Motor Scooters

With retirement less than three years away, I've recently begun to consider who I'm going to be once I stop being a gainfully employed, taxpaying citizen. My very first thoughts, of course, centered on moving as far away from New Jersey as my wife (of 30 some-odd-years) will allow. I envision us moving to Ithaca, New York - close to Cornell's wonderful research library. Or perhaps we'll buy a quaint little Victorian place in the very artsy town of Hot Spring, Arkansas. The magazine that I just finished reading says that our spending power would increase 27% if we move there. That's a pretty big bang for your retirement dollar.

The wife, though, would have none of that. "You can move me to Pennsylvania; but not more than three hours away from my sister" was, and remains, one of the very definitive restrictions that she has placed on me.

Pennsylvania is OK with me. The Poconos, in the north-eastern part of the state, is beautiful. The Appalachian mountain chain ripples its way through that region with its charming little peaks, not much higher than 2500 feet. It ain't much of a mountain, but it is enough. The winters are snowy there and the fall foliage is vibrant. What more do you need from a mountain range besides a few hemlock trees and a black bear or two?

So Pennsylvania, it seems, is pretty much locked in. And now that I've got a place to picture myself in, I can begin to build a whole retirement scenario. There I am, an old guy of 53, living in some small town….no, make that a quiet little city in the northern Appalachian Mountains, buzzing around from one place to another, just taking in all of the local everything. I'm retired, I can do that. I have the time.

What is so odd about this picture though is the way that I see myself. I envision myself zipping about, from one local shop to another - breakfast at Ed's Place, then over to the college to use the library, kind of like a ping pong ball on wheels. And, you ask, "Just what kind of wheels? Ah, here's the rub - there I am, on, of all things, a motor scooter.

The image that I have of me driving a motor scooter is way, way out of character for me. Where or when this idea took hold of me I couldn't say, but retirement and me being retired on this damn motor scooter has taken on a life of it own. The two are now co-joined.

There isn't much in my past that I can say has, in any way, influenced my thoughts in this matter. In fact, my history with motorized two-wheeled vehicles is surprisingly short - I have never driven one. And only twice have I hung onto the back of one of these death-traps. Both of those rides however, were on a big engine motor cycle and not the benign little scooter. That's it. That is my personal involvement with the world of the motorized two-wheeler.

The first time that I actually laid eyes on a motor scooter was in my early years - before Woodstock. One of the kids in my neighborhood - Harold Keffer - had, one summer's day, pushed an old rusted, red colored, Stella-ish looking scooter out of his father's garage. We had all known of such things (hell, we were cultured, we had TVs), it's just that we had never actually seen one of these ridiculous looking European bikes before. I don't remember Harold actually starting up that scooter's tiny two-stroke engine, but for some reason I don't think that the bike was really all that road-worthy. The fact that the scooter never actually was employed as a motorized means of transportation really didn't surprise any one of us; things like that were just a little too foreign for western Pennsylvania.

Living in, and then on later visits to, Europe was when I truly became acquainted with the motor scooter. Up until then, I basically thought that they were little more than a toy. But in Europe the scooter was not only a reasonable means of serious transportation, but it was also an extremely sensible means of transportation. For decades Europe's gasoline prices have been risibly expensive. A vehicle that you could drive for an entire month on a couple of liters of fuel was a very attractive feature. Ultra-tiny cars and motor scooters are very popular all over the continent, especially to the young teenaged driver.

As far back as 1949, when the Vespa was first introduced in Italy, this affordable and rugged two-wheeler sold well. 35,000 units were produced that first year and by the end of the decade this one manufacturer had churned out a million scooters and in an exciting array of colors to boot!

But enough of this history lesson, none of this has had any influence on my feeling about scooters. If there is anything that I can point to that would explain how retirement and the motor scooter have become intertwined, I would have to say that it is a mixture between John Steinbeck's small novel The Short Reign of Pippin IV and an Audrey Hepburn movie A Roman Holiday, both from the 1950s.

Steinbeck's character, Pippin, is the recent but highly reluctant owner of France's throne. Highly disappointed by his inability to be just a normal egg-head, like he was only days before, Pippin begins secret, nightly sorties into the city on a motor scooter that he has hidden outside his highly guarded compound. The Hepburn character is also a royal, a Princess, from some unnamed kingdom in western Europe. She too tries to escape the demands required of a person, a teenaged person, with such a prestigious title. Somehow she ends up meandering her way through the darkened streets of Rome, one night, on the back end of a less-than-skillfully driven motor scooter; you can imagine the rest!

You see, these images leave me with a sense that both of these characters are simply trying to escape. Well, maybe escape is a bit strong, perhaps what I should say is that they are striving to become the person that they would like to be. In Pippin's case he just wants to return to his interest and involvement in amateur astronomy and the Princess simply wanted to be a teenager for a few hours. And that I guess is what I view retirement as - a striving to become the person that I would like to be. Of the 3 or 4 things that I have so far been able to establish as GOALS FOR RETIREMENT, top on my list is to become more collegiate and less hurried. Surely, a 50cc Vespa ET2 ought to do the trick!

Text and pictures copyright by L. James Meyers.
No reproduction is permitted but bring cash
and we'll talk.