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Escape from Cuba: Yasiel Puig's Untold Journey to the Dodgers

The story of how L.A. Dodgers star Yasiel Puig defected from Cuba to come to the U.S. to play baseball:

Given the riches that await in el exterior, it is remarkable not that so many Cuban athletes leave but that so many more stay. Nobody needs to remind them that the decision to flee is irrevocable, a one-way journey from privation to overload. “You’re afraid to leave your family, you’re afraid that maybe you won’t triumph, you’re afraid of…I don’t know, it’s just a very difficult step,” rookie infielder and Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero, in the first year of a $28 million deal, told me at the Dodgers’ spring training camp in Arizona. It took Guerrero years to build up the gumption to flee, then three attempts to succeed. “Once you board one of those boats,” he added, “you don’t know who is who and how those people are going to react, or what’s going to happen out in the sea.”

An elaborate underground of couriers and bagmen is forever shadowing Cuba’s best ballplayers. So is a state-sponsored network of secret police and paid informants. When you are being lured and monitored at every turn, caught between ambition and duty, survival sometimes means playing both sides.

AUTHOR:Jesse Katz
PUBLISHED: April 13, 2014
LENGTH: 32 minutes (8227 words)

The Hugo Problem

Hugo Schwyzer was considered "L.A.'s most prominent male feminist" until his bad behavior exposed him as a hypocrite:

During one student lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., in April 1997, he says he had sex with four coeds, three of them at the same time. This was a period when he was also drinking heavily, abusing cocaine and prescription drugs, and swept up in a stormy relationship with a woman in her twenties.

In 1998, Schwyzer, now divorced from his second wife, would see his destructive behavior catch up with him. After a drug and alcohol binge, he landed in the hospital. He went into rehab and got sober and, he says, initiated discussions with Pasadena City College officials about his past philandering with students. As part of his amends to PCC, he wrote the college’s first policy governing sexual relations between faculty and students, and then returned to the classroom. Schwyzer began carefully building a new story for himself, one that came to be known, mockingly, by his online feminist critics as “Hugo’s redemption narrative.”

AUTHOR:Mona Gable
PUBLISHED: March 26, 2014
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6479 words)

Downfall

An autopsy of Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca's fall from grace:

At approximately 10 A.M., on Tuesday, January 7, Sheriff Lee Baca stepped up to a temporary podium in the front courtyard of the Monterey Park headquarters of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. After a short, emotional preface, he glanced at his notes and, running his fingers along the words as he said them, announced that he was leaving his position as the head of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department—effective almost immediately. “I am not going to seek reelection to a fifth term as sheriff, and I will retire at the end of this month,” he said to the crowd of reporters, each of whom had scrambled to be there after getting word of Baca’s impending arrival. “I was elected to four terms, and I will go out on my terms.”

PUBLISHED: Feb. 27, 2014
LENGTH: 46 minutes (11665 words)

The Secret Life of Johnny Lewis

Johnny Lewis was a Hollywood actor who starred in series such as The O.C. and Sons of Anarchy. He soon began exhibiting troubling behavior that led to a grisly murder:

In late October 2011, Lewis lost control of his Triumph motorcycle near Twentynine Palms. At the hospital the staff checked him for signs of a concussion, but he was allowed to leave after tests came back negative. Michael Lewis, however, noticed that his son’s behavior was becoming erratic and bizarre. Had the accident shaken something loose in his brain? he wondered. The elder Lewis scheduled two MRIs, which Johnny refused to undergo. Friends picked up on Lewis’s change in behavior, too. During an acting class in December, he kept speaking in a vaguely British accent. “I asked him about it because I was confused,” Tucker says, “but he shrugged it off.” By the new year Lewis’s behavior would turn from curious to dangerous.

