Shut­downs leave work­ers without pay­checks

The Kansas City Star - - News - BY SAM MC­DOW­ELL sm­c­dow­ell@kc­star.com hopes. Sam Mc­Dow­ell: 816-234-4869, @SamMcDow­ell11

The room ac­com­mo­dates two beds, a mi­crowave and a mini fridge. With space for lit­tle else, Dal­las Weant has stuffed his be­long­ings — cloth­ing and per­sonal items for him­self, books and games for his two kids — un­der the beds.

The three of them share one bath­room and sink. They take turns de­cid­ing what to watch on TV.

For the past week, they have oc­cu­pied this room at a Mo­tel 6 in Kansas City. Or, as Weant calls it now, home.

He

Weant has only enough money to make pay­ments through Thurs­day. Enough cash to pre­serve shel­ter for him­self, his 17-year-old son, 14-yearold daugh­ter and their dog for another 24 hours. Then?

“I have no idea what I’ll do,” he said.

Weant is one of who­knows-how-many Kansas Ci­tians in some sort of sim­i­lar predica­ment, the re­ver­ber­a­tions of a coron­avirus out­break.

None, of course, feel the ef­fects more than those fac­ing the life and death cir­cum­stances of COVID-19, which has only be­gun to rav­age the coun­try, ex­perts say. But the ef­fects of the virus stretch be­yond that — and be­yond lo­cal busi­nesses shut­ting their doors or schools emp­ty­ing their class­rooms.

These are the faces of the fi­nan­cial fall­out of a pan­demic. The peo­ple whose pay stubs have bot­tomed out, some­times to zero. The sud­den job­seek­ers in a mar­ket with so few of them to of­fer.

Weant is a 45-year-old fa­ther of two who has spent his en­tire adult ex­is­tence liv­ing pay­check to pay­check. He is self-em­ployed, work­ing four days per week as the head se­cu­rity man for Fire­fly Lounge in West­port, a pop­u­lar bar that now must ad­here to a man­dated clo­sure of in-house ser­vice.

Weant’s ser­vices are no longer needed. That’s $100-$150 per work­ing night gone. Van­ished.

But the bills re­main. He re­cently moved into this $64-per-night mo­tel af­ter a breakup. He’d hoped to stay a few weeks, per­haps a cou­ple of months, and then fig­ure out a longterm plan.

He no longer has the lux­ury of time.

“I didn’t see this com­ing,” he said. “Some­thing com­pletely out of my con­trol. There are a lot of us out there. They’ve gotta fig­ure out a way to help us out.”

A $1 tril­lion eco­nomic stim­u­lus bill is be­ing ne­go­ti­ated by Congress and the White House. The Se­nate was work­ing to­ward a vote on the bill Wed­nes­day, with spec­u­la­tion that checks of $1,000 to $2,000 could be sent to every Amer­i­can house­hold.

Even if this comes to pass, how long will it take to re­ceive that re­lief?

Weant’s re­al­ity is now. The pay­ment on his mo­tel room is 24 hours from run­ning out, the clock tick­ing.

Again, he asks: “And then what?”

MU­SI­CIANS OUT OF WORK

In high school, Tyler Lyon en­vi­sioned a ca­reer in mu­sic. Back when he wore Me­tal­lica T-shirts to school in Lee’s Sum­mit. Back when he spent all his free time with his gui­tar.

He’s 35 now and has been fea­tured in Tech N9ne songs and toured as a mem­ber of the rap­per’s band. He plays mostly solo shows, and he’s a pop­u­lar draw at lo­cal bars with an eclec­tic set list. He re­cently re­turned from Nashville, where he recorded a coun­try mu­sic al­bum.

By many ac­counts, he’d made it.

Now, he’s just try­ing to sur­vive.

The en­tirety of Lyon’s in­come re­volves around a busi­ness no longer op­er­at­ing. Every gig in his im­me­di­ate fu­ture has al­ready been can­celed — five in the next two weeks alone, to­tal­ing $1,700 in in­come plus tips. Lib­erty on Wed­nes­day. Over­land Park Fri­day. Kansas City Satur­day. Lake Lotawana and Ray­more next week.

“Can­didly,” he said. “I have noth­ing saved up.”

Lyon lives alone with his 3-year-old daugh­ter. She was di­ag­nosed with Type 1 Di­a­betes last year. In the morn­ing, he gives her a dose of in­sulin. The medicines — ob­tained through her mother’s in­sur­ance — are ex­pen­sive.

“I’m a guy who fights to stay pos­i­tive,” Lyon said. “It’s re­ally hard for me to even men­tion hard­ships; I just try to be tough through it all. But some­times you just have to look at re­al­ity, even if you are a pos­i­tive per­son.”

