Rush Hour Rambling By Gary Charpentier Fri, 02 May 2008 16:19:40 +0000 en hourly 1 Conflicts of Interest Sat, 15 Sep 2007 17:07:33 +0000 Gary Charpentier Weather: Cool and dry… The best of Minnesota in Autumn.
Road Conditions: Dry and congested… The worst of Minnesota Road Construction Season.

Daddy’s home… at last.

I’ve been a Bad Daddy…

That is the consensus between my girls, anyway. Summer is over, after all, and we never even went on vacation together. Not only that, but after a brief and unsuccessful early effort, I gave up on trying to teach Emily Rose to ride her bicycle without training wheels.

Too busy Rambling and writing about it, I guess. Guess hell… I know.

So we have arrived at this unhappy moment, where I must make a Choice:

1) Continue on as I have been, oblivious to the needs of my family and my home, or…

2) Suspend Rush Hour Rambling for awhile, so I can make the necessary repairs to my battered house and domestic relationships.

The house has had a rough year. Hail damaged the roof, and I haven’t even called for an estimate yet. The basement has flooded repeatedly, due to the heavy rains we had in August. Mold is beginning to grow in the wreckage down there, and the smell is intruding upstairs. I have a hell of a mess to clean up, and that is directly analogous to my relationship with the girls.

They aren’t very happy with me right now…

After taking delivery of my new Vespa GTS, I was overcome with creative spirit and the thrill of new adventures. Travel back through this blog to the early part of the season, and you will see what I mean. This Summer was the shortest I can remember, ever. I was lost in my own little world of Rambling and writing, oblivious to the effect it was having on those I love.

And because they love me too, they seldom complained. When they did, it was in a quiet voice, full of hopelessness, because they recognized the signs. Daddy had his blinders on, gazing towards distant horizons, the next ride, the next Ramble, the next adventure.

Even then, I didn’t do all that I had planned this year. Rush Hour Road Tests never happened, for instance. Granted, dealers are a bit stingy with their demo rides these days, but I’m sure I could have bagged a few if I had tried.

I never ventured outside of the Minnesota/Wisconsin area, either. The money wasn’t there, for one thing. Then there was the decision by my boss that I would have to drive a cage on all future audit trips. We can’t have any distractions, you see.

So it has all caught up with me, here on the cusp of Autumn, and I have decided, at long last, to do the Right Thing.

This Winter, I will be riding the bus to work. I have spent the past week learning the routes, before the cold weather sets in. Three busses, two transfers each way. This commute takes an hour and a half in the morning, and two hours in the evening. But I’m not risking my life, and I’m not staying out all night. I get home at a predictable time, and my girls get to have their Daddy back.

I have to do this. There is no other choice. Since I can’t make a living with my writing, I have to concentrate on my Real Job during the day. My nights and weekends will be spent with my family, and fixing my home. There is no room in my life for Rambling, right now.

When the Motorcycle Show comes to the Twin Cities, I will probably attend, and write that up here. I’m sure there will be other occasions where I will have something to share with you. But for the immediate future, Rush Hour Rambling is going into hibernation. It’s all about Priorities.

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Arizona Lucky and the Savoy Pizza Review Sat, 01 Sep 2007 00:59:10 +0000 Gary Charpentier Weather: Sunny and 78°F (25°C)… Can it get any better?
Road Conditions: Congested, as always, since the bridge collapse.

Arizona Lucky meets Frogwing… Joy ensues.

We were supposed to get together last Sunday…

Arizona Lucky, and his Lady Luck, had come up to visit relatives and friends for the Minnesota State Fair and other local attractions. But they got so busy with these things that we finally had to reschedule for Thursday night. That meant fighting late rush-hour traffic, around dinner time, but it all worked out just fine in the end.

Both Minnesota natives, they now live in the great state of Arizona, where you can ride year-round, if you can stand the 100°F + temperatures.

Arizona Lucky writes the blog linked in my sidebar called, strangely enough, “The Great Motorcycle Pizza Tour “. This man is a connoisseur of crusts, a sage of sauces, and a Titan of toppings (Alliteration is such an ugly thing, when it gets out of control…).

