The hospital bandages weren’t aesthetically pleasing when I wore a bikini.
My best friend, Lana (not her real name), ran towards me in the dark. I sat on the asphalt next to the moped I had just crashed driving us out of the hotel parking lot on the island of Santorini, Greece. She had been thrown into the air to land ahead of me at what seemed half a block away. She reached me after all those yards and gasped.
“Oh my god!” She stared down my body.
My gaze followed hers down to my right leg. Blood glistened under the streetlamp like something fake, vinyl, too orange. There was a palm-sized gash on my knee with streaks of blood trailing like streamers off a red holiday float. There was another ribbon-strippy mess of flesh on my ankle. Fucking fantastic.
The wheel of the moped had ground my ankle because I hadn’t let go of the throttle when I crashed. This was, in fact, my second ankle subjected to such a fate, and the second time in which I had crashed a moped in a European country with the wheel spinning on my flesh at full speed.
The first time had been my own fault. It was in Rome at the age of seventeen. I was driving my first stunted mini-beast that didn’t exceed fifty, and I learned the hard way you didn’t accelerate into a turn on gravel. Starting then, each time I crashed, I apparently held on to dear life by squeezing the life out of the throttle.
During the time in Rome, I was broke and on my own, and my left ankle looked massacred. With only a Eurail pass for unlimited train rides, I hobbled all over Italy, ignoring the green and yellow growing on my unhealing wound. This eventually landed me on a taxi-boat in Venice speeding to a hospital, which made me feel James Bondish. But at the hospital, a matronly woman in a half-nun, half-nurse outfit ruined my James Bond moment by taking what amounted to a Brillo pad to my ankle. She proceeded to scour off the green, the yellow, the feeble excuse for a scab and any skin remains.
I don’t remember tears, but having bits of me scraped off was as excruciating as it sounds. The woman then begrudgingly bandaged up my ankle. She didn’t look me in the eyes the entire time, as if letting my wound become infected made me some sort of degenerate who deserved far worse than her sadistic scouring.
Now at twenty-three, in Greece with Lana, I was certain this second crash was due to a faulty moped the Greek hotel people had rented to us not three minutes before. It was true that we crashed right out of the parking lot when I revved harder than I should have, yelling, “Hey Lana, check this out!”
Since it was her first time on a moped and she was more than a little anxious, I had seen fit to terrify my passenger even more by pretending I was about to pop a wheelie. But at that same moment, the front wheel seized up on smooth road like a bad punchline, which meant something had to be wrong with the bike and not my driving.
There is an unreality to the moment before a crash. It’s an eternal instant, an elastic fragment of time when one is still technically safe but knows what’s about to happen. As the semi-second before collision stretched on, I was in a state of calm lucidity, perceiving dozens of concurrent thought layers as if they were linear. All of it was accompanied by a matter-of-fact, I am about to crash and probably hurt myself badly and it’s so interesting that I have all this time to think about it. No life as such flashed before me, but the sheer volume of thought and consciousness in one millisecond left me a bit staggered.
The wheel seized, Lana flew in the air, the bike collapsed on top of me and the wheel — suddenly unseized — gnawed on my skin. Eventually I let go of the throttle.
Lana was shaken but oddly unharmed. Her long blonde hair still seemed brushed. She looked at me with giant blue eyes and an angel’s gaze. I wished she would readjust her expression instead of looking at me like I was going to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair.
“A couple of scratches!” I said, feeling very pale. My body had taken a hit and somehow my psyche experienced trauma even though I was basically fine.
The next day, we rented another moped. We had no choice. The pain had set in; my knee and ankle were abominably swollen and I couldn’t walk. Like many New Yorkers, we didn’t have driver’s licenses, so we couldn’t rent a proper car. The Greek-only speaking nurses at the hospital made me limp across the street to the pharmacy to purchase my own syringe and tetanus shot to bring back for them to administer. Once again, I received dirty looks from medical staff as if I’d done something wrong.
The people of Greece in general seemed fond of me — I looked like them — but those around the village still shook their heads with disapproval when they saw me and a bandaged leg driving a moped. It wasn’t uncommon for silly tourists to get into moped accidents, but they didn’t often get right back on another to zoom around all those curvy cliff roads, especially when they hadn’t made it out of the parking lot the first time. I remained the driver because what terrified Lana more than my driving was her own.
Our trip package included hotels in three Greek islands of our choice during a two-week period, and a last day in Athens. We had picked Santorini, Ios, and Paros, skipping Mykonos, the ‘party’ island.
As Upper East Side girls, we had grown up among the rich without being rich. We considered ourselves cultivated and disdained mixing with Ouzo-slugging college types. While ‘party’ was fine with us, we perceived ourselves as more Monte Carlo in attitude than Las Vegas, when in truth we had the money for neither.
We had traveled much of Europe together since we were teenagers, but it was our first time in Greece. The islands captivated us. Those impossibly white structures with their turquoise domes hung off cliffs over vast drops and ocean views. The vision left our self-proclaimed cultivated mouths agape for many still moments. We ferried from one island to another, renting a moped on each where roads always wrapped around mountains with steep shoots to the water.
There were red beaches and dining on cliff balconies, music and cobblestone. We soon discovered that although walking was difficult for me, climbing down to hard-to-access beaches was less so. In fact, given that I found the motorbikes and the roads exhilarating, the only real difficulty I encountered from being injured was when I wore a bikini, the bandages weren’t aesthetically pleasing. That, and I couldn’t set foot into the azure Mediterranean.
