Automobile - - E Thos -

MAK­ING THE DI­RECT con­nec­tion be­tween speed and phys­i­cal pain is not one of life’s in­evitabil­i­ties—even one spent com­pul­sively op­er­at­ing motor ve­hi­cles. But when the con­nec­tion is made, it’s just, well, brother, des­tiny has come call­ing.

I got my first les­son in big sud­den hurt on New York’s Ge­orge Washington Bridge one night back in 1982 when I drove my 1967 MGB at 55 mph into the back of a stalled late ’70s Chrysler (gory de­tails in the Novem­ber 1992 edi­tion of Au­to­mo­bile). It hurt and pul­ver­ized my sweet mug, but thank­fully no oth­ers were in­jured. Af­ter mak­ing a mirac­u­lous re­cov­ery, I didn’t think I needed any more clar­ity on the as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween speed and pain. But I got some any­way.

Just the other day I was rid­ing an elec­tric scooter I re­ceived a few years back called the Us­cooter. It’s a clever lit­tle thing, sur­pris­ingly use­ful, and I’ve en­joyed it a lot, though I hope I never get to use it in its most per­fect ap­pli­ca­tion—get­ting as far off­stage as fast as pos­si­ble the next time some­thing like 9/11 hap­pens. Call me para­noid. While ev­ery­one else is stuck and steam­ing in traf­fic, the rider of the lowly scooter has a fight­ing chance of find­ing the gaps and holes that make a get­away pos­si­ble.

At first glance, the Us­cooter looks more or less like any other stand-up scooter, no dif­fer­ent than one the Lit­tle Ras­cals would’ve rid­den around movie sets in 1930s Hol­ly­wood. It works the same as the old push scoot­ers, too, ex­cept for the fact that it is col­lapsi­ble (for easy trans­port and stor­age) and heav­ier (23 pounds) be­cause it has an elec­tric motor with a bat­tery pack that can be called upon to pro­pel it sur­pris­ingly rapidly to a not in­con­sid­er­able 22 mph. It has an ob­served range of 15 to 20 miles and a two-hour recharge time.

Fast, fun, and strangely prac­ti­cal, the Us­cooter has not been with­out its quirks. Its brakes stop fast enough to up­end you if you’re not care­ful, with a con­trol lever that de­mands the stead­i­est of thumbs. Over the course of a cou­ple years, how­ever, I fig­ured I’d mas­tered that, along with the rudi­ments of safe, lin­ear, elec­tric scooter­ing.

Run­ning late one day, I had only pulled the Us­cooter from my garage, popped its fold­ing front fork into place, and set off on a half-mile ride to col­lect my MGA from a nearby garage when it dawned on me that I’d for­got­ten my hel­met. I al­ways wear one. I lec­ture other peo­ple on the ne­ces­sity of hel­mets—es­pe­cially my chil­dren—to the point of tor­ture. Yet this time I for­got mine. And, prov­ing noth­ing, this time it didn’t mat­ter.

What mat­tered was that the front fork col­lapsed un­ex­pect­edly when I hit a small bump, and the scooter folded like it was be­ing put in the back of a high-mileage hatch­back. Ex­cept it was still be­ing used, now to send me hurtling at 22 miles per hour onto the pave­ment. It may have been oper­a­tor er­ror. Us­cooter the­o­rized that while try­ing to fold it over the course of years with­out fol­low­ing in­struc­tions and fail­ing to roll it for­ward while dis­en­gag­ing the lock­ing mech­a­nism, I’d dam­aged it. That it had be­come nec­es­sary to ham­mer the re­lease should have told me some­thing was up. In any event, when the fork went south, the front wheel flopped to one side, launch­ing rider head­first onto the road.

This time, I was many times blessed. Crash­ing hadn’t meant fall­ing un­der the wheels of a pass­ing car. Mer­ci­fully, I’d had the road to my­self for a brief mo­ment. Se­condly, I some­how man­aged not to hit my head or hurt my face.

“So this is what it’s like to crash a mo­tor­bike, only I’m hop­ing not quite as bad!” I thought in that slow-mo­tion split sec­ond when my twowheeled rig was slow­ing and I wasn’t. As the tar­mac came up, I put my hands out. Through some mir­a­cle I man­aged to keep my head erect while brak­ing with bare hands and arms, T-shirt, jeans, and sneak­ers—22 to 0 in no time.

Peo­ple ran from all direc­tions ask­ing if I was all right. I bounced up and as­sured them I was right as rain. Aside from scraped and bleed­ing knuck­les, palms, el­bows, and fore­arms, plus two sprained wrists, two sprained thumbs, and a baker’s dozen of black and blue marks about my hands, arms, legs, and big toes, I was all good.

And so it can be told: Fly­ing through the air and strik­ing the pave­ment is not like crash­ing a car. It’s a whole new can of peas when it comes to pain and trauma. No mat­ter, Us­cooter is send­ing me a re­place­ment, its new Booster model. I ex­pect to love it and hope I have noth­ing more to say on the mat­ter. AM

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