Fog on the Mississippi

Weather: 46°F (8°C) With low-lying fog under clear skies.
Road Conditions: Beautiful. See for yourself…

At six a.m., the view from East River Parkway was breathtaking. If you click on the image, you can just see the City of Minneapolis, out there on the horizon.

The Ride to Work yesterday was the best I’ve had in a long, long time.

You know how it feels when the stars align just right, and Fate smiles down on you for a few precious moments in your hectic life? You have to be alert to these things, because they happen so rarely and it would be a shame to miss them.

I had thought about riding Frogwing yesterday, to give my readers some variety and keep the oil circulated `round his violent parts. But had I done so, I probably would have opted for the fast ride in, along the I-94 Tunnel of Hate. This is usually the default decision for me on a Friday, because I want to get to work quickly and get it over with. Especially heading into a holiday weekend.

However, when I was standing outside the garage door, watching it rise slowly in it’s tracks, a strange thing happened…

Rose’s left rear fender became visible first, and the predawn glow of the southeastern sky reflected off of her shapely flank. As the door creaked higher, I glanced over at the sleeping Frogwing. Nothing reflected off of him. The pull of the scooter was just irresistable, and my plans were completely changed in that instant.

The morning light along the parkway reflects favourably upon Rose.

Frogwing and I would ride this weekend, I reasoned, and the Vespa is always best on the parkways along the river. Quieter, no mucking about with clutch and shift lever, Rose rides like a magic carpet sometimes. She truly is a wonder…

How quiet is this Vespa? -you ask.

Well, by the time we reach about 25 miles per hour, the soft rush of the wind past my helmet has already overcome the engine’s sound. When you are riding through a world as beautiful as my Twin Cities were that morning, silence is utterly essential, if you want to truly feel the magic. Blasting through on a loud machine would wreck the whole experience.

Consider the local animals, for instance. Riding Rose, I get to see all sorts of surprised critters that would have fled well in advance of Frogwing’s approach. Not that Frogwing is loud by modern motorbike standards, but with his well-worn stock exhaust, he is more than twice as loud as a new Vespa.

On East River Parkway, Rose and I startled a racoon, rooting through someone’s garbage. He jumped two feet in the air at our approach, and shambled across the yard towards the trees, muttering to himself all the way. Caught in the Act! -as it were.

But of course, racoons have no shame…

View from the Ford Bridge: It’s all water over the dam…

Now that I don’t stop for coffee in the mornings (one of those luxuries I gave up in order to make my Vespa payments), Rose and I cross the river at the Ford Bridge, rather than Lake Street. This takes us through Minnehaha Park, which is one of the nicest sections of our Mississippi River parkways.

The road passes through a cathedral of trees, the sunbeams filtering through and speckling the pavement with their brilliance. A few cars appear, here and there, but nothing that could be called “traffic” yet.

We caught up to a fellow scooterist, riding something called a “Yup 50″. After a quarter-mile of breathing his two-stroke exhaust, I twisted Rose’s throttle, gave a quick wave as we passed, and he was gone from our mirrors after the next corner.

Then we were alone for awhile after that. Just floating along, under the trees, in that early morning light. Banking through the curves and rolling on the power, we enjoyed several miles of solitude, just us and the road. This was one of those short loops of memory-film that you clip off of your daily reel and save in a special mind-vault for posterity.

“Ride towards the light!” -said the voice in my head.

But of course, it couldn’t last. As we neared the monoliths of downtown Minneapolis, the box-people filtered groggily onto the parkways. Latte in one hand, cellphone in the other, this thing they do with their fat SUVs can hardly be called “driving”. At least, on the parkways, they are doing it slowly. They present easy obstacles for Rose and I to negotiate. The box-people don’t become dangerous until the caffiene kicks in…

So now we are on a slalom course, swooping past somnolent motorists. Although the speed limit hasn’t changed, our velocity has increased, in order to present a more elusive target. We encounter our first stoplight at the end of West River Parkway, and now it’s time for Survival Mode through the heart of the city.

Traffic is thick but still fast on Highway 55, as we head west on the last leg of our commute. We no longer bother with Wirth Parkway in the mornings, because traffic there has increased, and the highway gets us to work ten minutes faster. It’s one of those “Lesser of two evils” kind of things.

Rose pauses, at the edge of downtown, before plunging on into the chaos.

Out on the highway, I’m delighted by Rose’s acceleration and cruising speed. At the stoplights, we out-accelerate everyone, and make a healthy gap between us.

Approaching a suit in a Lincoln pickup-truck from the rear, we zoomed past him with startling results. The next thing I knew, he came roaring up to us, edging over into our lane, with a manic look on his face – eyes bugged out, white knuckles on the wheel. Then he floored that sucker and blasted off over the horizon, at what had to be ninety-plus.

Maybe being passed by a Vespa negates the effects of his Viagra?

How many of you have seen the “Man Law” beer commercials?

“Man Law # XXX: If you are driving your full-size pickup or SUV, and you are passed by a Vespa, you MUST pass them back immediately. Failure to do so will result in shrinkage!”

