California isn’t a ghost town under coronavirus rules. But it’s pretty quiet out there

A sign emphasizing social distancing is posted at a virtually deserted Main Beach in Laguna Beach.
(Marc Martin / Los Angeles Times)

Chaz Manzanares and Andrew Luna stood beneath gray skies Friday morning in the nearly empty parking lot at the closed Del Amo Fashion Center. Their voices carried through the vast, empty parking lot, which usually has valet parking and idling drivers stalling for elusive parking spaces.

The two were waiting for a quick employee meeting. Manzanares works as a restaurant server in the mall, as does Luna’s girlfriend.

The Torrance shopping center, one of the largest malls in the country, closed Wednesday night. Restaurants and eateries doing take-out and delivery could stay open, as Manzanares’ restaurant was. But many had closed.

“It’s what needs to be done,” Manzanares, 32, of Carson, said of the closures. “I understand. If everyone follows the rules and stays in their house, the hospitals can do their thing. The main thing I’m stressed about is how are we going to get paid? It’s scary.”


Manzanares still has a job, for now, though the restaurant staff is down to just a few filling takeout and carryout orders. He, like most of the waiters, is at home.

This was the first day of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new statewide requirement directing all Californians to stay at home amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The mandatory order allows Californians to continue to visit gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, takeout and delivery restaurants, banks and laundromats. People can leave their homes to care for a relative or a friend or seek healthcare services.

“We’re going to keep the grocery stores open,” Newsom said. “We’re going to make sure that you’re getting critical medical supplies. You can still take your kids outside, practicing common sense and social distancing. You can still walk your dog.”


At the Del Amo mall, the order was the latest emotional body blow from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manzanares said he’s mentally holding up OK for now. But he’s a little nervous about what will happen if the closures extend for weeks or months, “if things do go south.” He hopes grocery stores stay stocked, that people don’t resort to desperate measures like breaking into homes. He’s grateful he got security cameras recently installed and has high fences.

“I hope I don’t turn into one of those paranoid people looking at cameras all day,” he said, chuckling.

Manzanares keeps thinking of his two elderly neighbors, a man and wife, who sit on chairs on their porch every day. They always wave and say hi. And they often take their old, beat-up car for a drive. This week, he saw them sitting there, holding empty grocery bags, wondering if they should go out. Some neighbors quickly offered to go run their errands because their kids live far away.


Manzanares said life right now feels like it’s back to the basics. He’s been talking on the phone a lot more, calling to check up on loved ones. He thinks people will be kinder, overall, after all of this. He’s only hugging close, trusted family members these days, but that contact feels more special.

“I feel like the hugs are stronger now,” he said.

Luna, 25, of Gardena, has a baby girl on the way. His girlfriend is due soon. He built the crib last night.

“I’m having a baby in a month,” he said. “Like, what kind of world am I bringing her into?”


Luna said his girlfriend is strong, and if she’s scared “she hides it well.” They’re trying to keep their spirits up. He works in a chiropractor’s office and is, for now, still working.

As they spoke, mall employees came walking out the front doors, toting perishables from the restaurants that would have gone to waste with the mall closed. One woman carried out two giant glass jars of lemons and limes. Another pushed a steel utility cart to her car.

Manzanares and Luna went in to grab a few bottles of wine. Manzanares emerged with his arms full. Five bottles. Good wine. It was a sliver of joy for the day, he said, laughing.

Down the street, at Mitsuwa Marketplace, a Japanese grocery store, employees wore face masks and gloves. People ducking in seemed in a hurry, their heads down, not wanting to talk. One man was stocking up on rice for his 94-year-old dad, who wasn’t thrilled when his doctor told him Thursday to stay inside.


The man, who was retired, said he wasn’t despairing. “What am I gonna do about it?” he asked.

Diana, a 33-year-old pharmacy employee from Playa del Rey who did not give her last name, stood in the parking lot with her 2-year-old son, in her arms, squirming and trying to run away. She wore a black face mask, but the toddler kept pulling it down. His daycare was closed. Diana has to keep working, and her husband is trying to work at home with the little boy. It’s been challenging.

Her husband put on a pair of blue disposable gloves before going in the store. They live near a Whole Foods and a Costco, but those stores were too packed, too barren, to get the essentials they needed. They drove down, knowing this was a clean, quiet store.

“I don’t want to be out,” Diana said. “But we need milk.”


She tried Amazon Fresh and Instacart. But there were no delivery options.

“I had everything in my cart but no one to deliver it,” she said.

Still, she said, she is glad the restrictions are taking place.

“I think it needs to happen. Actually, it’s a little lenient. It should have been done a while ago. We’re behind.”