I wanted to test his expertise on the best pizza within my stomping grounds, but I didn’t really have a clear favorite. My family and I kind of like a place called Carbone’s, which is close to home, but more often than not, we end up with a Take-n-Bake from Papa Murphy’s ™.

So last night found Amy, Emily, and I at the corner of Seventh Street and Lafayette near downtown Saint Paul. Savoy’s Pizza resides there, and they are the oft-recognized champions of the local pizza scene. Ask anyone, from Hastings to Hinckley, where the best pizza is, and they will likely tell you Savoy’s.

The crowd inside certainly confirmed this, when we arrived shortly after six pm.

Don’t click on this image unless you want to drool on your keyboard.

But I won’t presume to go in-depth on a pizza critique when I know that the maestro himself is going to hold forth on his own site at a later date.

Let me just tell you that everyone at the table was really satisfied, and you can see for yourself that the pizza was packed with quality toppings. If I had to voice any complaint, it would be that there wasn’t enough sauce. Savoy is supposed to have a sublime, spicy sauce on their pizza, but I could barely detect it under the mass of toppings on their house Special pizza.

Next time, I’ll order a side of sauce for dipping.

So, that was all we saw of Arizona Lucky and Lady Luck. They will be flying back south soon, away from our unpredictable weather. Arizona might have cooled down a bit since they’ve been gone.

Let’s hope so, for their sake.

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Energy Crisis Thu, 23 Aug 2007 11:22:49 +0000 Gary Charpentier Weather: Rain and Fog
Road Conditions: Dangerous

“You are one rugged sumbitch!”, said a coworker who prefers to remain anonymous.

This, after I rode into work this morning, in peasoup fog on the freeways. At least he didn’t call me crazy, as most of them do when I ride in the rain.

I have no photo to illustrate this post with… sorry. But I’m not Steve Williams, and our fog here isn’t a charming atmospheric effect. It is a serious hazard, especially when half the traffic out there insists on travelling at their usual breakneck speed, and the other half decides that they should slow down to a crawl.

The most dangerous condition out on the roads is caused by “speed differential” between the lanes of traffic, and motorists who don’t take heed while changing lanes. We get these idiots who barrel into a herd of cage zombies at 30 miles per hour overtake, and then make a game of swerving between them in the fog.

Frogwing has one, one, not-so-bright tail light to warn them of my presence. I depend more on the big reflective strip on the back of my Aerostich Darien for visibility in this crap.

Then there’s my own visibility to worry about. In some places I find myself wiping my visor with my finger-mounted squeegee about every quarter-mile or so. There’s no telling when a dead car or large lump of debris may appear in the road ahead, and I need to see at least to the edge of my headlight beam.

None of this explains the title of this entry, of course.

Some of you may have noticed that the frequency of postings here has slowed down a bit in the past three weeks. This is primarily due to my new, temporary job assignment to my company’s warehouse and distribution facility (gulag) five miles further from home.

The work I do there is high-pressure and relentless, lifting sometimes heavy boxes and taking fine measurements on intricate parts. I spend most of the day on my feet. All of this, of course, under urgent time pressure.

After several years of the cube life, this comes as a shock to the system. So, after work, I am worn out both physically and mentally, and my enthusiasm for Rambling is considerably dampened. If this were not a temporary assignment, I would be shopping my resume around right now.

Add to this condition the fact that the weather has been grey and wet non-stop for the past two weeks, and you can see where the dearth of postings originates.

But, the Windsock and Crystal Ball Guild has decreed dry weather for this weekend. Let’s hope they are right. Arizona Lucky and his Lady Luck are coming up for a visit. It would be nice if the weather cooperated.

So, bear with me through this difficult moment. It won’t last, but I will.

I am, after all, “One rugged sumbitch”…

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“Rattle My Bones” Rally: Mission Abort Sat, 18 Aug 2007 21:32:33 +0000 Gary Charpentier Weather: Rain all day long.
Road Conditions: Crowded and wet.

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Kent Aldrich’s mirror-festooned Stella leads the Blocker Squad.

My first scooter rally, and I missed it.

Well, I didn’t exactly “miss” it, I just chose not to ride. Why? That is a complicated question…

Kent Aldrich and friends have worked very hard, for at least a year, to put this event together. The Twin Cities have a wonderful history of large, vibrant scooter rallies. But the group that used to organize these events, “The Regulars” scooter club, have all but disbanded in recent years.

