the young Frenchman asks,
“Have you ridden a motor scooter before?”
“No,” I reply.
The Frenchman shifts uncomfortably.
He gazes down to the floor.
Catching the weight of his head with his right hand,
Keeping his head still, he peers up into my eyes,
and squints, as if trying to see my future.
Raising his head slightly, he opens his mouth to speak
but decides not to,
and he quickly relaxes back into his contemplative position,
re-thinking his thoughts.
I remain silent.
I want to rent this scooter really badly.
Then, I can ride out to Lujan de Cuyo,
where the vineyards sprawl,
and the bodegas (wineries) thrive.
I am excited.
I am nervous.
I am determined.
He speaks up, “But, you have ridden a bike, yes?”
Confidently, I state, “yes.”
He glances up at me again,
This time he squints his eyes softly,
on the verge of acceptance.
He sees right through me,
and knows my determination
A smile spreads across his face,
“Ok ok ok…”
and with a wave of his hand he releases all his doubts, and turns toward the motor scooter,
beginning to point out the parts, and how they work.
From his small room in the basement of the parking garage,
I am trained in the ways of motor scooters.
All goes smoothly.
I am ready.
The Frenchman wishes me luck,
and like a mother dropping her kid off at school for the first time,
he sees me off.
Slowly increasing the gas,
the earth begins to move beneath my feet.
I lift my legs and begin to ascend a nearly 45 degree slope that exits the garage.
The journey begins.
In first gear,
out of the garage,
I make a left turn onto the open one-way street.
I am free!
Shifting into second gear
into the right lane.
For a full 30 feet, I cruise…
until the first red light.
This is fun.
Two cars pull up to my left,
and a couple more file in behind.
A man on a motorbike stops behind me.
The light turns green.
I hit the gas, and the motor buzzes,
increasing in pitch,
until I shift into second gear.
Neck and neck with the cars…
and I shift into third.
Though nervous before,
a feeling of confidence has now taken over.
We’re halfway down the block,
and I’m getting ready to shift into fourth gear,
when suddenly I see,
a patch of neon yellow appear from behind a parked car…
staring straight at me,
waving me off to the right,
into an empty parking lane…
It is the traffic police.
She is waiving all the motorbikes/scooters off to the side.
More traffic officers are waiting.
The lady leaves her post, and approaches me,
in Spanish, she asks for the registration, insurance, and my license.
I hand over the papers that the Frenchman gave me,
and then fish out my license.
Holding my breath, I hand it over,
and await her response.
the other riders have removed their helmets,
I remove mine.
The traffic officer has a look of suspicion.
She holds my card at different angles, searching for something.
She stares at the front for 15 seconds.
She stares at the back for 15 seconds…
Front again… 1 minute.
Back again… 1 minute.
Front… 10 seconds.
The motorbiker that was behind is cleared.
He starts his engine, and takes off.
My traffic officer walks over to another officer.
He inspects the license.
They discuss something,
and the lady returns.
She points to the back of the license.
Two words pop out…
“… EXCEPT motorcycles.”
I try to save myself.
I tell her,
in my country, I’m allowed to ride a motor scooter with this license.
She doesn‘t care, and points back to the license,
stating the restriction.
She tells me to cross the street and wait there.
I await my fate.
From this side of the street,
I see other riders that were pulled over.
Tears pour down a lady’s face
as she stares off into space.
Her partner is dealing with the traffic officers.
The officer writes what looks to be a ticket.
The lady, in a tearful daze, steps back into the sidewalk,
and shamefully begins to walk away.
The teary eyed lady’s partner puts his helmet on. Leaving her, he rides off.
My officer returns to me.
Again, she points to the words
She looks at me.
I tell her the rental place is very close, and I could simply return it.
She pulls out her ticket pad, and puts her pen to paper.
But, she hesitates.
“The rental place is close?”
“Less than a block.”
“Go there, and tell the man to bring his license.”
“I have his phone number, can I call instead?”
Two minutes later,
The Frenchman arrives, out of breath and jumpy.
He produces a ratty piece of tri-folded paper.
Holes litter the creases…
it could fall apart at any moment.
She opens it carefully.
It is in French.
Old dates… 2001, 2002 …they cover the license.
and immediately, she says it’s expired.
“No no no no no,” the Frenchman rattles out,
Pointing to a paragraph, written in French, on the license…
“This says it‘s not expired…”
She points back to the dates…
He explains, in more complicated Spanish than I can make out.
She shakes her head,
The Frenchman drives the scooter back,
and I walk back to his shop to meet him.
With sighs of relief,
we make apologies.
He hands back my money for a full refund.
I leave him with a portion, for all the troubles.
He wishes me luck
as I step into the garage elevator.
I will be ejected into the streets.
My journey to Lujan de Cuyo has reached a sudden and fatal end.