I met "Skateboard Bruce" in the same spot in the valley I'd met Joby a few days earlier. His real name was Bruce Cram but he went by the nickname Skateboard Bruce, which I have to say, seemed really fitting, even though I never heard him mention owning a skateboard.
There was something special about this man. I couldn't immediately put my finger on it but I sensed he was different and that he had a real gift. He spoke in such a way that led me to believe he may have suffered from an injury or had some kind of mental illness, perhaps schizophrenia. Not being an expert on mental illness, I was left only to wonder.
He had large hands that seemed disproportionate to his otherwise small frame. His eyes darted back and forth with passionate energy as he spoke dutifully of his obligation to care for all forms of life around him: insects, animals, birds, trees, plants, and people, particularly his homeless brothers and sisters.
I had only done a handful of interviews with homeless people at this point and I had never heard anyone speak this way. Truthfully, I had never really heard anyone I know speak this way. He sounded like a prophet, like some kind of enlightened being. There was something divine about this man and it was apparent that he was operating on another level. I truly felt blessed and protected as I sat in his presence.
I asked a lot of questions as I tried to get to know him better and understand how he ended up homeless. He described a tangled web of financial issues and other unfortunate circumstances.
After some time he pulled out a series of elaborate and beautiful sketches (featured in the video below) that outlined how human beings can be kinder to our planet by being more resourceful and energy efficient.
This conversation took place about four years ago, before talk of global warming was as prevalent as it is today and at the time I must admit this all seemed rather new to me too. This man had spent his days trying genuinely to make the earth a better place on all levels from the micro to the macro. He had as much compassion and dedication towards saving the lives of the insects and birds around him as he did saving our planet and the people on it. I left him that day feeling that the world was truly a better place having "Skateboard Bruce" a part of it.
A few days after meeting Bruce, I came to realize that he and I had a mutual friend in Joby, another homeless man I had interviewed (featured in earlier articles). It was exciting for me to begin to put these pieces together. Slowly but surely this large and daunting world of homelessness I initially entered rather blindly, became a little smaller and more familiar. It felt nice.
While I was lucky enough to have several encounters with Joby, whom I came to know and love, this was the only time I ever saw Skateboard Bruce. That is until a few weeks ago.
As I would spend my weekends and free days driving around looking for homeless people to speak with, it was equally important for me to follow up with those I had already met on the street.
That one encounter with Bruce had left a profound impression on me. His regal face and pure heart were permanently etched in my memory. I thought of him often and wondered if I would ever run into him again.
I had learned from experience that those living on the street could disappear for a while only to resurface later. This had been the case with Joby who was repeatedly in and out of jail.
It has been years since I have seen Joby or Skateboard Bruce. Of the two, I thought it more likely that I would run into Joby again. Bruce seemed more like an enigma.
Just a few weeks ago I was at the gas station on Ventura Boulevard and Vineland in North Hollywood. I was pulling out of the driveway when I noticed a face in my periphery that looked familiar. I pulled over and then it hit me -- it was "Skateboard Bruce." Nearly four years had gone by since we'd first met.
But he looked different. He had grown this wild shrub of facial hair that began below his chin and covered his entire neck. I reminded him of our interview years ago and gave him a big hug. I told him that I was so happy to finally see him again.
I asked if he'd seen Joby. Bruce told me that Joby was dead.
This sudden news, combined with the rush of adrenaline from running into Bruce and the blazing summer heat made me feel like I was going to pass out.
I summoned the strength to speak and asked the obvious question, "How did he die?" Bruce told me that he had been hit by a car. But that wasn't what killed him. He said that Joby's injuries were so bad that he more or less let himself die by not treating them properly.
I hugged Bruce and gave him my condolences. Those moments always feel so trite because there is no measure of tears or sadness that can equate with such a feeling of loss.
I am heartbroken over Joby's death. I can only hope he has found happiness and peace in being reunited with his wife and daughters, of whom he always spoke.
Earlier this year I wrote two other pieces about Joby. His life, from what I gathered, was filled with addiction and sorrow, but he was always so kind to me in spite of the immense pain he was in. And so I feel compelled to tell the rest of his story.
I don't really know the details of his death; I only know that he was a homeless man who lived on the streets of North Hollywood. He was tragically wounded by the life he lived. I don't know if he had a funeral, I do not even know where his body is. These are the questions I did not have the capacity to ask as Bruce and I stood there in the blazing summer heat.
The sad truth is that simply because of Joby's status as a homeless man, his story and his life cannot reach as many people as they should. This is why I feel the need to share what I know with you. There are so many others out there who live and die on the streets, anonymous and alone.
There isn't one solution to this problem, but perhaps, at the very least we can try to pay more attention and show more compassion for these people. Remembering that while we may not know them or understand why they are out there, their lives are equally fragile and equally valuable.
Follow Rachel Fleischer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/withoutahome