Sunday, May 14, 2006

Two Wheels Good


During the energy crisis in the mid 70's, my father bought a shiny new burgundy wine colored moped, with soft black vinyl panniers on either side of the broad saddle seat the back of which read P U C H in white block letters. .

He used it briefly to shuttle himself the seven-eights of a mile between home and the columned Indiana limestone main Post Office in Dixon Square. To my child's mind this purchase was the greatest thing EVER. I was obsessed then with cars and trucks and motorcycles, and expected that this "pook" would open up the adventure and excitement of the wide open highway as I'd witnessed it in edited versions of "The Wild One" or "Easy Rider" shown on Sunday afternoon T.V. presentations of The Million Dollar Movie. My father had never before bought anything that was even remotely cool or interesting. His purchases were made only after lengthy consultations with Consumers' Reports, the better business bureau, his mechanic and/or journeymen acquaintances in the most closely related trades. Whatever the carefully considered item; snowtires, a wood stove or the indestructible stainless steel storm door on the side entrance, it had been selected for desirable properties of reliability, long wear and ease of maintainance. Inherently thrifty, pragmatic and practical, Dad would not stand at the mercy of some capricious foreign oil cartel. But This though, THIS was going to be FUN.

When he pulled into the driveway Mom stood behind me with arms crossed over my rapidly beating heart, preventing me from flinging myself at it in wild eyed near hysteria. It idled with the put put put put put of a small outboard engine. Dad pressed the horn button twice in quick succession, and it chirped a MEEP MEEP very much like that of the Road Runner in the Warner Brothers cartoon. I swooned. My excitement was quickly tempered, quashed by the same dry pessimism which evaporated the fun out of life's felicities like the juices drained from an over done cut of finely marbled steak. Dad removed the chipped and scarred white yard sale sourced helmet and thick black leather work gloves which he would never fail to wear while riding. "I-wanna-ride-I-wanna-ride-I-wanna-ride!!!" I trilled salivating, flailing my skinny arms like a nest bound fledgling and hopping from one foot to another in a sort of pee dance of expectation. My fathers eyes were filled with the sorrowful burden of probity unknown to his overly eager and impulsive youngest son. He sighed. He wanted to make it clear to me that this moped had been purchased in the interests of ECONOMY, for necessary transportation in a time of national crisis. It was NOT a toy. He further explained that scooters and motorcycles were dangerous-the seemingly innocent burgundy machine too-so there would be no rides. Furthermore, as long as I lived in his house, I should entertain no thoughts of EVER owning or riding any such two wheeled deathtrap. The dread and fear so completely internalized by my father was projected onto the cheerfully oblivious little bike, and mercifully lost to me as well in my youth and all consuming abject disappointment. Slack jawed stunned I realized that yet again, This was going to be no fun at all.

Dad filled the tiny tank every couple of weeks from the Puch's own tiny red plastic gas can, into which he had mixed the precise amount of two-stroke oil as directed by the contorted grammar in the English/French/German owner's manual. After breakfast each weekday he would gird himself for the run to work, his uniform pants lashed tight to his ankle with the omnipresent large rubber bands of his trade. The lawn mower sized engine propelled him down the steep hill of Granite Street at a sprightly clip in the early mornings and then back up again in the evenings at a much more labored rate. For added safety in the early darkening days of winter, he kept a battery operated red flashing light lashed to the rear rack with additional rubber bands, aft of the tightly rolled rubber band secured gray vinyl slicker kept in case of showers. On one cold cloudy day riding shotgun in Mom's energy crisis worsening fuel guzzling station wagon, we chanced upon him on his ascent. We sighted the red beacon through wiper swipes sweeping icy drizzle from the windshield. The wet gray slicker reflected the red blinking and our head lights as we overtook him-scowling behind rain spattered glasses-as he climbed the hill at a walking pace. Dad was right again; it didn't look like fun at all.

When gas prices stabilized, the moped was set off to one side in the garage where it languished, gradually disappearing behind sediments of moving pads, and painting rags, and further screened by a palisade of garden implements. But still it dashed through the streets of my elaborate and highly detailed inner world, a world which I expected time and patience to ultimately make real. When I got my drivers license at seventeen, I excavated the Carter era artifact and returned it to regular service. Here was a chance to re-hydrate a long decicated good time. In the intervening years, the paranoia of mortality attached to the moped had faded, and the strictures forbidding two wheeled transportation had dropped away. Perhaps I was again benefiting from "The Baby Dividend" my brothers insisted I collected as the youngest, or maybe Dad had simply been so worn down after lengthy arduous adolescent embattlements with the first two that he lacked the energy to protest. He didn't even make me wear the beat up helmet.

I was king of the road. Even though I had access to the parents' cars- Mom's current station wagon (green with wood grain contact paper sides and a gleaming chrome roof rack which easily and securely accommodated two high school students clutching the front rail with feet hooked over the back one) and the current of Dad's series of disposable cars (a 1965 dodge coronet with a HUGE engine powerful enough to tow a small house and a two tone green '75 AMC Pacer with giant curved bubble rear corner windows, a doors open wingspan of approximately twenty five feet, and a steady transmission leak which necessitated almost daily topping-off from a case of Jack and Harry's fluid behind the drivers seat) - I vastly preferred my moped. With it I was free. In thrift store paisley shirts, Thomas Dolby inspired tiny round sunglasses from Trash and Vaudeville and sockless black penny loafers, I flew down the hill, my long on top buzzed up the back haircut swept into a wind tunnel ducks ass by reckless forward motion. Even through the Winter months I would ride, armored against the elements in vintage mountain climber's goggles, a heavy black canvas tent of a fire mans' coat over swaddling layers of sweaters and flannel topping black Levis 501s with black lace up wrestling boots sticking out underneath. Half way down the valley I'd have to stop for a while to defrost my eyeballs.

I loaded my faithful friend in to Peter's big blue van for the several hundred mile trip to Art School in the Far Away City.
Once in Philadelphia, I moved into cheap lodgings on the far fringes of the city. I quickly discovered that the tiny engine was not up to jousting with the more aggressive drivers of the Delaware Valley and grudgingly resorted to public transportation to get myself in and out of Center City for classes and my full time job (Dad had decided that my weak high school performance had made me a poor risk for academic investment. He co-signed my student loans, but gave me no further assistance, aside from an occasional twenty dollar bill guiltily secreted in my knapsack on my visits home. This was in marked contrast to my brothers. Some Baby Dividend ). Juggling the schedules of work , school, and The South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority left me with hours spent waiting and waiting for buses which might or might not arrive, and the stress of being either a little late or much to early for everything. The lines shut down shortly after midnight, which hampered my attempts to create a social life in my new town. It was expensive to boot. On T.V. at that time, the members of Devo were among a group of "edgy" avantgarde performers then shilling for Honda's new "Elite" line of scooters in heavily rotated T.V. adds. Devo was cool. I wanted to be cool, and I wanted to come and go as I pleased. I'd priced the machines and determined that I could buy one on payments, and even adding in America's second or third highest insurance rates, the whole project would cost less a month than what I was paying SEPTA. At the end of the process I'd actually OWN something as well. I resolved to present the case to my father on the slim chance that he might cosign for this as well.
Who Links Here