Saturday, September 10, 2005

Scooter Stories: Not with a Bang, But a Whimper

Let me start tonight's entry with a quick note about the one from last night.  I've been fretting about it all day.  As originally posted, about a third of it consisted of my trying to explain why the South is not my favorite place in the known universe. It was true, but it was also kind of churlish, rather akin to kicking a sick puppy.  Sorry about that.  I've revised the entry at least four times today, trying to be honest without being  negative.  It's better now.  If I've offended you in the meantime, please accept my apology.

Now for the rather sad denouement to my scooter stories.

When I got back from my 1985 trip from Columbus to Syracuse and Niagara Falls, I ordered a replacement speedometer cable for my Honda Elite 250.  This meant that the Elite was in fine shape when we moved to Tucson the following year.  But shortly after that, one of the tires went flat.  We put it in the back of John's Dodge van (it barely fit!) and took it to Arizona Honda.  For whatever reason, we had to leave it there, rather than get it fixed immediately.

the Aero and the motorcycle As John and I came home afterwards in the van, we decided to stop at the Circle K at Grant and Silverbell for something to drink.  At the time, we lived on Grannen Road, 2.8 miles from the Circle K.  We should have waited 'til we got home.  When we came out of the convenience store, the van wouldn't start!  We walked up the hill and over to the house.  Then John got on our only remaining working vehicle, his Honda CM450 motorcycle, and drove away, ostensibly to check out our options for getting the van running again.

Five miles later, he got a ticket.  Two tickets, really. Since we were new in town, and he hadn't been riding his bike, he hadn't yet put new tags on his Honda.  He had them - whether for Ohio or Arizona, we don't remember now - but they weren't on the bike yet.  And we didn't yet have motorcycle insurance for Arizona.  Or maybe I have it backwards - maybe we had the Arizona insurance, but not the Arizona tags.(Yeah. That seems more likely.) You get the idea.  He had one of the two, but proof of neither on that day.

Well, we took care of whatever paperwork we were lacking.  When we went down to the beautiful old courthouse to pay the fine, though, it turned out that it wasn't that simple.  John had to go to court.

The court date came.  Aside from the judge, John was the best-dressed person in the room that day.  The person ahead of John on the docket explained that she had to drive her neighbor's car - without a driver's license, tags, or insurance - because she had to get to work!  Compared to someone like this, I thought, John seemed perfectly reasonable and law-abiding.

Then it was John's turn.  He wanted to plead "innocent with an explanation," but the judge explained that there was no such option.  John reluctantly went with guilty (or "responsible") with an explanation.

"I am now ready to hear your explanation," the judge said.

"Well, your honor, it was a weird day," John told her.  He explained the circumstances, of the two vehicles we actually used suddenly being put out of commission on the same day.

"Is the motorcycle insured now in Arizona?" she asked.

"Yes, your honor.  It already was."

"Does it have Arizona plates?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

She inspected the paperwork, and then waived the fines on both counts.  Hooray for that judge, whoever she was!

The Elite remained my only working vehicle for a couple more years. John had the van, and the Aero 80 was missing an ignition key and needed a new battery or something.  I rode the Elite on my many birdwatching trips in 1986 and 1987: up Mount Lemmon, where the wind blew away one of my contact lenses at 40 mph, despite my helmet; down to Madera Canyon, where I listened to nightjars and fed a carrot to a slightly tame wild deer; and on rough dirt roads and through a wash to Dudleyville, where I saw a Mississippi Kite. The chanciest scooter trips included the time the fuse powering the headlight blew near Globe, and I had to ride over an hour in the dusk with only turn signals for illumination; and the time I got lost at dusk outside Patagonia. 

[ Yahoo! Maps ]
Map of Patagonia, AZ

That second one was my own fault, really.  I should have gotten more gas earlier in the day, maybe at Sonoita.  I should also have given up on the obscure directions in my Birds of Southeastern Arizona book, once it became obvious that I'd missed a turn somewhere.  Instead I went up and down a succession of hills on the more and more rugged dirt road, heading farther and farther from civilization, as the sun came closer and closer to the horizon.  Cows grazed next to the road, and the outcroppings in the dirt were probably bedrock.  As the sun disappeared, I found myself at the top of an almost 45 degree downgrade.  Even if I got the bike safely down the hill, I'd never get it up the other side.  I was lost, it was getting dark, and I was nearly out of gas.  Oh, and it was rattlesnake country.  So I left the bike at the side of the road, and walked along a nearby dirt driveway to a local ranch. 

