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Off to the deepest, darkest Eastside

January 24, 2007

I-90 sign

I was at Cafe Racer on Tuesday night, talking with Allstate Bill the Historian prior to the Vespa Club officers’ meeting, when my cell phone rang. It was my buddy Safety Ed. “Orin, guess what I did,” he said.

Before I could offer a guess, Safety Ed said, “I got a new bike,” and went on about a conversation with our friend Chuck and road trips coming up this summer. “Did you get a PX 150?” I asked. This caused Allstate Bill’s eyes to widen and his jaw to drop. “Nope, I got a GT,” said Safety Ed.

All of us in the Vespa Club spend a great deal of time perusing Craigslist, especially the For Sale/Motorcycles section. Craigslist is just about the best place to find deals on scooters vintage and modern, and Safety Ed had run across a 2005 Vespa GT with “less than 400 miles” on it.

This sort of thing happens a lot more than you might think. Lots of people buy scooters (or motorcycles, or Jeep Wranglers, or any number of other oddball vehicles) on a whim, then wake up weeks, months or even years later asking themselves, “what the hell was I thinking?” The vehicles often have exceptionally low miles on them, and in the case of scooters, have often been ridden only a handful of times.

Now, if you’ve never owned a scooter, I would urge you go ahead and buy a new one–you get a warranty, and more importantly, you get a support system. If you have questions about riding, maintenance, or how the thing works, there’s a dealer with knowledgeable staff who are eager to help. Unless, of course, you bought a cheap ‘n nasty Chinese scooter from a place that sells cell phones and does money transfers to Mexico…

However, if you’re knowledgeable about scooters, you can save yourself a bunch of money by trolling Craigslist (and to a lesser extent, Cycle Trader or Little Nickel) for others’ lapses in judgment. In Safety Ed’s case, this particular GT hadn’t covered enough miles to have its first service!

Safety Ed went on to say the bike was at the seller’s place in Sammammish, and wondered if he could impose on me to give him a ride over there to pick it up.

I had nothing planned, so I said sure, why not. Oh, and where are we having dinner?

I picked Safety Ed up at his place mid-afternoon, and we’re soon headed east on I-90. Sammammish is one of many suburban cities in the state of Washington that didn’t exist 10 years ago. It used to be an unincorporated area next to Issaquah.

Once upon a time, Issaquah was a small town in the Cascade foothills, and what is now Sammammish was literally out in the sticks. Today, Issaquah and Sammammish are part of the paved-over, big-boxed, strip-malled, beige-McMansioned sprawl that is the Eastside. The seller of Ed’s PX lives on the outer edge of the sprawl.

I don’t get out this way very often, so the ways in which this particular part of King County have changed are always remarkable. In fact, I can’t recall ever being to Sammammish, even before it was incorporated. It’s a good thing Safety Ed knows where he’s going, because I would be utterly lost out here.

Even Safety Ed is surprised by how long we have driven to get to the seller’s place. We arrive, and knock on the door. Nobody’s home. He said he told the guy we’d be there between 4 and 4:30, but it’s only quarter to 4. I offer my cell phone (Safety Ed’s never had one), and we reach the seller, whose name is Chad. He’s on his way.

Chad shows up on the bike. It’s a nice one, in the pale metallic green that was also the sole color choice on the PX 150 Serie America. Not a scratch on it, and just 332 miles on the clock.

In case you were wondering, yes, Ed would be riding the bike back to his place with me following, and yes, we’d be taking I-90. The GT (aka Granturismo) has a 200-cc engine that makes 21 horsepower, enough to propel the 308-lb. bike to a top speed in excess of 80 mph. So riding on the freeway should be a piece o’cake.

We’re off, down the hill to the main drag, then right toward I-90. At the first red light, Safety Ed is rocking out and giving me two thumbs up… he’s obviously quite pleased with his purchase! We cross back into Issaquah, and a woman in a beater Toyota Tercel wagon pulls between me and him, leaving what looks like about six inches between her front bumper and his taillight. I pull into the number 2 lane and pass her, and Safety Ed pulls in front of me. We then work our way back to lane number 1, to take the freeway entrance ramp.

While I have ridden on freeways before, it’s not something I choose to do for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the aero backwash from large vehicles, which at freeway speed can bat you around as a cat plays with a half-dead mouse. Safety Ed seems to be proceeding comfortably; we maintain a steady 60 mph almost all the way to Mercer Island, where traffic clogs going through the tunnel.

Onto the I-90 bridge deck, and traffic picks up speed. Some guy in a beater Chevy Monte Carlo nosed between us before the tunnel, but he changed lanes and sped off. Traffic clogs up again where I-90 meets I-5, this time separating us between several other cars. No big, I can still see him, and the plan is for Safety Ed to drop the bike off at his place before we go to dinner, so I am not particularly worried about us losing track of each other.

I-90 westbound empties onto 4th Avenue S, from which we will take Royal Brougham Way (this street runs between Safeco Field and Qwest Field) to 1st Avenue S and the Alaskan Way Viaduct. I used to go home this way when I worked in SoDo, and it will be interesting to observe the GT’s behavior in the Battery Street Tunnel.

Yes, that’s the one with the grooved pavement, the one I haven’t quite worked up the courage to ride the PX in.

As we enter the tunnel, the GT twitches a bit. Ed moves from the center third of his lane to one, then the other, of the outer thirds, which are more worn (i.e., shallower grooves).

As we emerge from the tunnel, a blue Suburban moves between us, into our lane. This person leaves about 2 inches between his rear bumper and my front, and once having made the move, continues in the lane. What, you couldn’t have waited, or even *gasp* slowed down and pulled over behind me? Something about people in Suburbans, which not long ago were the favorite vehicle of paranoid exurb-dwellers, doing stuff like this just makes me want to find a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and go all Jack Bauer on their ass.

I nail the Escape’s throttle and go around, and in the meantime Safety Ed has opened up enough space for me to pull in behind him. And I leave plenty of space between me and the Suburban!

We’re off Aurora at 45th, and a few minutes later at Safety Ed’s place. How was the freeway ride, I ask. Not bad, he said, noting that the heavier bike seemed hardly fazed by the wakes of other vehicles at 60 mph. The grooves in the tunnel were no big deal, either.

Cool. We’re off to dinner. Mexican. Favicon


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