(Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing project by the Novato Historical Guide preserving the stories of how everyday people coped with COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.)
By Barry Smail
Novato Historical Guild
“I’m conservative by nature, so always wear a mask,” declares Novato resident Rick Palumbo, owner of Marin Volvo Saab, an independent auto repair shop in San Rafael. “Interestingly, most of my customers don’t have their masks on when they walk into my shop. But when they see me wearing mine, they put theirs on, so that’s good. But there have been some exceptions.” There was a young female customer who refused to wear a mask, and he had to ask her to leave. “She said she already got Covid and was immune, that was her excuse. I wanted her out of my office ASAP and had to clean up everything she touched.”
Rick’s customers stopped making appointments after the March shutdown order was issued. “Of course, it had a huge impact on us, and I went into the red for the first time in 40 years.” (Rick founded Marin Volvo Saab in 1981.) Lately, though, business has started to pick up again. “I have three generations of loyal customers–grandparents, their children and their children’s children. They’re coming back.”
Rick had an active social life pre-Covid. No more, at least for the time being. Eating out at Novato restaurants with friends was one of his favorite things to do. Recently, he went to Grazi’s and sat outside. “That was nice.” But the shutdown altered his lifestyle: he now cooks for himself. “It’s been lonely and frankly a little depressing not being able to spend time with my friends.”
Rick’s most gratifying means of escape from lockdown has been flying. He owns a Piper PA-28 Cherokee and flies out of Gnoss Field on weekends. Earlier this month, when air quality in the North bay was particularly bad due to the wildfires, he flew to the Shelter Cove on the Humboldt County coast, where he found the air blessedly clean. The day before that, he flew to Half Moon Bay. Rick was looking forward to attending the Reno Air Races September 16-20, but the event was cancelled due to Covid-19.
While the Woodward fire was burning out of control in the Point Reyes National Seashore, Rick noted the presence of a red helicopter, a water truck, a huge bucket and associated ground vehicles on the Gnoss Field tarmac. On Aug. 23, he took two photos. The helicopter is a Kaman K-1200 Rotocraft belonging to The Great Basin Coordination Center (GBCC), a Salt Lake City-based agency which coordinates and dispatches wildfire response resources in the Western U.S. Rick and his fellow Gnoss Field pilots were told to monitor TFRs (Temporary Flight Restricts), in order to avoid firefighting aircraft.
Between the pandemic and the wildfires, 2020 will be a year Rick Palumbo will long remember. “Those whose businesses survive 2020 will be stronger than ever,” he declares. After being in business for 40 years, Rick Palumbo hasn’t lost his spirit.