Street Legal

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‘The Motorcycle Diaries Part II: Getting the goldarned license’

I was going to write about little girls and summer afternoons and wineberries, but it made me feel way too gosh-what-happened-how-could-they-be-grown-up-already.

So instead I’m going to (finally) finish the story about me and my Vespa. You Faithful Readers out there may recall that, instead of flowers or candy or piece of jewelry, I got gifted with a scooter for Mother’s Day one year.

Now, a Vespa is a great Gift Idea. For one thing, it lasts a lot longer than flowers or candy. (Notice I don’t compare it to jewelry.) But there are certain strings attached. For one thing, you can’t just hop on and make like Audrey Hepburn in ‘Roman Holiday’.

Nope. The mean old State of New York makes you get a motorcycle license. Even if the ‘motorcycle’ is a cute little powder-blue Vespa. They also make you wear a helmet. Which might have been a deal-breaker for Audrey.

Me on my cute little Vespa. Yup, I had my license tucked into the pocket of my Lilly

Me, appropriately helmeted on my cute little Vespa. Yup, I have my license. No doubt tucked into the pocket of my Lilly

So. I got myself down to the DMV, met the gentleman who suggested I invest in leather (hilarious details can be found by reading ‘The Motorcycle Diaries Part 1’), and took the written test for my motorcycle license.

Note: This test was (and still is, I assume) outrageously easy to pass. It’s all multiple choice, and has questions like this one:

A car is following your motorcycle too closely. Do you:

A. Speed up.

B. Make threatening gestures at the driver.

C. Signal, then pull over to allow the driver to pass.

I kid you not. It’s that easy. I honestly fear for those who fail to pass. And there always are a hapless few. (You’ll see why I say ‘always are’ in just a sec.)

But, you see, the written test just gets you your learner’s permit. In order to get your motorcycle license, you also need to take a road test. I will spare you the details, but if you live in New York City, this is practically impossible to do. (You’re not allowed to drive your motorcycle to the test unaccompanied, for one thing.)

But I did discover a loophole. Good ole New York State will let you keep renewing your permit — as long as you don’t mind getting your leather-clad butt down to the DMV every year and retaking Mr. Written Test.

Which I did. And kept doing. But after about five years I decided I’d had enough. It was time to get my goldarned license, already. Even though I’d kind of miss answering questions like this one:

You’ve had two beers at a party. When is it safe to drive home on your motorcycle?

A. After two hours.

B. Right away. It’s only a couple of beers.

C. The next day. In the meantime, ask someone to give you a ride home.

I mean, duh. But like I said, there always are a pitiful few who do not pass this test. They are out there, people, in your world. But at least they are not driving motorcycles. (I hope.)

But back to the road test. I got this Genius Idea. I’d take a course! Because, if you take a course, you don’t have to take the road test. (The course kind of is the road test.) But I was worried about taking a motorcycle course. I mean, we’re talking about motorcycles. So I did my research and found a motorcycle school that gave lessons on Vespas. Wow. I could have my certificate in two days! And take the course on a nice little scooter like mine. I signed up.

Well. Did I mention that the course took place up in The Bronx? In a trailer parked in an abandoned lot fenced with barbed wire? You should have seen my face when I got there — waaaay too early, of course.

Matters got even more interesting when my fellow students started arriving. I felt like I was at a casting call for ‘West Side Story’. Oh, there were a couple of girls, one of whom was a dead (er ‘live’) ringer for Janice Joplin.

Our instructor, Antonio, got the ball rolling by having us introduce ourselves and say why we were taking the course. Needless to say I was the only one of the twelve who piped up with ‘I got my Vespa for Mother’s Day and I’m tired of renewing my permit’.

But nothing breaks down barriers like two days of intensive motorcycle training. And it did turn out to be ‘motorcycle’ training. About halfway through Day One good ole Antonio took me aside and told me that I was the only one in the class who signed up for taking lessons on a scooter. Oh, he could get a scooter for me, but he thought I’d feel less odd-man-out (as if that were possible) if I took the course on a motorcycle like everybody else.

You'll just have to imagine me riding this. No photographic evidence exists. Thank god

You’ll just have to imagine me riding this. No photographic evidence exists. Thank god

And so I did. I learned to shift and do a controlled skid and drive over railroad ties and execute a (not very good but still) Figure 8. And those barriers I mentioned breaking down? Well. By the second day it was all ‘Go, Pedro!’ and ‘You can do it, Ali!’ I was even walking to the subway with these guys, though we did take our trains home in opposite directions.

