making the effort. And as far as compensation goes, I’ve noticed a little bit of a bump up. They do these things called peak hours, and they’ll add an extra dollar or two. I’ve been pretty happy with how they’ve dealt with all of this, for the most part. I can’t speak about any other delivery companies. There are many of them now, but, yeah, I really hope that this is a wake-up call to all industries in general to treat people better.


Ricky Reidling

I currently work for Grubhub, but I’ve worked for most of the other ones as well: I’ve been doing this off and on for 3 1/2 or four years. Some of the apps are better than others, as far as how they are set up. With Grubhub, the people tend to tip better, versus some of the other ones. For me, it’s a better app.

(Since the pandemic began), well, it’s been quite interesting. I’m sure a lot of the drivers are nervous. For Grubhub, you get to go in and, if you’re lucky, pick shifts that you get to work every week. They would set a time—say, on Saturdays—when you would go in and pick shifts. Most of the time, by the time you got in to pick your shifts, there were no shifts available. Now, it’s literally shifts available every day, because I think there are a lot of drivers not wanting to drive right now.

(Grubhub) has made things easier, as far as no-contact delivery. They have it in the app now where you can request, or the customer can request, for you to leave the food outside the door. Some of the restaurants are doing curbside service, where they actually will bring the food out to you, or if you go in, they are all masked and gloved. Of course, we have to be masked to go into any of the restaurants as well.

As for tipping, it fluctuates. I’ve been lucky with a lot of customers, but I turned on the app today for just a little bit, and one of the customers didn’t even tip. When you look at some of these apps, (customers) want you to go drive a few miles to pick up their food for $3, and use your gas—and then for them to not even tip you, there’s really no advantage to accept an order like that, because it’s not worth it. It’s not worth the wear and tear on your car, the gas, the mileage or anything. … On some of the apps, you do know what you’re being tipped in advance. On Grubhub, you do know what you’re being tipped in advance. … Postmates, to me, is one of the worst, because you don’t even know what your tip is sometimes until a day or two later.

I feel rather safe, because I’m very cautious. I wear my mask when I’m out, and I wash my hands. Sanitizer is always in my car. Anytime I make a delivery, immediately, I sanitize my hands. I’m wiping down my phone constantly—and not having to make any contact with the customers, that makes it a lot easier.

(Regarding a lack of access to restaurant bathrooms): I never really had to come across that issue. I live in Palm Springs. It’s not that busy on the Grubhub app for me. I can go out and deal with (the delivery), come back, and it can be another 30 minutes, an hour or even longer before I get another delivery.

Like I said, (contactless delivery) makes driving a little bit safer—not having to deal with customers one-on-one. You never know what’s going to happen when somebody comes up and opens the door, you know? I like no-contact delivery. Even if COVID wasn’t going on, I’d like that idea. … I hope that the no-contact delivery sticks, because I don’t see any issue in leaving food at someone’s door. The app lets them know when we arrive, and then we also text them to say, “We just left the food at the door,” or we can call them. So, they’ve got all these great options to let customers know that their food is delivered, and it’s right at their front door.

It’s very good these delivery services are available right now. Let me tell you, there are a lot of people who will not go to the grocery store. I do shopping for a senior neighbor of mine; she won’t leave her house. Thank goodness these delivery services are here for people, so they can get food delivered to them. It’s a really good thing right now.

Published in Features

Jonathan Allen and Mark Christman have a story that is all too typical these days: When the pandemic hit, they found themselves out of work. They work in hospitality and manage an Airbnb—and to complicate matters, they are caring for Mark’s 85 year-old, disabled mother, who lives with them.

When Riverside County suggested residents begin wearing masks outside of the house, they decided that making them would be a way for them to help support themselves—and give back to the community as well.

