Scootering in Saigon, 1971
The motor pool for the US embassy was in a middling-sized windowless building, with maybe 20 sedans and a few International-Harvester Scouts, and I was there to get my own wheels. "And what you like, Mr. Salvadori?" the manager, a local hire, asked. Parked by his desk were three Vespa scooters. "One of those," I said. "Oh no, those only for messengers. You cannot have." Knowing full well that Nguyen was probably renting these out to friends, I became the ugly American. "If you don't sign one out to me I shall complain about your incompetence to your boss and probably get you fired. And the new manager will be much more forth-coming." I got my Vespa 150.
This was all over 50 years ago, but my year in Saigon has been mildly memorable, thanks to the scooter.
I'd been doing civilian work up in the Vietnamese highlands for six months before being reassigned to the US team backing up the new Ministry of Land Reform as public affairs officer. And Saigon traffic was absolute chaos, with too many cars, buses, military vehicles, tiny Renault cabs, three-wheeled taxis, motorcyclists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and large animals crowding the narrow streets. As well as the occasional incompetent cop trying to clear a traffic jam or an accident.