Another case of “Nothing Cool Ever Lasts”, I guess…

Anyway, Kent and friends have picked up the torch, and put together an incredible 4-day rally which offers every type of event that other rallies around the country have done, and they have hundreds of local scooterists coming out to attend.

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Yarusso’s Italian Restaurant hosted the pre-ride breakfast.

As I have mentioned previously, Kent had stopped me twice in traffic; once on the Baron, and once on my Vespa, to invite me to this rally.

Then, I found another green invitation tag hanging from Rose’s handlebar when I parked her at the Blind Lizard event on Nicollet Island. There was no way I could miss this thing, even though this is the weekend of my 44th birthday, and my family had Plans for me.

So, even though the radar showed a huge green blob of precipitation headed our way, and the Windsock and Crystal Ball Guild were all in agreement about the certainty of a wet weekend, Rose and I rode down the hill into Saint Paul, to Yarusso’s Italian Restaurant, for the start of today’s rally.

The photos you see on this page were all taken there.

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The view down Payne Avenue, in front of Yarusso’s.

Now, I do not own a Fishtail Parka. The closest I can come is my Aerostich Darien suit, and that is what I chose to wear this morning.

This suit keeps me dry in all but the heaviest of rainstorms, even when I have the cooling vents open. I wore my Guidegear boots, with a fresh coating of waterproof spray, and brought along my Aerostich waterproof glove covers as well.

In other words, I was totally prepared for anything the weather threw at us. Gear-wise, that is.

But, when the rain came, I realised that I wouldn’t be able to take the “Scoot-n-Shoot” (Thanks Kevin!) photos that were going to be the mainstay of my rally coverage here. Then, I started to think about the impact that the closure of I-94 would have on sidestreet traffic around the metro area.

Riding in the rain is bad enough, but riding in heavy traffic in the rain is just the pits.

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The Stella “Atomic Fireball” really stands out in a crowd.

The rainy ride would end in a party at Scooterville, complete with bands and food and a gymkhana in the mud… tempting stuff, certainly, but not my cup of tea these days.

What I learned today is that I am essentially a solo rider. I don’t care to lead, and I definitely don’t care to follow anybody else when I ride on my precious weekends. The work week takes so much out of my soul that I have to be very selective about how I recharge my batteries during my time off.

This “Rattle My Bones” rally is definitely a Good Thing. It will show the box people out there that scooters are a new force on the road, growing in direct proportion to the price of fuel. I wish everyone who goes on it a great time, and a safe ride.

But I have decided to stay home with my girls this weekend, and see if I can do something to treat their DDD (Daddy Deficit Disorder) condition. Celebrating my birthday with family is the Right Thing for me to do.

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Rose Goes Rustic Tue, 14 Aug 2007 00:25:53 +0000 Gary Charpentier Weather: Warm and partly cloudy… threatening rain.
Road Conditions: Dry and smooth.

Tractor-size Shredded Wheat?

Old Highway 61 is one of my favorite stretches of road. After a long week at work, there’s nothing better than getting out on that two-lane asphalt, and riding through the countryside on our way to Dad’s little trailer near McGregor, Minnesota.

But this trip was going to be different. This time, I wasn’t astride my big old KLR “Frogwing”. He was sitting this trip out in the garage, while I tested Vespa Rose on the long haul. We had just completed her 3,000-mile service, and I wanted to see how she handled the long, open roads heading north.

Old 61 is posted at 55 mph for most of its length. That drops to 30 through the little towns along the way. Most of this venerable highway is in great shape, even though it is not the thoroughfare it once was. I35 has supplanted it as the main route heading north, and we no longer get federal funds to maintain Highway 61. Counties have taken it over, but they all seem to be doing well by the old road.

That’s important on a scooter, because a bad pothole can cause some real damage, or even put you into the ditch.

Rednecks are not just a Southern phenomenon…

Then we have volunteers who participate in the “Adopt a Highway” program. These nice folks pick up trash alongside the road and keep the shoulders clear of debris. I enjoy the sometimes clever and creative names people come up with for their groups. After I photographed the sign above, we passed another one that said “Biker Buddies of Booger”. I didn’t stop for that one, since I already had this one in the can.

