One doesn’t even have to drive in France to observe the frenzied driving that occurs! Anyone who has visited France, especially cities like Nice, is distinctly aware that there is high percentage of scooters on the road. The drivers and vehicles are a variety of sizes – mopeds (motorized bicycles), 50 cc and 125 cc scooters, and powerful motorcycles – all zigzagging and weaving in and out of the traffic to place themselves ahead of everyone else. They even drive up the center line between rows of cars stopped at red lights, wiggling around side mirrors and fenders, like a side-winding snake, all to be first in line when the light turns green. A proverbial horserace, with drivers jockeying for position out of the gate.
With the minimum age of 14 for driving a scooter, French teenagers have access to a relatively inexpensive (and legal) method of transportation – it seems that French kids are taught how to ride a scooter almost as soon as they can walk! What this means is, you have young teens (without licenses yet) driving and/or being driven by un ami (a friend), as they acrobatically maneuver around and within inches of cars/trucks/buses to jump in front! That being said, you also have many adults driving two-wheeled vehicles (and the newer tricycle-like scooter), in order to have easier accessibility to parking within the city – and, as a now grown-up version of a teenager, they,too, race and zigzag to get ahead.
Scooters and motorcycles are parked in designated areas; however, due to not enough parking spaces for two-wheeled vehicles or just simply for convenience sake, a lot are parked helter-skelter on sidewalks and at intersection corners. Walking, then, becomes a sort of obstacle course, where pedestrians also end up similarly winding and maneuvering around the various sized two-wheelers.
When I was growing up in the States, other than the motorcycle group The Hell’s Angels, there wasn’t really a scooter culture, although I repeatedly heard the story of my mother’s best friend having been killed as a passenger on a motorcycle. As a result, I had an ingrained fear and never entertained the idea of getting on one. In France, it is common knowledge that it is dangerous to drive a scooter, hearing and reading about the many accidents (unfortunately, I even witnessed two in Nice!)
So, why in the world would I become a conductrice de scooter? – especially as a woman d’un certain age well beyond the (invincible feeling) age of adolescence? Too much Mediterranean sun? Death wish? Certainement pas! The only logical answer I could come up with was: out of necessity due to living further from work (even though public bus transportation is excellent and would be an easy commute); the only illogical answer was: I think the small scooters are cute!
I began window-shopping for a scooter, but with the intention of looking only and saw a beautiful, bold candy-apple red one – I knew IF I ever owned one, this would be IT (a bold move to match the bold color)! Months later, I wandered back to the same shop to physically sit on a small model scooter in the showroom, just to see how secure (or not) I felt. I casually asked about the red one I had seen, as it was no longer in the window. I was, surprisingly, disheartened when I was told that this 50cc model (the only one I could legally drive with my type of French license due to new laws) was no longer being made in that red color – tant pis (too bad). Malheuresement (unfortunately), there weren’t any red ones available at other store locations either, as he had sold the last one. However, the young salesman, who no doubt has driven a scooter practically all his life, mentioned bleu clair (baby blue), as the new color in production, but could only show me this color in a photo; he would be happy to order a scooter (also available in black, white, or gray) for me (mais, oui!). I would also have a choice of tan or black as a seat color, and he would throw in for free a windshield (again, my choice of short or tall)! I took a printed example of the blue color home with me, just to “think about it” – why was I so disappointed, when I wasn’t even going to buy one?
Ne jamais dire jamais (Never say never)! Since October 2011, I have been driving my new 50cc bleu clair scooter, but always adhering to my personal self-preservation rules:
- I drive very defensively and take the bus if the forecast suggests rain
- I stay in line, as if I am driving a car
- I always wear a chest protection vest made for horseback riding under a thick jacket (which gives me a silhouette of a football linebacker)
- I wear special cotton briefs with padding on the hips and tailbone (underwear worn as outerwear, like Madonna), but – trust me – is far from being sexy!
The main problem is that other (frenzied) drivers automatically assume I am one of the youngsters on the road, even though I am not weaving in and out of traffic, which I’m sure puzzles them. Cars, trucks, and buses were driving impatiently and aggressively too close around me (50 cc scooters’ maximum speed is 49km/30 mph). Since necessity is the mother of invention, I came up with the idea of placing the “A” symbol on the back of my scooter, legally required on cars to designate a beginner driver – a kind of ‘Beware of me’ signal to others! Now, drivers can see that I am NOT the same as other scooterists, and NOT equal – neither in experience, balance, maneuverability, nor in risk-taking. However, that being said………I too AM bold!