CVIndependent

Mon08102020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Happy Monday, everyone.

I’d like to start off the week, to use that old cliché, by tooting our own horn and shining a spotlight on two recent Independent stories.

The first one, posted at CVIndependent.com earlier today, looks at the fact that thousands of Coachella Valley families lack reliable internet access—which presents big problems, especially in the middle of a pandemic, when students can’t go to physical schools.

“These are the families and the students who can least afford for their children not to be engaged, (which could) ultimately widen the achievement gap,” said local Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia. “Someone called this a civil rights issue—because without (broadband), you are severely disadvantaged.”

In addition to Garcia, staff writer Kevin Fitzgerald talked to all three local school district superintendents, as well as a community-broadband expert, for the 2,200-word-plus piece. (One flaw: We didn’t talk to any students. Kevin was working on tracking down a student or two, but we ran out of time before our July print-edition deadline hit.)

The problem is especially pronounced in the east valley’s Coachella Valley Unified School District, which partnered with the city of Coachella to buy thousands of Verizon Wireless mobile hotspots to make some progress.

“We are trying to find ways to get more hotspots and more devices (for) our students,” said CVUSD Superintendent Dr. Maria Gandera. “We estimate that about 40 percent of the households in our district did not have connectivity. We could probably use double the amount (of hotspots)—and we still might have some issues with connecting.”

While Kevin talked to at least five people for his story, Independent music contributor Matt King only talked to two for his story, posted on Friday, about live music at restaurants in the era of COVID-19—because four restaurants we reached out to never returned our various messages.

California’s guidelines for bars and restaurant re-openings make it very clear that, for now, concerts and performances are a no-no. “Restaurants, bars and wineries must discontinue this type of entertainment until these types of activities are allowed to resume modified or full operation,” say the state guidelines.

Nonetheless, some local restaurants have brought live music back to their stages—while others are doing the right thing and following the guidelines, even if it affects their bottom line. Matt reached out to five restaurants that have touted live music on social media—and only Lana Ristich, the owner of Chef George’s Restaurant in Bermuda Dunes, got back to us.

“Virus is virus,” Ristich said. “I know it’s killing people, but people still have to live their life. If someone is sick, they are not going to go out. Older people should stay home, but younger generations with better immune systems might get sick from something worse by just staying home.”

Meanwhile, at The Hood Bar and Pizza—one of the valley’s foremost entertainment venues during “normal” times—owner Brad Guth is choosing to follow the guidelines.

“I take both my health and the health of my employees and customers very seriously,” Guth said. “The county is discouraging large crowds, and we are doing the same. We’ve cut hours and limited space, and we just want people to be safe.”

As always, if you have any thoughts on these stories, or anything else we do, drop me a line—and thanks for reading.

Today’s news links:

The latest countywide hospitalization stats are, well, still not great. It’s too early to call what’s happening a “spike,” and the county as a whole is tiptoeing close to the state’s watch-list metrics … but the trend isn’t good.

The latest District 4 report (including the Coachella Valley and points eastward), covering the week ending yesterday, is a mixed bag. I must admit I find these reports confusing, but here’s what it says: The weekly local positivity rate is a still-too-high 14.6 percent, but it’s down from the 16 percent reported the week before. The number of new local cases dropped significantly to 292 (from 771, 942 and 1,182 in previous weeks), with 6,073 new tests reported. So, there ya go.

As for local hospitalization numbers: They’re slowly but steadily rising. We went from 106 local confirmed COVID-19 cases on Thursday, to 108 in Friday, 113 on Saturday, and 116 on Sunday. Not a “spike” but not good. Wear a damn mask.

The San Francisco Chronicle profiled eight people who got sick with COVID-19, but have recovered … at least somewhat. These stories show how this disease isn’t just a bad flu—instead, it’s unpredictable and often permanently damaging.

• The feared increase in coronavirus cases due to the Black Matters Lives protests has not yet materialized … yet. MedPage Today talks to some experts who explain what this all could mean. (Spoiler alert: Staying outside + wearing a mask = prevention?)

