COVID-19 update and Metro News; Jan. 8, 2021; and a few words on Tom LaBonge

In the less than 24 hours since I last posted headlines, the news has somehow managed to go from worse to even worse COVID-wise in L.A. County. On Thursday afternoon, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported that hospitalizations of those with COVID-19 has increased again, 218 new deaths and 19,719 new positive cases. The county hospitals are drawing up plans to ration care.

Because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases — and with Los Angeles County health officials calling the virus ‘out of control’ — Metro is experiencing staff shortages. As a result, some bus or rail trips may be canceled — we are trying to shuffle staff to minimize the impact on any particular bus or rail line. Please see this Source post from Tuesday.

Metro will continue to be there for essential travel. Please everyone be safe — and best wishes to all riders and Metro staff who are ill, caring for sick family members or in quarantine. If you can stay home or limit your trips out, please do so.

In America this week, here are the deaths due to COVID-19 by day:

Monday – 2,048

Tuesday – 3,689

Wednesday – 3,964

Thursday – 4,112

As soon as a I finish this sentence it will be tragically outdated: as of 10:08 a.m. today, there have been 365,495 deaths in the United States due to the coronavirus. That includes 28,552 of your fellow Californians.

•I posted earlier today that Metro has been working on a vaccination plan for Metro staff and our essential frontline workers — who so many people depend on to reach their essential jobs and destinations. We’re not sure when the vaccinations will happen, but we are trying to figure out the best pecking order and such. Here’s the post.

And from DPH:

•In other agency news, Metro’s Service Councils — which consist of riders and residents — are again meeting virtually this month. Attendance has ticked up during the pandemic — apparently it’s easier for people to attend online than getting to a meeting. If you’re interested in a lot of the things we write about on The Source, I encourage you to attend. Good questions get asked and there are presentations by Metro staff on different aspects of our transit service and other projects and programs.

Things to read whilst you are or are not stuck on transit: As you may have heard by now, Los Angeles has lost two iconic figures — Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda and former L.A. Councilman and Metro Board Member Tom LaBonge. As much as Lasorda loved the Dodgers, LaBonge loved representing residents of Los Angeles and his Silver Lake-based district.

First, from a wonderful Sports Illustrated profile of Lasorda in March 1977 when he was headed into his first season at the helm of the Dodgers:

Tom Lasorda, the noted evangelist, has a message for anyone who will listen, for little children who seek his autograph, for adults who invite him to speak at their civic clubs, for girls in the office, the man on the street and the stars at Hollywood and Vine. The gospel truth according to Lasorda: there is no organization in baseball equal to the Los Angeles Dodgers. And there is no greater honor in baseball than to be a part of the Dodgers, to wear Dodger blue, to bleed Dodger blue, to revere the Great Dodger in the Sky.

This is not just team spirit, brethren. This goes beyond mere loyalty to a cause, a country or a laundry detergent. We are talking about something that really matters. For, as the Billy Sunday of the Dodgers was telling an audience last month, “When you say you’re a Padre, people ask when did you become a parent. When you say you’re a Cardinal, they tell you to work hard because the next step is Pope. But when you say you’re a Dodger, everybody knows you’re in the major leagues.” Hallelujah!

Lasorda is a Dodger and, as we shall see, has a tombstone to prove it. He is, in fact, the manager of the Dodgers, something that for the last 23 years could be said only of Walter Alston. But Alston retired last Sept. 27, and two days later Los Angeles selected its gregarious, persuasive, combative 49-year-old third-base coach to be his successor. As a result, when the Dodgers opened spring training last week, the scene in Vero Beach, Fla. was quite different from what it had been for more than two decades. The man in charge was moving here, hurrying there, shouting orders, giving directions, laughing, talking a mile a minute, hugging, cajoling and praising.

Attentive Source readers know that I grew up in Cincinnati in the 1970s and, thus, absolutely hated the Dodgers, who each year went toe-to-toe with the Reds for the Western Division title and a likely trip to the World Series. That said, I was as thrilled as anyone when I picked up the phone at the ribs joint where I worked one night in the ’80s and Tommy Lasorda was on the line seeking to procure Cincy’s finest barbecue.