PUBLISHED: Jan. 30, 2014
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5380 words)

The Northridge Earthquake: 'Like a Punch Delivered from Below'

Revisiting the Northridge earthquake two decades later. Before Hurricane Katrina, it was considered "costliest natural disaster in U.S. history". As recalled by Richard Andrews, director of California’s Office of Emergency Services at the time:

I took a turboprop plane with Wilson and the head of the California Highway Patrol from Sacramento to Los Angeles. We knew there had been damage to the freeway system, so on the flight down we were poring over maps of Southern California and trying to locate the places where we knew there would be freeway interruptions. We began talking about the strategy that we would eventually employ later that day of fast-tracking contracts to get the debris cleared and the repair work under way on the freeways. That proved to be one of the smartest things we did, because not only did it shorten dramatically the time to get the freeways back up and running, it also sent the public a signal that somebody was in charge and taking action quickly to address some of the major problems.

After we landed in L.A., we boarded an LAPD helicopter and took an aerial tour. We saw the damage to the Nordstrom out in Canoga Park, the freeway collapse at the 14/I-5 interchange and along the I-10 toward Santa Monica.

PUBLISHED: Jan. 14, 2014
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2810 words)

The Wage Warrior

A profile of Maria Elena Durazo, Los Angeles's most powerful labor leader:

Just how much influence does Durazo have in Los Angeles? Anyone who wants to build anything big—a hotel, a skyscraper, a sports stadium, a rail line—must first go through her and the County Fed, providing assurance that the project will create “good union jobs.” In the exceedingly rare instance that a nonunion project does get approved by the labor-friendly city council, it can face protests and even litigation. Developers are said to be frustrated that a single interest group has so much clout, but nobody is willing to speak openly. “I don’t know any developer who would go on record saying anything that would antagonize María,” a consultant told me.

“She’s one of the foremost power brokers in the city—there’s no question about that,” says Jaime Regalado, the former head of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs. “Call it a fear factor, call it a respect factor. Those who make decisions in the public sector have to listen to her.”

PUBLISHED: Dec. 23, 2013
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6682 words)

The Old Man Next Door

A look at mob boss "Whitey" Bulger's last days while living in an apartment complex in Los Angeles:

Catalina Schlank, who is 90, has lived at the Princess Eugenia since moving there in 1974, a decade after arriving from Argentina. To her the pair had a storybook quality. “They were nice neighbors and courteous with me,” says Schlank. “They were elegant. You could just picture them as a young couple.” She remembers how Greig would place tenants’ mail on their doorsteps, since the letter carrier usually dumped onto the floor whatever didn’t fit into the tiny boxes. Schlank still has some of the notes Greig gave her, written in tall, clear cursive letters, to express appreciation for the occasional pieces of fruit or a pocketbook the older woman had given her. “Many thanks for the American Hero stationery.” “Hope you have a great month. (March already!)” Bulger had written thank-yous as well. Schlank found him nothing but a courtly, caring figure of a man who insisted on carrying her luggage should he see her with a suitcase and who once, without warning or explanation, came over and enthusiastically hugged her.

PUBLISHED: Oct. 23, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5621 words)

Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week's picks include the Washingtonian, Newsweek, Los Angeles Magazine, The Morning News, The Hairpin, fiction from Electric Literature and a guest pick by Elise Foley.
AUTHOR:Editors
SOURCE:Longreads
PUBLISHED: May 24, 2013

Freeway Rick is Dreaming

The writer, who has written about the notorious crack kingpin Freeway Rick for nearly two decades, profiles Ricky Ross once more as Ross attempts to legitimately hustle his way back to success:

"On the streets he once flooded with drugs, Freeway Rick is hawking weaves. A staple of the African American cosmetology industry, the weave—or 'hair integration' piece—inspires cultlike reverence: a beauty secret that transforms an age-old preoccupation into a declaration of fabulousness. Rick has no training in hair care, no affinity for it either, but he knows that weaves cost a fortune, more than the average customer can sanely afford. A 3.5-ounce bundle, depending on length, retails for $150 to $175, and most women need several bundles to achieve a full, versatile coif, which means $1,000 or more to have the whole thing anchored and styled. In Freeway Rick’s brain, that adds up to opportunity. 'It could be milk, tires, fertilizer—I don’t care,' he says. 'They’re just products.'"
AUTHOR:Jesse Katz
PUBLISHED: May 22, 2013
LENGTH: 33 minutes (8295 words)