Street Legal


‘The Motorcycle Diaries Part II: Getting the goldarned license’

I was going to write about little girls and summer afternoons and wineberries, but it made me feel way too gosh-what-happened-how-could-they-be-grown-up-already.

So instead I’m going to (finally) finish the story about me and my Vespa. You Faithful Readers out there may recall that, instead of flowers or candy or piece of jewelry, I got gifted with a scooter for Mother’s Day one year.

Now, a Vespa is a great Gift Idea. For one thing, it lasts a lot longer than flowers or candy. (Notice I don’t compare it to jewelry.) But there are certain strings attached. For one thing, you can’t just hop on and make like Audrey Hepburn in ‘Roman Holiday’.

Nope. The mean old State of New York makes you get a motorcycle license. Even if the ‘motorcycle’ is a cute little powder-blue Vespa. They also make you wear a helmet. Which might have been a deal-breaker for Audrey.

Me on my cute little Vespa. Yup, I had my license tucked into the pocket of my Lilly

Me, appropriately helmeted on my cute little Vespa. Yup, I have my license. No doubt tucked into the pocket of my Lilly

So. I got myself down to the DMV, met the gentleman who suggested I invest in leather (hilarious details can be found by reading ‘The Motorcycle Diaries Part 1’), and took the written test for my motorcycle license.

Note: This test was (and still is, I assume) outrageously easy to pass. It’s all multiple choice, and has questions like this one:

A car is following your motorcycle too closely. Do you:

A. Speed up.

B. Make threatening gestures at the driver.

C. Signal, then pull over to allow the driver to pass.

I kid you not. It’s that easy. I honestly fear for those who fail to pass. And there always are a hapless few. (You’ll see why I say ‘always are’ in just a sec.)

But, you see, the written test just gets you your learner’s permit. In order to get your motorcycle license, you also need to take a road test. I will spare you the details, but if you live in New York City, this is practically impossible to do. (You’re not allowed to drive your motorcycle to the test unaccompanied, for one thing.)

But I did discover a loophole. Good ole New York State will let you keep renewing your permit — as long as you don’t mind getting your leather-clad butt down to the DMV every year and retaking Mr. Written Test.

Which I did. And kept doing. But after about five years I decided I’d had enough. It was time to get my goldarned license, already. Even though I’d kind of miss answering questions like this one:

You’ve had two beers at a party. When is it safe to drive home on your motorcycle?

A. After two hours.

B. Right away. It’s only a couple of beers.

C. The next day. In the meantime, ask someone to give you a ride home.

I mean, duh. But like I said, there always are a pitiful few who do not pass this test. They are out there, people, in your world. But at least they are not driving motorcycles. (I hope.)

But back to the road test. I got this Genius Idea. I’d take a course! Because, if you take a course, you don’t have to take the road test. (The course kind of is the road test.) But I was worried about taking a motorcycle course. I mean, we’re talking about motorcycles. So I did my research and found a motorcycle school that gave lessons on Vespas. Wow. I could have my certificate in two days! And take the course on a nice little scooter like mine. I signed up.

Well. Did I mention that the course took place up in The Bronx? In a trailer parked in an abandoned lot fenced with barbed wire? You should have seen my face when I got there — waaaay too early, of course.

Matters got even more interesting when my fellow students started arriving. I felt like I was at a casting call for ‘West Side Story’. Oh, there were a couple of girls, one of whom was a dead (er ‘live’) ringer for Janice Joplin.

Our instructor, Antonio, got the ball rolling by having us introduce ourselves and say why we were taking the course. Needless to say I was the only one of the twelve who piped up with ‘I got my Vespa for Mother’s Day and I’m tired of renewing my permit’.

But nothing breaks down barriers like two days of intensive motorcycle training. And it did turn out to be ‘motorcycle’ training. About halfway through Day One good ole Antonio took me aside and told me that I was the only one in the class who signed up for taking lessons on a scooter. Oh, he could get a scooter for me, but he thought I’d feel less odd-man-out (as if that were possible) if I took the course on a motorcycle like everybody else.

You’ll just have to imagine me riding this. No photographic evidence exists. Thank god

And so I did. I learned to shift and do a controlled skid and drive over railroad ties and execute a (not very good but still) Figure 8. And those barriers I mentioned breaking down? Well. By the second day it was all ‘Go, Pedro!’ and ‘You can do it, Ali!’ I was even walking to the subway with these guys, though we did take our trains home in opposite directions.

And after two days of this, what did I have to show for it?

This was my prize: a certificate showing that I'd passed the course -- including the road test (!)

My prize, signed by Antonio himself: a certificate showing that I’d passed the course (!)

I took that puppy down to the DMV (for the last motorcycle-related time) and got my license. And here’s the good part: once you get your motorcycle license, you’ve got your motorcycle license. You never ever have to take a test again, written or road.

Which makes me pretty darned happy. As you can see:

Happy Vespa rider me.

Happy Vespa rider me, on a ‘Grand Day Out’

Notice the resemblance to a certain claymation character?

Notice the resemblance to a certain claymation character?

That’s it. Gonna go saddle up. It’s going to be another hot one today. Stay cool, even if you’re Vespa-less. I’ll be back next week, possibly with that tale of wineberries and little girls.

Amagansett, New York. July 2016



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18 thoughts on “Street Legal

  1. Now I know who your stories remind me of! My former classmate – a woman with stories to fill volumes of memoirs – decided to sell her car for cash, took said cash to a dealer and bought a new motorcycle, which she had no license to ride. That was a minor detail seeing as how she could not ride a motorcycle at all. LOL! I should give her a call. 🙂

  2. Congratulations on passing the test! I can see that you’ve enjoyed the experience. I don’t know but I keep smiling while reading this. You did a great job! Enjoy every ride.

    • Wow. Thanks, Ryder White! I take it as a great compliment that you read and enjoyed my getting-my-motorcycle-license story. I’ll keep your congratulations in mind when I’m out there riding away!

    • Thanks! Yes, being in that class was a real eye-opener — and a real ‘leveler’. The world actually might be a better place if everyone took a motorcycle course (!)

  3. This made me smile (especially the beer question… one could argue that alcohol has a bigger effect on you if in your system for longer… I wonder how they would react to such an answer, but let’s not push it, neither with the answer nor actually driving after drinking)

    • So glad you enjoyed this! The tests really were that hilarious. I’d love to see the reaction if you tried such a thoughtful answer! You’d get a kick out of how they graded the tests. The tester put a ruler with holes in it over your paper; your multiple-choice selections had to show through the holes. (Not much room for elaboration!)

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