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Fri12042020

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I first met Mary Borders after I saw her dance.

It was at a gathering in Palm Springs in 1997 to honor the 84th birthday of civil rights icon Rosa Parks. To the accompaniment of drums, Borders danced a free-form combination of modern dance and African tribal movements. Her style was lyrical, fluid and emotional. It was mesmerizing.

Borders, now 72, lives in Perris after being a long-time resident of Rancho Mirage and Cathedral City. She was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles and raised by an aunt (“who I think of as my mom”) along with her grandmother, and four cousins who are “like my sisters.”

“My aunt would always tell us that when we grew up, we would go to college and be able to be self-sufficient,” Borders says. “We weren’t to rely on a man for a living. She’d say, ‘You can do it yourself.’ She was there all the time, and she seemed to know everybody and whether they were a good person or not. I also saw my real mother from time to time.

“My dad (uncle) was in the lumber business. He was a strong Black man who laughed easily. He was a solid provider, and although he didn’t talk a lot, he was always friendly and warm. He was every bit my dad as he was with his own kids. He showed me what a man is supposed to be like.

“Our house was like the United Nations, with friends who might be Jewish, Muslim, Okies—lots of people who exposed us to so many other cultures.”

After high school, Borders attended Riverside City College, and later studied business at Ohio State University during her second marriage.

“In my third year, somebody put a cross in our front yard, and the Ku Klux Klan did a march down our street,” Borders says. “We were the only Black family in our neighborhood. We moved to Chicago after that, and then came back to California in 1980.”

Borders’ first job was at March Air Force Base. “It started out just clerical,” she says, “but after three months, they made me a staff accountant. I had studied bookkeeping, so I started working as an accountant and did that all through my career.”

Borders’ daughter, Sherri (“She’s 35 and she still gets carded,” laughs Borders), had asthma and allergies. They used to come to the desert to visit Borders’ half-brother, Tahlib McMicheaux, then a minister in Desert Hot Springs. “Sherri would always feel well in the desert climate,” she says.

Borders sold her house in Los Angeles, and she and her daughter moved to Rancho Mirage in 1994. At first, Borders had trouble finding a job. She contacted a telemarketing company, and after a phone call was asked to come in. “When I got there for the interview, the guy looked at me and said, ‘Uh … I didn’t know you were … uh … a woman.’ I reached across the desk and picked up his business card, turned it over, and said, ‘I’m going to need some information so I can tell the Labor Board.’ He said, ‘OK, I’ll hire you, but you have to meet quota, or you’re outta here.’ I not only met quota; I became director of minority affairs. The company marketed themselves as meeting Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act, prohibiting employment discrimination).”

Borders moved on to work as sales director for Desert Woman, a local magazine that targeted Coachella Valley women. “I got a call from the editor saying that Anita Rufus told her she needed to integrate her staff, and that she should call Mary Borders,” she says. “I got a first-class education selling for Desert Woman. While I met a lot of wonderful women and did a lot of networking, there were some local business people who wouldn’t advertise if they thought I owned it: They didn’t want their ad dollars going to support someone who looked like me.

“One woman thought she recognized the designer jacket I was wearing, and asked me outright about it. When I said yes, it was that designer, without asking if I got it on sale or whatever, she said, ‘I can’t afford a jacket like that; how can you? I want to see your car. If you have a new car, which I can’t even afford for myself, I’m not taking out any ads with you.’ You can’t make this stuff up!

“After that, I worked with the SunLine Transit Agency for six years until I decided to retire. They needed someone who could bring the union and non-union workers together, and I also did PR with a focus on creating a positive public image. ”

Is Borders still dancing?

“I’ve danced all my life,” she says. “I once met a guy associated with Three Dog Night who had gone to Africa and participated in a ritual to make a sacred drum. He offered to drum for me, and I studied the moves. I remember that night at Rosa Parks’ birthday so well—we had Native American bird dancers, and a tribute to Mexican Americans. The guest speaker was Ron Karenga,” the civil-rights activist best known as the creator of Kwanzaa.

“It was quite a night. Later, after I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, once I recovered, I went cruising. They had a salsa club onboard. I came back and spent three weeks in New York taking salsa lessons. One year, I was Salsa Queen of the Desert!”

In 2017, Borders’ aunt was recovering from surgery, and Borders had broken an ankle that was not healing well, so she moved to Perris to be closer to her family.

“I’m now taking soul line-dancing classes offered through Riverside County,” Borders says. “Each class includes a party where you get to know everybody, and we’ve all become friends. After the pandemic hit, it was my birthday, and they came in 10 cars, and put gifts on the curb and sang ‘Happy Birthday.’ It was a total surprise. Now we do it for everybody—socially distanced and dancing in the street with masks on. We also go to a local park, and everybody brings a chair and food for lunch. Then we dance down the path, all 28 of us!”

