Three weeks ago while attending the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show (MANTS) in Baltimore and walking the streets of that city in between meetings and meet-ups, I noticed that teenagers were being careless and leaving electric scooters on sidewalks for responsible pedestrians like myself to trip over.
After my fifth encounter, I peered a little closer at the neon label. It read ‘$1 start, 15¢/minute.’
Baltimore in January isn’t a ‘wind through your hair’ kind of city. The chance that I might jump upon a kid’s scooter fully clothed in work gear (however bohemian the definition), only to be mercilessly made fun of by colleagues upon arrival, was zero.
I stepped over the scooter, readjusted my middle-aged sensibilities and headed to the conference.
Electric scooters: A chance to explore
Fast forward a week. I’m in Fort Lauderdale for the Tropical Plant International Expo (TPIE) and sharing a hotel room with Andrea Gasper of Contained Gardens in Grand Rapids, MI.
Our hotel is a mile and a half from the convention center and we are sufficiently woke enough to know how to use our phones to get a Lyft.
It’s 77 degrees. It’s a beach town. Life is good™ but our Lyft driver isn’t interested in our experience of such things. Point B IS the point.
He screams us past tropical residential gardens and a drawbridge with sailboats bobbing in shimmering water. We stop at an intersection where a wall-planted coleus combo could absorb a sneaky pinch or two; but the light changes and we are off – pinchless. There are beautiful people drinking champagne on the decks of million dollar yachts. They are desperate to be seen, yet we cannot oblige them.
In short we’re missing the view.
That first night, fueled by the energy gifted to residents of the Great White North when they find themselves somewhere above freezing in January, we walk two miles in search of a locally recommended restaurant.
We sit outside eating mussels and sipping Hendricks & tonics while a talented pianist plays in the bar and gradually makes us feel eighteen again (under the jurisdiction of European drinking laws).
Across the road, casually parked against the beach rails, there are scooters. Several of them.
Andrea motions to them with her head. And then does so again in between the mussels and the tuna tartar.
Andrea is younger than I – and so naturally I distrust her. But she is also adventurous in a way that I was before my children sucked that energy and made it their own. I learned to admire that spirit last summer when we visited Normandy gardens together on a Carex Tour. She has yet to steer me wrong.
The scooters call to us like Sirens – hulls pulsating in soft neon lights as they wait for their next captains. By the time we have asked the server for Calvados and settled for crème brûlée and two spoons, we have picked a company (there are four) downloaded the app and have convinced ourselves that this is a good – no, a great – idea.
We pay the thoroughly enormous bill and approach our destiny.
Alas. Middle age rears its ugly head. Two apps fail to be as idiot-proof as the Hipsters would have us believe.
An ecstasy of fumbling. Google passwords? What Google passwords? We go in search of brighter, woker scooters via a new app’s tracking service and find them in a parking lot behind a building.
This time, everything works. The scooters hum to life and Lime will act as chariot for the rest of the trip.
And what a chariot.
Electric scooters: Get the scooter. Get the app. Get going.
With a light thumb on the throttle, we are away – wind; hair; streaming scarves; and all. Forget eighteen – we are eight. The night is ours. We reach the hotel far too fast and so turn around to experience another mile or two. At their peak, the scooters reach fourteen mph, but we are just as happy and carefree at seven.
Sometime later, the chariots are parked, locked via the app, and a photo taken to help the magical maintenance elves find and service them in the wee small hours of a Ft. Lauderdale night. Adventure over.
The next morning we’ve got a choice. Get on the shuttle which TPIE has so kindly provided for the sane; or continue the youth fantasy into another day.
Electric scooters: Cheaper than a double expresso.
It turns out that these scooters have an amplifying effect on one’s senses, which is extremely helpful if one happens to be taking in four hundred booths of plant, product and patter.
Colors are brighter (if that is possible in a tropical plant show) and connections with new people imprint themselves deeply. I’m also aware that I am talking more animatedly – if that, also, is possible – and feel capable and newly minted.
That’s one hell of a scooter.
Electric scooters: Menace or marvelous?
In Fort Lauderdale, this new mode of transport is only a few months old, and it’s got people talking. Many of them not as positively as me.
In a local newspaper, complaints range from “Someone’s going to trip over one.” (no, really.) to virtuous concerns over the lack of helmet-use. A recent letter to The Washington Post from Los Angeles senior Ruth Kramer Ziony, complained heartily over having to share sidewalks. (In many cities scooterists are allowed to do so if they use basic courtesy and alert pedestrians via a bell or their voice.)
“To assume that those that use them are both responsible and courteous, is, at best, naïve,” she writes; and goes on to voice dark disapproval for those who wish to “experience the freedom of zooming along at top speed.”
What a despicable thing to desire.
Judging from the reckless dimwits I have to share my winding country roads with, the same can be said of motorists. And for that matter, other pedestrians on crowded urban streets. I for one, slowed to a crawl when I passed someone else; and just as I would obey traffic signs on a bike or roller blades, I obeyed them on the back of a scooter.
I did not scooter intoxicated. I did not scooter infuriated. I did however scooter exhilarated; and I’d like to personally apologize to the indignant letter-writers of Fort Lauderdale for enjoying myself far too much.
Electric scooters: A little thrill in an über-safe world.
Dialing back the snark for a moment, I fully recognize the activity is dangerous. In effect you’re putting people whose bones have fully fused on motorized wheels in traffic (perhaps while carrying things like handbags and garden tools).
But it’s dangerous in the way that most things I survived during my childhood were dangerous. Green Machines; carousels in playgrounds; bicycles without helmets; climbing on the back of my cousin’s annoyed pony with no adult supervision. And it’s dangerous in a way that it’s hard to find in these days of social media outrage and the pursed-lip Mrs. Kravitz crowd (who have moved on from twitching curtains in the 1960s to twitching thumbs in a new millennium).
It’s dangerous in a way that I miss.
Admittedly, Andrea and I had our moment of terror. It involved a scooter wheel and a metal drawbridge seam that locked together at high speed with unfortunate precision. But it also involved a margarita and a couple tacos while the adrenaline settled and we contemplated the walk back to the hotel.
I think it was then that we made a pact to use scooters wherever we could – up until the day they were made illegal (or at least legislated until the fun was fully wrung out of them).
Could your commute or work trip use an energy boost? From the longing glances and vocalizations by people we passed on sidewalks and benches, there are many struggling with their inner child.
You may be one of them. If so, let me encourage your virtue, if not your despicable desire to have fun, with this very grown-up statement from Lime:
“Through the equitable distribution of shared scooters, bikes and transit vehicles, we aim to reduce dependence on personal automobiles for short distance transportation and leave future generations with a cleaner, healthier planet.”
And have fun.
Who can argue against that?
A version of this article was originally published in The Frederick News Post and is republished here with kind permission.