They purchased the very last sewing machine on the shelf at Walmart, and Jonathan went to work practicing patterns. They first made masks for themselves, and then began donating them, starting with a few (former) co-workers. It wasn’t until they visited their local Albertsons grocery store that they realized that many of the employees there, who had become friends in the five years they have lived in Palm Springs, were worried—at that time, they didn’t have masks and weren’t sure how to get them. The next phase of production was making 15 masks to donate to them.

At that point, they finally felt comfortable posting the masks for sale on Facebook in hopes of making some money for themselves.

“The reaction to our campaign has been amazing,” says Mark, “and it goes a long way to restore our faith in humanity to see so many people who understand the importance of supporting local producers in this time of crisis. People seem to understand that their neighbors, even if they are relative strangers, have been affected in a profound way by the coronavirus and need support. We are greatly moved by the response, and hope to continue to provide resources to those most in need.”

They are selling masks for $12 and will do custom orders. They are also donating one mask for every order of four or more to local grocery-store and food-service employees, and will send purchasers a picture of the mask being donated. That donation aspect came about when the marketing person from Renova Energy saw their post and said she wanted a couple of masks not for herself, but for them to donate to people who needed them and couldn’t afford them.

Jonathan and Mark eventually got a custom email address so people could send in requests. When their inexpensive sewing machine broke, a friend helped them find a machine to borrow so they could continue to make masks while they waited for their replacement machine to arrive.

“Someone who is a total stranger to us, with a giving heart and no shortage of compassion, solved our problem from a thousand miles away (sheltering with family in Texas), because she believed in what we are doing,” Mark says. “It shouldn't be surprising, given the inherent moral fabric that this community was built on, that someone would be willing to help. I guess life will continue to surprise all of us now when it means the most if we work together to solve even the most basic problems, like making sure that everybody has the necessary personal protection equipment to stay safe during this pandemic.

“The original idea of making face masks for those willing to donate to our cause, the help-us-pay-rent association of the recently unemployed, has blossomed into something different and far more extensional than we ever anticipated. We never knew that something that once recently seemed so trivial could change a worldview, but as willing participants in this game of life, we are pleasantly surprised to see the results trickle in, lending support to the idea that, one way or another, we will all get through this together.”

If you’re interested in purchasing a mask for yourself or others, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Lea Goodsell is the vice president of business development and branding for Renova Energy.

Published in Features

Although the gates remain closed at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, anyone can hop onto social media to see some of the unusual breeds of animals that call this desert enclave home—all while learning from the videos, photos and descriptive content developed by the park’s team in an accelerated fashion these days.

The aim is to inform visitors about the daily lives of this nonprofit zoo’s residents—while inviting visitors to make a much-needed donation.

“We have 450 animals here who depend upon us,” said Allen Monroe, The Living Desert’s president and CEO, during a recent phone interview. “We have a commitment to them, and we’re fortunate enough to have a great animal-care team here, and a veterinary team to help support them.

“Our first action (when the shelter-at-home orders were announced) was to make sure that the needs of the animals were going to continue to be met for whatever length of time we were forced to be closed to the public. We ensured that we had months of different kinds of foods supplied to us, and all the veterinary medicines that we could project needing over the next couple of months. This way, if there are supply-chain interruptions, we’ll be able to go forward with our operations without external resources. This is part of what a modern-day zoo does. These animals are here as ambassadors for their species, and we’ve got really strong commitments for their care. We have to make sure that we can accommodate those, no matter what the situation might be.”

Part of guaranteeing the safety of these ambassadors from desert regions all over the world is managing the financial challenges brought on by the massive economic downturn that’s a result of the pandemic.

“Once the county health department closed down our park as a gathering place, our first concern was on a financial basis,” Monroe said. “We rely on gate-generated revenue for the majority of our operating expense budget. Unfortunately, we were at the start of spring break, our busiest time of year. It’s when we make enough money to help us get through the times in the summer when, because of the heat and the (drop in) tourist traffic, it is actually a money-losing time for us.