How does Borders feel about the current activism regarding racial equality?

“I had a therapist who once said there had been a dark space in me that had come to the surface and erupted, and I had to forgive and move on, and eventually the scab would come off,” Borders says. “We, as a society, have had a sore that has festered and finally erupted, and we have to heal it. I always remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s words and believe that if there is injustice anywhere, then everybody is in danger, because none of us is safe.

“I feel bad for my white friends, who are being lumped into the racist label. People are striving for something to say or do, but people have become afraid to say anything, because it may be the wrong thing. That’s a shame, because it’s all a teaching opportunity.”

Mary Borders has a positive energy that is infectious. She is who she is, with no pretense. She says her greatest accomplishment in life is her daughter—especially since she was told early on that she couldn’t have children. She also says that the best decision she ever made was moving to the desert: “Everything I did turned to gold. Even confronting the racism just made me stronger,” she says.

That strength comes through whenever you see Mary Borders dance. She is mesmerizing.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show The Lovable Liberal airs on IHubRadio. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Understatement alert: Things are weird for all of us right now.

On a personal level, this fact really hit home for me when it was a relief and even a pleasure—a temporary return to normalcy, if you will—to spend two hours today editing/proofing 8,000 words of question responses by Rancho Mirage City Council candidates.

Yay, journalism!

Normally, an editor such as myself would find a task like this to be about as enjoyable as dental surgery without anesthesia. (No offense to the Rancho Mirage candidates; the case is the same with full Q&A interviews with candidates for each and every office. The responses are important and interesting, albeit a bit rambling in some cases, but the task of carefully proofing the text is, well, bleh.)

But today, it was … nice.

A hat tip to Kevin Fitzgerald, the Independent’s staff writer, who had to transcribe all of those 8,000 words. Buy him a drink the next time you see him out and about. Y’know, in a few months.

Sigh.

Anyway, on with the news:

• Yesterday was the first time in the Independent’s history that we’ve ever sent an email to our e-subscriber list that was not specifically related to Independent content. Instead, it was about the vitally important work the Desert AIDS Project is doing now—and the fact that the organization, due to a loss in revenue and a huge rise in expenses because it opened a whole, new clinic to respond to the COVID-19 crisis—really needs our help. Find that message here, and go here if you can help: https://desertaidsproject.salsalabs.org/covid19fund/p/coachellavalleyindependent/index.html

Eisenhower has put out a call for donations of personal protective equipment. Call 760-837-8988, or click here for details. 

The city of Palm Springs has clarified the temporary rules on short-term rental and hotel bookings. To paraphrase: They’re not allowed, save for some very specific exemptions.

• Some, but not all, of the big banks have agreed to a 90-day moratorium on mortgage payments if you’ve been affected by COVID-19. As of yet, alas, the state has yet to take firm steps to protect people who rent—but Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia and others are calling for action.

• However, the city of Rancho Mirage has already taken action by issuing a moratorium on residential and commercial evictions.

• Here’s more info on what the city of Rancho Mirage is doing to boost the takeout-offering restaurants in that city.

Confused about what’s an essential business, and what isn’t, and what this all means? The city of Palm Springs has posted this helpful breakdown regarding the state order means.

The Desert Healthcare District has allocated $1.3 million to help with various issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic locally.

• From the Independent: Coachella and Stagecoach have been moved to October this year. Our Kevin Carlow thinks that should be a permanent thing.

SunLine is offering free fixed-route rides during the pandemic. Just make sure you board in the back.

• Fox and iHeartRadio are teaming up for an all-star concert, hosted by Elton John. It’s called the Living Room Concert for America, and it airs this coming Sunday on Fox.

• The Conversation brings us this fascinating piece on the mad-dash effort to find existing drugs that will help patients suffering from COVID-19.

• Meanwhile, the FDA is allowing doctors to use the blood of people who have recovered from COVID-19 to treat people in the midst of the battle with the virus.

• The California Desert Arts Council has compiled a list of resources offering financial relief for artists and art organizations.

Stephen Colbert is the latest talk show to announce a return to the air—just with everyone working from home.

• Theater fans: The Tony Awards, to nobody’s surprise, have been postponed. In other, awful theater news, the coronavirus has claimed the life of the Tony Award-winning writer Terrence McNally.

• The Wall Street Journal suggests these home workouts you can do to keep yourself in shape.

