How Mr. Sparkle Teeth Co-Founded Scootertown

I faced a fear today, and it involved me (pictured below) standing, upright and victorious, in a soaked pair of pants and a shallow puddle of rainwater.

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But before we talk about that, here’s a little back story.

One year and (nearly) one month ago, as April showers began rolling quietly across Alabama’s cities and countrysides, I drove home on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon, strapped onto the back of a brown scooter – a Genuine Buddy – and flying down the road at (a whopping) 50 miles per hour, feeling terrified and exhilarated and, also, like a total freaking BA. So how exactly did that happen?

A few weeks prior to April 26th (on which date my beloved scooter and I joined hands like na’vis in Avatar), I had made the executive household decision that my electric-blue ’99 neon was on its way out and that it was officially and finally time to trade it in for a newer used vehicle. So my husband and I rode out to a car dealership that same weekend and, as I had anticipated, it was the worst experience everrrrrr. Well.. not ever, but it was seriously unpleasant. And horrible.

“WELL HELLO THERE, LADY AND GENTLEMAN!” A bright-toothed man wearing a camel-brown suit and a purple tie hollered in our direction as soon as we had exited my parked car. Here we go, I mourned inwardly, steeling myself for the encounter and smiling as genuine a smile as I could muster.

“Hey there!” I returned his greeting, “We’re just kind of moseying around… I’m looking to-”

“My name’s Jack,” he interjected, quickly extending his arm to shake hands with my husband before politely nodding in my direction. Kay.. strike one.

“…traaaade in the Neon.”

“Oh — okay! Well then, let’s go ahead and get started, folks! There’s lots to see here, lots to see.”

We toured the parking lot where Sparkle Teeth raved on and on about this, that and the other. Eventually, we test drove a vomit-green car with a weak engine, tacky paint job (alluded to by the word “vomit”) and exorbitant price tag. Minutes later, we were ushered into Jack’s office and seated in matching wooden chairs with red and golden seat cushions. Time to talk financing. Awesome.. my favorite.

“I actually work at a credit union,” I explained right off the bat, naively believing that I could ward off his bothersome salesman tactics by being upfront, “and have already received a preapproval there — I know the precise amount that I’m willing to finance, the maximum term that I’m willing to go, and I’ve secured a great rate.”

“Ohhhhh?” He breathed in a (mock)surprised tone that was far too high-pitched for me to be buying it. “Wellllll! It sounds like you’ve just got ALL of your ducks in a row, huh? I just want to SEE something, though,” he smiled at me conspiringly and winked. “Justtttt want to check on something real quick.” Jesus.

“No, that’s really okay–” I began.

“Nooooo, really — I insist, young lady. I respect that you want to support your credit union and all, and I think that’s great, but I think that we can find a term and a rate that will make you think twice about it. I do, I do, I DO.” He bared his teeth in a patronizing grin and disappeared into a back room.

So my credit was pulled for the second time that month (ouch), and when Sparkle Teeth returned from the back office, he brought a fine display of theatrics with him.

“YOU.WILL.NOT.BELIEVE WHAT I.CAN.DO FOR.YOU.”

Chris (husband) tilted his head inquiringly, feigning interest, and I tightened my lips. Fancy Pants went on a great spiel about how it really wasn’t so much a matter of financing the small and overly modest amount that I had received a preapproval for, but of financing a LARGER amount over a LONGER time period and with another financial institution.. that THAT’S what I should be doing, silly little girl.

“No.”

“Just think about it,” he smiled and nodded knowingly, gazing in Chris’s direction and flicking a business card that pictured Benjamin Franklin on the front (really? really?) in my general direction.

So we left and, not even a week later, I had made my decision. I took a stand; I would not bury myself in debt or follow the misguided advice from a sharply dressed and brightly-toothed car salesman.. no WAY, Jose. Instead, I entered the magical world that is Scootertown and put a Genuine Buddy 170i on order from a bike shop in Pelham. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Let me tell you about it.

