My final newsletter: The power of small moments

A view of a city from a hill.
A view of Los Angeles from Griffith Park.
(Your boy, J-Ray.)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, July 7. I’m Justin Ray.

I met a guy at the Los Angeles Pride Parade. For the last month, we’ve been exchanging messages on Instagram. He kept telling me about an abandoned zoo in Griffith Park, but I didn’t believe him. The city is known for its fantastical sights, but I had been in the park. I never saw anything like a zoo. This boy must be a fabulist.

We finally met up on the Fourth of July in the park and he proved me wrong. He showed me empty cages where animals used to be held. He also told me wild, yet apocryphal stories about haunted happenings in the park. As he gave me a tour, I caught myself making that goofy smile one makes when charmed. Below is a photo of the boy, named Evan, in one of the cages in the park.

A person in a metal cage outdoors.
A guy who led Essential California writer Justin Ray through Griffith Park.
(Justin Ray)

When he talked to me during the parade, there’s no way he could have known that his snap decision would land him in a newsletter produced by the city’s largest paper. I say all this to say: We truly don’t know what happenstance moments may yield.


Here’s another one. A year ago, I was at a bar. This man whose company I didn’t enjoy insisted on chatting with me. A woman whom I’d never met came and sat next to me. She said, “Hey I’m finally here! It’s nice to see you again.” We ended up having a wonderful conversation and exchanged numbers. That woman, named Jackie Orellana, introduced me to another woman, named Leanzy Kate Peterson, who had just finished being on a reality dating show. They are now the best friends I’ve made while in Los Angeles. The three of us recently went to Cancún, Mexico, for Leanzy’s birthday. While Jackie and I were in a pool at a Cancún resort, she said: “Who knew after that night at the bar we’d be in Mexico together?”

“You think it’s just another day, and most days really are like the last,” Leanzy recently told me. “But you never know when it’s that one random moment you meet someone that’ll be a part of your life forever.”

In my final newsletter, I want to remind you to not underestimate the power of small moments.

That’s a topic I haven’t been able to get out of my mind ever since I listened to a discussion in a podcast about it. “The Philosophy of Crime,” hosted by journalist James Renner, provides a deep look at criminal justice and true crime. It’s not just about what we do but also about why we do it. In the episode “Renner’s 2nd Law of True Crime Dynamics,” he talks about how tragedies can lead to an outpouring of positivity. He notes that Oscar Wilde once said, “Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”

Renner brings up the case of Amber Hagerman, 9, who was abducted in 1996 while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas. Her body was later found floating in a creek. A woman named Diana Simone wondered if an alert could be sounded for future missing children. She called a local radio station and the Amber Alert was born. It has since saved 1,114 kids.

I have not done anything remotely that powerful with this newsletter. But I have received letters from you all that have made me feel like I did something. Stories like my discussion of this paper’s coverage of the trans community and, most recently, a personal story about my struggles as a teen have led to many touching messages from readers. I thank you for your responses. This position was difficult, and you all kept me going. I will take the lessons I learned from writing this newsletter to my next adventure: serving as a reporter for Grid News.

Perhaps the person who has had the biggest impact on me during my tenure at The Times is Reed Johnson. My editor has meant everything to me. He has helped me with stories, but he’s also been a life coach. He has been kind, passionate and thoughtful. I am so fortunate to have crossed paths with him. I was able to thrive in this position all because I knew he would be there for me.


I end my time at Essential California with a plea: Capitalize on this time you have here on Earth. You never know. You might end up in Cancún. You might invent a system that saves lives. Or, you might end up in a newsletter.

The good news is that Essential California is not ending. However, it will continue without me. Take care. Follow me on Twitter to stay in touch!