“Fortunately, we’ve practiced a number of scenarios (that focus on us) continuing our business operations. We have drills on a regular basis for everything from fires to earthquakes and things like that—although we never planned for a pandemic, obviously. I don’t think anybody had. Still, we could use some of those practice exercises to help us figure out what we needed to do in the short term, and then we could start thinking about what business operations will look like while we’re closed, and then—as soon as the county gives us the green light—how we can find a way to open back up again in a safe fashion for our guests and our staff.”

Unfortunately, one of The Living Desert’s first actions was laying off about two-thirds of the park’s workforce, mostly guest-services personnel.

“That allowed us to focus in on our core team of people who are integral in our animal-care departments and business operations,” Monroe said. “We’re like many businesses in a similar situation to us, but they can close their doors and turn off the lights. They may still have to pay rent and such, but (they don’t have) a large operational expense”—namely, taking care of the resident animal population and more than 1,200 acres of park grounds.

Fortunately, The Living Desert made preparations for the worst.

“The good news is that, over the last number of years, we’ve been able to develop an endowment fund that helps support The Living Desert,” Monroe said. “So we have relatively strong cash reserves that would get us through the next months and up to a year if we have to. That’s if we stay with just our current core team of staff people who are necessary for us to take care of the plants and the animals and the mechanical systems here in the park.

“We’ve got months and months of supplies on hand now—and even (planning for) a worst-case scenario, we’ve already started planting some lettuce. We have a horticultural department here, and we feed out lettuce as a treat to some of our animals. Our giraffes are really fond of lettuce. Also, we’ve got a large walk-in freezer that’s stacked to the brim with the different meat products that we feed to our carnivore animals.

“I used to say that we’ve planned for everything, but this virus has thrown the whole world into a new scenario of what’s possible. I think, though, that we’re in good shape.”

What most concerns Monroe during this period of wait-and-see?

“It’s making sure that we can provide a safe environment for our guests when they return,” Monroe said. “We have a COVID-19 preparedness plan that we’ve been putting in place. It specifies all the new standards for how we’re going to operate a business that (traditionally) encourages people to gather—whether it’s acrylic shields in front of cash registers, or making sure there are adequate cueing areas where people can be far enough away from each other so that they feel safe in coming back to our facility.”

While visitor-safety concerns will be crucial when the zoo reopens, comfort and convenience will be important considerations as well. For example, Monroe said The Living Desert is working on plans to move away from multi-car trams in favor of smaller vehicles that hold just one family.

“This way, guests who need an assist in moving around the park will still have an option, and by keeping it to one family, they’ll get an opportunity to see the park while not being exposed to other people unnecessarily.”

What about the educational experiences that have long been featured aspects of The Living Desert?

“We have been talking about modifying some aspects of our park. … In the past, we’ve had a Wildlife Wonder Show that we do in an amphitheater that has a capacity of about 300 people sitting shoulder to shoulder. It now seems likely that will not be the kind of event that is conducive to good health, at least for the immediate future. So we’re talking about ways to integrate spacing into that, or potentially just closing that aspect down for a while. Instead, we can just let people enjoy other parts of the park. We’ve got these great botanical gardens that have lots of really nice trails, and opportunities to walk through different desert habitats. That will be a chance for people to get back outside, get a little exercise and re-connect with nature in a safe fashion.”

Until that reopening day comes—hopefully sooner rather than later—Monroe recommends people visit the zoo’s social-media outlets. While people enjoy the original video and photo content—like the entertaining weekly update videos created by Animal Care Director RoxAnna Breitigan—they can help support the park by creating a fundraiser to support the park’s operations. According to the zoo’s Facebook page, in the month of April, some 16 fundraisers had been initiated, raising more than $10,000.