I wondered briefly who this “Booger” was. I’m thinking he is probably deceased, although he has found a strange brand of immortality as long as his friends continue to take care of their stretch of Highway 61.

The weather forecast for the day included a large storm system which was moving across the state in our direction of travel. As we approached North Branch, I could see the dark clouds and streaks of rain on the horizon ahead.

Turning left on Highway 95, we left our old friend 61 for lighter skies to the west, and another nice road: Highway 47. That one goes past Mille Lacs lake, and I have had many a good ride along that stretch of pavement.

This is why we ride North… Rose and Dad `round the campfire.

We stopped to visit my friend Jack, of “Jack’s on Mille Lacs” fame. I even let him take Rose for a little ride.

Jack is a hard-core rock-n-roller, with his long greying locks cut in a classic mullet. He rides without a helmet, and without apologies, eyes bared to the wind at 70 miles per hour.

I was a little nervous… but a man has to learn to trust his friends.

From Highway 47 we picked up 210 and rode the back way into Dad’s place, west of McGregor. He was waiting for us, and had a nice pile of firewood ready so I could build one of my pyrotechnic masterpieces.

He made dinner, while I stacked the logs. Then followed one of our traditional council fire sessions, where we dissected exactly what is wrong with the world, and figured out how to fix it, if only everyone else would listen to us.

Good Morning, Rose!

We stayed up late, but still woke up with the sun. The clean air and silence of the swamp make for good sleeping. Dad had the coffee ready by the time I came in from taking the photo above. Then he made blueberry pancakes, with sausage on the side, but I didn’t eat my usual tall stack.

This is because I was going to eat another breakfast only a few miles down the road.

You see, last time I was up to visit, I stopped by a place near McGregor called “Jack’s Shack”. Not to be confused with that other Jack’s, this place has been a local institution since at least the 1930s. It has had mixed fortunes, over the years, including a decade or so when it was closed and beginning to fall apart.

The place has changed hands a number of times, but now it belongs to a wonderful couple named Brian and Traci Neigum.

Jack’s Shack… now under new management.

Last time I stopped by, they had just opened. Brian was mopping the floor, and both of them were bursting with pride in their new enterprise. I had promised them that I would review the place, next time I came up. When I arrived on Sunday morning, they greeted me like an old friend.

Business has been good, Brian tells me. I’m sure the locals are happy to have Jack’s back up and running, and the tourist trade at that location should be pretty brisk.

The “Rice River Country Platter” is one heck of a breakfast!

As you can see from the photo, Traci is an incredible cook. Her choice of ingredients, combination of flavors and textures, and even the presentation are top-shelf. It pains me to tell you that I couldn’t finish this platter. Believe me, I tried.

How does a guy eat food like that, and stay as skinny as Brian? Just another one of life’s little mysteries, I guess…

“Jack’s Shack” is now in the capable hands of Brian and Traci Neigum.

Back on the road, Rose and I headed all the way home on Highway 61. We stopped here and there to poke around, taking photos and visiting some of the friends I’ve made over the years on this route.

It was a beautiful day, and Rose found a sweet spot at about 60 miles per hour. She turns just over 6,000 rpms at that speed, which may sound like a lot. But that little Italian powerplant just purrs right along, and the ride is Cadillac-smooth.

After my double breakfast, I didn’t eat another thing all day. By the time we arrived home, I was ready for bed. We put on just over 360 miles for the weekend, which isn’t exactly Iron Butt stuff. Racking up big miles for bragging rights has never been my thing, anyway.

Next time I go north to visit Dad, I’m going to have a dilemma on my hands. Rose handled this trip magnificently, and it is going to be hard to choose between her and Frogwing for future road trips. I guess it will all depend on whether I want to get dirty or not.

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Ramble Plan Oscar: Making Lemonade… Thu, 09 Aug 2007 00:35:17 +0000 Gary Charpentier Weather: Hot, humid and hazy.
Road Conditions: Still horrendous, due to the bridge collapse.

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Click on the image to see the best scooter parking spot ever.

“Conchscooter” said a very interesting thing in the Comments section the other day, regarding the 35W bridge collapse, and the effect it has had on our lives here in the Twin Cities, and my own commute in particular…

I have no doubt you will squeeze lemonade from this lemon handed to you by an uncaring Fate, and set us a fine example of how to cope with chaos. I look forward to your words.

