When the unfamiliar voice on my cell phone asked several times - and I mean, repeatedly asked - if it was really me he was talking to, I could not understand the degree of disbelief in the person's voice. Then when he said he was Steve Lopez, it all became clear to me.
The End Times were upon us and I was not going to be one of the ones to be swept away in glorious rapture.
But getting back to our story, Steve Lopez said he needed help to find Ernest Adams - the homeless man who had been beaten and left for dead some months ago at the end of the Third Street Tunnel. Lopez then added he was so desperate to find him that he had been forced to stoop to calling... me... LA Cowboy.
Now to update those who are not regular readers, there may have been a time or two in the past when I possibly raised a question or two about Mr. Lopez's credentials as a city columnist for the LA Times. There may have even possibly been, if memory serves me right, a moment when I questioned the continued need for Mr. Lopez's existence on this planet.
But once Steve - which is what I call the 'good Lopez' - began his series about Nathaniel and his struggle with homelessness and mental illness and after Steve started his ground breaking investigative reporting series on the reality of homelessness on Skid Row - no one became a bigger fan than I of his work (other than certain arithmetic, of course).
For not only had Steve gotten the story right in even the smallest details- but he wrote it better and with more insight that anyone has ever written about this problem before.
Now as a city columnist Lopez still... well - knows a hell of a lot about Philadelphia than I ever will - but as a reporter passionately covering an issue - then there is no one today better anywhere.
So we agreed to meet and I would introduce him to Ernest.
And I can vouch that this piece of investigate reporting is a highly accurate rendering about what Ernest had to say and what his present condition is. And Steve also managed to clearly display his empathy while never loosing his objectivity and professionalism as a reporter - something I can never do in these types of situations.
More on this later as the story develops, but first here are some excerpts from the article:
Beaten -- but Back at His Spot Steve Lopez December 30, 2005
Ernest Adams, beaten to within an inch of his life in August, was showing off the dents in his head the other day in downtown Los Angeles. "You feel that?" he asked, directing a visitor's index finger through the peaks and valleys on his skull. Adams, 56, was allegedly clubbed by two 19-year-old punks who saw a bum-bashing video, grabbed a couple of aluminum baseball bats and went looking for some homeless people to pulverize.
Another victim got off with minor injuries, but Adams' skull was so badly crushed, fragments of bone were embedded in his brain, according to the district attorney's office. "He was on life support," his mother, Nannette Adams, told me from her home in Newark, N.J. A few weeks ago, I got the news that Adams was up and about after a stint at County-USC Medical Center followed by rehab at Rancho Los Amigos in Downey.
I checked with Brady Westwater, a downtown activist, who said he'd seen Adams in his old haunts around Grand Central Market and thereabouts.
But the Adams case seems like yet another example of the lack of coordination between agencies serving the poor, homeless and mentally ill. The cracks are too wide and deep, and the political will for reform is too weak, if a man who suffered a life-threatening head injury less than five months ago can be left to the streets again.
Adams' many acquaintances were happy to see him alive and relieved to discover that his gentle soul had remained intact. But those friends were also disappointed that he was back in the same predicament, with no apparent medical appointments to keep other than one with an eye doctor, and no place to live.
"If I come back here tomorrow to take you somewhere, will you go with me?" Westwater asked Adams."Yes I will," said Adams, who said he'd consider a place downtown, but not on skid row.
He's said the same thing before, though, and backed out. More than once.
"I was kind of hoping this would be the impetus to get him to make a change and get off the streets," said James Velarde, a downtown resident who comforted Adams through his hospital recovery, kept his mother posted and tried to get Adams into a former motel just west of downtown.
Velarde said he had asked Rancho officials to make him part of a recovery plan for Adams after his release, but he didn't even know Adams was out until he saw him on the street.
Adams told me he prefers to be outside. This is home, he said: 3rd and Flower, where he lives in the garden in good weather, slips into the tunnel when it rains, and everybody knows him.Their offers of food and money, as well as access to office bathrooms, are laudable acts of kindness.
But they have the unfortunate impact of enabling Adams' irrational desire to stay put. It may be time, said Velarde, to organize Adams' friends and steer him off the streets with a tough-love intervention.
"I wanna be out here," Adams insisted as cars and trucks zoomed through the tunnel, stirring up a deafening racket. "I want to be my own man, to be under nobody's care. I don't drink, I don't do drugs. I read the Bible, and I want to get the good life the right way."Yeah, I told him, but it's not safe on the streets, as he should know better than anyone.
He admitted that he's not quite right physically."Two guys threatened me the other night," Adams said, "and when I went to stand up, my equilibrium was challenged."What in the world is he doing out here, I asked, in the very place where he was pummeled?God has his back, said Adams, who believes prayer saved his life. So despite some occasional nervousness, he has no fear and intends to stay in his current digs at least three weeks longer on a mission to prove his faith.
Not that he doesn't appreciate offers of help from Westwater and others. In between reading Bible passages and a Suze Orman book on investment planning, Adams was writing dozens of identical letters to the IRS on behalf of those who toss him a buck now and then, so they could take a tax deduction for their donations."Princes walk upon the face of the Earth and hold the reins, while peasants ride on horses," Adams said in tribute to his benefactors.
He was somewhat less charitable, understandably, toward his cowardly attackers. "I don't like them," Adams said, adding that they must have been on drugs to be capable of such inhuman deeds. He suggested they be given five or 10 years of prison time for nearly killing him, followed by 25 years of psychiatric counseling. (His accused assailants, William Orantes and Justin Brumfield, are still locked up awaiting trial on charges of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon.)
While Adams was talking to Westwater and me, a man of the streets approached, wondering if one of us could help him out with a buck. Adams was the first to reach into his pocket.Cars whizzed by, towers pierced the clouds and another year slipped into the books with Ernie Mike Adams still alive on the streets of downtown Los Angeles, if only by the skin of his teeth.