One thing you’re bound to notice when you visit Key West – or move there blindly a week after graduating college – is that the town is filled with scooters. They’re zipping down every road and every corner has designated scooter parking. The scooters in Key West are a lot like the people: a lot of them are barely holding on to their parts and can usually be found lying on the side of the road; there are some that are decent-looking and somewhat reliable; a select few are shiny and new, but they don’t stay that way for very long.
Since I moved to Key West with very little money, it seemed like having a scooter of my own was completely out of the question. I paid $200 for a bike (twice) and already that was too expensive for me. But I basically won the transportation jackpot during my second week there when Lenzie acquired a brand new pink scooter. Sure, it wasn’t mine and Lenzie and I rarely spent time together because of our work schedules, but at least we had a scooter in the family. It felt like we were moving up in the world and moving up fast.
There was a catch, though. Lenzie was borrowing this scooter five days a week from a friend of a friend in exchange for cleaning this woman’s house once a week (a job which basically consisted of lint rolling an inch-thick layer of dog hair off of every surface in the place). She lucked into this arrangement one night when she was out at dinner with a group of people and mentioned in passing that she was biking four miles from our apartment to her job every day. This lady only used her scooter on weekends, so she was happy to share with Lenzie.
The only thing equally as terrifying as riding in a car with Lenzie driving is riding on the back of a scooter that Lenzie is driving. There is one thing and one thing only more terrifying than both of these things, and that is riding on the back of a jet ski that Lenzie is driving. But that’s a story for another day.
Lenzie has never driven a vehicle without attempting to make it go its top speed at all times and, even though the top speed of this scooter was only 40mph, the wind in my face and Lenzie’s hair in my mouth made it feel more like 100mph. Lenzie’s lack of patience also led to a lot of fear that my elbow or knee would be caught on a passing car as she made her own lane in between moving traffic whenever she saw fit.
One more thing that frightened me about Lenzie’s scooter driving was her tendency to make very tight 3-point turns. When she was backing out of a parking spot, instead of backing completely into the lane where she would be driving and simply pulling away in a straight line, she would only turn slightly and have to take a half-moon turn as her first forward motion to avoid hitting whatever she was parked beside.
This last thing didn’t scare me too much, though, because it usually didn’t affect me. Balancing a person on the back of a scooter while you’re driving is already difficult, but when you’re not using the gas and pushing the whole thing on your toes (that’s how you “reverse” on a scooter), it’s nearly impossible. So when I was riding anywhere with Lenzie, I would let her back out and get into position before I would get on behind her.
About a week into Lenzie’s scooter timeshare, she and I were at a bar with a 50-year-old man who was obsessed with me and his 30-year-old friend that he was trying to set up with Lenzie when our friends called and invited us to dinner later that night. After happy hour was over, we said our goodbyes to these strange men and made our way around the corner where Lenzie’s scooter was parked. Surprisingly enough, we left this happy hour – where someone else had been buying us drinks – pretty sober (at least relative to how I’ve walked out of every single other happy hour since then). But something was clouding our judgement just enough for us to forget about our scooter-mounting routine.
We approached her hot pink scooter, the cutest one by far in the row of 10 scooters it was parked in, and hopped right on. Lenzie pushed us back on her toes, barely turning, then cranked the engine and hit the ignition. Almost in slow motion, we lurched forward and she commenced her signature half-moon turn maneuver, this time tighter than ever. I saw it coming, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt; she had been doing this every day and, as far as I know, hadn’t hit anything yet. I should have jumped off when my fear kicked in.
The next thing I remember after feeling the front of our scooter T-bone the scooter next to ours was spitting a wad of Lenzie’s hair out of my mouth as we lay face-first on top of our scooter and the neighboring three on the ground.
As I was pushing myself off of Lenzie’s back, I fully realized what happened. Still in slow motion, I spun my head around as far as possible to both sides to see if anyone else saw what happened. There was a man standing outside of the restaurant where we’d parked, but he didn’t seem to care. I knew though that the owners of the scooters we toppled over like dominos were sitting inside that very restaurant, probably sitting by the open window where they could definitely hear the commotion of a multi-scooter, multi-human pile up.
I braced myself for a rush of people coming to yell at us, and I looked down at Lenzie, ready to blame her in a heartbeat. In the 30 seconds that I took to look around, Lenzie had managed to come back from the fear-induced blackout that her body forces upon her as a defense mechanism and was also taking in the situation.
She planted her hands on the pavement and attempted to push herself up, but she didn’t get far. Her summery tank top with its deep V neck was tangled into a mess around the handle bars, basically tying her to the ground. As if this situation wasn’t already embarrassing enough, her typical strapless bikini top that she consistently wears as a bra now that she lives in the Caribbean was also caught on the handle bar, and it stayed there when she pushed her body up and away from the scooter. We may have ruined our day, but Lenzie’s boobs definitely made the days of the five hobos that were hanging out at the nearby marina that day.