Wow, what a burden to lay on a guy!

Not only am I supposed to make something positive come out of this, but I have to set an example too? Why can’t I wallow in self-pity and aggression like most of the other “motorists” out there?

But seriously, I have been working very hard at trying to find a reasonable “utility” route for my everyday commute. Work threw me a curveball by transferring me temporarily to our production facility, to “do some time in the trenches”, as it were. Their timing, as always, was impeccable…

This place is five miles further along the same roads, out on the edge of the suburban sprawl known as Plymouth. My commute is now at least 31 miles, each way. The fact that I have to use city streets to get there, now that the freeways are screwed, makes this much more interesting.

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Showing No Fear… Rose poses beneath the bridges of Saint Paul.

After battling the traffic rather aggressively on Frogwing for the first few days following the disaster, I decided that a different approach was needed.

Vespa Rose was fresh from her 3,000 mile service, and was wearing a new Kenda 413 sport tire on her rear wheel. It was time to get out there and see if we couldn’t scoot around all this trouble and strife.

Instead of confrontation and brute force, we would try a little finesse and false humility to get us through these bridge-collapse traffic hassles. Much easier on the blood pressure, and SO much better for my “driving record”.

Ramble Plan Oscar is a to-from route, much the same as Alpha was. Since I have photographed the ride home here, that is what I will describe.

Keep in mind that these roads are much more deserted in the early morning, and the going much easier. The ride TO work takes just over an hour, while the ride home takes almost three, with the necessary stops along the way.

These are the sacrifices I make, just to keep you all entertained…

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More priviledged parking, in front of Nye’s Polonaise. Traffic is envious…

Esquire Magazine did an exhaustive search last year, to find what they consider to be “The Best Bar in America”. Wouldn’t you know it? They picked a place that was right in the middle of Ramble Plan Oscar!

Nye’s serves food as well, and of course they offer all the usual soft drinks. This is the perfect refuge in which to wait for traffic to die down, if you happen along during gridlock.

The only problem for me was parking Rose out-of-sight around the corner. I couldn’t do it, for worrying that she might be vandalized by some of the characters who prowl this part of town.

So I asked one of the owners if I could park in that convenient little nook, next to the sidewalk at the front of the building. “A Vespa? One of those little scooters? No problem!”

Things would have been different had I been riding Frogwing. There’s just something about the sight of a scooter parked on the sidewalk, snuggled up close to a building, that just looks right

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A moment of silence, outside the Saint Paul Cathedral.

After our Nye’s interlude, Rose and I proceded along Hennepin to 15th Ave SE, where we turned right and headed for Como. This is the main thoroughfare featured on Ramble Plan Bravo, and it looks like a promising alternative to my preferred parkway routes.

Como isn’t as heavily travelled as some of the other main roads through the cities, like University and Lake Street/Marshall Avenue. Of course, it is also only one-lane in each direction for much of its length.

But on a scooter, you can make that one lane into one-and-a-half, when you need to… and the funny thing is, people don’t get very mad at you for doing so.

I respond to the honk of a horn with a wave, and that defuses the situation. “Hey, I’m just a clueless dummy on a cute little scooter. Sorry I got in your way.” (But I’m STILL ahead of you!)

This kind of subterfuge feels much better than the Urban Guerrilla tactics I am compelled to deploy on big, gnarly Frogwing. “Motorists” are too busy admiring Rose’s graceful lines to memorize her license plate number…

Eventually, we made our way into Saint Paul. We rambled up one street, and down another, stopping to take that photo of the Cathedral up above there. As a lapsed Catholic, I can never pass that place without at least stopping for a look. Then The Guilt takes hold, and I have to leave. Funny, how that works.

The River Boat Grill. Best restaurant location in the Twin Cities.

We crossed the Mississippi River on the Wabasha Bridge. Down below is Harriet Island, and a place that I have wanted to go to ever since I first heard of it.

The River Boat Grill is one of those places that you read about in the paper, and make a mental note to visit at the first opportunity.

But then daily life intrudes, and the place is just not on your regular circuit of travel.

Well, the 35W bridge-collapse has upset my regular circuit just enough that I remembered to take the left turn onto Water Street, which led us through a series of curves, under looming bridges, to the parking lot above the Showboat Landing on Harriet Island.