I’ll never forget hopping onto a scooter for the first time. Our shop guy, Matthew (a dude in his late thirties with spiky hair, cool tattoos, and a pleasantly hands-off type demeanor — who was totally AWESOME and the polar opposite of the sparkly-toothed, fancy-suited greed-master from the car dealership), spent two hours with us the first time that we stopped in to his store, showing us the various brands, builds and styles of bikes and asking direct and relevant questions that would help him determine which kind of bike would best suit me personally. “My commute to work is pretty short,” I told him in answer to one of his questions, “less than 5 miles from my house and it’s completely off of the interstate. I really won’t need to go more than 55, and I’d really like to purchase something automatic, if possible. I don’t want to have to worry about shifting gears right now.. not yet.” Matthew nodded. Minutes later, he rolled an automatic scooter down to the road in front of his store (it was an off-white European model that he’d regularly let customers “test” out), and as soon as he had inserted the key and revved the engine, I felt like jumping about 100 feet backwards. It wasn’t so much that the sound was ACTUALLY as loud as I was perceiving it to be, but the intensity of it was very unexpected. And intimidating.

“You ever been on a bike before?” Matthew asked me casually.

“Nope.”

“No problem.”

Matthew hopped onto the scooter and rode it down an adjoining street, returning to where Chris and I were standing in less than a minute.

“Alright,” he announced cheerfully, “I’ve got it all warmed up for you.” He smiled warmly and motioned for me to hop on.

I approached the scooter cautiously, lowered myself onto the seat rather awkwardly and then wrapped a hand around each of the gears on either side of me. It felt very.. unnatural.

“…so…do I use these to brake or accelerate?”
“Both handles, brake; throttle on the right, accelerate.”

“And I don’t have to wear a seat belt?”
“There is no seat belt.”

“How many times have you fallen off of your bike in the past.. let’s say 5 years, Matthew?”

He looked at me quizzically and then laughed, shaking his head quickly from side to side. “Look, just start out SLOW.. okay? Let’s try 10 miles per hour. Just go in a straight line down this road and keep your eyes glued to where you’re wanting to go – don’t stare down at you speedometer.” I nodded. “And hey,” he offered as a sort of afterthought, “you fall down, we’ll brush you off and you’ll go again. No big deal.” …

I did what he said and, oh my god, it was so much fun.

10 miles quickly became 25 and, once I hit 30, it was a breeze. The faster I went on the scooter, the safer (ironically) I felt. I told Matthew. “It’s called science,” he responded, giving me an amused smile. “Things in motion tend to stay in motion, so, the faster you’re going, the more stable you feel, because you are more stable.”

Matthew let me practice for as long as I wanted that afternoon, stepping up to offer me advice at times and then – at other times, for long, twenty-minute spaces – just letting me practice accelerating, braking, turning and stopping. I didn’t even fall off of the bike once.

When I fell asleep in my bed that night, dreaming of the brown and white scooter that I had ordered earlier that afternon and that Matthew had promised would be ready within two weeks, I felt a nervous, tingly excitement course through my body. The thought of it actually gave me goosebumps. It also made me feel nauseous.

During that two week time period, I spent all of my free time studying an electronic version of my local DMV’s motorcycle manual and taking free practice quizzes online. About four days before my scooter was ready for pick up, I drove up to the DMV to take my Motorcycle Permit Exam (Chris came with me; it took me two attempts to pass the test and he failed three times in a row. To this day, I’m the only licensed motorcyclist in this household).

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Sorry, Chris; I couldn’t resist.

Just as Matthew had promised, two weeks after placing my order, I returned to the bike lot and watched as he pushed the newly imported and assembled scooter – a gorgeous bike that was petite and painted brown and white (and is pictured below) – out from the shop and onto the street. Matthew inserted the key, revved the engine and looked up at me, smiling knowingly. I drove home on it about an hour later, after we had finished with paperwork, after Chris and I had both hugged and thanked Matthew and after I was in full gear (wearing an armored leather jacket, steel-toed boots, a full-face helmet, a sleek, black pair of men’s sunglasses and a thick pair of black leather gloves.. plus a goofy, neon-green safety vest – NOT pictured in this photo – that my husband ruthlessly insisted I wear at all times. “I’ll look more like an elementary school traffic conductor than an awesome ninja daredevil,” I thought sadly, “but okay.”). Chris trailed behind me in his car and I realized, about ten minutes into the ride home, that I hadn’t yet located my horn. “That’s probably pretty important,” I mouthed to myself, mentally noting that I definitely needed to locate it before embarking on my next ride. “If I make it home alive, that is,” I amended my thought quickly.