“When we were forced to shut down,” Monroe said, “we established a fundraising campaign called Mission—Animal Care. Now our supporters can, through a variety of different mechanisms, help us with just a few dollars or sometimes with thousands of dollars towards the care and support of the animals. One of the things that’s been really heartwarming is that, in sort of a spontaneous fashion, dozens and dozens of people who, instead of getting presents for their birthdays, have (done Facebook fundraisers) to have their friends give $10 to $15 that goes into a pot that then helps us provide our educational and conservation programming, as well as take care of our animals. Also, there are often comments made by the people who make donations, and they tell us what an important part of their lives (The Living Desert has been), because they came here with their parents, and now they have kids of their own. It’s nice to see that kind of multi-generational connection that we’ve been able to provide and that generates wonderful memories.”

Meanwhile, Monroe and his team are working toward the day the zoo can reopen.

“The good news about The Living Desert is that, obviously, it’s an outdoor facility, and we’ve got a great deal of room for social distancing,” he said. “It’s not like people are in a movie theater sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with somebody. So I think the nature of the product that we offer our guests will be of interest to them, and they’ll feel relatively safe going back out, once they get the green light from the governor. What we don’t know is how deep will the recession be. What amount of discretionary income might people have? But we’re prepared to staff back up as a number of guests come rolling back in, and hopefully sooner rather than later, we’ll get back up to what the attendance numbers were prior to when the COVID-19 virus hit.

“The big question is: How long will we be shut down? And when will we be able to re-open and start generating revenue again? Those are the main questions that all the businesses in the Coachella Valley are asking themselves.”

For more information, visit www.livingdesert.org or www.facebook.com/TheLivingDesert.

Published in Local Issues

Education is a big deal in my family. My grandmother was a teacher; my mom is a teacher; my aunt is a teacher; and my brother is on his way to becoming a teacher.

Of course, modern teachers have never had to deal with anything like this before. California school buildings are closed through at least the end of this school year—and instead, teachers are doing their best to educate students online. Because of these unusual circumstances, I decided to talk to some teachers in my life—my mom, an old high school teacher and a couple of my college professors—via email or online chat (except for my mom) about what it’s like to be a teacher during a pandemic.

“Theoretically, the quality of the learning should not be changed, but I can’t help but assume it has been diminished drastically,” said Corbyn Voyu, an assistant professor of English at College of the Desert. I am currently enrolled in her English 2 class, and Prof. Voyu has been putting a ton of effort into re-creating the same fun learning environment from her classroom in our Zoom video conferences.

“I worry about the students who specifically chose to take courses in-person rather than online,” Voyu said. “I cannot imagine their quality of learning is remaining the same. Usually at this point in the semester, there is an effort slump, which impacts the quality of reading and writing I see from students. That perpetual phenomenon, coinciding with the stay-at-home order, is making my assessment of student work more ambiguous than usual. I am constantly wondering: Is this the normal midterm decline, or the new medium of learning that’s causing students to not participate? I am not sure I will ever find a concrete answer.”

Prof. Voyu explained how she is working extra hard to keep her teaching interesting.

“I am resorting to more educational gimmicks like Kahoot! (an online quiz game), to varying degrees of success,” Voyu said. “I am culling work down to the most-essential pieces, because I know an interminable Zoom session is no fun for anyone. I am lessening the rigor of my standards by recording lectures, carrying the brunt of discussion, and extending deadlines. Mostly, I find I am trying to operate on ideals of compassion. … My students deserve to learn and, I believe, need to learn about literature, so I want to provide them the space to do that. I am really trying to follow where my students lead; I want this time to work for them rather than for me. Basically, if my students have an idea that might make their learning better, I’d do it if I can. In a regular class setting, I cannot say I am that flexible.”

I am also in adjunct teacher Steven Fuchs’ Intro to Government class. Compared to Prof. Voyu’s more free-flowing class, Prof. Fuchs’ class is primarily lecture-based. He said he appreciated the technology of the Zoom application and online discussion boards.