There, I parked Rose in a sea of cages, and wandered down the boardwalk/dock in search of The River Boat Grill.

You enter a gangway on the stern of the boat, and the sign directs you up to the second deck. There, under the roof provided by the third deck, are typical weatherproof tables and chairs set up in rows. The bar is forward, as is the kitchen, restrooms, and the walk along the starboard rail which yields such a gorgeous view of Saint Paul from The River.

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The River Boat Burger with fries: a River Boat specialty.

My waiter, Ron, found me standing at the port rail, gazing anxiously up at the parking lot. I was looking for Rose, hoping I could keep an eye on her from one of the empty tables. When he asked, I told him what was troubling me, and he said “Oh, people park scooters and little bikes down here all the time. Go ahead and bring it on down!”

Music to my ears. (See the photo at the top of the page.)

Once seated, since he had been so accomodating, I asked for his recommendation for dinner. Without hesitation, he said, “River Boat Burger.” The menu listed it as: Bleu cheese and chopped onions blended into a ground beef patty, served with pickles and horseradish cheese on the side.

That was good enough for me.

So… did I fulfill my mission? Did I find a positive side to all the horrific events of the past couple weeks? No. I don’t think there really is one. This was a disaster, pure and simple.

You deal with it. You cope. My initial reaction was aggressive, and in hindsight I think that was wrong. The way I’m dealing with it now, riding Rose, seems much more copacetic.

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The Horrible Death of Ramble Plan Alpha Sat, 04 Aug 2007 00:51:08 +0000 Gary Charpentier Weather: Sunny skies, but gloomy outlook.
Road Conditions: FUBAR (Look it up…)

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This is what They do when they don’t know what else to do.

By now, everyone who reads this blog must know about the horrible tragedy of the I-35W bridge collapse. It has been on the national news almost 24/7 for the past couple of days.

Before I go any further, let me extend my heartfelt sympathy to the families of those who lost loved ones, or are anxiously visiting hospital patients, or are still waiting for news on somebody who is suddenly missing from their lives.

This was a horrible disaster, and it happened right here in my home town. So I have got to temper my frustration at losing my favorite route to and from work with an understanding that others have lost so much more.

Ramble Plan Alpha was my lifeline. It was the calm, slow route along beautiful parkways, down by the Mississippi River, that made commuting on a scooter during the Winter possible. The scenery was gorgeous, and the traffic moved along at speeds between 25 and 35 miles per hour.

It took me exactly one hour, plus or minus a couple of minutes, to complete Ramble Plan Alpha, almost every single time. On evenings when work had taken everything I had to give for that day, I welcomed the tranquility that this green corridor offered on the ride home.

But last Wednesday, something horrible happened. Now West River Road is buried under tons of concrete and steel, and the remains of who knows how many vehicles… and worse.

The City of Minneapolis put out a map of road closures, in response to this disaster. I faithfully downloaded it, and printed it out, to place under the clear cover of Frogwing’s tankbag. In these days of uncertain road conditions, I have elected to rely on the multi-surface capability of my old faithful companion to get me to and from work.

But that map doesn’t take into account the whims of civic so-called “leaders”, and their desire to keep any unauthorized imagery from getting into the public domain. Roads are blocked off far from the published locations, to block any possible sightlines to the collapsed bridge, and the activities going on there. Only those with corporate press-passes are allowed access, because their imagery will be carefully scrutinized before publication.

I’m seeing badges everywhere. Police reserves, and even retirees are being imported from the surrounding suburbs, to man roadblocks and deny access to as many people as possible. I’m sure I could get there on foot, or even on a mountain bike, but there is no way to infiltrate the Authorities’ battle lines on any kind of motor vehicle.

So tonight, Frogwing and I were funnelled into the worst traffic we have ever seen. Hennepin Avenue was an absolute nightmare. We had to resort to guerrilla tactics in order to get anywhere. Let’s put it this way: we only took to the sidewalks when there were no pedestrians present.

To that guy in the big 4×4 diesel pickup truck who tried to run me over… Be glad it was only your mirror I amputated! I’m on a motorbike, asshole! I’m GOING to get ahead of you! GET USED TO IT!!!