• Remember that kid in that viral video who refused to stop partying, saying, “If I get corona, I get corona?” Well, he’s apologized.

• Some local restaurants including Jake’s and Dringk are starting a very cool thing: Selling food essentials in addition to prepared dishes.

• In related news, our friends at the Purple Room are offering an online virtual show tonight to go along with takeout food.

• Local treasure Joyce Perry—you may remember her as Joyce Bulifant, of Airplane! and Match Game fame—has posted this hilarious (if oddly violent video) of her son trying to show her how to use Tinder.

• DJ Galaxy—our readers’ pick in the Best of Coachella Valley as the Best Local DJ—made this video of shuttered spaces in Palm Springs and Cathedral City that are beloved by the LGBT community. I’ll admit: It made me cry.

That’s all for today. Wash your hands. Eat good food. Call someone you love. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

It was on Nov. 21, 2008, in downtown Coachella when “an initial kickoff meeting and afternoon walking tour was conducted by the project team and city staff,” according to the Coachella Pueblo Viejo Plan (CPVP) “Vision” section.

Over the next seven months, community workshops were held; input was solicited from key city representatives; and the look of a future revitalized downtown area came into focus.

“Pueblo Viejo is the civic and cultural heart of Coachella,” said the CPVP plan final draft. “The community is proud of the historic charm, locally owned businesses, and vibrant civic center. As you enter through the attractive gateways on Sixth Street, you are immersed in a lively street scene offering shady walkways, cooling water fountains, outdoor dining and unique shopping. Once-empty lots are now filled with mixed‐use buildings that respect the heritage, climate and community values. Family‐friendly events and festivals fill the streets and public spaces. As you relax in the clean, well-maintained civic center core, you know … you have arrived in Pueblo Viejo!”

However, this is not the reality that greets you today if you visit those downtown blocks; more than 10 years later, the plan has yet to bear fruit. However, further revitalization may be finally coming to downtown Coachella: The city recently announced it was getting a nearly $15 million boost to fund affordable housing and a transportation center, in the form of a grant from the state via the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program (AHSC).

“We are happy to be the recipients of a $15 million grant that we worked very hard to get for the past three years,” said Jacob Alvarez, Coachella’s assistant to the city manager, during a recent phone interview. “This is an area (of California) that hasn’t been supported before—and that includes pretty much the whole Coachella Valley, Blythe and Imperial Valley, for that matter. So this is our first award, and we’re pretty excited about it.”

Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez touted the grant in the press release.

“This is another great project to enhance the Pueblo Viejo neighborhood downtown,” Hernandez said, according to the release. “The convenient location offers easy access to jobs and services at the new Department of Public Social Services building and sits next to the recently acquired Etherea sculpture. Plus, it is a short walk to the new library, expanding senior center, and shops and restaurants.”

The grant is slated to fund 105 net-zero-energy affordable housing units and a SunLine/vanpool hub with shade trees and public restrooms. The project will also bring 2 new miles of bikeways and 3,000 feet of new sidewalks.

While the funding is for another project and not the Coachella Pueblo Viejo Plan, the $14,895,407 gives the city the keystone redevelopment funding it has needed for more than a decade.

“Probably a good six to eight months ago, we received an urban greening grant to plant 188 trees, create connecting sidewalks and build an urban hiking path,” Alvarez said. “We see all of this as a nice addition to our overall vision, and we’re in the process right now of having these features designed as well.”

These are all stems in creating a centralized community and business hub in the eastern valley city that was incorporated in 1946.

“The AHSC is a grant program through the Strategic Growth Council of the state,” said Alvarez said. “They’re advocating for you to build in a way that reduces vehicle miles traveled, because that will help reduce greenhouse gases and other air pollutants by keeping some vehicles off the road. This is provided to us from the cap-and-trade payments made by corporations to the state.”

The city is calling the newly funded project the Downtown Coachella Net Zero Housing and Transportation Collaboration, with partners including the SunLine Transit Agency, the Inland Regional Center, CalVans and the Chelsea Investment Corporation. When asked if the other partners were contributing funds to the effort, Alvarez said they were not.

“In fact, I believe (SunLine) will be receiving some of the (grant) funds to buy additional hydrogen buses,” Alvarez said. “And then there is CalVans as well; that will receive roughly 40 vans for people to use in carpooling. They will pick up at the transportation hub where people can park their cars and travel together to common destinations (around the valley).”

How soon will the transformation become apparent to the city residents? Alvarez said the project could be completed in less than two years.