“I find them extremely useful, especially since I can now associate a name with a face,” Fuchs said. “This is always an issue when instructors teach large survey courses. So, in some respects, it adds a level of intimacy to the class. I will absolutely encourage students to interact via Zoom and discussions in future classes. … Except for some startup issues, I'm very pleased with the transition. I’ve been using online quizzes and papers for over five years, and taught a fully online class during winter intersession, so I think my students are lucky to have a relatively easy transition.

“Also, students are often shy about speaking up in public, so the text-only discussions I have been implementing have given them a chance to more fully express themselves and their academic abilities.”

To see how things were going at the high school level, I reached out to my old film teacher, Monica Perez, the head of the Digital Design and Production Academy at Coachella Valley High School in Thermal. She has always been tech-forward with her teachings.

“Most students are only familiar with online classes as a form of credit recovery; there has always been a brick-and-mortar classroom where kids are given multiple scaffolds and retaught if they don’t understand,” Ms. Perez said. “In this online-only setting, it is harder to gauge who needs help, because a student has to be more proactive in their learning. The quality of learning is there, because the curriculum stays the same; it is the way a student chooses to digest that learning that comes into play. There are many videos and guides that can be used to facilitate learning; kids know how to Google answers, so that concept isn’t new. (Education success) is more of a motivational factor now more than anything.”

Ms. Perez said she’s needed to allocate more time to check in with her students.

“One of the biggest differences in my teachings is my form of communication with my students,” Ms. Perez said. “I get a lot more phone calls and text messages now. Students just need to know that you care and miss them. I miss them dearly, so hearing them on the phone is a big positive difference.

“Kids don’t need to know about existentialism if they’re living it, so we (teachers) can approach these topics a little differently. I have ditched some bell/busy-work activities for more online conversation and debate. I am going to limit the craze of Zoom for only necessary times. I prefer pre-recorded material anyway; live Zoom could be used for quick Q&A sessions.”

While Ms. Perez said video conferences are useful, they can’t and shouldn’t fully replace the physical classroom.

“Video conferences are a double-edged sword, because not all students have access to connectivity,” Ms. Perez said. “They are a strong tool for students who need the ‘live’ interaction with their peers and teachers, as online classes by themselves require a lot of discipline and individual effort. I see it as any other tool. It is a fad right now because of our pandemic circumstances, but there are multiple modes of teaching and learning. … In the future, yes, I do see many riding the video-conference train, but I also see many students and teachers alike missing the organized chaos of the brick-and-mortar classroom. A perfect storm, in the end, would be an equal balance of the two mediums.”

Ms. Perez said she’s heartbroken that the class of 2020 won’t be able to fully experience their senior years.

“Many of us are very saddened that we don’t get to be with our kids for the end of the 2019-2020 school year,” Ms. Perez said. “I miss all my children, from those who make me want to pull my hair out, to those who make me a proud ‘cat mom’ everyday, to those crazy combination students who flip a coin and keep me guessing.

“If anything, this pandemic has shown the importance of education and the need to reinvent the ‘old traditional’ ways of learning to a fusion of old and new. In order for kids to thrive, we can’t teach like we taught 50 or even 10 years, ago. We have to evolve.”

Finally, I spoke to my mom about how teaching is continuing at the elementary-school level. Maureen King is a teacher at Palm Academy in Indio, and she is doing her best to make sure the learning never ceases in her third-, fourth- and fifth-grade combo class.

“We do a mandatory check-in every day with our students via video conference or email,” King said. “Every student went home with their school-issued Chromebook and a paper packet encompassing three weeks’ worth of school work. However, that was back in mid-March, so our daily check-ins have been utilizing our system of online video lessons in order to further their education. Many programs that we used in regular class are being used for distance learning, and I am able to assign specific lessons for student reinforcement when needed. Once a week, the entire class meets virtually to see one another, play some games and check on their social and emotional well-being. I also have office hours if students need one-on-one tutoring.”

King is proud of the measures being taken to continue connecting to her students, but she admitted there are some obstacles between younger students and technology.

