Read Los Angeles Magazine's February 2021 Issue

“It’s always darkest before the dawn,” rings the cliché—and in the dying days of December, a thin ray of hope seemed to pierce the glum mood that had enveloped Los Angeles since March. Shortly before Christmas, with Mayor Eric Garcetti, Governor Gavin Newsom, and a crush of news cameras at her side, a nurse at Kaiser Permanente in East Hollywood bared her arm and received one of the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to reach the city, which had arrived at LAX the night before on a FedEx cargo plane.

It should have been a celebratory moment for L.A.—a testament to scientific progress and medical advancement. A century earlier, during the Spanish Flu epidemic, it took scientists almost a decade to discover an effective preventative. Now, in less than a year, global teams of doctors working around the clock had produced at least four vaccines to combat the plague that first surfaced in the U.S. in January. But twenty-first-century science turned out to be no match for the medieval ailments and tribal hostilities roiling our city and country.

Instead, in the days that followed, a noisy group of anti-maskers descended on the Erewhon market in the Fairfax District, screaming epithets at surprised shoppers whose only sin was paying $11 for reishi cappuccinos and $18 for keto BBQ-chicken pizzas. A separate group of MAGA warriors convened on the shopping mall at Century City, waving Trump flags and dancing to the Village People’s “YMCA.” Nearby at Ralphs, a woman denouncing “mask nazis” rammed her shopping cart into an already irate customer.

Photo by Shayan Asgharnia

On New Year’s Eve, a Christian healer embarked on a maskless crusade to Echo Park, promising salvation to the vast village of homeless people camped there. Believers dressed in “Jesus is my lifeguard” T-shirts briefly squared off with Socialists armed with hand sanitizer, until their showdown was upstaged by the discovery of a body floating in Echo Park Lake. By then, such surreal spectacles had come to seem almost routine.

Over the past year, aside from the pandemic, L.A. has endured a series of baroque, almost biblical disasters—droughts, wildfires that blanketed the city in perpetual dusk, protests that left entire blocks shrouded in plywood and police helicopters chronically buzzing overhead.

Finally, on January 6, shortly before we went to press with this issue, came the obscene insurrection at the Capitol—which someone described as the storming of the Bastille as performed by the cast of National Lampoon’s Animal House. The televised carnage in DC deflected attention from the casualties here at home, where ambulances were turned away from overwhelmed hospitals and a COVID patient died every eight minutes.

Sometime soon, when both Donald Trump and the virus are finally behind us, we’ll be able to survey the damage wrought by these dueling disasters and commence the difficult task of rebuilding. L.A. will face some daunting obstacles on its road back to normalcy, but in some ways we’re well-equipped for the challenge. A town that conjured up Hollywood and Disneyland and the Kardashians knows a thing or two about reinvention—Los Angeles was built on second acts and happy endings.

The year 2020 was an interminable action movie packed with massive explosions and no discernible plot. But all the insane theatrics obscured the more mundane reality of life here, where most people endured the year’s appalling indignities with patience and grace. Overcoming multiple crises will require a mix of imagination and chutzpah. Luckily, both are embedded in our civic DNA.


Access the February 2021 digital edition of Los Angeles magazine

Follow Us


If you’d like to receive future issues of Los Angeles magazine, click here to purchase a print subscription!