(Note to Ride to Work(tm): This might be good bumper-sticker material. Oh, motorbikes don’t have bumpers… never mind.)

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This is a sample of the scenery on our new main route home from work.

So, we are now defaulting to a modified Ramble Plan Bravo. This takes us past The Sportsman’s Pub, home of that wonderful chili that I reviewed last year.

The streets we use to get there are choked with the traffic overflow from I-35W, but so far I haven’t been able to figure out a way around them. It’s going to require an extra measure of patience, creativity, and maybe outright lawlessness to make my job worth the commute in the future.

I mean, we can’t move. Housing near work is WAY higher than where I live right now. Our house is not ready for sale anyway, and it would take several years of hated labor on my part to bring it up to spec.

So, I am going to have to discover new Ramble Plans to get around all this craziness. When the Repugnican National Convention comes here next year, I’m gonna have to leave. There’s no way I will grant Right of Way to Rich Bastards in Limosines… and they will have plenty of armed mercenaries willing to take me down.

Better to choose my battles….

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GREAT BIG RAGE! …in a tiny little cage. Wed, 01 Aug 2007 12:04:47 +0000 Gary Charpentier Weather: Clear skies and 75°F (24°C) with rain on the way.
Road Conditions: Dry and clear, with scattered maniacs.


Frogwing and I entered the Tunnel of Hate Freeway in our usual manner this morning. Our entrance is located at the beginning of what they call “Spaghetti Junction” around here, at the confluence of two Interstates: I-94 and I-35E.

So, while we’re still leaned to the right in the cloverleaf on-ramp, I am looking over my shoulder for a break in traffic. Once spotted, we accelerate briskly in third gear to slot-in, grab fourth to match the speed of traffic, and immediately begin looking for our course to the fast lane.

Fifth gear.

Now, we lean through the left and right turns which lead us out of Spaghetti Junction and onto the freeway proper. But this time, we have aroused somebody’s ire…

I see the headlights swerving between lanes in Frogwing’s mirrors. They are low, and rather closely spaced, so I know that it is a compact car. I’m thinking it’s some youngster in one of those hopped-up Hondas, playing a videogame in meatspace.

Imagine my surprise when a little red Geo Metro pulls alongside, and I get a gunsight glare from the grizzled grey head of an unmistakable combat veteran. We stay like that for a moment, and then he floors it and pulls ahead.

Sure enough, the back of his car is completely festooned with “Retired U.S. Marine”, and “Vietnam Combat Veteran” stickers. The Southeast Asia Campaign Ribbon bumper sticker has pride of place in the bottom center of the rear window, and on his license plate is a Purple Heart.

He is driving as though the Hounds of Hell are after him, torturing every last measure of speed out of the poor little cage. He is tailgating, weaving between lanes, and charging through gaps that I would hesitate to exploit on a motorbike. For some reason; a mixture of morbid fascination and maybe a tiny bit of residual malice towards this ghost of Drill Instructors past, Frogwing and I follow.

We keep our distance, mind you. No telling what kind of havoc this fool might wreak out here. But I take every opportunity to place Frogwing’s headlight squarely in his rearview mirror. I’ve memorized his license number, and I will be a witness to any collateral damage he causes. I want him to know that. Today is my day to be a Bastard, I guess…

After awhile, he calms down a bit. We are still well over the speed limit, and he is still tailgating and passing at random, but somehow it seems a tightly controlled aggression. I find myself wondering where all this rage is coming from. Here is a man, obviously on a military pension, driving a crappy little car to a job he has to start very early.

He is wearing a t-shirt, so it’s obvious he is not The Boss. I wonder how much of his rage originates there.

Though I am loathe to admit it, I know exactly where he is coming from. Many’s the time, driving my own cage, when I felt trapped by the glass and steel around me. Trapped in my vehicle as I sometimes felt trapped in my life.

On a motorbike, I never feel trapped. I have Options.

I want to pull this guy over, tell him to get a motorbike, get out and ride, get over his rage…

But what do I really know about him? I’m just projecting here. I know what I know, but I have no idea what is going through his head.