That could explain his reaction. He looked scared… like a dinosaur contemplating extinction.

That graffiti starts with a “V”… Could it be a Vespa gang?

Arriving at work, we toured the entire parking lot before finally stopping in our assigned space. Shutting off Rose’s engine, I lingered a moment in the saddle. Lifting the visor on my Arai Renegade, I breathed deep of the aromas emanating from my new scooter: Hot metal and rubber with a hint of gasoline.

Does anybody make a candle or incense with the scent of Modern Vespa?

17 Responses to “Fog on the Mississippi”

  1. Steve Williams Says:

    Sounds like a wonderful ride to work. I bet if you asked ten drivers what there ride to work was like they wouldn’t be able to recall anything (except for the bastard that passed them on a Vespa). Riding definitely squeezes a lot more out of the little things in life.

    I understand the economic impact of daily expenditures like coffee, tea, bagels, candy, ice cream. It will quickly pay for a scooter.

    The quiet Vespa. Isn’t that the truth. I can slip in the driveway and my dog doesn’t even stir. She’s 14 though and her hearing isn’t what it used to be. But often I arrive and Kim doesn’t even hear me. If loud pipes save lives. Quiet pipes allow you to enjoy life.

    Great post and pictures. You and Rose are really coming together.

  2. Bob Kunkel Says:

    A belated congratulations on your new relationship with Rose. I want a Vespa GTS! Your pictures are always great (especially the food!), but a couple of today’s shots have a haunting, ethereal quality I’ll call Steve Williams-esque. That’s a compliment to you and Mr. Williams…very nice! Funny, and sad, about the creep in the Lincoln p/u. I’ll bet he suffered, uh, diminished stature even though he DID pass you aggressively.

    Safe weekend to all!

  3. Dick Aal Says:

    I visited my local Vespa store and did not find a GTS to view. I had just bought a helmet there a couple of weeks before. I was disapointed. I would loved to have seen a red one like you have.
    It sure is nice to feel the rush of having spent my money wisely on something that fits so well and exceeds all my expectations. It is rare to accompish that in life. Enjoy the machine and pat yourself on the back every time you twist the throttle.

  4. Bill Sommers Says:

    Ever since Rose came home to Ton Up Manor, your writing seems to have a different glow. It has more of a satisfied, smooth flow to it. I enjoy the feeling of happiness that you share in your adventures with Rose.

    Funny how a machine can bring such pure joy to a man, and actually increase his quality of life. Scooters ARE good for your soul.

    Have fun,

  5. Jos Harrison Says:

    Chuckles, “Boy, aren’t we active here? Seems a lot more updates, and as noted by Bill you do seem quite a bit happier, and I think Rose can be blamed for that. As to the Yup 50 you passed, that’s a Kymco model, although I don’t recall it ever being imported here. Ifn you’re not familiar with Kymco, they’re a former Honda contractor from Taiwan now producing their own product with nearly Honda level of quality, though the out the door price is often much better.”

  6. Scott Says:


    Yep that scooter is awesome. The wife is licensed for two wheels and doesn’t like riding pillion due to some defective wrist problems I have, so I have been trying to get her on her own bike for a while. The wife doesn’t want a sport bike, cruiser, or a dualsport, but I showed her your Ride To Work report and now she wants the blue one with the tan leather seat!

    Maybe she’ll let me ride on the back? :(

  7. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Steve: Thanks. The Vespa provides all the inspiration I can handle. Lately I’ve been riding and writing so much that Amy left me at home with Emily this weekend. We still haven’t come up with any kind of viable footpeg/stirrup arrangement which will let her ride with me on Rose, and she is just plain scared of Frogwing.

    So, three days off, and no Rambling… I’m freakin’ dyin’ ovah heah!

    BobK: I’m sure Steve appreciates that, and I know I do. Thanks. That Lincoln pickup thing… what do they call it? Navigator? Nah, that’s the monster SUV. Compensator! Yeah, that’s it. Lincoln Compensator. Heh heh…

    Dick: They replaced Vintage Red this year with Midnight Blue. That’s the same color as Harv’s LX150 pictured a couple of entries back. I’m not surprised you couldn’t find a GTS on the showroom floor, though. They are selling as fast as dealers can get them in. That’s why our dealer wouldn’t let this one go as a demo/long-term test bike.

    But if you do get a chance to ride one, you should make sure that you are mentally and financially prepared to buy it. They really are that good.

    Brother Bill: Amen to that! (Hey, it IS Sunday, after all…)

    At first, I was worried that I might slip into that ridiculous, rapturous tone that appeared in my first “Diary of a Cafe Racer” columns, lo those many years ago, when I was writing about my Ducati. But then I decided to trust in the writing experience I’ve gained since then, and just go with it.

    I’m glad I did. And you’re right, I AM a happy man. “As the warrior recedes, the poet emerges.” -Does anyone remember who wrote that?

    Don’t worry, I wouldn’t subject ANYONE to poetry. That’s just… Wrong.

    Jos: I’m familiar with Kymco. They build a high-quality scoot, and dealer support rates well. But, like so many Asian products, they have all the personality of a refrigerator.

