Becoming Superman, Part 1

I moved to Japan to live in Nagano in October 2000 and at first my only transportation was a bicycle I bought shortly after arriving. However, in the spring of 2002 one of my students graduated from university and got a job in Tokyo, and so was looking to sell his scooter that he had used when he was a student. I asked him why he wasn’t going to take it with him to Tokyo and he said it was too expensive and the scooter wasn’t worth that much money. He asked if I was interested in buying it, and when I asked him how much he was selling it for, he said, 20,000 yen, which I thought was quite reasonable and so I ended up buying it.

We went to the motorcycle shop he had bought it from to change the ownership registration to my name, and then I started driving it around Nagano. Before long, I was using the scooter to drive back and forth to my classes, although eventually December came and I realized that snow was going to be an issue as far as transportation with the scooter was concerned.

Not wanting to spend the money to buy a car, I started asking around about what my different options were, as by now the scooter was an important part of my ability to get back and forth to work. Someone eventually suggested I change the tires to snow tires. I asked if there really were such things for scooters and was assured that yes, indeed there were.

So I went back to the motorcycle shop that had changed the title for me and asked if they had snow tires for scooters there. The man working there was really advanced in years and replied that yes, yes they did have snow tires. I asked if I could buy them that same day or not, and he said that yes I could, and so I asked how much they were and when I should come back. He said it would take 90 minutes to change the tires on my scooter.

I spent the next 90 minutes walking around downtown Nagano, up to Zenkoji Temple and back again, and then stopped in at the shop. My scooter was up on their service stand with back tire off. The old guy working there says, “Come back later! Come back later!” I ask how long should I wait, and he says 90 minutes.

By now it’s lunch time, so I head somewhere for lunch then kill another hour or so wandering around. When I get back into the shop, this time the back tire is on but the front tire is off, and he says, “Come back later! Come back later!” I ask how long again and this time he says an hour. And so I kill another hour of time.

After this last hour, when I get back into the shop the guy is furiously tightening the bolt on the front tire and says, “I’m almost done! Please wait.” Once he finishes, we settle the bill and then I get my scooter to drive back home.

All of my walking has made me hungry, and so I decide to stop on the way home for a small snack. After I finish, when I get back on my scooter I think the handling is a little strange, but figure I just bought the snow tires, and so perhaps the handling is a bit different with the snow tires on it.

I start on my way home, and as I’m approaching a crosswalk I see a lady waiting to cross the street. I make it a point to stop for people in crosswalks, so I hit my brake, and the front end of my scooter collapses out from under me and I go over the handlebars, striking a Superman pose for a brief moment before hitting the pavement.

The question I ask my students at this point in the story is what happened that caused the front end of my scooter to collapse and me to become a very short-lived Superman? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Want to know what happened? Part 2 of the story is here.