Friday, July 23, 2010

In Pursuit of Coolness

In which our heroine tries to define/defend why scooters are “cool.”

Cool is an aesthetic of attitude, behavior, comportment, appearance and style, influenced by and a product of the Zeitgeist. Because of the varied and changing connotations of cool, as well its subjective nature, the word has no single meaning. It has associations of composure and self-control (cf. the OED definition) and often is used as an expression of admiration or approval.


“The idea here seemed to be that a man should have the ability to go up in a hurtling piece of machinery and put his hide on the line and then have the moxie, the reflexes, the experience, the coolness, to pull it back in the last yawning moment—and then go up again the next day, and the next day, and every next day,”

—definition of “The Right Stuff”, by Tom Wolfe, from The Right Stuff.

In his book, Deep Survival”, Who Lives, Who Dies and Why, author Lawrence Gonzales has a teenage discussion with his father about the difference between acting cool and being cool. Acting cool was apparently taking possibly deadly risks in the midst of teenage hijinks and according to L.G’s dad, “There is no reason to die making your own cool”.

So “coolness” is a quality to be pursued, and ultimately owned, but its definition and value changes for each person and culture. In some cases it is defined by how a person reacts to a possibly dangerous situation. But “coolness” cannot be manufactured. It is like a crown—and it can only be bestowed upon someone by others.

Motorcycles are “cool. ”There is no doubting the validity of that statement. Motorcycles epitomize coolness, they produce a wind-blasted sense of danger, a dab of sunburned risk with a smidgen of ribald joy. . .and just a boozy hint of stale beer.

Uniquely American, the mythic two-wheeled warrior has been birthed by cinema, books, and magazines. It has been molded by actors like Brando, Fonda, and McQueen. It has been sharpened by gangs like Hells Angels and One Percenters. It has been modified by the Women on Wheels and it has been ultimately usurped by retirees to make Goldwings for the Golden Years.

While the edge has softened over time, riding two wheels still means Freedom, pure and simple. There is no need to deconstruct the mythos of the motorcycle any further. I leave it to better writers than myself.

But where do scooters fit in this uniquely American arena?

While scooters are the backbone of transportation in Europe and Asia and other regions of the world, they have been relegated to being the ride of Wannabes in the land of Nerd-dom here in the states.

In the rest of the world, they are the work horses. They have toiled in most extreme elements and geography. They have carried the largest of burdens. They break down and through skill and guile, like Frankenstein, they are cobbled back together, to live again. Scooters are loved in Italy, put through their paces in Germany, cherished in England, and utilized to death in Asia and India.

Yet historically in the states, scooters get no love.

No scratch that...

Because a large percentage of the population is slowly coming around to joining the Scooter Nation. Scooters are becoming the Cinderella of the two wheeled world. Maybe that analogy is not butch enough for you, but it applies.

And Scooterists are pursing their own perception of “coolness” through fit, function and style. The Scooter community is diverse as any other.

There are classic scooterists, mods and rockers who ride on classic-styled scooters (Vespas and Lambrettas), and listen to ska bands and The Who. They may dress like arty inner city hipsters, brandishing their iPhones and detachable coffee mugs.

There are the ATGATT’s in their Kevlar jeans, armored Corozzo jackets, and full-faced helmets. It could be 2012 with fiery chunks of space dookey falling out of the sky, and they would wave their dynamite-proof gloves at it and commute home anyway.

There are the Power Rangers, riding their “Rice Burners” in their matching leathers and helmets, taking their cues from the Japanese anime like, ‘Akira.”

But these are just a couple silly generalities and not applicable to all, because America is a big country and there are lots of individuals out there.

If cycles were first conceived as motorized steeds for rebels, then scooters are today’s true two- wheeled individualists. They are the ones riding in the shadows of their larger brethren, yet their numbers are growing. This means this that two-wheeled “coolness” is no longer a commodity unique to the motorcycle. Watch out motorcycles, Scooters are becoming “cool!”


“Scooters are not cool,” my boyfriend comments from his easy chair as he watches bowling and checks his eBay. “There is a quality to a motorcycle, the power, the sound and vibration of the engine. It’s about how you and the bike become one as you shift. Scooters don’t have any of that.”

“Why are you trying so hard to be cool?” asks a very young co-worker. “With your painted scooter and pink helmet. You’re like a librarian who is trying to look like a tough motorcycle chick.”


Okay, maybe this is a stupid argument or point. Perceptions, no matter how wrong, have never been changed over night.

I did not choose to ride a scooter in any effort to be “cool” or as a hedge against menopause or old age, or to get attention. I choose to ride a scooter, to feel that freedom, that sense of exhilaration that is unique and is to be treasured.

You cannot deny me the joy I feel as I ride my Piaggio BV 500 down the highway. I am propelled by pure thought. . . I have only to wish to go faster or slower and I do. My mind is aware, expanded, my eyes moving constantly monitoring the flow of traffic. Each little movement or shift in weight changes my trajectory. Shifting or no shifting, I am at one with my machine.

I have discovered that it doesn’t matter what you wear or what you ride, because riding a twisty curve is like catching a fly ball in Little League.

To twist the throttle and accelerate is like riding an imaginary dragon. It like being one bird in a great flock moving through the sky.

Because when your ride you get a little taste of what those astronauts may have felt. You are the one riding that hurtling piece of machinery down the road. You have the moxie, the reflexes, and the ability.

All of that, plus, to simply zoom around a traffic jam is just freaking awesome and, yeah, you can’t deny it—ultimately, it is COOL!

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