Chalk messages linger on sidewalks and in a park. A storefront display window at a bakery has been given over to photos and messages. An easel outside a restaurant is covered in handwritten comments.
One tribute, however, is gone. A bench at Second and Yale outside the Village Grille that was decorated by flowers, candles, photos and messages has been cleared by one of Collins' siblings.
"It's really cool. But at some point they need their bench back," Stephen Collins had told me last week over breakfast at the Grille.
And so Collins returned Tuesday morning to gather up the mementos, including a photo of Collins sitting on that very bench, for the family's collection. Only a few wilted flowers were tossed.
First he admired all the items.
"It was very kind of people to do that," Collins said.
It's a public bench, not the Grille's, but as it's steps from their door it was often used by customers waiting for a table. Ray Collins also sat there as he made his rounds of the Village's benches, following the sun like a cat in a window box.
Stephen Collins knew that City Hall or the Grille would have to clear the bench eventually. "Whoever does it is going to be the bad guy," he had fretted the previous week. "It's better that the family do it."
After he'd taken the items - in three trips - to his car and driven off, I went into the Grille to tell the staff what had happened so they would have an answer when customers ask. Waitresses were glad to hear Collins' family had the items.
"He'll be remembered. He was a sweet, kind man," Patricia Pennington said.
Before we went to the bench, I had met up with Stephen Collins a half-block away at Some Crust Bakery. The bakery is devoting its main display window to Ray Collins memorabilia.
A large portrait of Collins is dedicated "in loving memory of our friend and loyal customer." Photos from various phases of his life, including from Emerson Junior High and Pomona High, are there, alongside original Mothers of Invention albums, copies of newspaper obituaries, a knit skullcap, a Mothers of Invention-labeled beer and a straw hat of the kind Collins wore from C&E Lumber.
Employees and passersby have written messages on index cards for display.
"Ray was the soul of the Village. He is in doo-wop heaven now. Sing on, old friend," wrote poet Pete Fairchild.
Manager Scott Feemster said Collins was there "every single morning without fail" and was usually the first customer in the door.
Collins would sit at the table outside the door for an hour or two with a coffee and a newspaper before moving on. A placard in the window by that table salutes Collins: "Singer, musician, co-founder of the Mothers of Invention, bon vivant, man about town, lover of life. The Crusties will miss him greatly."
Feemster said the window display will be up through January.
A classmate brought by a group photo of the Pomona High football team on which Collins played halfback. "He was really tough. Nobody messed around with him," the friend told Feemster.
Stephen Collins marveled at the window display.
"Oh my gosh!" Collins exclaimed, a broad smile on his face. "This is amazing."
Huell Howser might have said the same thing. How would Ray Collins have reacted to a window devoted to his life?
"He didn't like attention, and yet he did," his brother said.
"He was not one who wanted people to make a fuss," Feemster admitted.
A customer, overhearing us, said Collins would have taken one look at it, ducked his head and scurried across the street.
The window display's existence made Stephen Collins feel better about removing the Village Grille memorabilia. "Now there's another tribute for people to visit," he told me.
And there's even another one. One door down from Some Crust, Espiau's had a 6-foot, double-sided easel on the sidewalk Tuesday. Messages had been penned on each side.
"Miss your kind and laid back attitude! - Janet and Leona."
"Rest in peace, my strangest hero. - Izzy."
"All the benches seem so empty."
And, evidently written by a child: "Hope you have a wonderful time in hevan. Love, Rena."
The only public service for Collins was a friend-driven event Jan. 6 at Shelton Park, announced on Facebook two days before. By the end, some 200 of us had gathered, a testimony to Collins' influence.
People were invited to say a few words about their encounters with Collins.
Some knew him as a friendly face with a smile or a kind word, one who loved children and animals, not as a singer who worked with Zappa.
Others were fans. A man who had approached Collins about a documentary said Collins was initially enthusiastic. "We could make it a comedy," Collins told him. "You can interview me while holding a banana."
Collins, who lived out of his van, parked it overnight at Claremont United Church of Christ, whose parking lot is open to all. A church employee said Collins came in monthly without fail to donate $20.
"Nobody else does that," she told us. "And there are Beemers up there. He had his honor and his duties."
A woman said many of us were familiar faces just as Collins was. "Ray represents an element in our community we have to work very hard to preserve," she said.
At the end, chalk was given to anyone who wanted a piece, with the urging to leave a mark on a sidewalk wherever we best remembered him. Some two dozen funny, sweet messages appeared around the Village.
Several members of Collins' family were at the park, but they didn't speak. Collins' remains were cremated and no service took place.
On Sunday, however, family members gathered at the Upland home of Don Collins, his only full brother. Stephen and Johnny, his half-brothers, were present.
"A good 25 people were there," Stephen Collins told me. "We had food and people talked about him, their times with Ray and what they remembered. It was good to share stories. You always wish you got together for better things than that."
Collins, 56, is a financial adviser who lives in Wisconsin. He and Ray, who were 19 years apart, had the same father. Stephen, who grew up in Pomona, was born the same time as Ray's daughter in 1956.
His memories of his older brother are fond, even if their age difference and Ray's wanderings meant they saw each other sporadically.
"He improvised. Most of his life that I knew him, he was on the street, living someplace. He never really had a place of his own," Collins said.
But he refused offers of help. Stephen and Don tried to get him into housing, and Stephen was interested in getting his recent songs recorded properly. No sale.
"Maybe there's a lesson in life there. He was happy with whatever life gave him," Collins mused. "The rest of us have to have things."
He last saw his brother in November. He could count on finding him on a bench around the Village or at the library, where he would sit at a computer and watch old movies on the Internet. They had dinner at Vince's Spaghetti, one of Ray's favorites.
"I noticed he was walking a lot slower and was more hunched over," Stephen said. Collins, 75, had a heart attack in his van on Dec. 18 and died the following week.
Stephen understood that his brother was well known in Claremont - "we were never able to sit on a bench without 10 people coming up to talk to him" - but was blown away by the outpouring of kindness and respect shown his brother at the Jan. 6 service and with the tributes.
Will there be anything permanent?
Some think there should be. George Goad, a Pomona native who knew Collins and Zappa here in the 1960s and who reconnected with Collins in Claremont in recent years, is among them.
"Let's get the city of Claremont to honor Ray somehow. Maybe a plaque naming the intersection of Second and Yale as Ray Collins Square or, at the very least, a bronze plaque on one of his favorite sitting spots - an `endowed bench,' if you will," Goad told me.
None of that will bring him back, but I'm for it. If a target date helps, what about May 12?
You know, Mother's Day.
David Allen, who by contrast won't go away, writes Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 909-483-9339, read his blog at dailybulletin.com/davidallenblog, check out facebook.com/davidallencolumnist and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.