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

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


How do grocery prices compare across L.A.-area stores? We ran the numbers. The Times compiled a snapshot of prices at 10 popular grocery chains in the Los Angeles region. How does your local store compare with others? Also, if you are looking for ways to save money on groceries, we also made this list of 10 tips. Los Angeles Times

Illustration of a grocery cart made out of a barcode on a red background
We compiled a snapshot of prices at ten popular grocery chains in the Los Angeles region.
(Illustration by Jim Cooke / Los Angeles Times, Getty Images photos)

Our daily news podcast

If you’re a fan of this newsletter, you’ll love our daily podcast “The Times,” hosted every weekday by columnist Gustavo Arellano, along with reporters from across our newsroom. Go beyond the headlines. Download and listen on our App, subscribe on Apple Podcasts and follow on Spotify.


Gov. Gavin Newsom is on vacation in Montana visiting family, CalMatters reports. That’s significant because the state is among 22 to which California has banned state-funded and state-sponsored travel, citing policies it deems discriminatory to LGBTQ people. CalMatters

Column: Ignore the hype. Here’s why Gov. Gavin Newsom is not running for president. Newsom’s recent TV spot in Florida reinvigorated longtime rumors that he has White House aspirations. But columnist Mark Z. Barabak explains why that’s not likely. Los Angeles Times

A man speaks and raises his left hand at a lectern.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference in Sacramento on Feb. 27, 2020.
(Associated Press)


Eric Holder Jr. was convicted of murder in the 2019 killing of rapper Nipsey Hussle. Holder showed no reaction to the verdict. His guilt was not in question throughout his two-week trial, as multiple witnesses testified that he committed the crime. Holder’s attorney was pushing for jurors to convict his client of a lesser manslaughter charge. Los Angeles Times

Vitors photograph family and friends where deceased murals of Nipsey Hussle are on display
Visitors photograph family and friends on Aug. 1, 2019, where murals of Nipsey Hussle are on display across from the strip mall where he was killed in Los Angeles.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Support our journalism

Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


Los Angeles County’s coronavirus case rate hit its highest point in nearly five months over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, a troubling sign of how two new super-infectious Omicron strains are creating conditions for a fraught summer. The two subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, have become dominant nationwide, and they appear to be among the most contagious yet of this pandemic. Los Angeles Times

Cars line up.
A healthcare worker hands out a coronavrisu test kit at a drive-through testing site at La Sierra Park on Dec. 21, 2021.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Can a Target gift card help you stay off meth? This L.A. program is trying it. Researchers say such “contingency management” programs use the reward systems in the brain to nudge people away from drug use. Los Angeles Times


The brother of a teenager killed by ex-Placer County Chief Executive Todd Leopold has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. The suit filed with the Placer County Superior Court details how Leopold struck Anthony Williams, 18, who later died of his injuries. “An officer at the scene reported that Leopold’s eyes were red and watery. However, the police did not administer field sobriety tests or a breath or blood test,” according to the lawsuit documents. Fox 40

Pop-up Big Dill Kitchen is bringing hidden Iranian gems to Berkeley. Helia Sadeghi, a UC Berkeley student and rising Oakland-based baker-chef, founded a commissioned cake business that’s producing some of the region’s most in-demand cakes. “When I finally found a stable home in the United States, the first thing I did was buy an electric stand mixer,” Sadeghi says. Berkeleyside

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at


Los Angeles: Overcast, 79. San Diego: Sunny, 71. San Francisco: Warm, 66. San Jose: Sunny, 75. Fresno: Sunny, 95. Sacramento: Warm, 85.


Today’s California memory is from me:

One of the best memories I have of California is a two-week visit my brother and his then-girlfriend had in Los Angeles and San Diego. We had so much fun experiencing both cities. We ate amazing seafood and had great drinks. I remember at this one bar there was a woman holding a dog. It was a beagle sitting on her lap. I went up to the dog to pet it and said, “Oh, he’s such a good boy!” She turned and said, “Actually he’s not.” The dog ⁠— not missing a beat⁠ — promptly bit my finger.

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 to