Reopening Day in California

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California today

Wednesday: At first, things didn’t seem so different. But as the day wore on, the changes were more palpable.

Jill Cowan

June 16, 2021


The Wipeout Bar and Grill in San Francisco was full throughout the day.
Credit...Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Good morning.

If you didn’t know it was reopening day, Tuesday morning in Los Angeles might have felt like any other — or at least, any other in the recent downslope of a pandemic that has restricted life in California for more than a year.

Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights was quiet. In stores, patrons still wore masks, even though they didn’t have to. On Hollywood Boulevard, the heart of Tinseltown’s tourist district, only scattered visitors took selfies in front of a blocked off TCL Chinese Theatre plaza.

Nearby, at the nearly century-old Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the lobby was dark and cool, while its lush Tropicana Pool was lively, but relaxed — as it has been for a while now, amid climbing occupancy.


Credit...Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times


Credit...Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

“I think you’re seeing what you were seeing yesterday,” Denise Randazzo, the hotel’s vice president of sales and marketing, told me as we looked out at guests, mostly unmasked, lounging on chaises and dipping into the crystal aqua water. Workers, still wearing face coverings, brought drinks and sanitized chairs.

My colleagues reporting on California’s big reopening found much the same around the state: Depending on where you were or what you were doing, many things stayed the same, and reactions to the fanfare were mixed.

At the Berkeley Bowl, my colleague Thomas Fuller reported, most shoppers still wore masks, although the region has some of the state’s highest vaccination rates. In the Central Valley, my colleague Giulia Heyward reported, residents and officials asked: What took so long to lift the restrictions?


Credit...Jim Wilson/The New York Times


Credit...Alexandra Hootnick for The New York Times

In other words, however Californians were feeling about reopening on Monday — jubilant, angry at the governor, cautiously optimistic — is probably how they felt on Tuesday.

“We just kind of want to see how it goes,” Roselma Samala told me recently. “Honestly it’s been a little bit of trauma from the past year of flip-flopping from whether we can open to when we can’t — just all the regulations.”

She’s the co-owner of Genever, an Art Deco-inspired gin bar in Los Angeles’s Historic Filipinotown that won’t reopen for in-person drinking until July 15.

Once they do welcome tipplers in for an ice-cold martini or a Filipino-style gin and tonic, though, she said she expected people would be ready to party: “You know — the Roaring Twenties.”

Of course, this tentativeness was on display in the daytime. As Tuesday afternoon wore on, beloved watering holes started to reopen their doors, many for the first time in many months.

At the Short Stop, an Echo Park dive near Dodger Stadium, Cassandra Simon, the general manager, was pacing, taking phone calls outside, while Theo Ogboghodo waved in grinning patrons.

“We’ve had at least five cars come by and say, ‘Are you guys open?’” Ogboghodo said.

Moments later, a man rode a motorcycle down the sidewalk and asked about coming in.

Simon said both the Short Stop and the other bar she manages, Footsie’s, had been closed during lockdowns; it wouldn’t have made financial sense to operate at limited capacity.

Reopening, she said, felt surreal.

Drinkers in Dodgers jerseys and ball caps bellied up to the bar, shoulder to shoulder, laughing, hugging and taking shots with bartenders. Though the dance floor was still empty, Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” bumped from the speakers.

Christina Arutyunyan, 31, and her boyfriend, Hugo Hernandez, 38, were finally back at their regular corner, along with Chris Reynolds, 50, who said he’d been coming to the Short Stop since 2003.

“I’ve been giddy all week,” Reynolds said.

Hernandez said it was a relief “to see old faces.”

At the stadium — which over the course of the pandemic became a kind of civic hub — it was clear that things had changed. Traffic, for one thing, was in full force.

Kristopher Williams, 21, wore a hat celebrating the team’s World Series win last year and carried a homemade sign. He had taken public transit from South Los Angeles, leaving at 1:30 p.m. for the 5:30 p.m. gate opening. Williams said he was eager to be part of history.

“This is a very special game,” he said.

Inside the stadium, it was hard to remember that not long ago, the parking lot had been one of the nation’s biggest mass vaccination sites. And not too long before that, thousands of people had driven through the parking lot to administer their own coronavirus tests as instructed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose face was projected on giant video screens.

The crowd on Tuesday of 52,078 — give or take — went wild for Mookie Betts when he hit a go-ahead home run. “Take me out to the crowd,” the fans belted out during the seventh inning stretch.

It felt electric. It felt normal.


Credit...Mario Anzuoni/Reuters


Credit...Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times

Compiled by Jonathan Wolfe

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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

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