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  • Writer's pictureGabriel San Roman

Slingshot: Flea Market 'Pindejos' Run Amok in Downtown SanTana Amid Pandemic

Updated: Feb 15, 2021

Earlier this month, a spotlight beamed into the night's sky above downtown Santa Ana drawing people to Fourth Street. Below, the narrow quarters of the iconic Cuatro swarmed with foot traffic for the Patches and Pins Expo, a recurring flea market. Mostly masked up, attendants perused through the namesake wares, vinyl records, sneakers and bootleg t-shirts offered up by pop-up vendors crammed closely together.

Patches and Pins declared the Feb. 6 event a success, boasting on Instagram about a turnout of over 6,000 people. To others, an influx of pindejos into a city badly battered by the coronavirus pandemic was cause for alarm.

"When I saw the crowds at Patches and Pins, I was not only angry, but disappointed," says David Lopez, a Santa Ana resident whose online criticisms of the expo got the attention of Santa Ana mayor Vicente Sarmiento. "It made me feel hopeless that this endless cycle of COVID-19 would just continue to fluctuate up and down because of our own community's lack of accountability."

Back in March, Patches and Pins opted for a virtual expo at the onset of the pandemic. But by August, as the coronavirus summer surge just barely began to abate, the flea market returned in-person with a "grand opening" in downtown. "It is our great pleasure to announce that we have successfully overturned the decision to shut us down!" read an accompanying post on the Expo's Instagram account.

Who exactly tried to stand in its way remains unclear.

The Aug. 8 flea market agreed to limit capacity with a two-hour time limit for shoppers. But within a few months, such stated safety protocols seemingly evaporated, resting on face masks and bottles of hand sanitizer alone amid the pandemic's furious winter surge. Rick Flores, the expo's creative director, didn't bother wearing a mask during the Feb. 6 flea market and when challenged, he claimed to have been vaccinated!

But Flores didn't act alone--he counted Julie Castro-Cardenas, the city's downtown liaison, as an enthusiastic booster of the flea market. Castro-Cardenas stayed on top of downtown business leaders and encouraged promotion of Patches and Pins. Downtown Inc. put the expo at the very top of its newsletter emailed two days before the event. It encouraged patrons to stay six feet away from each other, an unheeded suggestion by anyone who saw the crowds that weekend.

It's no secret that the pandemic has taken a toll on downtown Santa Ana, with restaurants as its bedrock. The ebbs and flows of coronavirus infections have triggered back-and-forth restrictions on dining throughout. But as bleak as it's been, the situation showed signs of improvement before the winter surge, at least as reported by Castro-Cardenas during an Oct. 28 Downtown Inc. board meeting.

She helped secure $750,000 in funds for parklets to help outdoor dining. And parking garage revenues began to turn around.

"Overall, there's about a 30-40 percent decline in revenue in both the garages and the meters," Castro-Cardenas reported," but, slowly, we're seeing an uptick with the parking garage revenue. Hopefully, that just continues and we get to capitalize on that revenue."

Did the crowds from Patches and Pins deserve some, or most of the credit? The expo didn't draw a single mention during the hour-long meeting, either way.

But as anger stews over the flea market, Castro-Cardenas is coming under criticism. "I am sad to see that downtown's continual request to create safe open street markets has been ignored by staff since COVID began," says Madeleine Spencer, a Santa Ana resident. "It seems that the downtown liaison has her own ideas about safety."

Castro-Cardenas was definitely invested in the flea market's success and knew it was going to be big. The Slingshot obtained a text blast from her to downtown restaurant owners offering a few tips on how to capitalize on the crowds.

"About 5,000 people are expected," Castro-Cardenas texted. "Encourage you to play light ambient music and welcome new customers to your business. Cook something fragrant (onions) to captive people to visit you."

Maybe all the body heat from overcrowded streets provided for a different onion aroma!

A nearby parking garage was reportedly two-thirds full, but the event didn't pan out so favorably for some restaurants that closed early on account of the crowding and chaos. Nor did it work out for businesses with storefronts on Fourth Street that tried to put out their wares only to be told by organizers they weren't allowed to do so.

In addition to leaving working class immigrants to clean up after pocho pindejos who left trash-strewn streets behind, the flap over Patches and Pins has also caused the city to pull the plug on smaller-scale events in downtown for the meantime, including the Funk Freaks' 11th annual "Fuck Love" anti-Valentine's Day party and the Gente Market this past weekend.

"We're slowly trying to assimilate into our work again," says Ivan Marquez, a promoter with the local Funk Freaks DJ collective. "We limit our vendors to 30. Now, everything hit the fan. At the end of the day, there's a ripple effect."

Downtown Inc. is taking a reflective stance in the wake of the controversy.

