Mike Ryan didn’t like rules.
He followed few of them, believing the world was a better place without them and his life a better one lived freely and frugally and on the edge.
Eventually, that led to living life homeless, rootless, untethered to social norms, untroubled that after 59 years he had little more than a tarp-covered campsite near the airport, an old guitar and a flea market bicycle.
People called him Bicycle Mike or Guitar Mike or Crazy Mike. Mostly Crazy Mike.
He was smart. He was funny. He was loud. He loved NPR. He wrote poetry and songs. He could explain scientific principles deftly enough for children to comprehend. He could drink, sometimes too much.
He was wary of most people, if not downright disdainful of them. And yet he had a huge circle of friends – from professionals to hobos – who called one another to be sure one of them got him medical attention when thugs jumped him or gave him shelter during especially brutal cold snaps.
Some blamed his lifestyle on mental illness. Some blamed it on too much booze. Those who knew him best knew he lived just as he wanted to, even if they didn’t want him to.
“It was kind of pointless to try to help him more than he wanted your help, because he would just reject it,” said Virginia Bradley, who met Ryan 30 years ago when he was working as a union carpenter and living in a student ghetto apartment. “Mike was a good guy who never hurt a flea. He just happened to be homeless.”
On Jan. 13, 2012, Ryan was on his way to a friend’s home in the Southeast Heights to cut down trees, one of the odd jobs friends gave him from time to time.
He had been at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center near Third and Mountain NW for breakfast and was riding his bike south across Lomas near I-25 when he was struck by a 1993 Oldsmobile.
The impact snapped his neck.
Ryan had crossed on a red light when he was hit, Albuquerque police reported.
It was the last rule he broke.
Ryan’s deadly crash came three days after another cyclist, Scott Dwane Lane, was fatally struck by a gray SUV that Albuquerque police said ran a red light at Osuna and Academy Parkway NE.
News of Lane’s death far overshadowed Ryan’s, not just because Lane had not broken any rules but because he was a business executive, father of four, husband, homeowner and Boy Scout leader – not a homeless eccentric like Ryan.
But both deaths mattered.
Ryan died almost a week after the crash, after the decision was made to take him off life support. Had he survived, his friends said, it was likely he would have been a quadriplegic, a life he would not have wanted.
One friend estimates that about 30 people came to the hospital to pay their respects.
“I’m pretty sure the hospital people were surprised there were so many of us,” she said. “Homeless people rarely have visitors.”
After he died, neither his sister in New York – the lone family member – nor his friends could cobble together the money to bury him. For seven months, his body lay unclaimed at the state Office of the Medical Investigator. Eventually, it’s believed his body was cremated at Bernalillo County’s expense and is being held in a box. To retrieve the ashes will cost $485.
Friends say they have always wanted to do something to honor their friend and to dispose of his ashes properly.
“That’s where I come in,” Bradley said.
Bradley, who now lives in Dallas, contacted Jennifer Buntz of the Duke City Wheelmen Foundation, an Albuquerque nonprofit that promotes bike safety and “ghost bikes” – bicycles painted white and placed at sites where cyclists have died.
This Saturday, the foundation will dedicate a ghost bike to Ryan near the site where he was hit. In addition, Buntz has agreed to help the friends raise funds to pay for Ryan’s ashes.
“I meet people just like him every month when we are doing outreach with the homeless at Noon Day Ministries. It is not right that this population is so underserved with bicycle safety education and equipment,” Buntz said. “And of course it is a very sad thing that a person’s remains cannot be properly laid to rest because of a few hundred dollars.”
Ryan’s friends say that if they raise enough money they’re not sure where they will scatter his ashes. But it will be somewhere meaningful, somewhere beautiful, where he can be free again. Just like he liked it.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.