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Kayaking Into San Francisco

Destroyers Wreck Fillmore

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Painted Streets

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One of the Great Cities of the World (San Francisco)

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Want to Walk Across the Bridge?

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Merle and the Band

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Urban Travel 2000
by Lloyd Kahn

bout two weeks ago I was buying some dental floss at a Walgreen’s on Clement Street in SFO. I was standing at the counter getting ready to pay when an Italian guy (obviously a visitor from Italy, not the local SF Italian variety) came up and started asking the guy at the counter, “You have a-skate-a-bord-a . . . “ He held up his hands about 30 inches apart. The counter guy was puzzled, and I said to him, “He means one of those little silver scooters.”
© 2000  Lloyd Kahn

”Oh yeah, we got those,” he said and walked to the back shelves and came back and put a box on the counter. It had a color picture of a silver scooter on it. It was $69.00.

Yes, this is what the Italian was looking for. He picked up the box, looked at it for a minute, then put it back on the counter, as if he was going to think about it.

I had seen enough. “I’ll take it,” I said, and we all laughed. The impulsive gringo.

I paid for it along with the dental floss, and the Italian and his wife and I walked out the door. We talked for a while, he was thinking of getting one for his grandson, then we shook hands and I headed for my truck. He was amused.

Something about the scooter had hit a nerve with me. I’d seen the occasional one in the city over the past few months and I guess it registered in my subconscious that here was a slick way to get around. Also, I’ve been a fan of city travelers on wheels for some years. The bike messengers, very savvy city navigators; the skateboarders, making a very difficult activity look simple. And the bladers — I have seen high speed blading in both NYC and SFO that just made me gasp. These guys are strong, graceful, and alert while tearing through city streets. Then just last week in Union Square I saw 3 kids on the tough little BMX jumping bikes hopping on and off the sidewalks; they were so agile and acrobatic, I thought, hey, BMX rules . . .

took the push scooter out of the box, and unfolded it and snapped it together. I got on it and started down the street. In one block I realized I could ride on thesidewalk, and I did just that. Holy shit! This is amazing.

First there’s the speed and mobility. You can go 3-4 times as fast as walking, and you even pass pedestrians going uphill. Unlike a skateboard, which requires a lot of practice and athletic balance, here you have the stability of a triangle, with your hands holding on to the bars. It’s a very easy thing to ride. With a few hours practice, you’re at home on it.

Then there’s the fun of it. I have been scooting all over the city. Wherever I park, I usually grab the scooter out of the back of the truck and take off. For one thing, I can park 6-8 blocks from where I’m going. Have fun getting there, and get a pretty good leg workout in the process. (It’s the leg on the scooter that gets the workout.) After you ride it a while you’ll get into changing feet while moving — it helps when one leg gets tired.

nd finally there’s the history angle. I grew up in San Francisco, on the west side of Twin Peaks, the 100 Block of Ulloa Street. It was on a hill. There were 26 of us kids in the block and we played hard all day long. Football in a grassy lot, riding Flexi racers down the block, bike rides all over the city, roller skating, kick the can in the street. We also built our own skateboards.. The platform was typically a 2x4 mounted on the metal wheels of a disassembled roller skate, the kind of skates that you wore clamped on to your shoes. To make the skateboard into a scooter you mounted a soap box — on end — on the front of the 2x4. On top of that you nailed a 1x2 for handles. Now over 50 years later, with folding lightweight aluminum and the polyurethane wheel technology perfected by skateboarders, the design has been perfected. Far out.

I am having fun in the city! I was at Van Ness and Market and wanted to go to the 300 block of Montgomery. Obviously the most direct route would be down Market, then up Kearny. But the sidewalk of Market turns out to be paved with bricks, making for a bumpy ride. So I zig-zagged up through the streets, up Jones, one of the funkiest streets in the city (when you’re in motion, you don’t get hit up for spare change), then into Union Square for an upscale segment. I went into the elegant Giorgio Armani, looking at the $2k sport coats and $200 ties. Beautiful. Just looking. On up to two camera stores on Kearny, looking for a digital camera. Fold up the scooter and set it just inside the store (or restaurant) door.

One of the surprising things is how comfortable it is on the sidewalk. You can always stop if it appears you may get in someone’s way. It’s so maneuverable, it’s easy to be cool with pedestrians.

After you ride for a while, you learn to change feet while rolling. It helps, since you get tired standing on one leg. (It’s the leg on the scooter that gets tired, since it’s carrying all your weight.)

ne last note, and a caveat: they are fun, they are fast, but — they are dangerous. If you ride one for any length of time, you’re gonna fall at least once, I did a face-down in Santa Cruz hitting a bump. (Looked around, embarassed, luckily no one had seen me, luckily not hurt . . . er, ahem! got up and rolled on). You have to constantly monitor the terrain. Any kind of a rock or gap in the pavement will cause the front wheel to stop and you to go airborne.

You soon notice that every corner in the city has wheelchair access, but it’s good to take your weight off the front wheel when going up them since some of the transitions from sidewalk to pavement are smooth, others have a gap. Whenever you spy a crack or bump, use the off-scooter leg to take the weight off the front wheel momentarily.

You can ride in the street where bikes ride, but — – duh! — – watch for opening car doors. Watch out for cars in general if you go in the street. It feels safe to you, but the cars aren’t looking for an object with that small a profile to be coming that fast.

I admit to having a bit of trouble concentrating as closely as needs be. When I have a close call, I’ll think, keep your eye on the road, stupid, always be looking . . . You’re having so much fun it’s easy to get distracted. It’s a beautiful morning, look at that store window, check out these exotic people . . .

At the same time that it’s a discipline, it’s also like a metaphor for proceeding through life in general. Have fun, but keep your eye on the road . . .

Next article: The Next Generation of Scooters

The Next Generation of Scooters
© 2000  Lloyd Kahn

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