And after two days of this, what did I have to show for it?

This was my prize: a certificate showing that I'd passed the course -- including the road test (!)

My prize, signed by Antonio himself: a certificate showing that I’d passed the course (!)

I took that puppy down to the DMV (for the last motorcycle-related time) and got my license. And here’s the good part: once you get your motorcycle license, you’ve got your motorcycle license. You never ever have to take a test again, written or road.

Which makes me pretty darned happy. As you can see:

Happy Vespa rider me.

Happy Vespa rider me, on a ‘Grand Day Out’

Notice the resemblance to a certain claymation character?

Notice the resemblance to a certain claymation character?

That’s it. Gonna go saddle up. It’s going to be another hot one today. Stay cool, even if you’re Vespa-less. I’ll be back next week, possibly with that tale of wineberries and little girls.

Amagansett, New York. July 2016



Sharing Summers with the Short People

Summer Couch potatoes

‘Those Lazy Days and Crazy Nights out on Louse Point’

Yesterday The Dude and I took a little journey down Memory Lane. Well, actually, it’s called Louse Point Road, and it’s where we used to rent a teensy tiny little boathouse in the Summers of Our Youth. (Incidentally, it’s called ‘Louse Point’ because it’s a spit of land that, apparently, ‘looks like a louse’ from the air. Couldn’t it have ‘looked like’ anything else? I mean, really. A ‘louse’?)

We took this trip not in a car, but on our ‘bikes’. The Dude’s is a contraption called a ‘Zero’. It’s an electric motorcycle. (No, it doesn’t have, like, a really really long cord; you charge it, sort of like it’s a gigantic electric toothbrush.) Mine is just your garden-variety Vespa. (You can read about my Vespa-related exploits — and see pictorial proof of the Vespa’s existence — in ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’.)

But back to the boathouse and Memory Lane (er, Louse Point Road). I honestly don’t know why this rental was called a ‘boathouse’. There certainly weren’t any boats in it, at least not when we stayed there. It was sort of a garage-like structure next to the driveway of this much bigger, quite fancy, house. (Which, during our stays, we called the ‘Party House’, because the folks up there were always giving parties. They were our landlords, so we couldn’t complain; besides which, they would usually invite us.) Perhaps our party-giving landlords just thought ‘boathouse’ sounded cooler (and could command more rent) than if they called it a ‘garage’ or ‘shed’. Continue reading

Out of the mouths of babes


‘The Child says (and writes) the darnedest things’

Ouch. It’s Tuesday. Which means I’ve got to get a wiggle on and come up with a story to tell. I was going to regale you with tales from my teen years honing my writing (and phone-answering, address-stamping, and odd-job-doing) skills at the Carlyle Union Banner.

I’ve already regaled you with tales of The Dude’s and The Child’s fabulous summer jobs (see ‘They didn’t do this for fun, you know’), and thought I’d give myself a turn, so to speak.

But I just now waved bye-bye to the last of my Fourth of July Weekend houseful, one of whom (The Child, pictured above during a previous Fourth of July Weekend) inspired a completely different bloggy direction.

She and her bevy of beautiful girlfriends and The Dude and I were sitting around post-beach, sipping a few cocktail hour cocktails. (Oh, in case you are horrified at the thought of the pipsqueak pictured at the top of this post having access to a cocktail, rest assured that she and her friends are indeed old enough to vote both ‘yes’ to a drink and ‘no’ to a Trump.)

Anyway. The Child tells her friends that I make the best gin and tonics. I modestly reply that, shucks, I’ve just had plenty of practice. Then I go on to say, “Speaking of which, once when you were little, like two*, you were rattling a couple of toy blocks around in a plastic cup. When I asked what you were doing, you said ‘I’m playing Gin and Tonic.'” Gosh. Maybe I’ve had a little too much practice. Continue reading

Double-dating at the drive-in with Bonnie and Clyde

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‘Tales from the Passion Pit’

I guess those lazy, hazy days have arrived. Those of you who follow me every week (there is a special place in Heaven for you!) know that I’m super-late getting this post polished up. I plead ‘summer’. It’s hard to recollect amusing anecdotes — much less collect the wits to write them down — when birds are singing, guest room sheets need changing, beach towels need washing, and the umpteenth grocery run needs running.

My world, and welcome to it

My summer world, and welcome to it. (I know, I know. First-World Problems)

But enough midsummer malingering! As luck would have it, I was reading another clever blogger’s post and was inspired. Her theme was summer and about how much she missed going to the drive-in.