• Speaking of wearing face coverings … NPR looks at the science and the anecdotal data, and concludes that mask-wearing is somewhere between helpful and a pandemic game-changer

• Again speaking of wearing face coverings … the local convention and visitors bureau is pleading with local businesses to insist that customers wear masks and take other precautions—and is asking those local businesses to take the “Safer Together, Greater Together” pledge. The Independent has done so, for the record.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said today that more than a third of California’s COVID-19 cases have come in the last two weeks. While this is a big reminder that we’re still very much in the first wave of this pandemic, the news—at least on a statewide level—is not all bad.

Riverside County is going to contact 3,500 random residents and ask them to take part in an antibody study. “We are asking those who are contacted to strongly consider taking part in the study,” said Kim Saruwatari, director of Riverside County Public Health, in a news release. “It’s important to know the extent of the spread of the virus. … That information is vital as we move forward.” Get more details here.

• This is dense but important: A nonprofit called the Open Technology Fund acts as an intermediary between the U.S. government—specifically the US Agency for Global Media—and vitally important open-source tech tools. Well, it appears the Trump administration is attempting to steer funding away from that agency—and direct it toward closed-sourced (read: corporate) companies. As a result, the agency’s head has resigned, and a whole bunch of nonprofits are very worried.

• The state tourism bureau claims that California could lose more than $2 billion in revenue from travelers through mid-July who opt to go to more-open neighboring states like Nevada and Arizona.

The New York Times looks at the wildly varying costs of COVID-19 tests. Key quote, regarding how some unscrupulous companies are spending our tax dollars: “Insurers have paid Gibson Diagnostic Labs as much as $2,315 for individual coronavirus tests. In a couple of cases, the price rose as high as $6,946 when the lab said it mistakenly charged patients three times the base rate. The company has no special or different technology from, say, major diagnostic labs that charge $100. It is one of a small number of medical labs, hospitals and emergency rooms taking advantage of the way Congress has designed compensation for coronavirus tests and treatment.”

Also from The New York Times comes this head-shaker of a headline: “Coronavirus Attacks the Lungs. A Federal Agency Just Halted Funding for New Lung Treatments. The shift, quietly disclosed on a government website, highlights how the Trump administration is favoring development of vaccines over treatments for the sickest patients.”

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Fight injustice. And please, if you’re going to be anywhere near other people, wear a mask. If you’d like to support local, quality journalism—made free to all, never with paywalls—please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

On May 22, restaurants in Riverside County were given the OK to reopen for dine-in service; three weeks later, on June 12, bars were given the go-ahead.

However, because the coronavirus continues to spread, the permission to reopen came with restrictions: Tables and/or seats have to be six feet apart. Masks are required when a customer is not at his or her table. And—according to the state guidelines—most entertainment is not allowed.

The state of California’s COVID-19 Industry Guidance for Restaurants, Bars and Wineries, last updated on June 5 and being echoed by Riverside County, states: “This guidance is not intended for concert, performance, or entertainment venues (which are not yet allowed to be open). Restaurants, bars and wineries must discontinue this type of entertainment until these types of activities are allowed to resume modified or full operation. All events or gatherings that would bring together persons from different households, such as private parties, must be cancelled or postponed until further notice.”

Despite these guidelines, some local bars and restaurants have been promoting live performances anyway. We reached out to five of these restaurants—and received no response from four of them: Palm Canyon Roadhouse, Wildest Restaurant, AJ’s on the Green, and Bernie’s Lounge and Supper Club. Only Lana Ristich, the owner of Chef George’s Restaurant in Bermuda Dunes, returned messages from the Independent.

“We decided to bring entertainment back, because now things are very slow,” Ristich said. “The season is over now. It would be a completely different story if this was happening in March, when we were so busy. Now, in June, it’s slow, so we decided to have entertainment, which is usually only one guy or girl on the stage, because it’s not a big deal. No one’s dancing or doing anything like they were before; they’re simply having a good time.”

Ristich said Chef George’s has limited the number of people who can be in the building, per the mandates.

“We are from Serbia, and restaurants and hotels are all open all over Europe,” Ristich said. “Everyone’s having a good time; no one cares about the virus. American television spreads so much fear about the virus. I understand being careful, and all of our employees and customers wear masks, but you have to take it off to eat. If you have the virus, how are you going to protect yourself that way? It doesn’t make any sense. We are just adhering to the code, and our bar only fits about 20 people now.”