He’s scram­bling for some­thing. On Fri­day, on his Face­book, In­sta­gram and Youtube pages, he has sched­uled a live show — called “Quaran-Tunes.” He has more than 10,000 unique fol­low­ers be­tween the three chan­nels of so­cial me­dia. Maybe he can reach 10 per­cent of them. Maybe each could tip a few bucks.

In a time of cri­sis, he has turned to the gam­ble that’s paid off more than any other in his life. Per­form­ing.

“I love the peo­ple who say, ‘Well, you should’ve done this or should’ve done that.’ Hind­sight doesn’t help us,” Lyon said. “This is what mu­si­cians are. They take the risk and gam­ble on them­selves. I’ve been win­ning gam­bling on my­self. This wasn’t some­thing we could pre­pare for.”

‘DEADEST I’VE EVER SEEN IT’

On Tues­day af­ter­noon, Chris­tine Robert­son ac­cepted an Uber ride on her phone. As she pulled in to pick up her pas­sen­ger, she greeted him with one word.

“Fi­nally,” she said. Ex­actly two years ago, Robert­son be­gan work­ing as an Uber driver. Her first day was St. Pa­trick’s Day. She made $500 that evening.

On Tues­day, the same hol­i­day, she drove around for three hours. She checked her phone for the prof­its.

$22.

“This is prob­a­bly the deadest I’ve ever seen it,” Robert­son said.

She used to use Uber as a means to sup­ple­ment her in­come. But af­ter she in­jured her back in a Jan­uary car wreck, she had to quit her other jobs. Work­ing for Uber is her sole source of money. And it’s dry­ing up.

With CDC rec­om­men­da­tions to re­main at home, the need for rideshar­ing ser­vices is vir­tu­ally non-ex­is­tent.

“I’m real con­cerned be­cause this is how I pay my bills right now,” Robert­son said. “There were weeks I worked 30 hours and made $600.

“I’ve made $44 in the last two days.”

‘ALL THE WAY TO (PLAN) Z’

Bernie Grado has al­ways liked the idea of work­ing for him­self. Set­ting up his own sched­ule. For the past 40 years, that’s re­volved around of­fi­ci­at­ing. Ref­er­ee­ing. Um­pir­ing.

Sev­eral high schools, leagues and tour­na­ments in Kansas City em­ploy him. He doesn’t take many nights off.

The games, at least for the time be­ing, aren’t be­ing played.

If the en­tire spring and sum­mer sched­ules are wiped out — which Grado an­tic­i­pates — he will lose out on thou­sands of dol­lars, he said.

“But what I’m re­ally go­ing to miss is the kids — I get to meet peo­ple, meet kids, help kids,’ Grado said. “It gives me a sense of ac­com­plish­ment.”

Grado has pre­vi­ously worked in con­struc­tion — he can also do car­pen­try and plumb­ing work. So he’s called some old con­nec­tions to see if they need help.

They don’t. They, too, are feel­ing the ef­fects of the coron­avirus, with fam­i­lies can­cel­ing jobs to pre­serve money, just in case.

For Grado, 68, there’s no Plan A. No Plan B.

“We’re all the way to Z,” he said.

He should be OK without steady in­come. His wife has a de­pend­able job. They’ve saved over the years. He con­sid­ers him­self one of the lucky ones.

Oth­ers? They won­der.

WHAT NEXT?

The open­ing song of the set would need to be beau­ti­ful. Some­thing to get ev­ery­one’s mind off the harsh re­al­ity.

Nick Mar­shall usu­ally runs through a list in his head the night be­fore a per­for­mance. He’s set­tled on “Amanda,” a love song by Way­lon Jen­nings.

As of this week, it’s a hy­po­thet­i­cal thought ex­er­cise. Mar­shall has been a lo­cal mu­si­cian for 10 years, both as part of a band called The Cow­ardly Lions and as a solo act. He does well. The sched­ule is booked through the en­tirety of 2020.

Now, a blank slate. A blank pay­check. “When I play mu­sic, I am feel­ing that I’m ful­fill­ing my pur­pose in life,” said Mar­shall, 32. “My way of giv­ing back is to give emo­tion to any­one who will lis­ten. “That’s gone.” He re­cently re­turned from a va­ca­tion in Hawaii, a pur­chased ex­pense he now wishes he hadn’t made. But how could he have known? He will be OK for awhile. Made a point to save. His fear is how long this ab­sence might last.

This week, he and other mu­si­cians have banded to­gether to form a Face­book page in which they will play live feeds — The KC On­line Mu­sic Se­ries. They’ll have a vir­tual tip jar and hope lis­ten­ers will fi­nan­cially sup­port the en­deavor. It starts Wed­nes­day night.

Maybe, he won­ders, he could still play one of his fa­vorite songs, “Amanda.” I’ve held it all in­ward,

the song be­gins. God knows, I’ve tried.

But it’s an aw­ful awak­en­ing in a coun­try boy’s life.

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