Shutdowns leave workers without paychecks
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.
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.
“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.
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.