He was hit while in a crosswalk by a young driver.
I met Raymond while walking my pup and pruning roses in a park. He was a quiet man with a ready smile. Raymond loved to joke and had many stories to share. Our chatter grew over time.
In Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden, he would sit under the wisteria on a bench in the same place daily. I coined him “King of Keck” because it was like he was on his throne, holding court. Funny, no one else has taken it over—like there’s a silent agreement that it was his place. He enjoyed people-watching, and the shade on warm days.
He had a guitar and I pleaded with him to play it. I realized he didn’t have a clue how to play. He just strummed some crazy way and sang loudly to cover his inability. That made me laugh and I thanked him anyway. His eyes twinkled. Raymond loved Wednesday nights each summer, when talented fiddlers and banjo players gather to play under the fig tree. He would pretend to play his flute, brown legs crossed and head tilted perfectly. He enjoyed everyone and every minute, wiggling his expressive eyebrows.
Ray was a Vietnam vet. He told me he became estranged from his wife and children soon after his tour of duty. He shared stories about Aiden and Sarah with joy and faraway eyes. I gently broached the question of the last time he’d seen them. Many years ago, he told me; at his mother’s funeral.
Raymond was an alcoholic. He had his beer in a paper bag and sat quietly sipping away. I found him incredibly brown one day last early summer and mentioned it. He said “Hey, I work hard on this tan!”
This last winter I had not seen him for several nights, when the weather made a drastic turn. Then I found him in the shadows on his bench in paper clothing. This is how the hospital releases people if they have no one to meet them and clothing was cut off or thrown out. It was after 7 p.m., pitch black, windy, and he was in bad shape. He was probably given a taxi chit, and he came to the place he knew best—his home in the park.
I inquired what had happened. He leaned over to put on some very small shoes they had given him and I noticed his hair was matted with blood and his head had gleaming steel staples from crown to nape. I was shocked. He stated he had fallen but could not remember more. He was too unstable to have been released, and terribly upset that they had cut off his beanie and his Army fatigue jacket. I knew how important those were to him. I left to find him clothing but he was gone when I returned. That night our 28th death occurred in Santa Barbara. I thought it was Raymond for sure. My heart sank. I knew he was a survivor but he was in such bad shape. It turned out that it was not Raymond but another Vietnam vet, named Freedom, who had died.
It took many days to find Raymond. He was in a wheelchair in the beach area letting his damaged feet sit in the sun. Those tiny shoes he forced himself into, during his shock, peeled the skin off his bare feet causing horrible wounds. He’d walked from the Rose Garden to the Salvation Army in that condition. Now he was forced to stay in the beach area. He hated that. He said he did not want to be in the constant drama. A friend and I stopped and prayed for him and he was delighted. He vowed never to wear shoes again—and he didn’t.
I was fortunate to have shared many conversations with him in recent weeks. He had neuropathy and walking became harder and harder; still, I was amazed at how far he walked daily. He came into the warming shelters after I begged him to, on a freezing night. He readily helped clean the shelter each morning. He was grateful and showed it in his kind way.
It was because of Raymond and Freedom that I began my journey of street outreach to urban nomads: serving meals, providing clothing, blankets, and tarps, helping them find work and trying to get some off the streets or back to families. Raymond could have military housing help to get off the street. He told me he had filled out all the paperwork. He was looking forward to it. He served our country in a nasty time of war. I was looking forward to rejoicing with him over his new dwelling place.
Raymond loved God. I am grateful he is free from pain and the bondage of alcohol and is in the loving arms of our Creator. I pray for Aiden and Sarah, and Raymond’s lady friend. I will truly miss him. I will forever see him on his thrones in both Alice Keck Memorial Gardens and the Rose Garden across from the Old Mission, where he also spent time. I have placed small bouquets there in his memory.
A memorial service will be held for Raymond and the 14 other street friends who have died this year, on Thursday, June 17, in Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens at the wisteria bench at 4:30 p.m.