“We’re in the design phase, and that is running from now through January or February 2020,” Alvarez said. “We (soon) expect to get the conceptual drawings from Chelsea Investment Corp., the developer. We anticipate that there may be shovels in the ground by July 2020, if everything goes smoothly. The grant expires, I believe, on June 30, 2021, which is the end of the fiscal year for both us and the state. So we have about a year to complete the work (after groundbreaking).”

Published in Local Issues

A few weekends back, at a party in Indian Wells, I gobbled down a tall drink in a can. The drink was red and cold … and it tasted so good.

No wonder … I didn’t realize it was cranberry juice and vodka.

The party was over for me. I knew I wasn’t myself, but I was sober enough to realize it was not a good idea for me to drive that night.

I left my car safely parked in a gated community. As I slowly walked toward Highway 111 to request a Lyft ride, I discovered my iPhone was dead.

I had about $20 on me, and no credit card. I didn’t even realize I was actually standing at a bus stop until a SunBus pulled up next to me. It was a Line 111 bus en route from Coachella to Palm Springs.

In my 20-plus years here in the desert, I’ve never been on the bus. The SunLine Transit Agency, founded in 1977, runs buses seven days a week all over the valley. I hopped in and paid only $1 for a ride to a bus stop literally steps away from my home in Palm Springs.

There were quite a few people on the bus—which was clean and air-conditioned; it even had Wi-Fi. I soon found out the people on the bus were much more interesting than the people at the party I’d just left.

The first fellow passenger I chatted with was a long-bearded fellow with an expensive backpack in his lap. Allan is a middle-age lawyer from Seattle who was taking an overnight break from a Pacific Crest Trail through-hike. He started the hike near the Mexican border.

“I plan to end it in Seattle, four months from now,” he said. “… I’m taking a long sabbatical from years of hard work as a corporate lawyer.”

Allan told me that the next morning, he planned to continue his hike, heading toward Big Bear.

As we chatted away, an apparently homeless man entered the bus in Cathedral City. His clothing was soiled, and he carried a beat-up, old backpack. He went through his pockets and put some change in the machine by the driver, but was short of a full fare. Before Allan and I could react, a voice from behind us asked: “How much?”

“Fifty cents more,” said the driver.

Another man who was apparently homeless was sitting in a row behind us. He got up, walked to the front, pulled out a handful of change, and paid the fare difference.

Since I needed my car the next day, I asked the driver when the first bus was headed back toward Indian Wells in the morning. He said there was a ride almost every half-hour or so, starting at 5 a.m.

I was actually looking forward to riding the bus again. I was up early and hopped on the bus like a pro. I paid a buck for the ride without asking how much the fare was. The bus was again almost full, and cold like an ice box. I soon struck up a conversation with a tattooed fellow. A tat on his right bicep got my attention. It read: Fuck off!

“I got it in jail,” he said without a hesitation—while flexing.

Brian is in his early 30s and has been in jail and prison “quite a few times.” His left arm was tattooed with gang symbols all the way to his fingers.

“You’re asking me: Why do I ride the bus?!” Brian said with a grin. “Because it beats the hell outta walking, that’s why!”

Brian told me that during the summer, a lot of homeless folks get on the bus and ride all day long, “because it’s nice and cold in here.”

At a five-minute stop in Cathedral City, Brian left, and I met another friendly passenger. José is an older Latino man who offered me a cigarette, even though I didn’t ask for one.

We chatted as we smoked outside. José showed me his right knee, which was bent, arching like a bow.

“I was hit in this knee by a truck in Tijuana, many moons ago,” he said. “I was lying in the middle of the road in agony, and the driver who ran me over drove away like nothing happened!” After surgeries and physical therapy, José’s “days of playing soccer and driving a car are over. So now I’m a regular on the bus.

“And then,” José said with a wink, “there are girls on the bus as well, and I meet plenty of them every day right here!”

Mel is a woman who rides the bus to and from work at a Palm Desert restaurant. She said she loves the bus, but “not every (woman) feels comfortable riding it at night.”

Mel pointed to placards with warnings in Spanish and English that live recording was taking place on the bus. There are also warnings that say attacking the driver is a criminal offense that carries a severe punishment.

I briefly chatted with a driver at another required five-minute stop.

“Not long ago, I was a project manager on a $150 million business venture, and then things turned for worse,” the driver said.

He lost his job and moved here to the desert, because his wife found a job as a nurse.

“Driving a bus is a decent job,” he said. “I’m not out there in the cold or under the direct sun, and the company treats me well. Life is good!”

I got to my car and drove home thinking of all people I met during just two rides on the SunBus. I’ll be taking a bus ride again soon—and I’m looking forward to it.

