by Peter S. Beagle
240 pages, $14.95
Centro Books, 2007
by Sev Pearman
Author Peter Beagle is best known for his fantasy writing. Riders may be unaware that prior to The Last Unicorn, Mr. Beagle wrote a kick-ass travelogue. I See by My Outfit is the true story of two guys, their Heinkel scooters, guitars and their ride from New York to California.
In 1963, a young Peter Beagle and his lifelong friend, Phil Sigunick, bought 175cc Heinkel scooters, load them with sleeping bags and art supplies and depart the Bronx for Menlo Park. On the way, they freeze, paint, sing, camp, stay with friends, repair their scooters, and freeze some more.
The author names his Heinkel “Jenny,” after Jenny Diver in “The Threepenny Opera”. Phil calls his “Couchette,” just because he likes the French word. It struck me as odd that, in 1963, only eighteen years after the end of WW-II and the Holocaust, that two Jewish men would choose German-made scooters. Did they not care about the legacy of that war? Did riders in general? Was this an early indication of what came to be called “the generation gap?”
More than a road book, I See by My Outfit is about friendship. The author lovingly paints the deep bond between he and Phil. Friends since childhood, the two ride together, play guitar and sing. Beagle writes, “We never become friends; we always were.” They are the rare friends able to complete each other’s sentences. No need for frantic hand gestures; they both know before the other when it is time to park their rides. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a riding partner like that of Peter Beagle and Phil Sigunick.
If a travelogue has no photos, the writing better be good and I See by My Outfit doesn’t disappoint. Any rider worth his salt will shudder when he reads, “The silence of an engine that has just cut out under you is one of the most chilling quietnesses I know.” One excellent passage finds them in South Park, Colorado where they hole up in a Welcome Inn, trying to dodge the mid-20s temperatures. This is forty years before Comedy Central introduces us to Kenny and Co. In 1963, South Park was grassland, part of the massive Hartsel ranch.
If you are a scooterist, I See by My Outfit is required reading. Mr. Beagle writes that at scooter conventions, he is treated like “a cross between Jack Kerouac and Dennis Hopper of Easy Rider.” Indeed, this story feels like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for scooter riders. Younger riders will get a feel of what it was like when readers were marginalized and you had to rely on yourself to keep you and your ride going. Long riders will resonate with Mr. Beagle’s concise descriptions. Wistfully recommended with three-out-of-four cylinders.
Thanks to MMM reader, John H. for bringing this excellent re-release to our attention.
Verdict: Scooterist – Load up your scoot and hit the road.
Generation Y – Travel to a pre-Cartman South Park.
Mossback – Slots nicely between On the Road and Travels with Charley
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