It’s likely that you’ve seen 49-year-old Doug Latz on his bicycle somewhere in Athens county. Latz is a well-known figure in the community but not many people, especially Ohio University students, know him beyond his “Can Man” identity. Standing strong at over six feet tall with outdated reading glasses and a receding hair line, Latz looks like a regular guy at first glance. After a reaction to medicine as a child, however, his cognitive development halted, forever setting Latz apart. With a mental capacity similar to a 4th grader that has left him unable to drive, Latz’s father raised and helped establish the passions that now define him – bicycles and horses.
Confined to an impoverished area of rural Southeast Ohio, Latz had countless barriers to overcome from an early age. Luckily, bicycles - new, old, or not working - were his answer to a happy life. A means of transportation meant freedom - freedom from his handicap, freedom to be part of the community, and freedom to pursue passion. “Bicycles give me a lot of freedom,” he said. “They give me a lot freedom and will power.” Over the years, Latz’s collection of bicycles constantly changes as he repairs, sells, and trades bikes with community members. On his most prized bicycle, a yellow 3-wheeler built in New York, he is able to explore his surrounds. Latz pedals for miles, scouring the entire county to collect aluminum cans that he recycles for extra spending money. This meager income amounts over time to buy more bicycle parts, household necessities, or even the pinnacle of his bicycle collection - the yellow tricycle.
It’s hard not to notice that Latz loves riding his bicycle and interacting with people. A generous, happy, and talkative man, Latz will find old friends and make new ones on each bicycle adventure. However, because of his handicap, he is a common target for ridicule and teasing. On a daily basis Latz encounters people that upset and scare him. “When I am riding my bike, out in the community collecting cans, some strangers aren’t very polite,” he said. “Sometimes they threaten the life out of me and I’m not going to allow it.” These confrontations deflate Latz’s normal persona that’s full of joy and optimism. On bad days, he talks relentlessly of moving away from people and buying a farm in the country to raise horses, a dream that unfortunately is hindered by a lack of substantial income.
Between intimidating comments and collecting aluminum cans, Latz finds refuge among the horses and mules on various farms in the county. The hardships of everyday life melt away when interacting with “his” horses. Despite not having a farm of his own, Latz bestows names and offers affection to the animals he comes across on his rides. While giving big hugs and making one-way conversation, Latz personifies the animals in a way that puts a lot of trust in the their special relationship. While decompressing from one of those hard days at home on his couch, Latz said with conviction that “if Katie the horse catches anyone hurting me, Katie the horse will be pretty upset.” His eyes looking at the floor, seemingly deep in thought, Latz completed his thought. “The horse has feelings… I have feelings too,” he said.