Welp. After about a year of being cooped up at home with all the children in the world, SkipFitz and I made a big decision . . .
We bought scooters.
Well. We ORDERED them, anyway, about a month ago; they won’t be here until early July. And as much as that news jacked with my need for instant gratification, it did give me time to suck my act together and get licensed to ride mine (whom I’ve already named Shirley).
So I got busy and signed myself up for a beginners’ motorcycle safety course at the local community college. With the sacrifice of a single weekend (6-10 p.m. on Friday night, and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday), I could walk away with greater knowledge about motorcycle safety, several hours of hands-on (and butt-on) motorcycle riding practice under my belt and, most importantly, a certificate that would allow me to walk into the DMV and get an M slapped onto my driver’s license (which SkipFitz already has, having taken the class years ago).
The class took place a couple of weekends ago; I joined two other women and seven men for an evening of classroom instruction, followed by two more mornings of classroom work and two afternoons spent practicing motorcycle skills out on “the range” (i.e., a designated parking lot).
The classroom work was a piece of cake; mostly workbook exercises, done en masse and peppered with anecdotes from our instructors—and also from one guy in the class who already had his license, but was taking the class with his 30-something son, with the plan that soon they’d be hitting the road Easy Rider-style on a coupla phat hawgs.
But I digress.
The point is, the actual riding part was, erm . . . more challenging.
Oh, I started out strong; the initial exercises on the range were simple enough (owing in part to my ability to drive a manual transmission car, which gives you a leg up on learning to shift motorcycle gears) that I immediately started thinking maybe I wanted a motorcycle instead of a scooter—an inclination (complete with overconfidence) unwittingly supported by one of the instructors. On the first night of class, each of us had shared, by way of introduction, what kind of motorcycles we had or were getting, so I told the class about the little red scooter in my near future; the next day, as I finished one of the riding exercises and rolled up to the instructor for feedback, he said, “So you’re going to forget the scooter and get a MOTORCYCLE, right?”
Awwwwww, yehhhhh, baby. I had this shit DOWN. Mama was HOT Stuff . . .
. . . and then Mama wiped the [BLEEEEEEEEEEEEEP] OUT during an exercise toward the end of Saturday’s practice. I know exactly what happened: I’d been having some trouble shifting from first to second gear (I kept kicking it into neutral instead), so during one of the exercises, as I attempted to build speed, I kicked up HARD on the gear shift to make sure I bypassed neutral—and accidentally sent the engine from first to THIRD gear. As the bike started to sputter and the engine threatened to stall, I panicked, and grabbed what I (in my twirliness) INTENDED TO BE the clutch lever on the left handlebar, to quickly downshift . . . but was in reality the lever on the RIGHT handlebar—aka the FRONT BRAKE.
Next thing I knew, my entire field of vision had rotated by 90 degrees, my head hurt (thank God for helmets!), and people were running toward me.
Several minutes later, I was bandaged up (once I’d assured everyone I was fine, one of the instructors pointed out a brand new hole in my brand new jeans, complemented by a big fat raspberry on my knee—and once I’d gone to the Ladies’ to drop trou and slap a giant Band-Aid on that sucker, I discovered a roughly five-inch bruise blooming up my right thigh to go with it) and back on the bike. I wasn’t even that afraid, really (although the achy stiffness that took up residence in my neck and shoulders later that night revealed some residual anxiety . . . my body rats me out like a toddler on the phone with Grandma EVERY TIME), and for the rest of that day’s class, I rode high (and upright, hallelujah) on the fact that the father/son duo in the class had cut out during our second riding exercise, because the son noped tf out (Dennis Hopper dreams be damned) once he got a taste of actually RIDING a motorcycle—and here I was, back on that bad boy after having dropped it on my own leg!
But Hot Stuff was gone, and in her place was the sudden realization that in this scenario, I was THAT LADY.