“I find that younger students are needing more help at home to login and share assignments with their teacher,” King said. “Internet connectivity is not a given in our school population, so I am working on providing additional written packets for students who have been unable to join virtually.

“Per my school guidelines, teachers should be providing four hours of work per day, focusing on reading and writing, math and personalized passion projects. We are also stressing the importance of physical activity and the well-being of the students.”

No matter the education level, local teachers are working hard to do the best they can under the stressful circumstances.

Prof. Voyu summed up her motivations in this way: “These are unprecedented times, but I have too much respect for my students and for my subject to just allow the semester to be considered a wash.”

Published in Local Issues

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.

Published in Features & Profiles

Dr. Raul Ruiz is entering the final six months of his fourth term in the U.S. Congress (and running for a fifth term), and much to his own surprise, the medical doctor who spent years working in emergency rooms finds himself in a new role—as a widely sought-after expert.

When nationwide social-distancing guidelines were announced back March, the U.S. House of Representatives was forced to stop meeting in person, so many representatives, including Ruiz, returned to their districts.

“It was hard to find consistency, clarity and credibility here when I got (back) from D.C.,” Ruiz said during a recent phone interview. “I really took it upon myself—given my medical and public-health/disaster-response training and background—to make myself available and to keep this (discussion) in line with a very data- and fact-based scientific approach. I try to answer questions as honestly and transparently as I can. I admit what I don’t know, or what science doesn’t know, and (try) to create a sense of social responsibility, of loving your neighbor—to really help people understand the big picture and see the forest. Then, they can make better decisions when they have to choose amongst the trees.”

The public is confronted daily with numerous and often conflicting messages related to the COVID-19 pandemic—from the often confusing positions declared by President Trump, to the more-considered policies and analyses of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, both which run in contrast to the policy proclamations of Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, or the more erudite views of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

When the Independent spoke to Ruiz on April 21, we had to ask: Where does the Coachella Valley stand regarding the pandemic?

“This is what I know for a fact: This virus is not going away,” Ruiz said. “People will still be carriers of this virus, even if they’re asymptomatic and feel perfectly fine. And in the absence of massive testing, we don’t know truly how many people are carriers in our communities. Therefore, it will depend on how the community practices social distancing and the (other) precautions to determine whether we see an outbreak, and another rapid rise in coronavirus transmissions. So we are not out of the woods until we have two things. One is a vaccine. That’s the definitive preventative measure that will help us get back to a pre-coronavirus state of normalcy. But in the absence of a vaccine, the second objective would be to have the safeguards in place to prevent another outbreak and surge that could put us over our hospital capacity to handle the amount of coronavirus cases.

“In a nutshell, the safeguards required are having what it takes to help our first responders save lives and protect their own. Secondly, we need the capacity to quickly identify new cases, to isolate them through quarantining, (to do) sufficient contact tracing—and, basically, contain the virus.”

Large-scale, accurate testing is key to beginning the return to relative normalcy.

“Currently, Riverside County has tested about 1-2 percent of the total population—but we need 30-40 percent of the population to be able to get tested readily,” Ruiz said. “I’m talking about testing through primary-care doctors. I’m talking about testing in businesses, testing at food pantries and food banks, testing in the schools. We need massive drive-through testing, where people can get screened and tested even if they don’t have the symptoms. That will give us a better picture of the prevalence of the coronavirus in a community, and also it will help us quickly identify people who are infected—who we hadn’t known about before—in order to do contact tracing, isolate them and quarantine others who may be at a high-risk.

“At this point, I don’t believe we have the system in place to do that. People can come up with plans (to re-open), but having an idea written on paper is different from having the actual personnel, the training, the equipment and the resources needed to implement any such plan.”

How did we, as a nation, arrive at this juncture in the battle against the worst pandemic the world has seen since the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918? And can a massive testing effort, such as the one Ruiz described, come to fruition?

