Last week I had the pleasure of being invited to The Egyptian movie theater in Hollywood. I was there to see the screening of “The Gaskettes” a 15-minute documentary about a group of girls who ride mopeds in Los Angeles. The moped culture in Los Angeles has definitely become a notable addition to the hipster scene in Echo Park. As a Los Angeles native, and a documentary connoisseur of sorts, I was very much intrigued.
The documentary itself does not attempt to really explain or historicize moped culture; rather it serves as a sort of time capsule. It preserves a moment in time with a particular group of moped loving ladies. The Gaskettes themselves are women in their early to late twenties who ride and fix bikes. They wear gold jackets with their Gaskettes emblem, reminiscent of the pink ladies in Grease. In the film we see the girls wear red lipstick, or even tutus (almost certainly paired with combat boots) all the while zooming on vintage bikes. The girls maintain a sort of ‘adorable badass vibe’ – and it is awesome! For 15 minutes you are initiated into the cult (or rather, secret club) of moped-sisterhood.
Before watching the documentary, I admittedly knew very little about mopeds, and I’m not sure if I’m that much wiser now that I’ve come out the other side. However, that is almost beside the point as the real charm to the film is the relationships these young women have with their bikes and also, each other.
The media loves to paint the portrait of the modern young women as vain, bitch and always ready for a cat fight; So it is refreshing to watch real girls just flat out enjoying each others company and having a shared interest that is pretty freakin’ cool. Each young woman interviewed comes off as very real and likable while they also maintain the cool, hipster LA vibe… in a non-pretentious way.
I also had an opportunity to interview two of the Gaskettes – Hilary and Devo. Check it out….
Interview with Hilary and Devo:
Sophia/Q: You’ve been riding and fixing mopeds for awhile now. In the film, you mentioned how sometimes you even help your guy-friends work on their bikes. When talking about it, Hilary said it was like ‘the reverse damsel in distress’. So with that in mind, do you feel that riding mopeds has been an empowering experience?
Hilary: I remember for the spring fling ride there was a fairly new rider who came out and his bike wasn’t running the best, so I pulled over to see if I could help him out; I always try to carry whatever tools I think I’ll need on me. Turns out his jetting was off I was able to diagnose the problem, give him the specific jet size he needed for his carb and set up, and help him install it with a few simple tools and kind words. In the end it was nice to realize that in the moped world I was on even ground with my male counterparts; we were with two of his male friends who were unable to help him.
As far as the gender-gap between guys and gals when it comes to mechanical stuff, there really isn’t any physical reason why one is more traditionally drawn to it than the other, just that a lot of young men because it is socially expected learn basic things about tools and mechanics that younger girl aren’t expected to, and so usually don’t. It is empowering; it’s just one of those many little things that makes you realize, yeah all the stuff we’ve been socially taught to think should be this or that way don’t need to be. He wasn’t offended or emasculated that I helped him, we were just two people with a similar interest in mopeds, and I happened to be a girl, which is awesome I think.
Devo: It’s funny I just stopped to help out these guys on a scooter the other day! They had one of those battery powered bikes, but the battery wasn’t making a connection, and didn’t have the tools to get to it. voila! I never leave home without tools. I’m not sure if empowering is quite the term I’d use? But every once in awhile, I’ll see another woman on a bike & in passing and we give each other that nod or one of those ‘air fives’ it kinda gives me a sense of community. I’m also usually going ‘Hell yeah lady rider!’
Sophia/Q: Where were you in your life, pre-moped, and how have you changed since?
Hilary: In a lot of ways my life is very similar to before I got my first moped in early march 2009, I live the same place, have the same job (although with a pay raise or two thankfully) and am still in school, although my major has changed… but what is important is that I have found a great new group of friends and a new way to have fun and explore my surroundings through mopeds. Before I got my moped, although I had lived in LA my whole life I barely knew my way out of my neighborhood. Now by moped I could lead you on all my favorite routes around the city to Glendale, eagle rock, Pasadena, Silverlake and Echo Park, downtown, Westchester and everywhere in between – all without a map.
And my world has expanded much farther beyond LA area as well. The moped community is very tight, likely because many of the bikes are vintage and to learn to repair or find a replacement for a part, you are going to need to turn to somebody who is also into the same thing; moped people are generally like minded.
So there are many events around the country where the local gang or crew plans a weekend of routes and parties; a “Rally”. It may sound weird but many of my favorite experiences in the past few years have been in Portland, Reno, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, Long Beach, Tucson, hanging out and riding with brand new friends right along side my old ones. Since many people attend multiple rallies in different cities each year you tend to form really close friendships with people cities or even states away. In the end this has made me far more extroverted, and confident in all kinds of aspects of my life from talking to a stranger about mechanical things, to navigating my very large city on side streets, to being social and outgoing in new situations or with new people. Which I think is what your 20s are for.
Devo: Pre moped I just got out of high school & was studying acting. Before, I just knew about mopeds through Hilary, and her brother Danny. I had no idea it was such a big community! Now, I’ve been riding for a couple years and have had the chance to go out to rallies and meet other mopeders from across the country. I guess the best sum of it is I’ve gained a lot of ridiculous moped lingo (‘Throw a kit on that shit!’), plenty of life experience points, engine grease under my nails, and a group of amazing people whom I couldn’t imagine life without now. I still am going out on auditions and castings, now I’m just doing it on a moped!
Sophia/Q: Has the group dynamics changed at all since the making of the documentary? It was refreshing to watch a film (albeit, a documentary) about a group of girls interacting together with little to no drama – was that a realistic depiction of how you guys are together? And/or do you agree that groups of girls, in fiction and real life, are often depicted as catty and drama-ridden? Does having a unifying love like mopeds bring together more focused individuals?
Devo: I feel so lucky to have been absorbed into this group of phenomenally badass ladies. Each one of them is talented, unique, and fierce in their own way. Sometimes it’s hard getting us all together in one room (we all have insane schedules!), but when we do get together it never feels like much time has passed at all between us. These girls have really become my family. In the past year or so since I became a Gaskette, we’ve all laughed together, shared sadness together, (not to mention a few shots of whiskey) and made awesome memories. I have always had more guy friends than girls, but I know that if I ever need to borrow a wrench or pour my woes out these girls got my back!
Hilary: The group has changed, we now have Zoey, who I think is in some of the footage but wasn’t a Gaskette at the time, but we also have lost a lot of girls. Kelly moved to Portland, and both Saras are in the Bay Area now. It’s weird to watch a film that was started so long ago, because its like a time capsule of a period in time that is different now.
The film also shows a slightly more glammed up, shiny, girly version of us… but I guess that comes from a bit of vanity and knowing you are going to be filmed.
I like that you mention how we are all getting along, because that is true, I love all those girls, and have depended on them for all kinds of things from a bit of girl chat over a glass of wine to serious cry fests over a breakup. Some of us are closer than others, and we don’t spend as much time together as I would like but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fight or heard bickering or negative words from one of us to or about any others; it’s really refreshing because there is no competition or need to prove ourselves to each other.
My moped friends fast became my family. They are who I spend my birthday with, go camping with, who I have thanksgiving dinner with, who I take silly Christmas card photos with, and who I do all the small things in between those big moments with. We ring in the joys of New Year’s together and sit by the fire and contemplate the losses our family has had together. It’s a sense of family I don’t think I’ve ever had before.
If you are in the San Francisco area be sure to check out the next screening on November 16th / click ‘here’ for details.