Once we got her shirt off of the scooter and her boobs back in her shirt, Lenzie immediately started scheming.
“Al, this is a secret,” she said as I picked up all the other scooters off the ground, blood running down my legs.
The scooter wouldn’t start and one of the mirrors was completely broken off, so I didn’t see how we could keep the fact that we just wrecked a scooter that we didn’t own a secret, especially since the person who actually did own it was expecting us to meet her for dinner within the next half hour.
As we walked to meet our friends just a few blocks away, Lenzie pushing the scooter, we came up with our cover story. We were afraid to tell them that both of us were on the scooter because that already made it sound like we were being reckless, so here’s the entire story as our friends heard it:
I was standing a few feet away from the scooter parking with my back turned to Lenzie, watching the hobos try to get their three-legged dog to chase the chickens that were passing through the patio of the nearby restaurant. As previously practiced, I was going to get on the back of the scooter once she was clear of any obstacles. As she backed out of the parking spot, the car that was parked in the spot directly beside the scooter parking also pulled out of its spot, the careless driver failing to take in his surroundings. Since he was just leaving a parking spot, he wasn’t going very fast, but fast enough to send Lenzie over the handlebars and her boobs out of her shirt. By the time I turned around to see if Lenzie was ready for me yet, she was already on the ground and the driver of the car was checking to make sure she was OK. She was, so we just all agreed to move on with our days.
I don’t know if y’all are familiar with the shape of a scooter, but the bulk of its weight is in the back, where a passenger would sit if he were riding along. Since I was not on the scooter in this story that Lenzie concocted, there was no explanation for my limp and bloody shins that were caused by the entire scooter falling on top of me. I had to wipe up the blood before we saw our friends and just pretend like I wasn’t hurt at all. I knew that keeping our reputation and keeping the scooter was more important than my minor injuries, so I decided not to be bitter about Lenzie getting all the sympathy for being hurt.
Lenzie was relieved to find out that the mirror was an easy replacement and that the scooter would start again after a little time. Our friends continued to believe that Lenzie was hit by a car and occasionally asked why we didn’t report the accident or at least hold the car driver responsible, but one the scooter was fixed, this whole debacle was basically behind us.
In the next few months, Lenzie bought that scooter for herself, then it proceeded to get towed, stolen, dumped in the salt pond and rebuilt, only to sit in the parking lot outside Lenzie’s new apartment for years after I moved away. I’ll leave those stories for her to tell.
I spent the next few months occasionally riding on the back of Lenzie’s scooter, but mostly riding my bike and in very expensive taxis. When I got off work at the hotel around the corner from our apartment on a Friday night at 8pm, I would debate whether the 4-mile bike ride and inevitable layer of sweat was worth it just to get some drinks basically by myself. I was still young and hopeful back then, so usually I decided that it was worth it. I always regretted that choice around midnight when I had to stop drinking in order to sober up enough to bike home a few hours later. Being tipsy and riding a bike isn’t necessarily the most dangerous thing, but I was not about to lose another bike to a vodka-cranberry-induced blackout. On rare occasions, I couldn’t pass up free drinks being handed to me by older men who were trying to impress me (or by Lenzie, who was my bartender of choice for obvious reasons), so I kept drinking into the night and had to pay $25 plus tip for a cab to take me and my bike back home.
Right as I was beginning to master the bike ride from my apartment to my favorite bars – which routes were the shortest, had the most shade, the best breezes – I was over it. Biking downtown wasn’t as difficult as it had been a few months before, but the time commitment was wearing on my nerves. But there was no end in sight. I had moved to Key West months before with no money, so all the money I had been earning at work was going straight to credit card bills and to Lenzie, who paid our first month’s rent and security deposit. Once I got a little caught up on my credit cards and paid Lenzie back, it still seemed like the possibility of upgrading from a bike to a scooter was just out of reach. I was going to be stuck at my boring job forever just because it was the only place I could ride my bike to every day.
But after a lot of soul searching and Craigslist searching, I made a decision. I was going to get a scooter for myself. I didn’t care if it was cute or even reliable. I found an ad asking for $400 for a scooter that only kick-started and I was determined. I emptied out my bank account, met up with a little gay man who only had three teeth and 4 dogs, and purchased a scooter.
I didn’t really know how to drive it and the headlights didn’t work, but I was probably happier that day than I had ever been before. I drove it straight home and started looking for new jobs online. Since I was significantly more mobile now, I could tear myself away from the hotel front desk and the awful uniform that they made me wear and take myself downtown every day for a job that I would actually enjoy. Or, if I couldn’t find a job that I would enjoy, at least I could find one that was closer to bars.
