So … the decision was made to use the 1959 Lambretta to cross the USA from Tucson, AZ to Boston, MA, a map distance of 2500 miles. Of course, preparations are necessary. One doesn’t just start out willy-nilly on such a jaunt, but I wanted to stay as close to willy-nilly as possible. Preparations were few and quickly accomplished.
A two-compartment metal box was a found treasure – about a 16in height, 18in width, and 14in depth and it was bolted behind the passenger seat. The smaller compartment (which was sealed separately) would contain a metal quart container of gasoline along with oil and measuring cup. The Lambretta used a two-cycle engine requiring a 4 to 5% addition of motor oil mixed with the gasoline. Later, I understand the ratio changed to 2%, but 4% was the minimum used on this little excursion. The quart container served as my mixing chamber and also as the ‘reserve’ reserve tank, since the scooter had a built-in reserve of a pint or so of fuel. The larger compartment of the metal box held a small nylon mountaineer’s tent (supposedly waterproof), a few tools, a diminutive 2-cup coffee pot and coffee (great word … ‘diminutive’). A waterproof bag holding all my clothing was tied to the passenger seat. One critical item was water. Now accustomed to the incredibly dry Arizona Sonoran desert air, I knew the enjoyment of this gorgeous place depended on having enough water to drink. One of the side effects of water shortage in Arizona is death, which I hoped to avoid on this trip. A water bag would do nicely. Most people today have no idea what a water bag is or was. Essentially it’s a tightly woven canvas bag with a capped filling and drinking spout. When the bag is first filled, the canvas bag will leak water fairly quickly. As the canvas fibers swell after a few hours, the weave becomes so tight that only tiny amounts of water wick to the outside surface of the bag. As that small amount of water evaporates, (remember “latent heat” from your high school physics?) the remaining water is cooled and becomes refreshing for drinking. The one-gallon water bag was tied to the front of the scooter both for easy access and for evaporative cooling by the wind. The trick is never to allow the bag to dry completely. Empty it for fresh water, but refill it promptly. The idea of all this was that I wanted to ‘camp out’ most nights and only take a motel room once a week to do laundry, rest from the road, do scooter maintenance, etc.
People often speak of the basic necessities as being food, clothing, and shelter. While that might have been a complete list for our cave-dwelling ancestors, the list had to be expanded for a scooter trip across the USA (technically a more advanced activity than an average day of cave-dwelling). To carry food would be a constant nuisance except for a bag of nuts and some dried fruits. Water, of course, but what about those other basic and critical biological necessities? … chocolate and coffee. Chocolate would have to be purchased on the way because of the melting problem. Coffee requirements could be handled by the small brewing pot in which two cups of water could be campfire boiled and ground coffee directly added to make some nice strong, black coffee … no strainer, no filter, no cream, no sugar (just my opinion, but all those trimmings are strictly for wimps). Sometimes that’s called ‘cowboy coffee.’ Whatever the name, it’s good stuff. Two good cups of coffee in the morning and two or three along the way at a café or diner, as much to take a break and talk with people as to just buy another caffeine fix. It was easy to meet people over a cup of coffee in 1960 and it still is today.
Food. The thought was to purchase all required food along the way, always keeping the small lightweight bag of nuts and dried fruit (constantly consumed and refilled) for reserve purposes or just for treats now and then. Bread (usually Italian or French), cheese, occasionally a little meat from a delicatessen (never pre-packaged), various fruits, olives, and veggies. Usually at three or four in the afternoon, I’d start looking for a deli with either a Greek, Italian or Jewish name (if it was Moshe’s Market or Dante’s Deli, I would stop). That just shows my food prejudices. And yeah, yeah, yeah. I know now and knew then, it was terrible white bread which I was eating on a daily basis and that I should have selected a nice, dense loaf of 38-grain bread with alfalfa sprouts, chia seeds, ground watermelon rinds, and all the other silly stuff. However, my bread had to taste like bread. It had to feed my soul first, then my stomach, the soul being far more important.
Scooter maintenance. That’s one subject I can really ‘get into’ some other day, primarily because I knew so little about this machine. My ignorance was almost limitless, knowing the principles of internal combustion engines (4-stroke and 2-stroke) and knowing also how to make a fair number of repairs on the big fire-breathing monsters of Detroit. This Lambretta, however, was like a gasoline powered sewing machine to me and seemed marvelous that it functioned at all. In the less than three months in my possession, the scooter had taught me how to change and repair its tires, how to keep filters clean (air and fuel), how to clean its spark plug and perhaps one or two additional tidbits. Beyond that … zero. But … in the sparkling and magic days of youth, there was no fear of jumping enthusiastically into something about which nothing was known.
Earlier, I referred to Kerouac’s Beat Generation novel ‘On The Road’ which fostered a sense of adventure without care… that free spirit sort of feeling. I greatly admired that and ‘Beat’ poets, writers, and artists. One thing, however, was disturbing. To me, there seemed to be a sense amongst the beatniks, and later, the hippies, that ‘freeloading is OK.’ That part of the Beat Generation separated me from fully accepting them and probably the reverse as well. Too ingrained with the work ethic, I worked my butt off at any job with the immediate goal of wanting my boss, whoever it might be, to openly weep whenever I said “I’ll be leaving this job. I’m giving you two weeks’ notice.”
So, money had been saved from my waiter’s job and leaving some amount in the bank, I put $400.00 in my pockets. 1960 dollars were worth about 8 times our 2015 dollars. Doing the math gives today’s equivalent of $3200 US. To me, the supply of money was in third place after water and fuel. It was time to leave and I started out, took Oracle Road north out of Tucson and I was, in fact, on the road, three magic words – on the road. In movies, poetry, in music, often in the minds of Americans at that time, there was a meaning, a yearning, and a certain satisfaction which accompanied that phrase ‘on the road’.