It must have been the slight onset of madness that made me do this. Most definitely.
Since last Monday, I am riding a 125cc motor scooter of the Vespa type around Venice. I.e. Venice, Los Angeles. And beyond. Aside from the oddly named Freeways (what’s free up there, I ask? OK, no road tax, but other than that?), no place is secure from me. In fact, it’s more my own security that I am worried about. The first week has already given me a taste of the multifarious hazards two-wheelers are exposed to in this very very large city.
For one, nearly everything else is much larger than you. Although there is a notable trend in LA to buy smaller cars, there are still enough metal behemoths around to make you feel claustrophobic at traffic junctions. Even motorcycles, as rare as they are, come more often in the super-sized Harley variety than in “normal” human-sized models. Not to speak of the roads. They come in Starbucks sizes: two lanes (short espresso), three lanes (a mini regular), four lanes (large with cream), and more (premium but still manageable). One lane? Can’t be measured.
Then there are the cracks in the road. I can only assume that it is the thousands of mini-earthquakes the area experiences every week, or perhaps even every day, that tears apart the tarmac to this extent. Every other day, there seems to be another bump or hole in the Avenues I have to master, which the scooter is never too happy about. There is even a dip on Washington Ave. for which you kindly receive advance warning through a sign saying “Dip.” Once you mastered that one and think you are safe, there is nearly immediately another one, without warning.
But there are also upsides. First of all, road behaviour is much more courteous than in Europe,. Drivers generally give you an incredible amount of space to maneuver, on both sides and in front of them. Never heard a nasty word about me weaving through traffic either – rather to the contrary, cars moving to the side so I could pass. People are incredibly forgiving of uncertain driving styles – it’s rare to hear someone honk.
In a generally energy-conscientious US state like California, it is also not rare to get positive remarks about riding a scooter. I received one already on day two, and someone even enquired about the scooter while crossing the six lanes on a junction. From a distance of at least 50 metres, he still shouted at me: “And how many gallons per mile?” I had no idea – gallons?
Then, there are my personal safety precaution. Nearly all other scooter drivers (still a rare sight) that I so far encountered, seem to be content to adopt the Italian fashion of T-shirt with bermudas and slippers of even flip-flops. Not me. Paranoid as I am about safety, I gear up every day with leather jacket, gloves and long trousers. I also always ride with full beam on, day and night, in the hope that no one gets so blinded by the mini-beam that she or he cuts off my way and runs me over. Gulp.
Finally, there is the colour. I’ve seen all kinds of scooters here so far, but none in bright orange. What a statement.