Sometime after I found a new job and had given notice to the hotel, I scooted myself downtown for a night out. In the few weeks that I had been travelling on scooter, I used the same method for getting home as I had with my bike: sober up for an hour or two before leaving the bar. Something happened this particular night that made me forget my own rule and, around 3am I hopped on my scooter outside of the gay bar. As soon as I hit the throttle, my body was on the ground and my scooter was several yards away. I looked around to make sure no one had seen what just happened, then got back on the scooter to try again. This time I made it all the way to the corner, but as soon as I started to turn, the scooter flew out from under me. This time I didn’t have time to pick myself up off the ground; before I knew it, I was being hoisted up by the back of my shirt and thrown into a cab. I caught a quick glimpse of my savior before the cab door closed: Mah Jong, a drag queen who was well over 70 years old.
The next time I went back to that bar, I thanked Mah Jong for not letting me get back on my scooter; she acted like she didn’t know what I was talking about, then gave me a wink before walking away. In the hundreds of times I’ve been back to see drag shows at that bar in the years since that incident, I always made sure to avoid eye contact with Mah Jong. Mostly because I’m still embarrassed, but also because her act always sucks and I didn’t want to have to tip her.
The transportation tables slightly turned in September of that year when Lenzie’s scooter was stolen and later found in a pond. After a ridiculous day of driving up and down Highway 1 in a U-Haul, Lenzie’s scooter spent a while in the shop, so now it was my turn to drive her around like she had done for me for so long before.
One afternoon after a morning of rain, I scooted Lenzie down to the shop to check on the progress of her scooter. We had a date with our best friends for dinner later that night, but, as usual, Lenzie wanted a mid-afternoon meal beforehand. On our way home to get ready, she leaned in close to me from her spot on the back of my scooter and asked if I would stop at Wendy’s to get a baked potato, our favorite snack. I was happy to oblige and, right as we set eye on the Wendy’s, Lenzie leaned up to my ear again.
“You know who has really good baked potatoes? OUTBACK.” Key West’s Outback Steakhouse was in the same shopping center as the Wendy’s, so it wouldn’t have been out of our way to just go there instead, but I thought that was ridiculous.
“NO,” I said. “I am not going to Outback an hour before we go to dinner! We’re going to Wendy’s.”
“But Outback’s potatoes…”
That was all Lenzie could get out before my brain went into panic mode. As I began to turn into the parking lot of the Wendy’s-Outback-Rainbow-Publix-Sears shopping center, I felt the back tire of my scooter slip sideways on a patch of oil left behind by the perpetual construction on that particular strip of highway. Suddenly, Lenzie’s rambling about potato toppings faded out of my mind and all I could do was focus on steadying us. We straightened up in an instant and I was relieved as I left panic-mode, snapped out of slow motion and back into real life.
“…they have this butter…”
Barely a second later, Lenzie’s voice was gone again as I felt us fishtail a second time. I was sure I could catch myself again, but this time it wasn’t as easy. As the world around me moved in slow motion again, I felt the scooter slipping out from under us. This is it, I thought. Our last words are going to be about baked potatoes. After this thought, I was at peace with our evident death.
Sometime later, I opened my eyes to sharp pain all over the right side of my body. I looked around and saw a car with its hazard lights on in front of me, my scooter on the ground beside me and Lenzie on the ground behind me. I wasn’t in too much pain, so I started to laugh, thinking Lenzie would join in. As my eyes made their way up from the scooter to Lenzie’s face, I stopped laughing. There she was, my best friend, lying motionless on the ground, mouth open, tongue out. I had really killed Lenzie.
Before I could process any further, I heard a voice over top of me and, instead of God coming to collect us, it was a pregnant woman asking if we were OK. Something about this woman’s voice shook Lenzie back to life. I was almost in a sitting position by the time her eyes opened, and when we made eye contact, she seemed to understand immediately what happened. All she said was “uuuhhhhh…”
I pulled her up off the ground, shooed the pregnant lady away and put us back onto the scooter, which was miraculously still running. The discussion wasn’t long, but we ultimately agreed that potatoes could wait. We weren’t sure, but we assumed that we didn’t have any bandages or anything to clean our wounds with at home, so we went into Publix. We limped slowly through the aisles, covered in blood and moaning in pain and found some first aid supplies. We made it all the way through the store, through check-out and out the door looking exactly like zombies and didn’t get a single “are you OK?” from any of the staring people surrounding us.
The next few days at work were exactly the opposite: every person walking past me asked what happened when they saw my bloody arm and legs. When I told them I crashed my scooter, their first question was never “are you OK?” but almost always “How drunk were you?” And I had to answer that question with a phrase that I’m considering getting tattooed on my body because of how often I have to say it:
“I’m not drunk all the time, y’all.”