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Hitting the ‘Reset’ button

June 29, 2009
The GTS at Half-Price Books

Orin O'Neill photos

My new favorite look-on-the-sunny-side phrase is, when life hands you lemons, marinate some shrimp. Fresh-squeezed lemon juice, butter, some basil. Mmmm. I love shrimp.

As you may know, the PX went away a while ago, and the Estate turned out to be superfluous as well. And not quite the screamin’ deal I originally thought (but that’s another story, best left for another time). Long story short, the GTS has become my sole means of personal transportation.

The upside: the GTS is paid for, quite cheap to insure, and has lots of room to stretch out in the garage. Seattle is, in spite of City Hall’s best efforts, a rather scooter-friendly place, at least geographically. And there are ongoing projects to replace worn-out, cratered pavement.

It also helps that the climate is mild, and the rain is usually drizzle. Fresh tires with good tread keep your scooter safe and upright, and rain gear from companies like REI can keep you dry and comfortable.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, scooter riders in the past, and in the present in other parts of the globe, just buck up and deal with the annoyances and discomforts because they have no other choice.

Postwar Italians scraped together 40 bucks and bought Vespas, not to make a fashion statement, but to get to work. To venture out of their small town once in a while. To not suffer the discomfort of buses and streetcars with passenger accommodation akin to canned sardines. To get their goods to market (some bought Apes for that).

Same deal in Southeast Asia in the 1960s. Same deal in India today. The family scooter is not precious, it’s transportation.

In other words, Scootin’ Old Skool.

Yes, I started this blog to chronicle my adventures with the PX, since there seemed to be so much misinformation about owning and riding a 2-stroke, manual-transmission, steel-bodied scooter. If you’ve been around from the beginning, you have seen that a Vespa PX is not difficult to ride, maintain, performance-tune or repair. It can be a commuter, a road-tripper and yes, even a lifestyle accessory. For that matter, so can a Vespa GTS 250i.e.

This is not a radical change in direction. My default transportation mode has been two-wheeled since I bought the ET4 back in 2003, because I just don’t like spending any more of my money on gasoline than I absolutely have to. Tell me again, why do we as a nation give so much money to people who don’t like us and mean to do us harm?

In fact, I’ve been doing a lot of musing on the whole scooter thing of late.

Scooter Insanity 22 happened over the weekend. The Vespa Club of Seattle put on a great event, and I had a great time. That I’d just gotten the GTS back from almost eight weeks of scooter purgatory certainly enhanced my enjoyment of the long, scenic rides.

At times there were 60-70 scooters. It was not only a chance to hang out with old friends, but to make new ones. There were many fresh faces in the crowd, and many new scooters. While in the past, there have been hundreds of scooters, this year’s Insanity took place on the same weekend as rallies in Vancouver, B.C. and northern Idaho. I saw one Oregon license plate, and one from Louisiana (no, the owner of that one didn’t ride here, he bought the bike from someone who moved to Seattle from New Orleans).

So lots of folks who would’ve made the trip here did rallies close to home. Insanity, which usually happens 4th of July weekend, took place a week earlier due to the scheduling of Amerivespa 2009. In other words, an unfavorable alignment of the planets resulted in a smaller turnout than would have been the case otherwise.

However, other observations point to trends here and elsewhere.

When I first started going to rallies in 2003, the majority of the scooters were old-skool Vespas and Lambrettas. At this year’s Insanity, the overwhelming majority of Vespas were modern ones. And a good chunk of those were big Vespas, GTs and GTSs.

While this Insanity was a great time, it wasn’t the, what’s the word, happening previous events were. No criticism here, just an observation.

Most of the folks who were very active in the scooter scene when I got involved aren’t around these days. Not so hard to understand, really—people’s lives change. They get married, they get divorced, they become parents, they acquire mortgages. And so on.

New people have new ideas. Some who’ve been around a while don’t see this as a good thing, and move on.

As we were riding around, I was quite surprised at the number of raspberries and raised middle fingers directed at our group by the public at large. Not so long ago, a large group of scooters rolling down the street caused almost universal good feelings. If we were being jerks, I’d totally understand, but we’re Seattleites. We ride in staggered formation, use hand signals, the whole bit. A moving van or double dump truck takes up about the same amount of space, and takes about as long to get through an intersection (about 10 seconds). We don’t mean to cause any delay, and we’re not directing anything at anyone personally. Really.

As for my (former) vehicle fleet, I would ask not be described as “car-free.” I’m a car guy. When I was three years old I could name every car on the road, and I can name just about every car produced in the world today. Hey, what can I say. It’s a gift.

In spite of the beliefs of the priggish, greener-than-thou, the automobile’s effect on the world has been overwhelmingly positive. Had the automobile not come along, we’d be up to our armpits in horse poop (and breathing the dried dust from it, too). Cars (and motorcycles and scooters) have expanded peoples’ worlds. They’ve made rural areas less isolated and travel between cities far easier. Cars have been the most-recycled consumer product since decades before the term had been coined. Nothing supports a second-hand market as extensive as that for motor vehicles, and no industry has come as far, as fast, when it comes to reducing environmental impact. Seattle used to be as smoggy as L.A., but recent bad air days were the first in decades, and were mostly the result of wildfires in British Columbia. Way more people live here now, but you’ll see the downtown skyline almost every day. That wasn’t the case when I was a kid.

I believe everyone is capable of deciding what transportation options work best for them. However, in America, the supposed land of the free, the number of people determined to force their way of living on everyone else is truly astounding. Car-free is a term that seems intended to stigmatize those who don’t share the beliefs of those who for whatever reason have decided not to own a car. Hey, if you can get along without one, more power to ya.

Portland's MAX light rail

Portland's MAX light rail began service in 1986

Seattle’s history is rife with missed opportunities to build genuinely effective rapid mass transit. Atlanta got the Federal funding to build MARTA because people here voted down the relatively small local share bond issue, not once, but twice (bonds that would’ve been paid off in either 1988 or 1990, BTW). Cities like Charlotte, N.C. and Phoenix have gone from light rail concept to revenue service in way less time than it’s taken for Sound Transit to build the Link light rail line that opens next month.

However, light rail in Phoenix and Charlotte (cities Seattle’s so-called progressive types look down their noses and sneer at) actually goes somewhere lots of people need to go. Link goes from downtown Seattle to, uh, Burien. Voters recently voted to raise the regressive sales tax .5% to expand Link to Bellevue, Lynnwood and Federal Way. By the middle of the century. Maybe.

So unless you like spending an hour and a half getting anywhere on Metro Transit’s hideously expensive hybrid buses, you need your own wheels in Seattle. Let’s see how having just two works out. Favicon

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