Sidewalk Ghosts / Interview 368: "The Bridge Builder"


“I know you,” his eyes open, “do you remember where we met?”

Instantly we both laugh in unison, “Come to Canoga Park… Things are looking up!!”

I’m blown away. After almost 9 months of recess from my interviewing strangers… I have been directed to a friend met during last year’s daily interviews.

It get’s a little weirder. Sorry if I sound too metaphysical, but I have zero explanation for an earlier beat to this evening. Had no idea of where I would start in this re-launch of Project-365, so I decided to pick it up where I left off. Just get in the car and drive. The rest will unfold as you follow your intuition. That’s what I do. And as I pull out of my driveway, something tells me, “You have to pop your head in at that psychic on Ventura Blvd. The one that you approached last year and have since not gotten out of your mind.”

I get there, she remembers me and is happy to hear that we finished our first year; but she graciously declines to be interviewed, “Thank you, but I can’t be photographed. And perhaps I am not the one you are meant to photograph tonight. Maybe I’m just your starting point.”

Not that this deflates me, but I leave with a strange peace that is mixed with a little overcompensating spirituality. “Follow the path that is in front of you,” I mind chant to myself as I walk a mile or so, not passing a single soul. Yeh, I’m in the groove now, the spirit is guiding me. SLAP!!! Crud, I only put enough change in the parking meter for 30 minutes. It’s taken me 20 minutes to walk to the point where I am. 20 + 20 = 40 minutes. The last thing I want to go home with is a $100 plus meter violation. I turn and double-time it.

Sweat on my brow, I drop my much missed 30 pound camera backpack into the passenger seat. I lower my head, and in happy defeat and rev up the motor for a continued drive.

“Well that went well!” I smile to myself. “Maybe I’m just your starting point?” still bouncing in my mind.

I drive aimlessly through suburban neighborhoods; re-living last years experience of feeling like a stalker as I look into the unknown faces of many a front yard dweller. “Richard, if you pull into any one of these houses, you are going to get shot. No one is comfortable with a strange vehicle appearing out of nowhere on their property.” Plus, I can’t stand being trapped behind a windshield when I am trying to make friends. Way too impersonal and isolating.

I decide to go to the local train station to see what shaking there. Quick U-turn and I’m on my way. Never get there.

Only four miles from Chatsworth station, I get this feeling when I see a man watering his law. “Turn around! Now!” it whispers to me. “Alright, why not,” I schizophrenically bargain with my subconscious self. One minute later I find myself again street parked, and with the endeared weight of camera again on my shoulder, I lock my car for a brief walk to the place where I had seen the watering man. Again, I never get there.

Not four steps from my vehicle, there is another man sitting on his porch. “Hello,” I share. He responds, “I hope you don’t mind, but can you move your car back a few feet, I need to rinse the sidewalk (he had just finished mowing his lawn).

We chat generally for a moment, when his eyes open, “I know you!”

No way! Was my psychic friend inspired? Did she sense something when we met; was it a lucky guess or a brush off? I don’t know? But one thing is certain. I am where I am supposed to be this evening.

10 miles from our first place of introduction (Day 59, just outside of Henri’s restaurant, during the Day Of The Dead celebration) where he and several of his friends had gathered for this yearly day of festivity.

Even then he chose to remain anonymous and to respect his wishes I will not publish his identity. But there is no need to. What is relevant is the unity we feel.

He invites me to his porch for a neighborly chat. “Would you like a beer?” he warmly offers. “I’m sorry I don’t drink, but if you have a soda or a water I would love that.” No problem, have a seat… I’ll be right back.

I kick back to settle in at the house of a friend, a friend who was once a stranger. For the next hour am engulfed in a powerfully unifying conversation. Millions of people in Los Angeles, and I find myself connected in picking up and unfinished conversation. One that would have never happened if I had stayed home this evening in procrastinating the re-start of Project-365.

Yes, my friend, asks me to not reveal his identity, but today is very different from our first very brief meeting. A meeting where he chose to slip into the background while allowing his friends center stage. Today is the day I really do get to know him, and I have to say, he is a great man.

“’I never finished high school, did not have the grades. One day my dad told me that he was going to do me a favor. ‘Do you want to work?’ he asked me. He set me up where he worked. That was the best thing for me at the time. My dad taught me the full meaning of hard work and great ethics. He worked all his life, building roads for the city. He provided for my family and me. If it was not for him I don’t know where I would be today. He came to the United States with nothing and built a life for us with his hard work. He was a good man.

‘Save you money and buy a house,’ he always told me,’” pointing to his home, “and look what I have.”

But in telling me this, he bridges to his reasoning for the home he has built. “One day I’ll be able to pass on what I have to my daughters,” he lights up, taking a sip of his beer.

“I’m so proud of them, they are so smart, and I would do anything for them.” He face shines, as he looks me right in the eyes. “My eldest is just finishing her nursing degree and then plans on saving to study medicine.” He tells me her age… 22. I’m wholly impressed. “She finished high school with a 4.0 GPA, not like me.” He concludes.

“You’ve got to just love the world,” he tells me as we talk of world perspectives, and sadly of, experiences where he has been treated with guile and judgment.

“It never gets to me, I’ve learned, and my father taught me, that what you give out is what you get back. So I work to give out good.” I sip my water and listen.

“’A few days ago I was in this store. The lady in front of me dropped some money on the floor,” he shares a story. “’I could have just grabbed it and kept it. All the others in line, and behind the counter, where looking at it… like they wanted to grab it. But I got it first. ‘Excuse me’ I said to the lady. She rudely turned, looking at me with a mean expression. I could tell she was judging me as a Mexican. I just smiled. ‘You dropped this,’ I said. Her tone changed as she thanked and apologized to me for her attitude. It was no big deal, I just did what was right.

People need to not step on each other. They just need to love and respect each other. It does not matter if they are Mexican, White, Black, Yellow or Green; we all have the same blood. There is no better feeling than being able to put you head on the pillow at night and being able to know that you passed good things forward.’”

And that is just what we are doing in publishing your words my friend. And to honor you I am giving you a title. I dub thee, “The Bridge Builder.”

Your example has set the stage for our new chapter of 365. May we all take note of the bridges that we build.

Talk soon my good friends.