Blue Smoke

I’m getting to know the guys at Blue Smoke—and I am not sure this is a good thing.

Blue Smoke is a moped and scooter garage. The owner and employees are all young men with lots of tattoos, very short or very long hair, and sizable vocabularies. They all are scholars of something other than moped mechanics and the conversation in the garage is lively. They repair mopeds; they don’t sell anything. People are always coming in and asking to buy things: oil, parts, locks, tools, etc. The guys insist they will sell all of the above very soon. I asked if they sold mopeds.

“Of course we do!” two mechanics answered in unison.

When I asked where the mopeds were, they looked vaguely around them. “Well, they’re sort of in pieces right now…”

Blue Smoke is a small place. Every morning when they open (usually sometime around ten o’clock) the entire garage is emptied so there is room to work. Dozens of mopeds, no two bearing any resemblance, are lined up on the sidewalk. It looks like a giant vintage scooter sale, except nothing is for sale. The mopeds are from all over the world. They are bright pastel with leopard-skin saddles. They are ancient fat-wheeled bicycles with gas tanks welded to the frame. They are lined up, shining in the sun, waiting for the ministrations of the next Blue Smoke mechanic.

My Panther moped, from the Hero Motor Company of India, has been having problems. First the carburetor fell off. I didn’t know this could happen, but it did— twice. It turns out that this is not a good thing. Without a carburetor, my little moped comes to an immediate and unceremonious stop.

The second time it happened, the owner of Blue Smoke drove out to rescue me. He reattached the carburetor and, when I asked how much this service call would cost, he said, “Oh, I dunno. Ten bucks?” This seemed fair to me. When I am charged anything it all, my repair bill is always less than a tank of gas, and it seems to go to a better cause.

Now, as winter approaches, I’m thinking that the choke would be useful to get my Panther revving in the predawn cold. Sadly, the lever that says “choke” on my Panther does nothing. The guys at Blue Smoke showed me how compressing the lever had no accompanying mechanical response. It is sort of a pantomime choke. They were in no hurry to fix it.

“Would it be easier to start with the choke?” I inquired.

“Oh, yes,” they conceded, “especially in the cold.”

They gave me a can of some sort of aerosol substance and told me to shoot in the general direction of the carburetor if I had trouble. (They don’t actually sell this stuff either, they just gave me a half-used can.) The next morning, leaving early for my seven o’clock class, my Panther was cranky. I pedaled and pedaled to no effect. Finally, I got out the mysterious aerosol can. It was dark, but I aimed it more or less for the carburetor. The Panther choked and gasped and roared into submission.

Even with Blue Smoke’s eminently reasonable prices, I have spent a bit of money there. The last time I was in, I explained to one of the mechanics how I imagined this was normal when breaking in a new moped.

“No,” he replied simply, “mopeds are always breaking.”

Somehow, that no longer seems like such a bad thing.

Till next time,


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