My boyfriend’s practical advice about driving a motor scooter turned into a valuable lesson for our relationship
“Do not lean into the back or clutch the stomach of your motor scooter driver, especially when he’s turning a corner. As the passenger, you have to keep a light grip on my hips and stand tall on your own.”—My boyfriend Antonio Gerenini
The first time I went to Italy without my parents, in 2003, I swore I’d never get on a motor scooter, known in Italy as a motorino or the brand name Vespa. The whole idea of zipping through Italian traffic – which is almost always populated with those daredevil Italian drivers – was not my idea of a good time. The fact that there are no doors and nothing but a helmet protecting you from the elements or those other, now much bigger, much scarier, vehicles on the road didn’t bode well for me. I didn’t even care how cute or charming the Italian driver asking to give me a ride was.
My friend Pam, on the other hand, hopped aboard behind an Italian guy, a friend of ours, who drove her to the beach. I was in the car with my cousin watching their every move, praying that she would be safe. She was – and we had a great time at the beach once I could breathe again. I was never getting on one of those things. You couldn’t pay me enough to do it. I wasn’t interested. That is, until I met Antonio.
When I went to visit my boyfriend Antonio in his native Ischia in June 2006, he spent weeks complaining that I wouldn’t get on his motorino. Our conversations would go something like this (but in Italian):
“In this heat, the breeze is so nice, much better than taking the car without air conditioning,” he would say. “We won’t have to sit in traffic.”
“I am from northern New Jersey, the home of the George Washington Bridge. Traffic is all I know,” I would try to say but mostly think to myself. “And the heat in Ischia is nothing like the humidity of urine-soaked, garbage-filled Manhattan in the middle of August. I can take this, no problem. I say N-O to the motorino.”
“You’re so cute when you’re scared,” he’d say.
Well, he didn’t think it was so cute after two weeks of my unwavering protest against motor scooters. I was never getting on one, and I didn’t think he should either. Meanwhile, he’d been driving the motorino since he was 18. Ischia is an island with narrow roads and lots of tourists that was built for the beloved Vespa. And Antonio was convinced he could convince me to get on one with him.
His campaign featured stories about how much fun riding a motor scooter can be, how much more beautiful the island is from the seat of a motorino. He wanted me to be thinking Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday – but I wasn’t having it. Then, he upped the ante. He had his mother and sisters talk to me about what a safe driver he is, how slowly he would go if I was on board. Finally, his last stand was purchasing a sleek black helmet just for me. He knew I’d have a hard time saying no after he had spent hard-earned cash. “We’re going on the motorino to drive to the thermal spa tomorrow,” he said. “End of story.”
And so we did. “You’re the only man who could get me to do this,” I told him. He loved that. From the start, the vibration from the engine was disturbing my inner peace. Squeezing his paunch, I wrinkled his lovely Polo T-shirt and imbedded nail marks in his skin. My eyes were shut the entire time – and I screamed every so often but no one could hear me with all that vroom vroom. The wind whipped through my hair and slapped me in the face. There was nothing romantic about this.
Once or twice, I nearly killed us with my fear. Antonio pulled over immediately. “Amore, you must never ever hold on to me so tightly that you pull me when I have to turn,” he said. But that didn’t stop me from holding on to him like there would be no tomorrow. Finally, he couldn’t take it any more because I was putting us in serious danger.
“Do not lean into the back or clutch the stomach of your motor scooter driver, especially when he’s turning a corner,” he said. “As the passenger, you have to keep a light grip on my hips and stand tall on your own.” The week before, a young man from the island had died because of a motorino accident, and I didn’t want us to get hurt. I finally heard what Antonio was saying and started to take his advice.
“You’re doing great,” Antonio would tell me. Every so often he would caress my hand which was only lightly touching his hip at this point. “Bravissima, bravissima!” he would say. On the surface, Antonio’s advice is practical information for people riding a scooter together. But it’s so much more than that if you think about it.
Antonio, as my boyfriend, can support me but I still have to be strong. I still must stand tall on my own. Much like a motorino, a couple is only as durable as the sum of its parts. I can’t lean into him or push or change him into something he’s not. I can only maintain a light grip by offering my love and commitment and hoping he’ll do the same. Then, I must trust him to get me safely to my destination.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Antonio became my husband in 2008.