I just returned from a week in California – my daughter’s wedding was on Saturday – and as I floated back down to earth from the heights of her bliss I came across a happy L.A. Times column by Steve Lopez. It’s a story about taking Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, who suffers from schizophrenia, on a 6-hour road trip to San Francisco. You may remember Lopez as the author of The Soloist, the story of the friendship that developed between him and Ayers, a former Juilliard student, after he encountered Ayers living on the streets and playing classical music into the blare and grime of L.A.’s Skid Row, on a violin with only two remaining strings.
In his delightful update on a remarkable friendship Lopez describes driving to San Francisco with Ayers, who was to be honored at a conference of the National Alliance on Mental Illness for his achievements in helping to decrease the stigma around mental illness:
He was so eager to make the trip, he called several times to make sure it hadn’t been canceled.
“Mr. Lopez, is the pickup still at 9 a.m?”
“Yes, Mr. Ayers. I’ll see you in the morning.”
When I pulled up, he was standing on the sidewalk playing a skid row reveille on his trumpet. He had a small overnight bag and five more instruments — cello, violin, French horn, clarinet and flute, meaning he had made the difficult decision to leave several other instruments home.
We stowed the gear in the station wagon and caught Interstate 5 for the long haul north. My friend Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, who had never been to San Francisco, was scheduled to be honored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Flying was out of the question because he has no photo ID.
I’ve never looked forward to that monotonous stretch of I-5, but for better or worse, Mr. Ayers was likely to liven things up. Sometimes he can get a tad claustrophobic or edgy, and being trapped in a car for six hours might take its toll.
In other words, I had no idea what to expect. … (Please read the rest of “Serenade in the Key of Glee.”)
And please consider becoming a weekly companion for an hour over coffee at a cafe, with someone sharing our public spaces who is socially isolated by mental illness or homelessness, or both. Ideas about how to get started are tabbed above. (My review of The Soloist is at Crosscut.)