Now, for those of you who are so young that you think of Paul McCartney as an aging rocker who is still, god help him, singing and touring — instead of the Cute Beatle Everyone Had a Crush On, here’s a link you can click to read all about that mid-century recreational phenomenon known as the drive-in. Continue reading

There is no ‘P’ in ‘Short Stack’

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‘Who knew a pancake could be so Proustian?’

I was thinking a lot about pancakes this past weekend. For one thing, it was Father’s Day — a day, like Mother’s Day, when the ole pancake griddle (or frying pan, which is what was used when I was Growing Up Lutheran) can get a real workout.

I can remember a time, not that long ago, when, as a young(ish) mom myself, I would rustle up a batch of pancakes not just for Father’s-or-Mother’s Day, but almost every Sunday morning, winter and summer — pretty much all year ’round.

My Garland, all shined up at that. This is the same stove that Julia Child owned, I'll have you; the one that's in the Smithsonian. Not this exact one, of course

My Garland, all shiny and ready for pancake-making. This is the same stove that Julia Child owned, I’ll have you know; it’s in the Smithsonian. (Not this exact one, of course)

I’d man (woman?) the griddle on my impressive Garland six-burner-and-griddle-topped stove, spatula and coffee cup in hand(s) while The Child polished off an impressive number of pancakes (five? seven? ten?) without benefit of butter, syrup, or even fork. The experience was rather like watching my Oldest Younger Brother Scott polish off sweet corn. (His talent for this inspired my Swedish Grampa to give him the nickname Scott ‘Sweetcorn’ Henry.) Continue reading

‘Oh, no. It’s (gasp) them. And they’ve got (bigger gasp) him!’

Blinds eye

‘Tales, some rather scary, of Other People’s Children.’

First, let me state for the record that The Dude and I like children. After all, we actually went to a great deal of trouble to have one. It’s just that, sometimes, now and then, really not all that often but often enough, we run into some pretty frightening examples of Other People’s Children. And I bet you do too.

There were the Kids Who Ran Around The House Screaming While Smearing Brownies Into The Furniture And Rugs. The Kids Who Dropped The Cat From A Height. And my personal favorites, The Kids Who Threw Rocks — inside the house — at the dining-room table.

But hey. Let me pause in my semi-rant to share a snap of a Kid Who Can Come Back Any Time. True, this kid is still at that can’t-do-much-harm phase. For one thing, he can’t run around, much less run around smearing. And, as for screaming, heck. Even when he cries at the top of his lungs, all that comes out is a sound sort of like the world’s tiniest baby elephant.

On a scale of 1 to 10, just how cute is this baby?

A decidedly cute, incredibly benign, example of an Other Person’s Child

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect kids to be perfect. Kids are kids: messy and noisy, even whiny and smelly. Why, I remember the time I came home from a ten-day shoot in Rome to a warm (and ripe) welcome from my own personal Child, who had taken advantage of my absence by not bathing for the duration. (The Dude didn’t notice, bless him.) Continue reading

To pick. Or not to pick.

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‘A story about a lady out standing in her (strawberry) field. Oh, and a dog named Snoball.’

It’s getting to be That Season. When signs like these are sprouting along the highways and byways: ‘Pick Ur Own Strawberries’. ‘Pick Ur Own Raspberries’. Even ‘Pick Ur Own Rhubarb’. Later on this summer you’ll be seeing ‘Pick Ur Own Corn’. (Which I do love in its already-picked state; see my ‘To Hell with Kale’ for the Best Corn-Cooking Method on The Planet Earth). And come Fall, there will be, you can count on it, ‘Pick Ur Own Pumpkin’ signs.

Nah. I'd actually rather U did the picking. And I did the eating

To be perfectly honest, I’d much rather U did the picking. And just handed me a nice box of berries

In case you miss the ubiquitous highway signs (sometimes, for grammatical variety, spelled ‘U-Pick’, as above) there are data bases for locating Pick-Ur-Own places in your area. I ‘picked’ (hah) this highlighted one, because it’s Southern Illinois berry-picking we’re going to be talking about.

By the way, I’ve also seen ‘Cut Ur Own Christmas Tree’ (see example below). One can only wonder when we’ll see invitations to ‘Chop Ur Own Wood’? ‘Slaughter Ur Own Beef’? ‘Split Ur Own Atom’? Continue reading