“Hey, are you all right? What’s your name?”
“How old are you?”
“Do you know where you are?”
“Yeah,” I answered, between sobs. “San Francisco.”
“That’s good. That you remember.”
I remember everything. Maybe too well.
I raved about Fisherman’s Wharf on the flight to San Francisco as if it were a must-see Broadway show.
“Fisherman’s Wharf is so much fun. We’ll get large sundaes at Ghirardelli Square. And there is this homeless guy called the Bush Man. He covers himself in bushes and scares people. You gotta see him,” I gushed to my traveling partner and roommate, Carrie.
Nah. I mean, about 99.9% of accidents are self-induced, so you’ll be fine
There were some places I wanted to see again since my last visit of the wharf about two years ago, but I was willing to look at different things too. For instance, Carrie claimed that there were sea lions or walruses (she wasn’t too sure) at a pier.
“I told you they came here!” she exclaimed when I pointed to a blue “Sea Lions” sign. We followed the barking noises that led us to a group of “Sea Lion-ebrities” basking like sardines on small rafts. I paid closer attention to this one sea lion, isolated from his other pals, who was raising a fin as if saying, “please, continue taking pictures.” Even after he lowered his fin, onlookers continued snapping photographs.
“Hey, look at this,” Carrie laughs. A small scooter car was parked in a lot. We had already spotted the crab stand I wanted to go to later for dinner, In and Out Burger, and other gift shops. Now we were figuring out if there was other sightseeing we could do for the remainder of the afternoon.
On the windshield was a brightly colored advertisement for “ScootCar Rentals.” Five dollars off after you rent the car for 3 hours. The first hour was $39; the second $29; the third $20. Considering that we each blew about $100 the day before on wine tasting and bottles at Napa Valley’s wineries, we both wanted to lay low on the dough.
“Let’s do it! We’ll just rent for an hour,” I suggested. Carrie agreed immediately.
Next thing we knew, we were in the rental shop picking out the color of the scooter.
“Once you make this $200 security safety deposit, we’ll be good to go,” says shop owner Craig. As we signed some other paperwork, we asked a few questions about the route.
“Since we only get an hour, where can we go?” I asked.
“Well, actually, we have a specific route you follow,” he answered, pointing at the laminated map behind him. He followed along a blue line, which was the 1-hr route we were going to take, with his index finger. Bordering the map were pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge and other scenic stops drivers would see. He handed us a map that provided detailed “turn left or right here” directions so navigating-handicapped people–like me–would have no excuses getting lost.
“Do people get in accidents?” Carrie asks. Suddenly the mere thought of driving amongst cars two or three times larger seemed a little scary.
“Nah. I mean, about 99.9% of accidents are self-induced, so you’ll be fine,” Craig assures us. Well, first off, that can’t be a correct percentage unless you’re advertising for anti-bacterial soap. But, I think he was just trying to tell us that all the smiling photos we see in the shop represent the majority.
“Okay, a little less throttle there, and you’ll be fine,” Craig instructs to me. I was going to drive second, but I wanted to test everything out first. The brakes were hard to maneuver or maybe I didn’t have strong foot muscles. And I knew I’d be fine with the handlebars once I got on the road. Carrie and I switched places, both made geeky poses towards Craig’s camera and turned right onto Beach street.
“Hey, don’t forget to take pictures,” Carrie reminds me. Being the passenger meant I had several roles: doling out directions every three seconds, appreciating scenery, and taking pictures.
“Yeah, I know,” I say, smiling at a guy in sunglasses, who was giving us a thumbs-up sign. All that I thought that was most memorable was the Golden Gate Bridge, so I took about ten pictures of it, each successive one I promised being the best.
“Wow, how is this legal?” Carrie chuckles. We were finally cruising down the road for several minutes, without having to deal with stop signs or people. Hardly any cars were on the road.
“Wait, do I turn right here?” Now we were approaching a fork in the road.
“Um,” I begin. I look through my script, since instinct usually gives me the wrong answers. “I guess just stay on this right lane.” Suddenly a sign saying “Golden Gate Bridge Toll” came into view.
“No, we’re not going on the bridge!” Carrie exclaims. Oops. This must have been the caveat that Craig was telling us, along with the warning in all caps, “STAY ON THE RIGHT LANE AND DO NOT GO ONTO THE RAMP” written in our directions.
