Spring brings an irrational desire I have fought for years: I want a concussion. No, sorry, I meant: I want to buy a moped.
For some reason I think this will make me a cool Italian artist-type person who says things like, "I'm-a gonna go to Baraboglio's to-a get-a the spumoni, eh? Maybe I stop-a at the cafe and talk the how-you-say philosophy with Giovanni and smoke 16 unfiltered cigarettes and drink-a the espresso, eh?"
"What?" my wife likely would say. "Ever since you bought that moped, you've become insufferably pretentious."
"Eh, manzana! Tutti molto frutti, I gotta ride." And then I see myself zipping down the narrow ancient streets, skinny black tie whipping in the wind.
In reality, I'd look like a middle-aged dork, like I asked someone, "How can I go 27 miles per hour while looking like an illustration in an article about good posture?"
When you get right down to it, a moped is just a fast chair. But they get about 734 miles per gallon. If you run out of gas you can wring out a moist towelette into the tank, and it'll go another 40 miles. And you can park them anywhere. In the elevator at work, if you like.
I had one once, many years ago, when I lived in St. Paul. No helmet required. No driver's test. Mopeds were regarded as anxious bicycles. We were a free people who enjoyed the wind in our hair and didn't take no guff from The Man who wanted to bring us down.
Then we moved to Washington, D.C., where the potholes were deep and the drivers sociopathic, and I sold it. But every spring over the past decade I've asked myself, "What predictable decision will give me the illusion I have conquered the nagging drag of the years?" And the answer is always the same: something two-wheeled that sounds like an amplified mosquito.
So last week I went to a scooter dealership just to see what they had, hoping it wasn't anything like buying a car. You know how that goes: You walk around the showroom, hissing like a feral cat at any salesmen who approach. Then you find something you love and tap your foot impatiently, waiting for a salesman. Then you say, "I hate this car, but I might buy it." And he says, "Oh, boy, I don't know, I'll have to ask the manager."
He goes into the office and shuts the door, and you think he's on his knees, pleading: "We've got to get this guy into this car, we just have to. Let me throw in a leather license-plate holder." But really they're just talking about the Twins.
Then he comes out and says he convinced the manager to sell you the car, if you buy the undercoating. Hah! You'd already decided to buy the undercoating. Then you drive off the lot, and the vehicle depreciates 27 percent.
But back to the scooter shop. As it turns out, the prices were firm, so that was a relief. Right away I saw a sea-foam scooter I wanted to buy on the spot, but it was sold, so that was a relief.
"I'm afraid I'll look like a dork," I said to the salesman.
"At our age," he said, "that's the least of our concerns."
He had a point. If a semi blew through a red light and they had to hose me off the grille, the police report would not read: "The victim was observed traveling at the legal limit, looking like a dork."
I really liked the one that was sold. I had Converse sneakers that color. Then I realized: I qualify for the deals on the back of the Perkins menu, and I'm thinking my sneakers would match my scooter.
I looked at other scooters, but they went faster than 30 miles per hour and required a motorcycle license. Forget that: The last thing I want to do at my age is fail the driver's test. Besides, if it went faster, I would go faster, and that would be dangerous.
Ah, but then I remembered a summer in North Dakota. My cousins and I all had 65cc bikes, and they'd just completed a fresh stretch of I-29 north of Fargo. It wasn't open to traffic yet. One Sunday we took to the highway on our motorcycles, and the road was ours. We opened up the throttles and we flew.
I know, they're dangerous. And it's silly to think you will feel young and hip. But I still remember seeing my dad pull up in his Harley on his birthday last year, and thinking how cool that was.
Granted, it had three wheels. You have to make a few changes when you're 90.
Whatever age, you have to make a few changes. Mine might be this: I'm going to drive to work sitting on an aerodynamic lawn mower.