Jeff Smith noon, March 8
- Community Blog
- Right Smack Dab in the Middle
Over the bridges and through the hoods—as the song goes in my head—a scoo-ter-ing we will go! With the wind in my face and my hand on the throttle, scootering is as much fun as a sleigh ride. Makes me sing! I bought my first scooter three months ago, a SYM HD200, 172cc with 16 horsepower. It gets 70 mpg and does 65 mph, superman-speed compared to the bus. Before I was tethered to the routes and schedules of public transit, but now I scooter where I want, when I want. Freedom to roam. I just throw my leg over the saddle-seat and away I ride, like a kid on his first horse.
You see a lot of scooterers these days, and I reckon a lot more are waiting to join the fun. San Diego probably will never look like scooter-happy Rome or Taipei, but every month new scooterers are getting out of their cars and hopping on the bandwagon of fuel-efficiency, easy parking, low maintenance, and cheap insurance. Scooterers are also putting less CO2 into SoCal air, taking up less road space, and saving on gas. It’s a win-win for everyone but big oil. I go to work from Mission Valley and back all week—El Cajon and Coronado Island one day, Mira Mesa and La Jolla the next—on the $8 it takes to fill my scooter.
And the sights, smells, and sensations are a blast. Bridging canyons, paralleling beaches, breezing through open spaces. I scooter down Broadway for the local color. Then take First Avenue all the way up to Washington, through a part of town I’d not visited in eons. Nose diving down Texas Street into Mission Valley is like a roller coaster. But you want more exhilaration? Try the far-right lane on the Coronado Bay Bridge between rush hours. Or the eastern view along Soledad Mountain Road on a clear day. Or that stretch of Kearney Villa Road between 52 and Miramar Road; it’s a country road without leaving town. Dipping into canyons you feel the temperature change, seldom noticed riding in a car. Tooling along on your scooter you smell phở and fingernail polish in Linda Vista, wood-burning fireplaces in Tierrasanta, backyard barbecues in Clairemont, salty air along the Silver Strand. Weeks ago the jasmine was abloom along La Jolla Village Drive; it was like scootering through a perfume factory. There are down sides, of course. Road-kilt skunks. Odors from Miramar Water Treatment Facility. (Did someone leave the outhouse door open? Peeyooooooo!) Exhaust from older cars. (How did they ever pass smog?) And occasionally there’s outlandish music from the vehicle next to you. In a car you can roll up your windows. We scooterers just grin and bear it.
But whoa, cowboys and cowgirls. One doesn’t just jump on a scooter and have fun. There’s the rigmarole of ownership—shopping, purchasing, registering, insuring—and the add-ons of scootering—protective clothing, safety school, and a learner’s permit. A learner’s permit has restrictions: no passengers, no nights, and no freeways. Just as well. Riding on freeways with automobiles whizzing by scares the be-jesus out of me. You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd, as the song goes. Besides, both my scooter and I start to shake above 60. So I stick to surface streets. But that’s cool. It’s retro, like driving around San Diego in the 1950s, before the interstates arrived.
Scooterers give the thumbs up when we see each other. Some even salute with the bikers’ shaka, that left hand pointed at the ground. I flash the shaka all the time. Sometimes I get responses and sometimes I don’t. Motorcycle cops never shaka. Neither do neon-yellow Vespas with pink helmets and rabbit ears. Ninja riders shaka, but Harleys don’t, at least not to scooterers; probably don’t want to acknowledge the new kids. Last week I rolled up to a stoplight between two choppers. Both Harleys had studded leather saddlebags and biker chicks on the backseats. They looked at me like I was a youngster in a topless bar. Sorry, fellas. No time for attitudes. I’m having too much fun! Wheeeeeee.......
Scootering suits me. I love the fresh air and don’t mind risks, of which there are plenty. But the worst risk is not what you think. It’s not traffic—they teach us in safety school to maneuver through it—nor potholes or broken pavement or recessed manhole covers. Those you can swerve around. Of course, I always worry that I will be T-boned by a texting SUV. Or ticketed by a cop for splitting lanes. Or towed when parked too close to store doors. And I glare with disgust at texters and cell phoners, and toot my horn at slowpokes and jerks for pulling out in front of me. Someday they might all retaliate with road-rage. But I just keep on scootering, clad in helmet, leather jacket, gloves, and boots. Compared to scooterers in flip-flops, T-shrits, and cutoffs, I probably seem anal. But the thought of my bare skin scraping on pavement gets me fully leathered, whether I’m going down the street for groceries or across town for work.
I even take unnecessary risks. I seldom speed but I do zoom, usually from stoplight to stoplight to make the green. I get ahead of the pack and wag my tail, like a clown at a rodeo. I ride at night. I race up hills. In a pinch, I might use sidewalks for shortcuts. I scooter hard, as if I’m Steve McQueen escaping from a prisoner-of-war camp, or Tom Cruise taking Bankers Hill. I picture myself a Marlon Brando or James Dean on a motorcycle. I wouldn’t say I’m cocky, just pleased with myself. No risk in that.
No, the major risks for scooterers—in my opinion—are the so-called “smart” lights, the ones that are supposed to read traffic flow and change accordingly. Too many are idiot lights, staying red long after traffic has crossed, long after oncoming traffic in the left-hand turn lane has turned. Car drivers have to wait, too, but they can snack, read, smoke, listen to radios—or text and chat on their cell phones. Scooterers just have to wait. It gets hot under the helmet, toasty in leather. I want to keep moving. Besides, I’m usually running late. Consequently, I take risks. I violate red lights if there are no cars, especially in the middle of the night. I sometimes follow too closely. Maybe pass on curves. I might exceed the speed limit racing to make a light. Anything to avoid stopping and waiting. That damn light at Marlesta and Genesee—the turn off for Mesa College—is the worst. And the signal at Linda Vista and Wheatley Street seems to change red or green—sometimes for only five seconds—regardless of traffic. I’ve never made the light at Genesee and Clairemont Drive, and never will; when it sees me coming, it turns red. It’s the only time I use the F-word while scootering. I find waiting for no reason unbearably frustrating. Give me a stop sign any day. Of course, my anxiety could be self-inflicted. If I left home earlier and gave myself more travel time, the impatience might vanish. You see! There’s another benefit to scootering; it teaches time management!
And once the light changes, I’m off, galloping down the street, singing and zooming. So cowboys and cowgirls, start your scooters! But stay off the freeways, wear leather, and give yourself extra time. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.... as the song goes.