“It does require federal support, and this is one of the biggest failures of the response by the federal government,” Ruiz said. “This pandemic was not taken seriously enough in the months of January and February, and that’s precisely when a full and comprehensive use of the Defense Production Act should have been implemented in order to plan the production of the needed tests, PPEs (personal protective equipment) and ventilators required to handle the surge—and we (as a nation) are still behind. In California, where we have the fifth-largest economy in the world, we have enormous purchasing power to create a statewide plan to augment testing. I believe the governor is focused on a statewide plan now, given the lack of movement from the (federal) administration.”

Ruiz said the federal government, if it so chooses, could still initiate a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to bringing the virus’ spread under control—and thus create a clear, safe path toward reopening our country. In fact, Ruiz has a three-point plan of his own.

“It’s not too late for the president to fully utilize the Defense Production Act,” Ruiz said. “What does that look like? The president assigns multiple companies, in multiple industries, to produce not only the PPE, the tests and the ventilators, but also all of the ingredients that go into each of those, in a targeted amount and by a certain date. The federal government guarantees that it will cover the cost of purchasing (the finished) products and of distributing them. Also, it will help with any capacity expansion or modification that those manufacturers need, and even help provide the labor pool needed to get it done. I would use the CEOs of those companies to form a rapid-response task force to problem-solve the nuances of the supply chain logistics in real time.”

“The second thing the administration should do is create a federal-command coordinating mechanism that’s regionally based, has a very clear chain of command, and can strategically produce, deliver and re-stock these materials in different hospitals.”

Ruiz explained how this command structure could effectively free hospital administrators and local-government officials from the stress of searching the world for supplies, as well as eliminate price-gouging, plus hoarding by concerned state administrations.

“The third aspect of this plan that I’ve sent over to the administration—and made a lot of noise about—is that we need transparency,” Ruiz said. “Currently, we cannot clearly plot who’s responsible for what in the supply chain. We don’t know what real role Jared Kushner has, or what real role the vice president has, or what real role Admiral (John) Polowczyk has. This (creates) a dilemma for people who want to trust and augment the system when the chain of command is so vague.

“I say it’s not too late, because we won’t have a vaccine for at least another year. So we’ll need to practice precautions for another year. I would love to have all non-essential businesses open with social-distancing precautions, but to do that, and safely avoid another massive surge that puts us back to stay-at-home orders, we need massive testing, and a massive amount of PPEs.”

Of course, 2020 is an election year—and traditional voting may not be safe during a pandemic. Oh, and the United States Postal Service is on thin financial ice. Both of these related topics have been the subject of much recent bickering in Washington, D.C.

“I’m in support of a vote-by-mail program,” Ruiz said, “because that’s the best way to practice our patriotic and civil voting responsibility while keeping our citizens safe during these elections. Democrats (in Congress) proposed funding for the post office during the CARES Act, but the Senate Republicans refused and said it was, basically, a non-starter. But I know that it will continue to be an advocacy on the part of House Democrats and Senate Democrats, because we believe that everybody who can vote, should vote, responsibly and in the safest way possible. Forcing individuals to stand out in the cold (at polling places) without enabling proper protections and precautions is putting them intentionally in harm’s way, when you know that there is an easy way to vote safely from home.”

The U.S. Postal Service could also play a key role in any at-home testing programs that get developed in the coming months. Ruiz said he and his fellow Democrats would continue to fight to save the Postal Service—but there’s only so much they can do.

“I’m confident that we’re going to include USPS support in a Democratic House bill,” Ruiz said. “Whether or not the Senate will vote for it, or whether or not the president will veto a plan that allows every citizen to vote safely by mail—I cannot guarantee that.”

Published in Politics

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: www.cvmaskproject.com.

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: www.cvmaskmakers.com.

In less than a month, the group has created a partnership with Eisenhower Health Foundation to accept donations at www.eisenhowerhealth.org/covidfund; 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.

Others

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 rc-hr.com/volunteer-workforce if you can join in.

Published in Features

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