Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fishing for Vespas: A Lunker Bass Story

So it’s been a long time since I actually put pen to paper here, or pixel to plasma as the case may be, but life has been busy…good but busy. So without further apology, I continue…

I posted the photos of the Vespa without much explanation, but there is a bit of backstory and it’s kinda fun and potentially wordy. What can I say? It's feast or famine with me sometimes.

I think my first or second post ever to this here blogosphere was an admission of lust for a scooter…the Genuine Stella to be exact, an updated knock-off of the vaunted classic Vespa P-Series, made at a former Vespa plant in India. Reasons of practicality put my scooter dream on the way back burner for a time and in the interim Genuine stopped production of the Stella in the midst of a labor dispute that saw the factory shut down.

Random re-ignition
Fast-forward a few dozen months and a random series of events started the boulder named scooter on down the mountain again. And while my nostalgic side really wanted to go the vintage route, I ultimately targeted on a so-called ‘modern Vespa’—a late model, if you will, as my scoot of choice.

Without the time for a restoration project, not to mention my general lack of combustion engine aptitude, the modern bikes really serve my purposes much better, even if they lack a bit of romance. I know me, and I’m happier with the emphasis on riding rather than wrenching…not that the notion of beautiful plumes of blue smoke and visions of I, standing gallantly roadside, the wind ruffling my checkerboard scarf while I deftly clean the points of a fouled spark plug don’t truly hold a certain appeal. It’s just that without whole bunches of modifications I’m not equipped to do, the performance and reliability of the vintage bikes doesn't match the demands of modern traffic...not to mention my hamfistedness. Eventually I want to make riding the thing to work a viable option—the idea being to replace some car miles with bike miles—so modern it is.

Divining the bike
Was it obsessive to engage in marathon ModernVespa.com sessions that repeatedly lasted to the wee hours? Perhaps. But it seems to me that some amount of immersion is often needed as a litmus test to verify whether something is a true desire or just a passing fancy. It was also a great and necessary education…a way of figuring out what matters in a bike philosophically, mechanically and spiritually.

First I eliminated the ET-series bikes—now discontinued, they seem a bit underpowered and are styled a bit too modern for me…kind of a funky cross between a spaceship and a ladybug. Cool in their own way, but not in the classic sense that I favor.

Vespa's more classic-looking LX, GT and GTS-bikes fit my aesthetic sensibilities better, but it was a tough choice between these—I like the size and general scooterness of their smaller LX-series. But the performance of the 200cc plus GT and GTS bikes—given my desire to eventually commute over the big hill to work—made them a more practical, and in some ways safer, choice. And the styling was just as good as the LX, just a bit supersized. As a bonus, the GT/GTS makes my ass look smaller.

So, OK, I’m now good with getting either a GT or GTS…200cc carburetted vs. 250cc fuel-injected with near equal horsepower and top-end, really not all that much of a difference. Same body size and style with a few more chrome bits on the GTS. I could go either way. Out of frugality, I decided to go the used route and regularly scour eBay and Craigslist as well as a few scooter sites for “the deal.”

The waiting game
With not much coming up locally and my conclusion that eBay is dicey at best for this kind of purchase—it costs about $500 to ship a scooter cross country and there is no chance to test ride or inspect—I focus on Craigslist, but open my search a bit and bookmark my CL Vespa search for some slightly more distant in-state locales—Monterey, Sacramento, LA and Orange County—just for shits and giggles.

It was at this point that I remember thinking the whole process was a lot like fishing.

Time to cut the line
The next morning--BAM!--an unbelievable listing pops up somewhat locally:
2005 Vespa GT200 - Santa Rosa - $1950...2,000 miles and minor scratches. Holy shit! The photos look OK but don't show much detail.

I call immediately and talk to the seller:
Yeah it runs great. Really nice scoot. You’ll really like it.
Fuck yeah I will.
Oh, but I don’t have a key for it and it will cost $650 at a dealer to get the thing re-keyed. Oh and it’s a salvaged title.
Thinking--What the fuck does 'salvaged title' actually mean?
Oh and it’s got a couple dents and scratches and I think it might have leaked some batter acid.
Hmmm. Uh...wait...how do you know it "runs great” if you don’t have a key to start it?
Oh well, I got it at an auction and I test rode it before the auction in the parking lot…and when I picked it up they had lost the key, but it was such a great deal, I just accepted it as-is…and that’s why I lowered my price.
Hmmm. So what auction did you get the bike at?
At an auction.
Yeah you told me that WHAT auction?
Oh, the one in...uh...Fremont.

Which one?
The one in Fremont.
Oh yeah, THAT one…maybe I’ll call you back.
Maybe not, Sketchmo.

Landing the marlin
A week later, trolling the ads one evening. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Then there it is—in my head the bobber dives deep:
Orange County Craigslist. 2004 Vespa GT200, 1718 miles, runs great, in very good shape, a few scratches, $2500. Good pictures, the scratches are minimal. No phone number, only email.