You know the one: the kind middle-aged lady (in fact the oldest person in the class in this case, due to the father/son departure) wedged in amongst the young’uns, who all like her and are rooting for her, but who also secretly feel a little bit sorry for her.
I have encountered That Lady at least twice in my own life:
In my late teens/early 20s, I worked at Old Spaghetti Factory (aww, yehhh, baby, mizithra cheese FOREVAHHH), and one of our semi-regular customers (an apparent Lady of Leisure) decided to apply for a job there as a hostess, “just for something fun to do.” Although I questioned her idea of FUN, she was right about one thing (which she declared matter-of-factly to me just before she quit): she didn’t need the job. But it’s not like I didn’t already know that; she and her husband rolled up all bougie in their BMW about once every couple of weeks, dressed to the nines, ordered wine, joked with the servers, and (rumor had it) tipped extremely well. Everything about them (except, perhaps, for their taste in Date Night fare) oozed money. To boot, they were just really lovely people (who, for some reason, really dug a relatively cheap pasta dinner that included spumoni for dessert).
But I digress.
The point is, Fancy Nancy got the job—but she fit in with us broke-ass college kids, working for rent and beer, about as well as a t-rex in a pteranodon nest. (I mean, sure, Buddy’s family thinks he’s great now, but once he hits puberty . . . .) She showed up to work in her ritzy car, wearing posh, expensive evening wear she’d bought especially for the gig (the dress code called for black or khaki pants/skirt and a white blouse or button-down top), and lasted about 3/4 of a shift before she came to resent criticism from a trainer half her age (who was not evil, but who took her job very seriously—and who’d commented politely but pointedly on Fancy’s failure to adhere to the dress code). She hugged me sweetly and thanked me before departing mid-shift, and we were all a little sad to see her go . . . but really, what was she thinking? Although we’d all liked her OK, nearly everything about her whole endeavor became mildly pitiable, from thinking Old Spaghetti Factory seemed like a fun place to work, to dressing up for a minimum-wage job, to—and this was really the crux of it—choosing to work at all, when she could already afford all the beer she could possibly drink.
In my mid-20s, I started grad school. Because my mother had used the entirety of the four years I spent working in restaurants and bookstores between undergrad and grad school to express her profound disapproval of this little “break”—every moment of which was apparently doubling the probability that I’d end up living in a van by the river—I was convinced that I was WAYYY late to this party, and that I’D be the older outsider in my Master’s program.
But as it turned out, most of my peers were pretty much exactly my age . . .
. . . aside from that one (even older) lady enrolled in my Cultural Criticism class. Again, she was kind—parlaying her extra years of life experience into a maternal role, advising us on the importance of proper nutrition (in those days, “fat-free” ruled the diets du jour, and she reminded us that we needed some fat, for the sake of our hair), making sure we had safe ways to get back home when the evening class was over, etc.
And we liked her. But she . . . didn’t quite “get it”—not like we, replete with the spry intellect of youth, did.
During our unit on blues legend Robert Johnson (complete with Faustian narrative), we were assigned a CD of his works for our aural edification. When we showed up for the class following our listening homework, she unabashedly declared that she didn’t see what the big deal was—she didn’t find Johnson’s music to be impressive at all. In fact, she thought it sounded pretty horrible.
I mean, HELLO—what advanced scholar worth a grain of salt disparages Robert Johnson?
(Now, at this point, if I’m being completely honest, I should admit that much of my horror at her declaration was due to the fact that I’d been assigned to lead that evening’s class discussion, and I was afraid it had just become MY responsibility to convince her of Johnson’s talent. As it turns out, the professor was a guitar player, and so was able to demonstrate the technical difficulty of some of those chords Johnson managed to pull off (with Satan’s help). I still don’t think she was convinced—but the important thing was that her dismissal of Johnson’s work didn’t become MY failure to effectively articulate his greatness.)