Ristich said she believes that allowing live music back into people’s lives will help them deal with this new normal.

“Virus is virus,” Ristich said. “I know it’s killing people, but people still have to live their life. If someone is sick, they are not going to go out. Older people should stay home, but younger generations with better immune systems might get sick from something worse by just staying home. I’m not so crazy about COVID-19. Everything is going step-by-step, but I think everything is OK with music in restaurants. It’s good to see people in our restaurant listening to live music with a drink in their hand. It reminds me of the old times.”

Meanwhile, other bars and restaurants that normally offer entertainment are following the state’s guidelines—and possibly sacrificing business by doing so. One such place is The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert, which in “normal” times is one of the busiest entertainment venues in the valley.

“We are taking this extremely cautiously,” said Brad Guth, the owner of The Hood. “We take the guidelines very seriously for the safety of ourselves and the customers. The county is discouraging live music, so at the moment, we are not going to proceed with live music until we see what the case rate looks like in Riverside County. We’re planning to reintroduce karaoke and bingo within the next couple of weeks—with beer pong being the last thing we bring back.

“We are going with what the county says to do regardless of what other places are doing, which has been hard for customers to understand. I take both my health and the health of my employees and customers very seriously. The county is discouraging large crowds, and we are doing the same. We’ve cut hours and limited space, and we just want people to be safe.”

Guth said the fact that some places are allowing live entertainment despite the state’s guidance is confusing both customers and local performers.

“It’s been very difficult to explain why we are following the guidelines to customers,” he said. “It’s inconsistent throughout the valley, as some places are having entertainment again, and some are not. … I just can’t, with any good conscience, put myself or my staff in danger. We’ve had incidents where people have been crowding the bar late at night when we’ve asked them not to, and it’s hard to control.

“It’s almost as if we’re the police now. We don’t want to be the police; we just want to be an enjoyable place to go, and ensure safety for all.”

The Coachella Valley is brimming with musical talent—yet it’s lacking when it comes to music venues.

Thank goodness for The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert.

Over the years, The Hood has transformed from a simple metal bar into … well, a metal-and-everyone-else bar that is also one of the premier performance venues in the valley, with events being held every day. While countless local bands have gained popularity thanks to a boost from The Hood, the venue has also hosted numerous famous acts, such as surf-rock legend Dick Dale.

In recent years, The Hood has also started hosting events such as a weekly Drag Queen Bingo night, and has become a regular participant in the Desert AIDS Project’s annual Dining Out for Life night. This fascinatingly vibrant mix is due in large part to its owner, Brad Guth—an out-and-proud gay man.

“I grew up in a time when people were not as accepting and tolerant as they are today,” said Guth. “It was shameful to be different, especially with regard to sexual orientation. That was never discussed or taught in school. Nonetheless, I had a great time just being myself. I was always confident. For example, I was never too interested in being an athlete—so I became a male cheerleader, my high school’s first! And while I took a lot of heat for that, I had a blast, and my family fully supported it.”

Guth told me a story about skipping the homecoming dance during his senior year of high school.

“I went to my first alternative club in West Hollywood instead,” Guth said. “It was a big club, frequented by many celebrities, and I was nervous as hell. I was working as a waiter at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, and I used to hear all of the other waiters talking about this place. When I arrived, there was a long line outside. I was so scared but forged ahead and entered. It was a Friday night, and disco was at its height. It was such an amazing and freeing experience. Everyone was just having fun, and no judgement. There were a number of celebrities there, many of whom I became friends with over the coming years, and they didn’t have to worry about being outed or followed by the paparazzi.

“I lived the rest of my adult life that way, never forgetting that first experience. I was always me, never trying to hide anything. When I started my career in retail, where I spent the next 30 years, I had a supervisor who told me I would never succeed in a straight-male-dominated industry. To prove him wrong, I just worked harder and better and proved my abilities. To that end, I became the youngest buyer ever given the position at Bullock’s department store, now Macys.