    You know, it’s not just Asian products, now that I think about it. I don’t believe I could be moved to spend my own money on a modern Piaggio, either. It’s that pointy-nosed, angular styling that puts me off. The Kymco People has an interesting look, but again, it doesn’t move me.

    The metal body and the classical styling are what drew me to the Vespa. The performance and comfort will keep me there.

    Scott: “defective wrist problems”? Yeah, I know what you mean. It took a radical course of treatment to cure mine. Something that involved living in a small box and wearing orange pajamas… All cured!

    Your wife deserves a Vespa. Do the Right Thing… ;^)

    Ride well,

  8. Dan Jones Says:

    Sheesh, Gary… most guys know enough not to post their love letters on the Internet where the Wife could find them. Oh well, maybe she’ll just think it’s a mid-life fling and let you off easy.

    The picture titled “Rose pauses, at the edge of downtown, before plunging on into the chaos” really spoke to me of the incredible melding of sculpture and technology that constitutes a Vespa. Every time I see one of the “modern” Vespas, I’m amazed at how well they carried the classic lines forward into a new interpretation that still echos the romance of the old.

    Have a great weekend!

    Scootin Dan

  9. Buster Brown Says:

    Gary, I can tell you are happy, but you couldn’t be any happier than Walt is with his 2-stroke. And since he really bought the Vespa for his wife, he got to get himself a new Ducati. That’s a lot better than the KTM that cost him a fur coat, or the GS that cost him a new Subaru.

  10. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Dan: The wife and I have an “arrangement” about such things. She knew what she was getting into when she married me, but the silly woman actually thinks I’m worth it.

    Buster: Walt had better watch out she doesn’t test-ride a newer, automatic Vespa, or he’ll be shelling out and trading up. I wish I had that kind of money to “play” with…

    FWIW, I’m back on Frogwing today. I took Vespa Rose out for a 200+ mile jaunt yesterday, after being rideless all weekend, and it just felt Right to get back in the tall saddle of my KLR this morning.

    Ride well,

  11. seagullplayer Says:

    I visited our local BMW/Vespa dealer last Thursday, first time. I really wanted to have a close up look at your new ride. But all he had in stock was two of those 150’s they look nice. But I couldn’t get past the plastic.

    They also don’t have the LCD screen, they are still analog.

  12. Gary Charpentier Says:

    SGP: I suspect the two-fitties are going out the door as fast as they can get them in. Why?

    1) Because of the inevitable continuing rise of gas prices (read: oil company greed for profits) compared to wages in this country. And…

    2) Because the 250cc machines can actually travel at freeway speed limits.

    FWIW, the load-bearing structure of the modern Vespa is all metal, and that includes much of the bodywork. It is only the stuff that is hanging off the load-bearing structure that is plastic, and that is as it should be in a modern machine design. More weight and strength where it counts, and less weight where it doesn’t.

    Who knew you could get free Engineering lessons on the internet?

    Ride well,

  13. Bill Finlayson Says:

    Excellant website, pictures and writing. I tried a Vespa 250 GTS two weeks ago, at 63 I found it hard to give up my big bike, a Aprila Pegaso 650 with top box and panniers very top heavy which is used mostly going to town for wife”shoping and at 5feet 6inchs this bike was becoming hard work. However when you young guys are enjoying your scooters so much and Gary”s love story which I found last night has made up my mind and I have had a trade in deal for a new red vespa 250 GTS to be delivered in 2 weeks time. I”ll keep in touch .

  14. Tom Staggs Says:

    Well now that you have a Vespa you hve at least one picture of it in every days blog. That is like the fellow over at “Scooter in the Sticks”
    Isn’t Frogwing getting a little jealous?

  15. Gary Charpentier Says:

    Bill: Welcome aboard! Can’t wait to read what you think of your new ride.

    Tom: Frogwing is still being ridden, but only in the conditions he is best suited for. It rained a bit here the last couple days, and I have been riding Frogwing to work. Unfortunately, family obligations and other distractions have prevented me from doing any new Ramble Plans with him.

    I’m on Rose today, Frogwing tomorrow, and the weekend is booked, once again, with family stuff. Busy, busy, busy…

    Ride well,

  16. irondad Says:

    Waxing poetic? “Love letters on the blog?” You’re getting soft, the Ironman tauntingly and affectionately says to his dear brother! Know where I will on Monday?

    On a race track doing high speed training for motor cops. I’m teaching them to run down and ticket fast moving Lincoln Compensator drivers with virility issues. I’m here for ya’!

    Seriously, your photos are getting scarily excellent. Maybe it’s those “Rose colored glasses”. P.S. I don’t think anyone in history is taking credit for your warrior / poet quote.

  17. Harvey Binder Says:

    Remember when we talked about Vespas before you got one? Oh yes, Gary, I heard you thinking out loud about Harv maybe going off the deep end over a scooter haha. Like your generous wife, mine also knows who she married. (how many brides suggest a honeymoon on a bike to south Dakota during the week of Sturgis?) They love us in spite of us.

    Then was that and now is this.