It takes two jobs to make a living at Tahoe
A near-full moon surrounded by wispy clouds graced Lake Tahoe skies Thursday morning, signalin
g the start of another day in Ericka Garcia’s double life moonlighting.
Even though Garcia, 28, enjoys pouring the fuel that stirs the nightly passions of her honeymooning and hot-date customers at the Beacon Bar and Grill four evenings a week, it’s her day job as a certified fitness trainer that stirs her own.
Garcia has noticed she’s not alone in her ambitious endeavor. Moonlighting has become a common but unrecorded fact of life around the Lake Tahoe Basin. The kitchen staff – many of whom are supporting a family – also work at ski areas or other restaurants.
“A good chunk of people at the Beacon have more than one job,” she said. “It’s so seasonal in Lake Tahoe. (In) one season, you’re making a lot of money, and (in) another, you’re not,” she said.
During the winter months, Garcia juggles three regular clients. In the summer, the commitment increases between 15 to 20 people.
“I think people find that what strikes them weird with me is the difference in my jobs,” she said.
One keeps the bills in check, and the other keeps her fit. Both help make ends meet in the lifestyle she’s accustomed to.
“Pretty much, fitness training is my passion. I can’t make a living at it, but I’m working on trying to someday,” Garcia said, working on her sister Melanie Garcia’s cardiovascular and endurance fitness regimen in the trainer’s backyard. In three months, her younger sibling is running the half-marathon leg of the Wildflower Triathlon near Monterey.
Most clients call on Ericka’s 2-year-old company, Outdoor P.E.A.K Fitness, to develop a training plan. Individual sessions range from $30 to $40 an hour for a six-week course, while group rates run $18 to $20 an hour.
“They generally tell me what their goals are, then I design a program to help them work on those goals,” she said, listing targeted areas of improvement for athletes such as resistance movement, agility drills and “functional” training. She calls the latter “the stuff you can really use.”
One could say the Garcia sisters come from a long line of achievement-oriented matriarchs from the South Shore.
Their mother, Vickie Tapp, raised three children on her own, while holding down two jobs most of her life. The influence started with Ericka’s “idol,” her grandmother, Joan Tapp, 80.
When she’s not hiking up the Old Meyers Grade to Echo Summit or tap dancing in her leisure, Tapp tutors reading at Al Tahoe Elementary School, delivers Meals on Wheels and works 20 hours a week at the Job One Onestop – the state-funded employment placement service.
The consensus among employment officials is that a large portion of South Lake Tahoe residents taps into many talents to live where housing prices are rising and there are plenty of ways to spend money.
“So many people have to work more than one job to survive,” Job One Director Deborah Bates said from her Sacramento office. “And for some people, it’s a liberating kind of thing.”
Of the more than 300 clients the Onestop service locally juggles, almost 80 percent find jobs through networking opportunities in this small town, placement counselor Carolyn Robinson said.
More than half the positions are entry level, ranging from guest clerks and clerical jobs to cashiers and retail clerks, Robinson estimates. But “entry-level” doesn’t mean no skills. Candidates often need to offer customer-service skills and computer literacy.
According to a recently released study, a single-parent family must earn $15.69 an hour in El Dorado County to be self-sufficient, given the area’s cost of living.
“I think a lot of people moonlight here. Because of the low wages, people have other jobs,” she said. “We hear people comment about having three jobs and still needing roommates (to make ends meet).”
Robinson cites the local economy as one built on the service industries and a 24-hour shift town.
“Obviously in the Tahoe area, we tend to see more part-time employees and a lot of service industries – tourism and recreation included,” said David Lyons, California’s labor market representative.
Recent state figures show a labor force in South Lake Tahoe amounting to 17,450 people. At 4.4 percent unemployment, 16,680 are employed.
Many work part-time and at more than one job, according to Heavenly and Sierra-at-Tahoe, both South Shore ski resorts.
Heavenly spokeswoman Monica Bandows said the dual commitment is “fairly common,” reporting part-time employment amounting to nearly 14 percent of the ski area’s labor force this winter.
At Sierra-at-Tahoe, the ratio of part-time to full-time employees is about 50-50, Human Resources Director Brittany Clelan points out. Even from the state Employment Development Department, the number of two-job employees isn’t tracked. But if Clelan had to venture a guess, her best estimates are that about 30 percent of the ski area’s workforce holds down at least two jobs.
Some of the employees work at the ski resorts to support their favorite pastime – skiing, as in the case of Lainie Escovedo, 32.
The South Lake Tahoe woman works two days a month as a snowboard instructor at Heavenly, two days a week at the Lake Tahoe Community College Library, in which she takes in barely $7 an hour, and five hours a week at her parents business, Lake Tahoe Glass. Her biggest job involves carrying 17 units at the college. Still, she finds time to volunteer with the El Dorado Literacy Program and reads “Harry Potter” books to her niece and nephew.
“Most people I know have more than one job,” she said, adding her heart goes out, in particular, to those who have children. “None of the jobs pay very much. If you don’t make tips or bring your own money (to Tahoe), you can make it, but it doesn’t come easy.”
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