Former Mendocino County Supervisor Charles Petersen first told me the story of Bicycle Bryan. We were discussing “enabling,” the old dilemma of when to intervene with the mentally ill.
Or not intervene.
The 1960s, as we know, obscured the lines on drugs and social behavior. And the 50’s before that? “Better living through chemistry.”
Bicycle Bryan was in his twenties when he lived in Point Arena. His family lived in the Bay Area, but they had a place near Rollerville, across Highway One from the cemeteries north of Point Arena.
As sometimes happens with schizophrenia, Bryan seemed like a normal kid until he wasn’t normal any more. The family was unable to cope with Bryan’s worsening condition, so they installed him “out of sight out of mind” at their Point Arena country house near the cemeteries where Bryan was left alone, unattended, getting crazier by the day.
Schizophrenia leaves a person in a state of confusion, so confused it is wise to have someone else issue their drugs, someone who can observe how well the patient’s personalized medication cocktail does or does not help him live a regular life.
But isolated as he was, Bicycle Bryan didn’t have anyone to notice he had stopped taking his meds. And, as often happens when a patient stops taking his meds, the guy went back to being frightened, confused.
He rode his bicycle to Point Arena and Manchester from his family's place near the cemeteries north of town. You'd see him cowering in the doorways of empty businesses. Although Point Arena is the clean air standard for the United States, Bryan thought the air was poison and the people downright toxic. He didn’t like touching or being touched. Bryan was in a bad way with no one to help him, no family to shelter him in his decline. And he was getting worse.
One day, as Bryan crouched in an entryway of a vacant Main Street business, a tourist couple drove up in a Mercedes Benz. They parked and headed uphill towards Bryan crouched in a doorway. He scampered to collect his belongings and prepared to move. The new people in the big, fancy car scared him, so he made a speedy exit (in his mind) so he wouldn’t be contaminated by them.
As he lifted himself from the sidewalk and turned downhill out of the doorway, his backpack unfortunately swung hard from his shoulder and bumped the outside of the car’s open passenger door. Gravity and downhill momentum slammed the door shut on Ms Mercedes Benz as she rose from the passenger seat. She screamed battery, demanding that Bryan be arrested.
With no Town Constable, the County Sheriff had to be called. By now Bryan had done his furtive crab scuttle out of the doorway and was running for safety while the woman squawked for someone, anyone to "Arrest that man!"
People who knew Bryan to be harmless tried to soothe her, explaining that Bryan was off but he’d never hurt anyone. He hadn't meant the visitor any harm. It had been an accident.
Mrs. Mercedes Benz wasn’t having it. She looked at the people standing around and demanded, “What’s wrong with you people? Why don’t you get this man some help? He could be made functional with some drug therapy for his psychosis.”
The Point Arenans looked at each other, and her, as though she were the crazy one. We don’t tell on each other here. Drug therapy? Interfere with his miserable life?
Sheriff's deputy Brian (with an “i”) Dressler, had arrived per the woman’s demands to take Bryan away. The deputy also tried to explain to Mercedes B that Bryan was the local mentally ill guy, not a random dangerous street guy. The deputy assured Mercedes that Bicycle Bryan was not homeless; he had access to a nice home outside of town, a bicycle for transportation, and no one ever assaulted him, and he didn't assault anyone else, never had.
But deputy Dressler was required to haul Bicycle Bryan over the hill to Ukiah for processing. He didn't want to do it but Mercedes demanded Bryan be arrested.
Several years passed and no one thought much about Bicycle Bryan; he never returned to Point Arena as far as anyone knew.
One day Mendocino County Supervisor Charles Petersen was gathering crime statistics from County DA Norm Vroman. Charles was sitting with Norm over Norm's office desk downstairs in the Mendocino County Courthouse, Ukiah. Vroman got on the phone and asked his clerk to send in the reports Petersen needed to compile his stats. The door opened behind Petersen. The DA said to Petersen, “Bryan will get you the files you need.”
When Petersen turned in his chair he was surprised to see that the DA wasn’t addressing Brian Dressler.
“I’m sorry, I don’t believe I know you," Charles Petersen said to the clerk.
“Amazing what a little drug therapy can do for a person, huh, Charles? Remember me? I’m Bicycle Bryan.”