Newsletter: In a pandemic, letting go


Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, July 31. I’m Esmeralda Bermudez, filling in for Julia Wick, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Seven months in, 2020 has proven to be the year of letting go — of vacations, school plays, summer concerts, big birthday and anniversary parties we had mapped out long ago.

For some, it’s also meant letting go of loved ones — losing relatives and friends to COVID-19 or some other cause — and finding new ways to honor their memory in a safe and thoughtful way.

This week, my colleague Gustavo Arellano told the tale of one community in San Bernardino that came together to properly send off one of their own: a legendary waitress named Lucy Reyes.


Lucy died July 13 of a heart attack. She was 86.

She had worked at Mitla Cafe, the oldest Mexican restaurant in the Inland Empire, for 68 of its 83 years, retiring in 2018. Her loyal customers included the mighty — politicians, athletes, Cesar Chavez — and multiple generations from hundreds of families in the city’s West Side barrio.

Vanessa Vara brings balloons for Lucy Reyes' memorial service.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

“Mom was like a human Facebook,” said Reyes’ son, Andy. “If you needed to know anyone in San Bernardino, and who was related to who, she knew.”

With many places of worship banned from opening and mortuaries booked, her descendants and former customers gathered to hold a socially distant memorial in the Mitla Cafe parking lot. They brought flowers, balloons and shared Lucy stories.

Spaced out in their quarantine pods and with masks on, fans of Lucy did what most Californians try to these days — hold on to each other, at a safe distance.

[Read “In San Bernardino, a legendary waitress gets a COVID-19-safe memorial, with tacos to go” in the Los Angeles Times]


And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

California passes another milestone: 9,000 coronavirus-related deaths. The rising death toll comes after two days of record-setting fatalities as officials are trying to slow outbreaks across the state that followed the reopening of the economy in late May and early June. Los Angeles Times

Men are less likely to wear masks. They are also dying of coronavirus at higher rates in L.A. County. “Men: Mask up. Men: Wash your hands. Clean your surfaces. Men: Don’t get together with other households,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. Los Angeles Times


Veterinarians say a Hollywood-backed activist endangered pets by treating them with his own products. More than a dozen Los Angeles-area veterinarians say Marc Ching, founder of a Hollywood-backed animal rescue charity, persuaded their clients to abandon a prescribed treatment regimen and instead give their ailing dogs and cats products he sells at his for-profit pet food store. Los Angeles Times

Four women say they were mistreated by comedian Bryan Callen. They described troubling sexual incidents ranging from assault to misconduct to disturbing comments. Their stories suggest a pattern of behavior that spans decades, going back at least as far as 1999. Callen has denied all accounts. Los Angeles Times

An earthquake shakes celebrities into freaking out on social media. A magnitude 4.2 earthquake struck L.A. at 4:29 a.m. Thursday. And even more aftershocks rippled across Twitter. Here’s a taste of how celebrities (and a few civilians) reacted. Los Angeles Times

How Chinese Americans are embracing U.S. gun culture. This rising interest in the 2nd Amendment comes as hate crimes, assaults and reports of harassment against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community are also increasing. L.A. Taco

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After missing DACA, she resented her U.S.-born siblings. Trump ruined her second chance. Beatriz Basurto is among tens of thousands of immigrant youth whom the Trump administration has effectively kept out of DACA, radically changing the trajectory of their lives. Their lack of DACA status has altered relationships, bred resentment and sparked awkward silences between family members who have legal status and those who don’t. Los Angeles Times

A judge blocked Trump’s “public charge” policy on immigrants during the pandemic. The policy would have allowed the government to deny permanent residency to immigrants who officials believe are likely to use public benefits. “As a direct result of the rule, immigrants are forced to make an impossible choice between jeopardizing health and personal safety or their immigration status,” the judge wrote. BuzzFeed News


How we’re handling the coin shortage. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a coin shortage, and it’s hitting small-business owners, big retailers and everyday shoppers — especially those who don’t have credit or debit cards — in ways big and small. Los Angeles Times

