Like untold multitudes who came before her, Giulia Ragusa eyed the handprints of Marilyn Monroe set in concrete in front of the landmark TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Ragusa got down on her knees and thrust her palms right where the film siren once did. “I’m not afraid!” she declared. “I’m young and strong!”
Unlike the multitudes who came before her, the 27-year-old from San Francisco then implored her friend, “Get the hand sanitizer out of my backpack, please.”
In measures big and small, Angelenos and visitors from afar sounded notes of anxiety, hope and some fear as they settled into the first full day of an official national coronavirus emergency.
Parents stocked up on arts and crafts supplies, knowing their children would be home from school for weeks. Families sought out the damp beauty of the Huntington Gardens in San Marino and the boardwalk in Santa Monica. Couples packed liquor stores and pot shops to, as one Highland Park customer put it, “take the edge off all this craziness.” And people lined up to buy guns — fearing that today’s public health emergency might turn into tomorrow’s broader civil breakdown.
For every person sheltering quietly at home, there were others still fighting for supplies as they entered what felt like it could be a long siege. A Highland Park man said his roommate had seen two women begin wrestling inside a store after one sneezed and failed to cover her nose. In Torrance, a CVS manager was relieved she hadn’t had to endure the fights she’d heard broke out at a neighboring supermarket, even though she said that at her own store, “It’s been pandemonium.”
“It’s like waking up to a new reality. There are limitations now to what you can do in life, at least for the time being,” said David Freid as he toured the Huntington Gardens to get a break from “self-isolation” with his girlfriend, Jennifer Tocquigny. “And it feels strange, because we don’t know how long it’s going to be for everything to get back on track.”
Reminders of the virus that causes COVID-19 stretched from a light-on-tourists Hollywood Walk of Fame to meandering supermarket lines to freeways mostly devoid of traffic, featuring Caltrans message boards that declared: “COVID-19. LESS IS MORE. AVOID GATHERINGS.”
Angelenos over the decades have endured numerous emergencies — fires, earthquakes, riots — but they generally coped with them collectively, sometimes at evacuation sites or community centers. But with the social distancing required to stem the spread of the coronavirus, many have had no place of public refuge, other than to seek out some retail therapy.
A BevMo store on Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena reported that sales doubled Friday and remained brisk Saturday. The Green Earth Collective pot shop in Highland Park had customers lined up elbow to elbow.
Philip, a registered nurse, left the dispensary with a bag of weed and declared, “Nobody wants to go through quarantine sober.”
The Herbarium marijuana dispensary on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles even tried to own the moment, offering face masks with every purchase. They were labeled “Corona Free Herbarium.”
“People don’t want to care about coronavirus, or watch upsetting news about it on television,” said Breanna Lucier, a spokeswoman for the business. “Instead, they just want to chill out with Netflix and some weed.”
At jam-packed liquor emporiums, not all customers were looking to buzz away the coronavirus slowdown. Some at the BevMo store in Culver City also wanted 120-proof Everclear, a grain alcohol brand, to fill another need.
“Word is spreading fast that at 120 proof, or 60% alcohol, it can kill any germ there is out there,” said store manager Paul Pabich. “We had 24 bottles in stock on Monday, and they were all sold by Thursday.”
Nodding appreciatively to an empty shelf reserved for bottles of Everclear ($19.99 each), Pabich shrugged and added, “It’s the way of the world right now, and we’re making a little money from it.”
For parents, especially those with young children, the prospect of weeks without schools and preschools seemed overwhelming. Many of them filed into Michaels art supply in Pasadena on Saturday, looking for crafting materials to fill the coming days.
Natasha Wooldridge, 30, said she would have to be occupying her nearly 3-year-old son, Asher, while trying to keep her telephone fashion sales work going.
“I’m nervous it’s going to last longer than two weeks. It’s a little terrifying,” said Wooldridge with a laugh. “He’s very active, so being cooped up indoors, it’s not ideal.”
A mostly more mature crowd sought solace of another kind at the Videotheque video store in South Pasadena. Business had jumped markedly, with customers favoring “comfort” classics such as “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Sound of Music,” said owner Mark Wright.
“People might normally go hang out in a bar with other people,” Wright said. “Now they are just hunkering down and staying cozy.”
One customer, Ned Price, was getting ready to rewatch an Akira Kurosawa classic, “Throne of Blood.” Then, he said, he’d fill more of his added free time with a long-delayed home improvement chore — painting his kitchen.
“Some people say this social isolation is an overreaction, but what’s overreacting?” said Price, retired from film restoration work at Warner Bros. “You are doing this for other people, so they can stay well.”
On Saturday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases statewide had increased an additional 41, to 288 total, with 54 of those reported in Los Angeles County.
Despite the admonition for people to keep six feet from strangers, the new social distancing guidelines from public health officials couldn’t keep people away from a few favorite haunts.
At Porto’s Bakery and Cafe in Glendale, more than 100 people waited for meals and sweets.
“Yeah, I understand this isn’t exactly avoiding large gatherings,” said Ariel Diaz of Los Feliz as she waited for an assortment of cakes and pastries. “But the food is good, so I’m taking my chances.”
At the South Pasadena-San Marino YMCA, the 7 a.m. spin class drew eight people. That left enough open bikes so most of the athletes could stay six feet apart.
“I’m not worried. I’m a gym rat. I’m here three hours a day,” said Betty Hanson, 72, who went right from the class to a group cardio session. “We all have to stay healthy.”
But workers at the Y said the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles had ordered a shutdown of group classes as of Monday. If the Y closes down altogether? Hanson pledged she would be leaving L.A. for her second home, in Arizona.
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More common were scenes of gathering places bereft of their normal crowds. The ArcLight Cinemas location in Pasadena was virtually empty Friday night, with snack counters nearly barren. That meant the few patrons could maintain their distance; the theater had initiated a new policy of selling seats only in every other row.
At the Bowlero bowling alley inside Arcadia’s Westfield Santa Anita mall, just two of 36 lanes were in use Saturday afternoon. Rows of arcade games stood empty.
“Right now, we’re just in a time of panic,” said Roberto Calderon, a 35-year-old social worker, who was accustomed to seeing the lanes jammed. “People watch TV and they prepare for the worst, and they don’t leave their homes.”
Normally ebullient Hollywood Boulevard also went quiet Saturday.
“Usually, this sidewalk is a river of people, 30 persons deep,” said souvenir salesman Nick Brooks, 34. “But right now, for the first time, I’ve got a clear view all the way down to Highland Avenue, a quarter-mile away.”
Brooks pronounced business down 100%. “I’ve worked this corner seven years,” he said, “and I’ve never seen it this slow.”
Others had a darker view of the days ahead.
At the Martin B. Retting gun shop in Culver City, a line of prospective customers stretched out the door. Inside, they stood shoulder to shoulder, waiting up to five hours for service. A fast-food truck took orders at the curb. One customer who did not give his name said he feared that “civil services will break down.”
Another, 39-year-old John Gore, said people had to be ready to protect themselves.
“Politicians and anti-gun people have been telling us for the longest time that we don’t need guns,” he said. “But right now, a lot of people are truly scared, and they can make that decision themselves.”
A doctor who would give only his first name, Ray, said he too felt a gun would satisfy his need for protection.
Ray said he intended to buy a handgun, possibly a Glock, but he wasn’t sure, and with the lines so long, he planned to come back at another time.
“I have a house and a family, and they’ll need protection if things get worse.”