"Everyone I've talked to feels the same way: what we saw was completely irresponsible and way outside the values of our community and the bounds of the city, county and state's guidelines for activations," Ryan Smolar, a Downtown Inc. consultant, tells the Slingshot. "Lots of people were hurt by what's transgressed, but it's also been a clarifying moment for us to see what is wrong and what is right with the interim processes and innovative mechanisms in place helping us to safely reopen our economy. "

Flores appeared willing to rework safety protocols after postponing his next flea market scheduled for later this month. But he soured on Santa Ana when later posting his thoughts on an apologetic yet whiny 15-minute Instagram video.

"We're shining a positive light on a city that's known for negativity," Flores said, punching his hand after every sentence. "Let's be real. What is Santa Ana known for? It's all negative."

Who needs gentrifying gabas to "save" SanTana with a Patches and Pins pocho like this?

Flores also claimed that since admission to the flea market was free, he didn't organize the effort for financial gain (Did the participating vendors not have to pay a fee to set up?)

Moving on, the Patches and Pins Expo teased a new, bigger layout on Instagram, where it deleted all critical comments and left only those that praised it. If approved, the "flee" market will carry on next month somewhere in Orange County, just not in Santa Ana.

In the aftermath of criticism and event cancellations, more than a few Santaneros are relieved to see Patches and Pins scram.

Frosty, a local Santa Ana rapper who has organized "Mo Better Mondays" at 4th Street Market, is upset at the event planners for showing a lack of accountability as they pack up and leave, relegating critics to "haters" along the way.

"Don't let the door hit them on the way out," she says. "Now organizers, like myself and people with deep ties to the city, can invite local vendors in their place."

- Gabriel San Román

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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina

Mouse Muckraker

"Have you ever been on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride before?" I asked my girl a year ago. She hadn't, so we hoped in line for the Fantasyland original before making our way to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

Who knew that the twists and turns on the woozy jaunt to hell would presage the pandemic to come? Better yet, it turned out to be our last Disney attraction before coronavirus--and it's been a wild ride ever since. A month later, Disneyland shuttered and the theme park has remained closed for almost a year now.

The libertarians over at Reason would have us believe that California's tough stance against allowing theme parks to operate amid significant community spread of coronavirus is thickheaded. To prove their point, they compare Walt's original to its Florida counterpart in arguing against lockdowns.

But that's just another big load coming from the disciples of Great Barrington babadas.

Anaheim's own Disney-sponsored council-tool Trevor O'Neil gets a cameo in the feature. "[Newsom] is usurping precious freedoms away from the private sector," he says in a quote, "and increasing our residents' and our workers' reliance on government just to get by."

A cast member who made $15 per hour, a minimum wage the councilman vocally opposed in 2018, is currently earning the same weekly amount in unemployment benefits with federal supplements. If the Democrats pass an even more robust extension of unemployment soon as part of their pandemic relief package, that same worker will be taking home $400 more a month, but I digress!

Let's return to lockdowns. California's stay-at-home orders during the winter were more relaxed than last Spring--as were people's adherence to it. After a horrific winter surge, the state's confirmed cases per capita now top Florida and its death rate isn't far behind.

Walt Disney World's been open since July with temporary capacity restrictions so Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is the philosopher king of COVID, right?

Can't blame the libertarians for taking a victory lap at this moment, but it's not so easy. Why California's early jump on coronavirus slipped away in winter will be analyzed for a long time to come. But what happens with Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida when compared to Shanghai Disneyland? The second of Disney's Chinese theme parks closed on January 24, 2020 and reopened on May 11, 2020 after a strict lockdown. Shanghai's total infections? A paltry 1,757 cases with just 7 deaths. Orange County, Florida's stats are bleaker: 109,000 cases and 1,014 deaths. Shanghai is home to 24 million people. Florida's OC population is 1.4 million.

Shanghai Disneyland has stayed open longer than any of the company's other parks in the world since the pandemic. But lockdowns don't work, huh.

Well, the libertarians are sorta right to be sour on them. Lockdowns should be a containment tool of last resort in a pandemic. There are better ways to get on top of a virus. Reason gave Hong Kong props for stellar COVID-19 stats with only a short-lived lockdown last year. But they left out the fact that Hong Kong Disneyland is currently closed (so is Disneyland Paris for that matter, something that evades not only Reason but the "Anaheim Independent" blog of resort shill Matt Cunningham). And Florida can't be said to be emulating their model by any means!

Let the libertarians argue over who gets to plant a flag atop America's pandemic pile of policy excrement.

The rest of the world knows that lockdowns can be an effective reset button against an infectious virus when done with discipline. And it's not the sole province of authoritarian regimes. Just ask Aussies down under!

What's worse? Opening the gates of hell. That's something that should only happen at the end of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride!

Lead photo: Patrons check out Patches and Pins vendors whose tents weren't very spaced apart.

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