On taking back your power
My new electric scooter arrived last week, and I am already hopelessly in love with it. It’s the stand-up kind — I just step on with one foot, kick off with the other foot, and toggle a power switch that glides me forward. Wind in my hair… little kids looking up at me with envy… there’s nothing like it.
Riding that scooter has been like a conversion experience, surprising me with feelings of grace, salvation, and power. It has certainly brought me closer to heaven because I refuse to wear a helmet. (At my age, it would be hubris to imagine there remained any potential worth preserving in that cranium. Hah.)
The ride is surprisingly euphoric. The scooter reaches a top speed of about 11 miles per hour — it’s certainly not the Harley I used to fantasize about. And maybe you do ride a Harley, so you’re scoffing already at that gentle breeze in my hair. Well, scoff away; I don’t understand it, either.
But somehow, this ride goes just fast enough to feel like freedom. And right now, that’s everything.
“Get your motor running…”
I’ve been hankering for an electric scooter ever since my beloved and I discovered them while on vacation in a nearby city.
Exploring a historic downtown area is difficult when knees, feet, and hips all bark at you after just a block or two of walking. Taxis and ride-shares help, but even if the expense isn’t an issue, that’s no way to see the people or enjoy the view.
But those little scooters were the perfect mobility solution for people at our current position on the ability/disability spectrum. (Specifically, right in between the Harleys and the Rascals.) A scooter ride is easy on your joints, seems to help maintain muscle tone in your core, and gets your blood up out of your butt for a while. So we downloaded the apps and, literally, went to town.
We discovered an open-air market, a light show at a cathedral, and a venue for a Broadway bus-and-truck production of Wicked — none of which we would have found on foot.
And we happily believed ourselves to be exponentially cooler than any other tourists in our age range. We totally crushed that Segway group. They looked like alienated mall cops, whereas we were going for a pleasant, laid-back sophistication that did not take itself too seriously and tipped well.
My beloved takes alternative routes to everything, always. I’m more of a check-the-map kind of person. We had merry times trying to keep together as we toured around the town, if by “merry times” you mean multiple instances of my patiently calling out, “Wait, honey, there’s a sign…” to the back of my beloved as it disappeared into the crowd.
But with my own scooter, it didn’t matter. We were each under our own power; we could each take our own paths and meet at the destination. We learn slowly but we do learn, so we eventually made the default rule: we’d ride together if we could, but if we were separated, we’d just meet up wherever we are meant to be.
Scooter wisdom is wisdom for life, my friends.
“If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.”
Mario Andretti I’m not, but I did learn not to be so damned cautious about taking bumps in the road.
The only time I took a fall was when I hesitated on the approach to a rough curb cut. If I had maintained speed, I’d have made it up and over, but instead, I stopped short and toppled over hard.
It hurt my vanity more than anything. One minute, I’m channeling Negasonic Teenage Warhead; the next minute, I’m on my butt blocking traffic and my beloved is getting sympathetic glances from others. Thought those two were cool. They’re a little older than I thought, now that I look…
That ended my scooter-riding for that trip since we had to leave for home soon after. So I have been waiting for months to redeem myself. But I’m back on the ride now, by god, and I am ready to be much more than merely a moderately hip tourist.
Step away from the vehicle, please
We live in a suburb of a small college town, where most of the places I want to go lie within a radius of three miles. I’ve wanted to free myself from dependence on my car, and it’s quite possible, but I have found it surprisingly difficult.
With the exception of a few key cities, most of the American habitat was designed for automobiles, not for people. It’s all scaled for the size and speed of cars.
Before you get to the people spaces— sidewalks, parks, shops, cafes — you’ve got to traverse the car-spaces — six lanes of a boulevard; major intersections; huge parking lots.
Have you tried lately to beat one of those timed “Walk” signs at an intersection? Then you have felt that adrenaline jolt when the red numbers start flashing. You have bare seconds to get your ass safely past a dozen two-ton vehicles all exploding internally and held in place only by someone’s foot resting carelessly on the brake while they check their text messages.
The scooter gets you to the other side unruffled and unscathed. It evens the odds just enough to let a human move around in a car-scaled world and escape detection.
It even helps in human-scaled areas, like those lovely quaint historic downtown spaces, without ruining their human scale. By definition, parking is a problem in those human-scaled spaces. I love to go to my town’s historic square; now I can just ride the scooter there because I don’t need to park it. I’ll just bring it into the shops with me, like a comfort animal. Maybe I’ll put a little harness on it and name it “Alistair.”
As an amateur prophet, I predicted combustion engines would trash the planet, and sure enough, they have.
So now my advice to everyone is to get ready for the post-combustion engine phase. Move closer to work, at least; even better, telecommute or quit working altogether. But also get a bicycle, a velocipede, a pair of roller skates, a segway, or a scooter. Have as many alternate means of getting around as possible.
I’m already prepared for that apocalyptic scenario. I’ll be the one bringing up the rear of the caravan, all grizzled and tatted up, in a leather bustier, kicking away on my scooter, smiling grimly and hissing, “I told you so, suckers.”
Reclaiming our sense of agency
Part of adulthood means being empowered to move freely in the world. For suburban kids in the Golden Days of the Oil Imperium, driving a car meant becoming a badass grownup, ready to rule the world.
Now, those cars and highways and sprawling suburbs have locked us into a way of life we cannot escape. Also, they have toasted the earth in the process, so that I am now mortified to recall how much I loved my gas-guzzling Cutlass 442 convertible, back in the day.
But we can still have that feeling of freedom and empowerment. We just have to look further back in our memory, to the time before our freedom depended on blowing up dead dinosaur juice.
For some of us, it might have been when we got our first bicycle. Or our first skateboard, or our first pair of roller skates, or even our first tricycle.
Some people obtain their feelings of personal power and freedom from running or working out, using only their own native flesh. Lovely for those folks, but I never felt an ounce of pleasure or empowerment that way — my body doesn’t do such things efficiently or well.
Moreover, most of us are only temporarily “abled” at best. We’ll all want wheels sooner or later. If you’re smart, you’ll lobby for a built environment that’s friendly to anyone using wheels we can manage ourselves, thank you very much. Or, you can keep driving your car to the gym and being irrationally pissed that the handicapped space is always empty.
I really do have the power
My sense of personal empowerment comes not through any accident of physical prowess. I believe it comes because I have decided to use, without apology, whatever tools I can manage to employ to retain my sense of agency in the world.
No, it’s not heavy metal thunder. It may be faintly ridiculous. But it’s more mobility than many have, and I’m damned grateful for it.
I can get a hit of endorphins and a little surge of speed when I glide along, head held high, on my scooter. I feel sorry for those who are still in thrall to their vehicles, believing the need to drive their Ford F-150 to go pick up cholesterol medication at the drugstore that is 1.4 miles away.
I’m ready for anything — the apocalypse, or a spike in gasoline prices, or the day my children take my car keys away.
Go ahead, kids. Take my car keys.
I can still get free, as long as I’ve got Alistair here.
Like a true nature’s child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die