At a time when so many players and coaches go from team to team with little loyalty to fans or community or teammates, Lasorda stuck with one city and one team. My condolences to all Dodger fans and I can’t wait to see that ballpark filled with people once again.

And now let’s talk a little bit about Councilman Tom LaBonge, pictured below on the L Line (Gold) extension on opening day in 2016.

I had the privilege as a reporter at the LAT of covering Tom for a few years and he literally could not have been more helpful or friendly or interesting or fun to be around. Being an elected official in Los Angeles and working for the residents of the community where he grew up was Tom’s dream job. To say he loved every minute of it is a vast understatement and he never, ever took the job for granted.

Although he will not be remembered as a wonk — thank God — I would be remiss not to mention that it was Tom that helped get the ball rolling on the subway extension under Wilshire Boulevard that’s now under construction (see the motion at right). It may seem a no brainer idea to many Source readers today, but back in the early 2000s many areas pols had given up on it or lacked the conviction* to push for it. Not Tom.

I last saw Tom at the CicLAvia in South L.A. held a few weeks before the pandemic hit. He was there by himself that day riding his bike, snapping pics and enjoying what he enjoyed most — a civic event that brought people together. And, as Tom always did when he saw me, he mentioned a long ago article that ran on the front page of the local dog trainer. That made Tom very proud because he thought newspapers were a vital and irreplaceable part of civic life.

So let’s blow the dust off that one. From the archives

…In his four-plus years on the council, LaBonge has emerged as its most colorful member and an antithesis to those with more lofty policy-oriented ambitions. He has returned the job to its caretaker roots — and beyond, to its janitorial beginnings.

“I’m not a statesman, I’m a councilman,” he’ll sometimes say, “and a councilman picks up garbage.”

LaBonge is the only member of the 15-member council who can also be regularly seen directing traffic, walking old ladies across the street, fetching errant balls for children, giving unsuspecting residents loaves of pumpkin bread from a local monastery, holding forth on L.A. history or handing out calendars featuring his snapshots of Los Angeles, including high-tension wires set against clouds….

I’ll finish with a couple thoughts…for those of us who have worked in government or covered government, this was already a tough week — to see once again how much some people hate government, hate democracy and hate the media that government needs to be held accountable. Tom LaBonge loved all three of those things dearly and understood exactly what their roles are in a healthy community.

Not only that, Tom had the rare ability to make people actually LIKE government. I’m not saying he batted 1.000 in that category. No pol or government employee does. But he sure as hell got on my base more than most. And so to lose someone like Tom this week seems especially cruel.

Of course, and as a I wrote at the top of this post, so many people — including many of my friends and colleagues at Metro — have lost people recently, whether due to COVID-19 or something else. Coping with loss, managing expectations, figuring out how to go forward…those have become daily rituals for so many over the last year. If it’s any consolation at all, from my all-time favorite artist, Bruce Springsteen on those who have passed:

…all those people sort of walk alongside you. Their spirit, their energy, their echo continues to resonate in the physical world.… A beautiful part of living is what we’re left by the dead.” 

Tom LaBonge, btw, fronted a garage band in the ’60s. I bet he’d like this one…

*The word “conviction” is a very charitable assessment. I encourage you to ply your imagination for other words that describe lack of courage and make a mental edit there.





1 reply

  1. Councilman LaBonge never forgot the =servant= part of “public servant”. He set a fine example for every public worker. He knew who he served and that all public workers from different parts of government can work together. He kept a kit in the trunk of his official vehicle that included cones, high visibility vest, broom and shovel, bags, and such. He prepared to serve and stayed prepared. He also had a routine of hiking up to Mount Hollywood (above the Griffith Park Observatory) every morning. Anyone that wanted to talk to him could look for the guy carrying the football and bend his ear. I met him out there once and he lived up to his reputation.