The Scooters of Yore

Now that gas prices have surpassed the $3 per gallon mark, my friend Jake has seen fit to purchase a scooter. As you'd imagine, I did what I could to persuade him to choose a motorcycle instead, but his frugality got the better of him. Plus, this way he doesn't have to go through any licensing or registration process, so as to keep the gub'ment from interfering with his subversive scooting schemes. You can park that thing on a sidewalk, chain it to a lamppost, knock down pedestrians with reckless abandon... no license plate means no liability, in Jake's book.

And I'm sure it's great fun in its own right: scooting around town with your face in the breeze, legs in front of you in true chairlike seating position, 50 cubic centimeters of power throbbing beneath your butt cheeks. I'd say it probably has 80 percent of the elemental joy of motorcycling with about 20 percent of the trouble. I was just looking at the mechanical workings of the wee beastie, since we think the sparkplug is fouled from some bad gasoline, and the motor was so cute I had to resist giving it a little metallic noogie. How adorable! The starter's the size of a roll of film!

This new scooter will suit Jake's low-maintenance, dirt-cheap commuting needs perfectly, and I'm universally in favor of any two-wheeled conveyance - I just think they're better. After all: Bikes defy gravity. Cars just suck.

More on this later.

But Jake's new toy reminded me of the scooters of my youth - well, not my youth: I never managed to save up enough money to get one, or enough brownie points to hit up Mom for one, or really had the opportunity to do anything but deeply, deeply envy the fortunate little suburbanite teens whose parents had hooked them up - but I did ride them from time to time, and, as I said, gazed in rapt jealousy whenever little Brandon St. Clair would buzz by on his scuffed yellow Yamaha.

I even knew all the terminology, the various models and their nomenclature, which scooters were cooler than the others - I think all adolescent boys did. Their names strike me even now as the heady stuff of fables: The Razz, The Puch, The Tomos... all exotic and regal, the mounts of kings.

We didn't even know where scooters came from: that's how great was their mystique. We envisioned fine shiny showrooms on mountaintops, where parents other than ours would pilgrimage in late November, guided by an internal compass that developed after puberty, and select from a dazzling array of gleaming new scooters. They'd make their choice, pointing decisively, and their selection would then glide down a grand conveyor to a waiting automobile, ready for the ride home. Once home, the scooter would be eased gently into the garage, to wait in the quiet darkness for Christmas Day, swaddled in a giant red bow.

There was the Honda Spree, which was always red, and those were nimble and zippy, a big step up from the clunky mopeds of the '70s (those were clearly just bicycles with motors attached). After the Spree was the Elite, which cradled beneath its plastic shell a generous 80cc engine, tuned for power and smoothness - strictly for experts and fifteen-year-olds. And above that, there in the upper echelon of motoring glory was the ultimate: The Helix. Two Hundred And Fifty Cee-Cees. Surely flames trailed the tips of the handlebars at speed, and gossamer strands bound you gently to the earth, lest the swift churning of your tiny wheels carry you off into the zephyrous void, scooting with the gods, where no man shall dare to scoot.

All of these scooters cost, in the estimation of my friends and me, at least a million dollars. Or a thousand, which was roughly the same. Either way, we were stuck with our Schwinns and our Mongeese, piddling BMX pedalers trailing in the wake of our scooting classmates on their great glossy steeds. Maybe one day we would be able to get one of our own, somehow, some way, perhaps if we robbed a bank, or turned eighteen. The bank job sounded more likely.

But we could dream, man. We could dream. On the occasional summer afternoon we would pause in mid-free-throw, standing mute on our driveway basketball courts at a distant sound, a familiar sound: a scooter, an Elite maybe, whizzing off to places unknown, neighborhoods we'd never heard of.

Good luck, Jake. I hope you'll let me ride it sometime.


Thomas said...

The Jap's have motorcycle scooters. Big as a motorcycle, but you sit on it like a moped. These things are extra-long to compensate for the loss. The favoriate 'pimp out' thing here is to place what looks like a skinny surf-board on the back in a vertical position. It looks like someone shove'd a huge lollypop into the motor. I'll take a picture. These renegades run redlights and ride ALL NIGHT LONG.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, yeah! Take a picture!