To survive, local restaurateurs do what they must. COVID-19 has added a long list of chores owners must address to maintain compliance with ever-changing state guidelines. “You have to have one more employee, like, as a steward, just to wash — constantly, consistently wiping stuff down,” said David Fujimura, co-owner of Lit Cafe in Anaheim. Orange County Register


Trump suggests delaying the November election — but it’s not likely. No U.S. presidential election has ever been postponed, even during the Civil War, World War II and other times of national crisis. Los Angeles Times

$100 coronavirus mask fines could come to Los Angeles. Councilman Paul Koretz introduced a motion that would authorize the city to issue fines. The first violation would result in a $100 penalty, followed by a $250 citation for the second violation and $500 for the third and subsequent violations. Daily News

A record collapse in GDP points to challenges for economic recovery — and Trump. U.S. economic output fell at a stunning 32.9% annual rate in the second quarter — a level not seen since the Great Depression and by far the largest drop since government record-keeping began in 1947. Los Angeles Times


“Pension spiking” is not protected by California law, top court rules. The California Supreme Court unanimously upheld a provision that forbade many county employees from padding their future pensions by cashing in years of vacation or sick pay or working longer hours before retirement. Los Angeles Times

Inglewood mayor’s ex-girlfriend wants $12 million for post-breakup firing. Melanie McDade claims Mayor James T. Butts Jr. had her terminated when she rebuffed his advances to resume their relationship. Daily Breeze


Nearly $6 billion has been allocated to find a coronavirus vaccine. But when Americans line up for their immunizations, the vaccine they receive might not be what they expect. The popular notion of a vaccine — a shot in the arm that prevents diseases such as measles, polio or shingles for years or a lifetime — may not apply. Los Angeles Times

Farmworkers face retaliation for demanding safe conditions. The situation at Primex Farms in Wasco, Calif., highlights the tightrope farmworkers must walk to protect their health and jobs while avoiding retaliation from their employers. The World

A coronavirus outbreak at USC’s fraternity row leaves at least 40 people infected. The school has detected around 40 positive COVID-19 cases involving individuals living on 28th Street, where many fraternity groups associated with the university are based, said Dr. Sarah Van Orman, USC’s chief student health officer. Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles River as you’ve never seen it — in augmented reality. Fifty-one miles of territory. Thousands of years of evolution. How to grasp the complexity of the Los Angeles River, its history and its geological diversity in a single sitting? Los Angeles Times

Priest slams parishioners for putting “safety over sacraments.” In San Francisco, a Catholic priest called the pandemic a political ploy, chastised his parishioners for putting fears over faith and skipping Mass to “avoid the remote possibility of dying from COVID.” San Francisco Chronicle


Josef Centeno’s Orsa & Winston is the L.A. Times’ Restaurant of the Year. With its 35 seats, the 1,200-square-foot restaurant has always functioned as a workshop for Centeno’s evolution as a chef and leader. Los Angeles Times

57 cool walks in L.A. that get you 10,000 steps. A native Angeleno and documentary producer-director created 57 mostly flat walking routes that dive deep into the city, one neighborhood at a time, in the third edition of the guidebook “10,000 Steps a Day in L.A.” Los Angeles Times

Born in the Bay Area from history’s biggest student strike. Legislation passed requiring all California State University students to take courses in ethnic studies, including African American, Asian American, Latino and Native American studies. Did you know ethic studies was born from a revolution that began at San Francisco State in 1968? How it happened is a fascinating story. KQED

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Los Angeles: sunny, 93. San Diego: partly cloudy, 83. San Francisco: sunny, 69. San Jose: sunny, 80. Fresno: sunny, 103. Sacramento: warm, 95. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Elizabeth Duran:

We are all native Angelenos. My Mom and Dad used to take us over the Ridge Route to the Central Valley to visit family. It was handmade bologna sandwiches and few bathroom stops ... weren’t many ... no a/c but radiator bags! Great memories. It was always fun to do something different, and we five kids counted license plates for entertainment!

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.