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July 21st, 2004 Zach Dundas | News Stories
 

Meteor Man

Scooter-powered salvation to Portland's tipsy drivers.

     
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Meteor Man
IMAGE: WYDNE DYER
Portland drunkards, rejoice! And meet your new main man, Joshua Bernard.

Two weeks ago, the 30-year-old Lewis & Clark College grad launched Meteor, a business he hopes will provide a new safety valve for Portland nightlife, via stand-up, gas-powered scooters known as motorboards.

Say you have, arguably, over-indulged in adult beverages. Now--at least on Thursday, Friday or Saturday nights--a call to Meteor's HQ will order up a designated driver. The driver arrives at your location aboard a motorboard, which folds up to fit in the trunk of your car, and slides behind the wheel. Provided you're insured, $10 plus $2.50 a mile gets you--and, crucially, your car--home. Or wherever.

"If it's 8 o'clock and you just want to go to the next party, that's fine, too," Bernard says.

Bernard moved to the city in the late '90s, sight unseen. After Lewis & Clark, he tended bar and dreamed of opening a nightclub, or something.

Bernard hit upon his Meteor scheme earlier this year, inspired by a similar service in London. He hopes to expand beyond the bar biz someday--he envisions motorboard couriers ferrying medical supplies and late-night grub, or helping elderly drivers across town.

Now, the credit card-financed Meteor is definitely in start-up mode. A malefactor heisted one of its three scooters during its first weekend, when dispatch fielded only a handful of calls. Bernard's "staff" of designated drivers consists of himself and a few friends, who essentially work in exchange for an excuse to ride motorboards all over town.

Don't knock it 'til you try it. Motorboards-- broad decks like fattened skateboards, with two-stroke motors and long handlebars--are hellacious fun. With top speeds of 25 miles per hour (and downhill, all bets are off), they ride like rocket-propelled beehives.

Scooters, which are legally equivalent to bicycles, don't require a special license to ride. They're legal on any street with a posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour or lower; on sidewalks, riders must shut off the engines. Bernard preaches safety to his drivers and requires them to wear a blue baseball-style helmet.

Though response has been muted so far, Bernard says bar and club workers seem excited about the idea. "I think it's pretty sweet," says Kip Johnson, manager at Southeast Portland's Bar of the Gods. "It's a good local thing--not like people from out of town invading."

On a late-afternoon loop around the Sunnyside neighborhood, Bernard showed off the skills honed over hundreds of riding hours: knees bent, shoulders loose, confident turn-lean. (This reporter, about as relaxed as a Buckingham Palace guard, struggled to keep pace.) He hopes the gimmick factor of Meteor's transport mode will fade with time.

"I really want this to become part of the fabric of the city," he says. "Portland has such a great future ahead of it, and right now feels like a really formative time. We want to get established now."


Meteor operates between 8 pm and 3 am Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Drivers will pick up clients in a zone that extends east to 82nd Avenue and south to Powell Boulevard, downtown to the "PSU vicinity," and to roughly Northwest 28th Avenue. For more information call 238-ROCK or email info@gometeor.com.

SAMPLE FARES: Shanghai Tunnel (211 SW Ankeny St.), to Southeast 40th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard = $18. Horse Brass (4534 SE Belmont St.) to Aalto Lounge (3356 SE Belmont St.) = $12.50. Binks (2715 NE Alberta St.) to North Lombard Street and Denver Avenue = $19.

 
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