Hmmm, sounds a little, well, fishy, but what the hell:
FROM: Don P - 7:00PM
TO: CL Anonymous
Hi - VERY interested in your scooter. Does it have a clean title? What condition is it in? Does it run well? Where in Orange County are you?
FROM: Randy K - 7:20PM
TO: Don P
Wow, quick response. Anyway, clean title, it got knocked over once and has a few scratches on the cowl and trim (see attached pic), it runs excellent and I just replaced the battery with a sealed one.
– Randy K---., Aliso Viejo

GOOGLE SEARCH: Randy K---, Aliso Viejo

RESULTS: Elementary school teacher. Scuba instructor.
FROM: Don P - 7:45PM
TO: Randy K
Randy- I’m really interested. Really, really interested and I have the cash in hand. Only issue is that I live in San Jose. Can we talk on the phone about this? I can probably be there on Wednesday afternoon (it's Monday night).
I'll spare you another phone call transcript...after speaking with Randy for five minutes I had a good vibe and felt the guy was on the up-and-up. His dad bought the bike to carry around on his motor home and use at the RV parks he visited. Dad liked it but admitted it was a little too big to load and unload by himself all the time, so he gave it to Randy's wife who rode it three times and decided she liked air conditioning, her cell phone and the radio better than the wind in her hair. Randy has a Triumph and not much interest in scooters.

As I was first to inquire, he gave me the first shot and was true to his word—no less than 12 people ended up emailing him about it. My only fear was that someone would show up cash-in-hand before I could borrow a pickup and get down there.

But clearly it was meant to be. Fourteen hours of driving later, highly caffeinated and a bit lighter in the wallet, I rolled the Vespa off the ramp and down my driveway. Exhausted and happy, I dubbed him Prosciutto in honor of my favorite Italian cold cut. The name was partially inspired—rhymatically so—by Phil Rizzuto, the diminutive Yankee shortstop who passed during my journey south. Though small in stature Rizzuto was known for good defense, clutch hitting and great speed on the bases. His nickname—"The Scooter."

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Kiwis kill it in new HBO series 'Conchords'

I really like Flight of the Conchords on HBO. Funny as funk. And even if you don’t have HBO you can watch it on YouTube…at least for now (each episode has been uploaded in three parts).

Rhymenocerous vs. Hiphopopotomus is prolly my favorite thus far:

Ode to Ben Jacques-Maynes

My favorite local mountain bike spot is Soquel Demonstration Forest, a gem of a forest about half way between Santa Cruz and the Santa Clara Valley. To get there one travels southeast from the Highway 17 summit along a snakey, crumbling barely two lane road called Highland Way. It’s prone to slides and washouts, has more than its share of potholes and, while paved, drives more like a Jeep road than a freeway.

About half way out, the undulating route tilts slightly downhill towards Demo and it is here that I came upon local bike racing luminary Ben Jacques-Maynes on a training ride a few weeks ago. After catching up to him at this point—in my car mind you—I soon realized that, because of the down slope, it would be dangerous if not impossible to pass him for the next couple miles…which was actually just fine with me.

It’s not that I’m into men’s backsides or anything—I’m hopelessly hetero—but watching Ben was a beautiful thing. The stillness of his upper body and the effortless flow of his bike—into turns, over bumps, around rocks and holes—at close to 30mph—was just remarkable. I think there’s an unconscious efficiency that comes from riding a bike as much as he does…and it shows. I found myself hoping my form looks half as good.

At one point, a speeding pickup truck came barreling around a blind corner in the opposite direction and Ben dodged it with the ease and nonchalance of dodging a pebble.

Amidst all the doping hooha of the last couple Tours de France, it was a reminder that on whatever level, cycling is just a simple, beautiful sport.

Bad taste dooms Hillary

In political news, Hillary Clinton has been categorically eliminated from receiving my vote for the 2008 Democratic Primary based solely on her selection of a Celine Dion song as her campaign theme.

Now I’m willing to look past the little Whitewater thing at the end of her husband’s presidency, the whole grandstanding “I make cookies too” thing way back when, and her apparently well-earned reputation as being a biotch. The latter may, in fact, be an asset, and the other two things are irrelevant and immaterial to me. God knows, they pale in the face of the true crimes and atrocities of the current administration.

I’d go so far as to say that I LIKE the woman (and her husband and daughter on the whole), agree with much of her thinking and find her infinitely more appealing than a bushel of Bushes. But in selecting Celine’s “You and I,” Hillary has committed a high crime of bad taste—one I cannot be associated with—and, no, it has nothing to do with Ms. Dion’s Caniadianess. For the record, I tend to like Canucks.

So unless she makes it to the big dance, I’m sticking with the junior senator from Illinois.