Because we liked her, we simply sat silently, giving one another secret “YIKES” looks on the DL. But we all felt mildly embarrassed for her in her unenlightened state.
Anyway. You see what I mean: THAT LADY.
And now, in this motorcycle class, I was THAT LADY.
I was the lady who’d shown up on that first Friday night of class as a walking homage to my own youth (now decades in my rearview mirror), in an extremely oversized sweatshirt (emblazoned with the name of my undergrad alma mater), capri-length leggings, and brand new sparkly Doc Martens (which I could never afford during my actual youth) purchased especially for the occasion (sound familiar?).
I was the lady who, that same night, was the only one NOT getting a bad-ass motorcycle, but rather a scooter that would see no highway miles.
I was the lady getting the sincere-yet-still-kinda-patronizing high-fives from the rest of the class for getting back on the bike that day I fell.
And the next day, when a rumbling and raging morning storm resulted in a practice range replete with standing water, I was the lady who damn near quit.
Like the day before, we started the day with classroom instruction. But because the storm hadn’t let up during the time we spent taking our written tests, our practice on the range was postponed by almost an hour. When we finally got a break in the downpour, we geared up and straddled our bikes . . .
. . . but the mojo with which I’d begun the previous day’s riding practice was gone, replaced by a vicious snowball of doom: the fear of wiping out again (I mean, I’d managed to do a pretty good job of it on dry pavement, so imagine what I could do in this puddle of a parking lot) caused me to fail miserably at the first few exercises (especially those involving tighter turning maneuvers at higher speeds), which in turn caused me to become twirly with frustration, thereby failing harder at each subsequent attempt. Finally, my hands shaking like two young Tina Turners decked out in fringe, I steered my bike toward the “staging area” (i.e., where we returned our bikes between exercises), parked it, dismounted, removed my helmet, and told the teacher (who approached with a look of confusion and concern), “I think I’m going to have to go.”
She didn’t argue, but in the process of answering my questions about what this meant (yes, I’d have to start the class over from the very beginning if I wanted to take it again; yes, it was possible to forego another class and do written and driving tests at the DMV (possibly even on my own scooter, but I’d have to ask); etc), she told me I was welcome to sit out for awhile, then rejoin the class if I wanted to, just to get some more practice in.
After a couple more minutes, my hands stopped Rollin’ on the River, so I opted to get back on the bike and see how it went (I mean, at that point, I’d already quit, so the pressure was low). When she saw me climbing back on the bike to rejoin the class, she stopped the class and sent me through the current exercise on my own a couple of times (this was an exercise where everyone was riding follow-the-leader style in a giant oval), while everyone cheered for me (see? THAT LADY). In the end, I stayed for the rest of the day and passed the driving test, all with copious high-fives and encouragement from my classmates—which I went on ahead and leaned into, because by that point I’d fully accepted my That Lady role.
And y’know what I’ve learned about That Lady? She doesn’t need anyone’s pity. Or, perhaps more accurately, she doesn’t really care; she’s hit the age where both her feet are firmly planted in the No Fucks zone, so she will rock the clothing that makes her feel good (whether it’s sequins in an Old Spaghetti Factory or sparkly Doc Martens on a motorcycle). She will walk away from the job (or the motorcycle class) if she doesn’t feel like it’s working out for her. She will say what she feels (whether it’s that Robert Johnson sucks, or “Hell, yeah, I’m scared shitless to fall off this bike; these bones are more brittle now!”) without needing you to agree that she’s right to feel that way. SHE IS NOT EMBARRASSED (which doesn’t mean she’s incapable of embarrassment, I mean nobody wants their skirt to blow up into the air when they’re wearing their laundry-day underwear (or none at all)—but rather, she’s not embarrassed by who she is, so nobody else needs to be embarrassed for her when she’s expressing exactly that . . . but if you want to be, you do you; no fucks given).
Like Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes, she’s older and has more insurance.
I kind of love her.
And I especially love her scooter.