The rancher rescued me - up to a point, that is.  He got my scooter, me, and his children into the back of his pickup truck, and got me back to Patagonia. Well, that was a start!  But the local gas station was closed.  I was told that sometimes the owner of the station liked to go into Tucson for the evening--and where did that leave me?

the Elite in 2005. Nevertheless, the rancher said goodbye and drove away, having suggested that I talk to the local police about borrowing some gas.  But the cop I found very nicely explained that he had no way to do this.  I knew I didn't have enough gas to make Tucson.  It was doubtful that I could even make Sonoita, or that the station there would be open if and when I got there.  So I did the only thing I could do.  I headed south - away from Tucson! - toward Nogales.  It was closer than Sonoita, and large enough to have more than one gas station.  I might even be able to make it to one of them. 

I didn't.  I ran out of gas near a subdivision, about a mile outside Nogales. 

But I manage to flag down someone from the subdivision, a middle-aged man who barely spoke English.  (Nogales straddles the Mexico border.)  He drove off with his non-approved plastic container (think antifreeze), filled it with gas, and brought it back to me.  He wouldn't even let me reimburse him for it.  I thanked him profusely, drove off to the gas station to finish filling up, called John by pay phone so he'd know I wasn't dead in a ditch, got some dinner at Denny's, and drove home - by freeway this time, up I-19.

Oh, and there was also the time John and I headed north to take part in Hands Across America, and got stranded under a tree near Sunshine Boulevard outside Eloi.  Actually, John wasn't stranded.  His motorcycle was working fine.  But my Elite blew a fuse and wouldn't start.  So much for Hands Across America!

By 1987 we were running out of money, so I got a job at a video rental place at Grant and Silverbell.  One midnight I hit a piece of gravel at the edge of the parking lot with the front tire of the Elite.  The bike went down, and I lost half a tooth. Another time, the bike skidded on a patch of grease on Grant Road under the I-10 overpass.  Yet another time, I arrived soaked at my second video store job while riding the scooter in the monsoon.  Back in Columbus, I'd barely been fazed by riding in rain, in snow, in 10 degree weather, even across patches of ice!  But these little incidents and disasters were starting to add up, and I wasn't 28 years old any more.  I needed a car!

I bought a 1977 Mercury Capri.  I can't remember whether I've told you the end of that story or not.  But one time, I had to pick up the Capri from the used car dealership after some repair work.  John was working or out of town or something, so I rode the Elite over, parked it on a wedge of curb between the lot and the street (about nine inches above the street and about five feet away), and drove the car home, intended to return for the bike in the morning.

part of the damage. When I did this, I was in for a rude shock.  Someone had driven over the curb during the night, knocked over the scooter, and driven away.  All those pretty champagne-colored parts were only made of plastic, and several of them were broken.  One of the hand brakes hung loose. 

I managed to ride my scooter home, but it really wasn't functional anymore.  And those plastic parts were extremely expensive to replace!  So I simply gave up riding the Elite.  The master plan was to sell or trade the Aero 80, and use the money to fix the Elite.  But that never happened.

The two scooters and the motorcycle have only deteriorated further since then.  19 years in the Arizona heat have cracked the seats, destroyed the tires, drained the batteries and dried out the lubricants.  Fixing my 1985 Elite - if a dealer can even get the parts any more, which is doubtful - is still cheaper than replacing it completely, but we're probably talking about $1,000 or more.  So there it sits. 

But if this darn refi ever happens, maybe I'll eventually be able to do something about it.  If I can, I probably should.  How long do you suppose it will take to recoup the repair costs in improved gas mileage, at $3.00 a gallon?

The End - for now.



ryanagi said...

Ouch...poor scooter. :-( Hit and run SUCKS.

deabvt said...