10259988_10202508146678783_1672409004208518382_nMe last year/the first day with my scoot

Ride after ride, week after week and as the months continued to roll by, I learned more and more about my scooter; recognizing the feel of moving along concrete at different speeds, gaging how heavily to lean in on turns, learning to use the bouncing tail lights of the car driving in front of me as a guide at night and mastering how to stop at red lights so gracefully that I do not look like a teen-aged idiot. And – last year – I totally felt like the proudest parent ever each time I visited the gas station as topping off my gas tank took, at the highest dollar rate per gallon last summer, $2.13. Whatttttt! My scooter is an honor roll scooter. My scooter’s more economically efficient than your child.

One thing, however, that I was able to avoid learning for the whole entire year was how to ride my scooter in the rain.

On days when the forecasted chance of rain was 30% or above, I would opt in to taking the Neon over the scoot. “Hopefully it won’t die in traffic this time around,” I’d whisper to myself encouragingly as I plopped into the driver’s seat and hesitantly turned the car’s key in the ignition; I would breathe a humongous sigh of relief as the engine kicked into life, each and every time. I still do.

On the days when the forecast for rain was, instead, 20% or below and I took the scoot (and then teardrops of rain did end up falling from the sky), my husband or a concerned coworker would pick me up and drive me home.

So, somehow, for an entire 365 + like 20 days, I was able to avoid riding in the rain through a fine balance of diligent weather-watching, the kind assistance of others and then, sometimes, just plain luck. Until today.

When my work day ended late this afternoon, I walked outside, weighed down with all of my typical gear, removed my scoot’s plastic blue cover and revved its engine. I turned on my favorite Pandora station, eased out my usual parking place and set course en route for home, just like I’ve done at least a hundred other times.

About two minutes into my brief ride home (it takes anywhere from 9-14 minutes, depending on traffic), I heard and felt raindrops beginning to hit my helmet. “Oh wow,” I murmured from inside my helmet, the sound of my voice reverberating as I finally noticed the dark and heavy rain clouds hovering above me. “So it is actually going to rain then.”

These cute and fascinating and timid little raindrops quickly and drastically transformed themselves into a collective, legitimate DOWNPOUR, and as I continued riding home, with the lead singer for The New Division singing dreamily in the background, I shifted back and forth between the feeling of thrilling ecstasy and a nerve-wracking sense of terror. “It is happening.. it is LITERALLY, SERIOUSLY HAPPENING — I’m riding in the rain. Oh my god, I feel like I’m wading through the ocean right now.. these puddles of rainwater are at least HALF of an inch high OFF of the roads right now and I’m totally going to flip. Any second. Hydroplane, flip, and – possibly – die. I wonder if I’ll get stuck under the scooter or go flying into the air from the sheer force of the combined energy and impact of wrecking? Is it more likely that I’ll wake up inside of the hospital or “come to” on the way there? OH MY GOD, WILL I WAKE UP AT ALL?!” There was a brief moment when I morbidly consoled myself that, if I were to wreck and pass out/go flying through the air/wake up inside of or en route to a hospital/die, at least it would happen while one of my favorite songs was playing. “Oh Rose, just stop.. that is so incredibly ridiculous,” I chided myself.

So, having reclaimed my sanity and regained control of my senses, I tensed my back, rode up hills, meandered around curves and tightened my fingers, hands and arms as my motorbike soared down the mini-mountains (aka hills) spotting my neighborhood. On minute 12 or 13, I pulled onto my street and into my driveway and saw, between the droopy smears of water adhering to my helmet’s transparent shield, my dear, gray house perched on top of the hill, and at the moment, I realized that I had finally done it; I had driven in the rain and lived to tell the tale. Fear was gone. I was home.

If I didn’t want a motorcycle before, by golly I want one now.

That’s all, folks.. I rode my scooter in the rain today, and it was scary, and I spent a whole entire year avoiding it and –  now – well.. I am the champion. My friends. And I’ll.. keep on scooting.. til the-

“Wow. Okay. Can I get the last 8 minutes of my life back, please?”

Until the next tsunami,

Aun Aqui

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