Published in Features

When the Coachella Valley Art Scene announced the first 111 Music Festival last year, the idea of putting local bands and DJs on SunLine buses seemed pretty crazy. But the festival was a success—and the 111 Music Festival will return for a second year on Sunday, Nov. 1.

The festival will take place on the 19-mile long Route 111 Line from Palm Springs to Indio—and back again. Bands playing the festival include The Flusters, Alchemy, Brightener, CIVX, IIIz (formerly the Yip Yops), Machin’ and others. The fare will be $3 for the whole festival; a one way ride will cost $1.

Coachella Valley Art Scene founder and director Sarah Scheideman and marketing director Ian Cush recently explained how they came up from the concept. (Full disclosure: I also do work for the Coachella Valley Art Scene.)

“It actually came from Portland,” Scheideman said. “I went up there (to Oregon), and I saw a much smaller version of it, and I thought it was a cool idea. I thought about doing it down here in the Coachella Valley. It was like, ‘They do it, so why can’t we do it?’”

Cush explained the differences between Portland’s festival and the 111 Music Festival.

“Their festival is tiny,” Cush said. “They have carolers and things. Sarah mentioned she had a good time with it, and that it was fun and cool. I worked with SunLine before, doing their training and tutorial and training video. I said, ‘Let’s do something like that, but really put it on the bus.’ The one thing that comes down to this festival is that this place is open to ideas, too.”

Cush said there was no resistance to the idea when it was pitched to SunLine.

“The logistics of it is where there was a lot of worry,” Cush said. “I think we came in strong with the idea, and we were both passionate about the idea. I called them on the phone, and within two minutes, I had the CEO on the line. They were like, ‘Yes, we want to do something like this!’ Once they met us and realized we’re not completely crazy, it was more like, ‘How is this going to work?’ We still probably freaked them out every day.”

The festival results in no changes to the normal SunLine schedule.

“We didn’t want to change anything that they were already doing; we just wanted to add to it,” Scheideman said.

The response to the 111 Music Festival last year was quite positive.

“Ridership was good, but we could have had more riders,” Cush said. “I think there was a little worry the first time of, ‘Is every bus going to be full?’ It’s such a small venue. You put 30 people on there, and it’s packed. We had a worry and said, ‘Let’s not go too crazy.’ So many people talked about it that the idea now is clear. Everyone was excited about doing it, too.”

Playing on the bus isn’t hard for some bands, although others obviously cannot play on a bus. When I was discussing the idea with Dan Dillinger of Bridger, he remarked, “You think we could fit Katie (Cathcart’s) drum set on a bus?”

Cush said organizers talk to participating bands in advance about what they can and can’t bring.

“The nice thing about bands is they are road guerillas,” he said. “(Some) brought the full arsenal. We did have some inverters go down on the bus, and they just had to play acoustic. They also had some swinging mics, because things move on a bus. That’s what makes it cool, though: It’s live, and it’s a crazy event; everyone is in there together. You’re going over bumps, and you’re mobbing. It’s like road trippin’ with the family.”

Local musician Alfa Cologne said his performance last year offered him some welcome exposure.

“It was very interesting. It gave me a new crowd to play music to: people who were just riding a bus, and also people who came to see me play on the bus,” he said. “It was a little wobbly; the mic was swinging, and felt like a Disney ride at times. But it was a very fun experience.”

There will be some changes to this year’s festival. Scheideman said an event in downtown Cathedral City has been added.

“This year, instead of having people get on the bus and not have any direction, we’re going to be directing traffic toward the Cathedral City City Hall lawn, where we’re going to have a stage, and headlining bands performing on the stage,” she said. “You can ride the bus with the bands to here, and they’ll perform on the stage, too.”

Cush said almost every city on the Route 111 Line has been supportive of the festival.

“Next year, the line will go all the way into Coachella. Coachella has been a donor; they see it coming, and they want to be a part of it,” he said. “They donated last year, and they donated this year. Every city on the route donated to this festival. It’s a true public festival, and it’s for the people. The whole point is we’re connecting everyone: Everyone is getting on the bus together and enjoying this experience. Cathedral City stepped up and said that they wanted to be more involved, and they let us have the lawn to produce something.”

Cush said he hopes next year’s fest has even more stages.

“I hope next year, we do the same thing we’re doing in Cathedral City at city hall in Coachella, Indio and Palm Desert. Why can’t we do the entire valley?” he said. “I also hope businesses along 111 will do something for it. They don’t need our permission, and they can get involved. If the stop comes by your business, offer something.”

The 111 Music Festival takes place from 3 to 10 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 1. For more information, visit 111musicfestival.com.

Published in Previews