Checking to our left and right, Carrie swerves in front of a caravan to snag a spot in the opposite direction. Thankful cars behind us don’t hate us enough to run us over. We heave a large sigh and realize that now it’s my turn to drive.
My route was not as scenic. We pass by a cemetery and an Octagon house that was unfortunately masked by a few trees. Our cameras soon became stowed away. “Ooh, we get to go on the world’s most crooked street!” Carrie says excitedly. “Oh, yay!” I accompany my happiness with a full throttle up a hill. I was getting more used to the handlebars and brakes now. I hardly ventured past 20 mph (and the speedometer maxed at 30 anyway) because I wanted to compensate for, well, the unsteadiness of this vehicle, by being extra careful. “Man, I don’t want this to end yet,” I say as I notice that about 15 minutes were left from our joy ride.
“I know, this is so much fun.”
I guess I thought there would be a gate or archway of some sorts letting us know that we were approaching Lombard St, the said famous crooked road. But suddenly I had to turn right onto a decline. I had no problem with the turn, but for some reason my brakes weren’t working. Last time when this happened at a stoplight, I swerved a little to the right so I wouldn’t hit the car in front of me. But now, with the downward slope, I kept on inching forward.
“It’s not working!” I shout.
“Keep pressing harder!” Carrie directs me, and through the corner of my eye I saw her pressing down on an imaginary break.
I tried. And then I twisted the handle bar towards me. Throttling it forward. The car is accelerating! into the car in front.
Oh my God, I am telling myself. I don’t want to die.
“Emily, 22. Emily, 22,” I hear faintly from an unknown source. Maybe I was getting auctioned off. Who wants to take care of this helpless girl?
My right leg is shaking. Carrie had already stepped out of the vehicle. I am hysterical.
“It’s okay,” another man tells me. “I think she’s just shaken up. A paramedic will come soon,” I hear him say. I don’t know to whom.
No, I’m mortified but grateful at the same time. All the damage I could have incurred was transferred to the scooter. It wasn’t my head that created the fractured windshield but my silver helmet. The front bumper and one headlight are crushed. The dashboard had come off.
Oh, my God. And I hit a hummer.
“Are you okay?” a woman asks. She must have been a passenger of the hummer. I’d imagine they didn’t feel anything.
The hummer remained unscathed and was a rental too.
Soon enough paramedics arrived. As if that didn’t draw enough attention, they insisted that I get my vital signs checked in the ambulance.
“I’m fine, actually,” I say confidently. The pain in my right leg was bearable. But before I knew it, I was sitting in a blue stretcher and getting wheeled up. In a twisted way, I felt like a Special Olympics athlete greeting a group of fans. Except that I wasn’t smiling and I really didn’t like random people taking pictures.
“This will be great,” Carrie jokes and snaps a picture of me.
“It’s going to be $2,220.59,” Craig announced. Then he adds that, since we were honest about everything, we didn’t have to pay for labor, which was another $1,000.
When you go through accidents or near-death experiences, people start being nicer to you. Craig gave both of us two free photos of us posing before the accident. So we really saved $1,012.
“You know, you should place these pictures and the aftermath next to these other photos here,” I suggested.
“Well, I must say. Accidents probably occur about once every three months,” he begins. Ha! I knew he lied about it before! “But, you guys did the most damage.”
I was a little disappointed that he didn’t have a plaque to recognize this achievement.
“You know, don’t let this ruin your vacation. I’m pretty sure your insurance will cover most, if not all, of it. So, have a beer, and have a good time,” he says, handing me his contact information so I can tell everyone not to ever rent scooters.
We did try to enjoy the rest of the day. We went to Ghirardelli Square to share a melting sundae together, ate seafood, and considered becoming something as creative as the Bush Man to raise money for my possible damage funds.
As expected, I had to responsible for the financial damages.
“Sometimes you have to lose some money to wipe off bad luck,” my mom paraphrases a Chinese word of wisdom on the phone. I was sure that that quote was probably used for something less ridiculous than a scooter accident, but I understood what she was staying. Or maybe the caption of our free photo put it more nicely: “We explored San Francisco on a Scootcar and Survived!” And so we did – ”thankfully – ” in the end.