A Tourist on Fire
by Tegan MacKay
San Francisco 1978
I was in college, and looking for another Vespa – the one line ad said ‘Scooter $150. phone number.” I went over and in the basement of a big Victorian was the strangest Scooter I’d ever seen – Huge, overbuilt, and marvelous! Did I mention it was Red & Black? I offered 125. (yeesh!) and had it running with Gas, Oil, and a spark plug.
With just 4k on the odometer it was pretty fresh for a ‘58 A1, with original tyres and no real defects apart from very faded paint. Good thing: back then there were no clubs or parts.
It did have a few quirks that needed attention, tho – the gas tank was very dirty from sitting, and the batteries would go flat due to some undiscovered short. I could have easily fixed these things, but with jobs and school (and nightlife) free time was in short supply. It simply got ridden for the better part of 2 years, night and day, all over SF. Those were pretty exciting times for hipsters then, and my “heinie” took me to lots of places I couldn’t have been otherwise - the ‘school /job /clubs /after hours /repeat next day’ routine.
So the mechanical neglect took its toll one night this way: when the Carb was dirty from all the tank goop, it would drizzle fuel all over the place until I cleaned it – and the batteries had no holder, so they would shift around and short out on the cowl. See where this goes?
So picture this: Speeding down Mission St. after 2am, and a huge Man waves his arms at me screaming, and runs off the sidewalk – ‘great, another nut’ I think, until his words sink in…“You’re on fire” Huh? I’m not…(looking behind to see the flames licking out of the cowl louvers) OhmyGod I am On Fire!! It takes me a long block to slow down enough, and I dump it in a grass strip at Mission and Persia street, in front of a Doggie Diner.
Things don’t blow up like they do on Teevee. It just was a nice little bonfire that lit up the big doggie head from below, as he looked on with his famous grin – a sad and surreal moment in a quiet neighborhood, in the dead of night. I left before the cops came, and picked up the hulk the next day.
A friend gave me a Vespa 150 for sympathy that week, and I got an A2 later from a guy in a Postcard shop. The fire scoot changed hands and got further neglect, until being taken to the dump in rural California somewhere. I have another A1 today, and you know what? I tend to get after things that need doing, rather than ride and forget it. I also glad I don’t have to see Doggie Diners anymore.