Lana had to singlehandedly deal with our mountain of luggage, which was a massive ordeal for two people, let alone one. She didn’t understand why I was able to participate in most of the fun activities with my bum leg, but none of the work. She had a point, and I had no explanation for why walking was no good, but climbing was fine. Or why dancing worked as long as there was no hopping involved, but carrying the weight of luggage did not.
Her habit of clutching me but not leaning into curves with me as I steered the moped around mountainsides and cliff edges personified her growing stiffness towards me. In turn it worked my nerves and by the second week, we went about our touring activities in relative silence.
On one of our last nights, we went to a nightclub as was our habit. It was early and the dance floor was empty. We entertained ourselves by making up mock dance moves, both of us with pursed lips, because neither was about to be the first to crack a smile.
As the disco floor filled up around us, our dances grew more outlandish; we gave them names like Brushing Teeth, Tie the Noose and Pull, and The Hara-Kiri. From hygiene to suicide, it was all inexplicably funny to us, and our faces of stone began to quiver. By the time the dance floor became packed, while staring each other down and pantomiming disembowelment, we erupted into laughter, taking into consideration only our own absurdity, and not sensitivity.
We couldn’t stop once the laughter took over. We danced and ignored everything around us, and all at once, the bartender was beside us with two mysterious shots of blue. We shrugged, why not, and clinked glasses. Although we weren’t shooter types, we found it impossible to sip what tasted like hand sanitizer and cotton candy. So we downed the toxic blue syrup in one gulp, and our faces went through a rotation of grimaces. That’s when two burly bouncers appeared next to us. Before we could figure out why, they each held one of us by the middle. We had small frames and young faces, and seemed more girlish than we were, so being picked up like children in trouble was more of an insult than alarming.
The bouncers lifted us to the air, and when was they placed us on top of the bar, we finally understood what was happening. Lana and I looked at each other. The question wasn’t whether or not to dance, but whether we would treat the club-goers to our special choreography.
In the end, while we danced with verve, there was no re-enactment of hara-kiri or noose-pulling because we assumed — probably correctly — that no one else would share our “humor.” The bartender had his own joke, though, pouring lighter fluid along the front edge of the bar to set on fire.
Behind the border of flames, Lana and I continued to dance, making up with one another in the midst of being flambéed. But apparently, Greece wasn’t done with us. (continued)
- Travel is never without adventure.
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Oh man! What an adventure.
For sure. There’s more. Thinking about it makes me want to plan a trip.
Me too! I’ve only seen England and Germany. I’d love to travel again and feel that history under my feet.
Love the prose! When you tell a story it feels so real – kind of like driving down a rural road and seeing all the side roads just waiting to be explored. Many writers set a destination and ignore all the roads that don’t exactly lead there. Your writing feels so open ended: expressing the potential options without feeling obliged to explore them – leaving the reader that feeling of mysteries yet to be uncovered. Exquisite!
Have you ever read any Steinbeck? He posits that to have a journey, one must have a destination; however the destination only serves to institute the journey, which is, in and of itself, the real destination. Your writing has a similar style although he is not quite as good at this as you are (in my estimation).
“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
“Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.”
I also love the way this thinking tends to reverse the normal order of cause and effect: a subtle undercurrent – and perhaps foundation – on which reality seems to be built. So, normally one would say the journey is the cause (of your arrival) and the destination is the effect (result of journey) but in reality, when done right, the destination is the cause (of the journey) and the journey is the effect (the result of having a destination). Like Newtonian physics seems to be the foundation of our physical world, when in fact Quantum physics is the real underpinning and the two have completely opposite rules (Euclidean vs. Non-Euclidean) and yet one is solely composed of the other. Same for destinations and journeys. Our universe seems to be built that way. For instance, you start your story with a moped crash and the moments of crystal clarity when the crash is inevitable, time seems to have stopped (shades of Relativity here), and thought progresses at (from the outside looking in) warp speed. I think those moments contain the seeds of understanding the meaning of life.
All this to say – Nice Work! It fires off my neurons and leaves me hungering for more. I think you may be addictive.
It’s possible that I like the “addictive” comment even more than your over-generous Steinbeck reference.
I believe I’ve only read Of Mice and Men, but now I’m curious for more…
I know I’m addicted!
In my one and only time riding a motorcycle – my buddy’s brand new 550 CC motocross bike – I dumped it. Right on top on me and doing the same thing holding onto the throttle thinking it was the brake. Luckily, I did not receive the torn up limb like you did, Gunmetal.
Your dance names were too funny! LOL…The Disembowelment. Now, getting your Coyote Ugly on, on top of the bar top I would have definitely liked to have seen! Great post 🙂
Jeez, that is lucky. Especially with a big bike. I’m on to a real motorcycles next. I will wear protective gear.
GG, could you possibly get any cooler? I’ve dozens of stories about riding my bikes off their wheels, even written about a couple of them. Looking forward to part 2 and more stories about partying while courting/avoiding death.
I’ve read all about your crashes. I remember telling you it inspired me to write my own crash story…
I left a few out in that post and am hoping to revisit it and tease it out a bit more. Is this the crash story?
Not so much — obviously there’s the crash at the beginning. The crash stories had to with cars, although nothing too spectacular.
Yeah, I know what you mean by spectacular, some of the ones that didn’t actually eventuate into crashing at all were the really spectacular stories…might have to write about some of those too, hmm…
you may want to avoid mopeds and stick to the goofy dance moves.
I prefer “innovative” to “goofy.” Motorbikes, big or small, are just too much fun to give up.
I agree with both of your comments, fun and innovative.
I felt as if I were there w/ you!
Brought back some of my own adventures. I still have a scar from my moped fall in Bermuda!!
Superb descriptions & writing.
Thanks so much.
Bermuda adventures sound intriguing…
Ah, but you have LIVED 😀