Today I found out that my best friend from high school died earlier this year. We were extremely close Freshman & Sophomore year, and my life would have been absolutely miserable without her in it. Our paths diverged and we lost touch, as people do. We caught up about 10 years ago, and I was glad to know she was happy and well. Over the years I’ve occasionally tried to find her, and did so again today. It’s so shocking to google an old friend and find their obituary.
Memories of Cheri came flooding back when I saw a Vespa go by tonight in Valencia, Spain. The passenger wore black lace tights, like she used to on my Vespa.
Growing up, my mother did her best to instill in me a strong fear of motorcycles. But one day when we were 14, our friend Rob took Cheri for a spin around the parking lot at Fashion Island. When they returned, she was so happy and said it was so much fun, I knew I had to try it too. I didn’t go for a ride that day, but later Rob came over and took me for my first ride in my neighborhood, a quiet, hilly suburb. Immediately I knew I had to have a motorcycle. I spent the next year working my parents over, wearing them down until they finally relented. I got my permit and my first Vespa the day I turned 15 1/2, the minimum age for riding a motorcycle.
Practically from the day I got it, before I even had the nerve to shift out of 1st gear, she rode with me. We used to sing “Cool Rider” from Grease 2 or the Smith’s “There is a light” at the top of our 15 year old lungs, helmetless and immortal on the streets of San Mateo. One night, coming back from San Francisco, we got busted on highway 101 violating all three permit restrictions (riding at night, with a passenger, on the freeway). The cops let me off on the condition we had to get rides home with them. Of course our parents wondered why we came home in cop cars, especially as we were supposed to be in bed that whole time.
Sneaking out at night was something I loved doing, as I am quite nocturnal. Sometimes I’d just walk around the neighborhood, just to be OUT. Once I got my Vespa, I’d coast down the hill about a block until I was far enough away that I thought my parents couldn’t hear me start the noisy old 2-stroke. Then I’d ride off into the night, collect Cheri at the corner near her house, and we’d just RIDE. We loved being on my scooter, the newfound freedom was intoxicating.
Cheri was with me the day I finally found the courage to shift into 2nd gear. We were on this long, unbroken stretch of road and I knew I couldn’t just putter around forever. So after 2 weeks of riding around beyond whatever redline was on the P200E, I put aside my irrational fear of stalling while shifting into 2nd and went for it. I’ve never looked back since.