“I built the staff up from scratch. I negotiated all the leases, and we set up three websites that generated millions of dollars in sales. I traveled a lot, and had an East Coast office in Manhattan, and a West Coast office in Las Vegas. I alternated between the two for two-week periods. … (After) my grandchild was born, I bought a home here in the desert so I could come visit him every other weekend from my Vegas office. Two years later, I moved here full time.”

Coming from a strong business background, it’s no surprise Guth was able to improve The Hood, which, when he purchased it, was nowhere near as neighborly as it is now.

“The Hood was somewhere that I would go from time to time, because I saw a lot of opportunities to improve,” Guth said. “I’d go every day and sit on the back patio and think of new ideas to enlarge it and make things bigger and better. I looked at two other locations to purchase over a few months, one being Schmidy’s Tavern. The deciding factor was when I asked the landlord of Schmidy’s where they saw (the center where Schmidy’s was) in five years, and he said ‘exactly the same.’ That’s when I really set my sights on The Hood.

“I knew that I could improve the environment and the service, and grow the business by creating a comfortable hangout spot. I basically wanted to create an environment where I would feel comfortable hanging out. It was also a much-different crowd back then. We wanted to keep that crowd by adding more events, and making the place a destination in Palm Desert. We also wanted to attract new people with the expansion of the patio and cosmetic changes.”

Those changes didn’t all happen at once.

“We achieved everything over time,” Guth said. “My first weekend, we opened the back-patio bar and added new furniture, and that became the place to be. It’s a fun hangout place, and it’s one of the best patios for our type of venue in the valley. While we did these changes outside, we started adding events … seven nights a week. Each event is geared to different types of clientele so that we could provide a lifestyle environment.

“When people visit The Hood, I want them to feel like they’re visiting my house. It’s important that people feel really comfortable and safe.”

The Hood’s weekly schedule has something for virtually everyone.

“We added a game night on Monday that’s geared toward younger people,” he said. “Tuesdays, we added Drag Queen Bingo and all-day, all-night happy hour. It was a scary proposition, but it has become very big. We added an open mic to our beer-pong nights on Wednesdays, which has been a huge success. That attracts people from all walks of life—poets, singers, songwriters and comedians. People come in from around the valley and even different states. That and beer pong really bring in a younger crowd.

“We kept doing Karaoke Thursdays, which is always fun, and many people look forward to it. Fridays and Saturdays are always either bands or DJs. It used to be primarily metal bands, but we’ve successfully introduced different genres of music: cumbia, metal, soft rock, hard rock, etc. We try to mix it up and not have every weekend be the same. Sundays are comedy nights, which started a year ago and have been really successful. We’ve booked some really famous comedians like Pauly Shore and Jamie Kennedy.”

I asked Guth what obstacles he faces running such an active venue.

“The entertainment is very time-consuming,” Guth said. “People may not realize it, but it’s a lot of collecting fliers and posting them every single day, and adjusting to last-minute changes or cancellations. We try to book a month or two out and look at what our competition is doing to stay ahead. It’s a difficult process and sometimes very frustrating.”

The Hood personally means a lot to me: It helped kickstart my career, as both a musician and a writer, because of the community fostered there. Guth said it’s this sense of community that keeps him going.

“There have been some nights with bands that have been absolutely fantastic,” Guth said. “When Empty Seat won the first round of the CV Weekly competition (late last year), we immediately booked them. It was great to see new talent in the valley, and it’s been exciting seeing them grow to be very popular. It’s always good to know you were part of someone else’s success. There’s a concert for kids that we do in June, which many people don’t know that we do: There’s a music school that comes to The Hood and has their students perform in the afternoon hours. We’ve actually gone on to book those kids’ bands, like Silver Sky, who we just had a single-release party for. It’s really gratifying to be a part of growth like that.”

The Hood stands as one of the most diverse and accepting places to be in the valley—and that is due to the leadership of Brad Guth.

“I think today, The Hood is likely the most-inclusive place to hang out, welcoming folks of all races, ages and sexual orientations, where everyone can come and hang out and feel welcome.” said Guth. “I am super-proud of that accomplishment. It really was what I always set out to do.”

The Hood Bar and Pizza is located at 74360 Highway 111 in Palm Desert. For more information, call 760-636-5220, or visit facebook.com/HoodBarAndPizza.