As a teenager in Mesa, Arizona, Kristen Frazer would start her weekends by donning a knee-length dress and go-go boots, climbing on her Vespa, and meeting her friends at Tower Records. From there they'd cruise around town like the mods in Quadrophenia. Eventually they'd end up at someone's house where they'd drink beer and listen to soul and ska.
"I've fallen out of most of the mod-scene stuff," Frazer, 25, says now. "But scooters have remained part of my life." Frazer, who's originally from Elgin, moved to Chicago in 1992 and soon attended her first "real" scooter run--a weekend camping event for people with vintage Italian scooters--in Mallorytown, Ontario.
"Everyone in Arizona had been a mod, or were college boys with scooters," she says. "This was my first real entrance into the scooter boy/girl scene. They had crazy bikes that were all cut down, and they were all completely wasted out of their minds--it was amazing. I was very intimidated."
She now counts many of those people among her friends and considers herself a scooter girl--someone for whom scootering is the primary interest, as opposed to a mod or a skinhead, for whom the scooter is just one component of a complex subculture. "I still have the clothes and dress up and am into the music, but I don't feel the need to identify with that particular aspect of it," she says. "I just don't have the time to care about whether my three-button suit has the proper size lapels or whatever."
Frazer and her husband, Andrew Balazs, make several scooter runs each summer, hauling the bikes in the back of their truck. Most of the runs are on the east coast and in Canada. In 1995, returning from a run near Niagara Falls, they hatched a plan to host their own event. "We had been driving eight or ten hours to scooter runs for a few years, and decided it was time to try one out in Chicago," she says.
But first they needed credibility. "We wanted the name of a club on the flyer," Frazer says. "It's really hard to get people to come here." So they formed the Second to Last Scooter Club and enlisted all of their scooter friends. One early event, a camping run held at a flooded campground in Yorkville, was a "disaster," Frazer says. Two years ago they moved the location to the city, where they've had more success.
This year's weekend-long event, Scootzilla, will include a midnight ride, a scavenger hunt, contests, a barbecue, "drunken soccer," a ska show at Metro, and a dance. So far 200 people have signed up, and Frazer says she looks forward to seeing her out-of-town buddies. "We pick up right where we left off. Some of the people at scooter runs have been the most constant people in my life in the past five years."
She admits the lifestyle does not allow for having a lot of nonscooterist friends. And beware the outsider who doesn't understand the culture's subtle distinctions. "When I try to explain it to someone who knows nothing about it, it ends up sounding wrong," Frazer says. "They either think it's like Sturgis [an annual motorcycle rally in South Dakota], or they think that you're kind of weird. They just don't get it. Every once in a while we get people who have Hondas who call us up and want to know about a run or our club, and we don't discourage them. But people who have Hondas are probably not going to have a very good time with this crowd."
Scooter boys and girls may register for Scootzilla on Friday night from 5 to 2 at the Ace Cafe, 2025 W. Roscoe. It's $15 for the entire weekend. Jinx, Deals Gone Bad, and the Adjusters play at 7 on Saturday at Metro, 3733 N. Clark (that event is $8 for nonscooterists). At 10 DJs Brian Poust and Chuck Wren will spin at the Note, 1565 N. Milwaukee; there's no cover. Call 773-836-8019 for more information. --Cara Jepsen
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Andrew Balazs, Kristen Frazer photo by Nathan Mandell.