Last month, my father-in-law and I loaded up and tied down one of my last pretensions of youth: a 2000 50cc Italjet Torpedo Scooter. He hauled it off to an outbuilding on his farm, where it now rests with my sister-in-law’s half-stripped Volkswagen bug and a wooden boat that is literally generations in the making.
I had always wanted a scooter, and when I moved to Helsinki I started looking. I wanted something cheap, as I would only be able to ride it six months a year anyway, and with a small engine so I didn’t need a special license. So when I was visiting Tallin in March 2002 and I saw the Torpedo on sale for the Estonian equivalent of $1000, I bought it and took it home on the ferry.
We’re not talking leather jackets and tattoos here –the Torpedo was a toy. In Finland, you can ride a 50cc scooter when you’re fifteen. With a top speed of 60 kph (36 mph), the Finnish pronunciation seemed more appropriate: Torpid-o.
But I loved it. When I started riding it in the spring, the feel of skimming through the city’s streets and out into the forests was beyond liberating. I was able to see more of Finland, or the little slice of it I could reach on something with the power of an outboard motor. It didn’t always run great, but it was simple enough I could fix it myself, and in the winter I took it all apart in my bedroom. I went on longer and longer trips, including camping through the Åland archipelago and along the Estonian coast. It took me into many adventures and misadventures, and I discovered that 35 mph is sometimes not a bad speed at which to see the world.
When I moved to London, I took the Torpid-o with me. Getting it legal in England was a bureaucratic struggle with its own stories and our eventual triumph. (An example: the inspector let me know that the speedometer had to read miles per hour, not kilometers per hour, but I noticed he didn’t check its accuracy; I took the thing apart and with a bit of Tipp-ex whited out the offending ‘k’.) I got my UK plates, but never put them on, outwitting the nefarious parking wardens of the City of Westminster and their flurry of citations.
I rode the scooter to work most days, and the exhilaration of taking the roundabout at Marble Arch was fresh every day, skimming between taxis with buses the size of two-story building bearing down while mad pedestrians darted across the road. I got a second seat, and the wife and I used it as our family transport: one of our cherished memories of London is riding across Tower Bridge at night, and finding it so astounding that we turned around and did it again. After the babies arrived, I rode from our place in Bayswater to the big Tesco supermarket in Earl’s Court, loading it with groceries and strapping a couple of bags of nappies to the passenger seat, skimming through Kensington and Notting Hill on the way home.
When we returned to Helsinki, the scooter failed the registration inspection due to some London vandalism. With significant time, effort and patience, I knew I could get it ready and legal again. For nearly three years, it sat in the parking lot waiting for the love I owed it.
In the end, what killed the scooter was fatherhood and the trappings of responsibility that came with it. There was a limited amount of time I could spend away from the job that had become a career, the church calling that resulted from being seen as a responsible adult rather than a slacker single guy, and of course the two and eventually three sons whose demands for time and attention were more immediate than the scooter downstairs. We acquired a very practical car, which I appreciate for its efficiency and necessity, but which I will never love the way I loved the scooter.
Some of you will tell me its about time I grew up, that in my thirties I was too old to be fooling around with such nonsense anyway. And some of you saying that will be a decade younger than me. Fair enough. I don’t regret having children, but I still mourn those little things I left behind.