ROSEVILLE, Calif. -- Jim Edmonds can't say what led him to join an unauthorized protest against the coronavirus lockdowns at the California state Capitol in May, except fear and boredom and a need to do something as his decade-old business -- renting out inflatable jump houses -- collapsed in a matter of days.
But he can recall how he felt when California Highway Patrol officers grabbed him, pinned his arms behind his back with plastic zip ties and marched him into a holding pen in the building's basement.
"I'm the bouncy house guy, for Chrissakes," he remembers telling them, at first incredulous he was being arrested, then angry. "It was surreal."
Much of life has become baffling to Edmonds and other small-business owners nationwide since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted widespread government restrictions. More than 900,000 Californians run their own small business, accounting for roughly 10% of the state's workforce, a figure that jumps to 14% in Los Angeles. The party services industry has been hit particularly hard because of bans on gatherings.
Without work, Edmonds, like many others, is fighting through empty and anxious days. Increasingly desperate but feeling powerless, he has turned to political activism, "a world that I know nothing about," he said, but one that in just a few weeks has shifted from a radical thought to the only reasonable path he sees.
Edmonds is, by his own description, in a dark place that has "forever" changed how he thinks about life and government, leaving him looking for answers among the pastors, anti-vaccine activists and right-wing groups that have embraced the shutdown protests.
Though many of the rallies across the state have been filled with parishioners brought in on buses or people with years of social agitating under their belts, Edmonds represents a different demographic that has been largely lost in the politicization of the pandemic -- an average Joe pushed to extremes.
"I was searching for something," said Edmonds, owner of Bouncey House Rentals in Roseville. "I was just like, 'What do you do?' "
Edmonds' problems began when a trickle of rental cancellations in February turned into a torrent in March, as customers grew increasingly nervous.
More bald than not and sinewy from years of moving his wares, Edmonds tried to reassure customers that his units were disinfected after every use -- scrubbed with three cleaners including one used by hospitals. But with deaths mounting globally and awareness of the highly contagious illness growing, his guarantees fell on deaf ears.