Twenty-six miles is a long way to keep something like this going. At about eighteen miles, I let him go. Frogwing and I slide over into the middle lane and blend in with the rest of the traffic. Maybe that will take the pressure off this ticking time-bomb of a road-raging cager. Good thing he can’t afford a Hummer…

I really hate the fact that he is so obviously a Marine. It makes me want to take the sticker off the front of Frogwing. We get so much bad press these days, because of the insanity over in Iraq. Just like we got bad press in the `60’s and `70’s over Vietnam.

Sometimes, people at the side of the road begin to smile when they see us riding along, but then I see that smile freeze into a grimace at the sight of that sticker.

Still, I can’t help thinking that riding a motorcycle or scooter would help this guy gain some perspective, just like it has for me. Or, if his fuse gets lit, and he goes off, at least he won’t do as much damage.

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Ride to Work Profile: “Scooterriffic” Sat, 28 Jul 2007 01:26:25 +0000 Gary Charpentier Today’s RTW Profile features another scooterist, another “Vesparado”.

She lives in Adelaide, Australia, and I became aware of her by the frequent posts she puts up on the Modern Vespa forum. The photo you see below is a larger copy of the image she uses as her “avatar” there.

“Scooterriffic” prefers that her real name remain a secret, so I cannot publish that here. In her Ride to Work essay, she uses a lot of Australian slang, which I will do my best to translate. My comments will be in italics.

If you have any questions about what you read here, please address them to the comments section.

The face that graces so many posts on the Modern Vespa forum.

“Scooterriffic” says:

My normal ride to work is too short to bother describing. About two kilometres through a few leafy terraces, with a one hour stop for two double shot long blacks and a browse of the national broadsheet on the way to the office.

For the next few weeks it’s a little different. I am house-sitting for a friend. Or more accurately, dog, cat and chook-sitting in a suburb by the sea to the north-west of Adelaide, increasing my commute to 40 plus k’s a day.

“chook” means chicken.

This is the first time since I bought the Vespa that I have had to visit a service station more than once a fortnight.

Semaphore and the Port Adelaide area is a great part of town. Old pubs that haven’t been turned into renovated meat markets selling boutique beers. No way! This place has a great sense of community and pride that comes from its working class roots, its footy team and its sense of its own history.

The journey begins here – typical working class cottage from the early
20th century. Timber and corrugated iron – now gentrified.

Two films have been shot down here; Bad Boy Bubby (in the 90s) and Look Both Ways (a few years ago.) Look them up to see more, but please don’t take Bubby as being representative of a typical Australian life.

While gentrification hasn’t passed the area by, it still hasn’t been invaded by yuppies in SUVs who want to turn it into the overpriced bourgeois enclave they just moved out of.

The new apartments being built on what was once industrial wasteland may change this. People crazy enough to pay more than a million for a penthouse that includes the Adelaide Brighton Cement Works in its vista will be fighting hard to increase the value of their investment.

My days out here start with a ritual – get Barbara the labrador outside and the cats inside so she doesn’t eat their food. Then head out the front and feed the chooks and check for eggs. Tell crying dog at side gate to shut up. She is currently working on a 1:20 scale replica of the Suez Canal in the backyard. I am ignoring it.

Then get the cats out, sometimes involving threats of physical violence if they decide to try and hide under the bed for the day.

Once this is all out of the way (and I have taken to washing my hair at night to make it all happen without having to get up at 5am) I push the Vespa out of the garage.

Barbara likes to go for drives, so it is not possible to exit the yard without her trying to work out how to join me on the scoot if I have the engine running.

I start her up in the back alley, known colloquially in Australia as “dunny lanes” because they were used by the night soil men to collect the ummm…waste products from houses in the days before plumbing.

I’ve just had a PM Tuning exhaust fitted, so hello neighbours!

Ever get the feeling they’re out to get you? The road to outer harbour, avec jaws.

I head straight onto a road that leads from Outer Harbour, Adelaide’s commercial port. The road is heavy with petrol tankers and B doubles, but it is a 60kph zone and vehicles are all well behaved. There are too many traffic lights and level crossings for those big beasts to build up any serious momentum.

Far as I can make out, a “B double” is what we typically call a semi-truck, or 18-wheeler.

A nice, gently curving road starts the journey, past a pub that actually had a horse grazing on the block next to it the first time I came down here. I am really only 15 minutes from the CBD, but it’s another world.

CBD = Central Business District.

My ride takes me along most of the length of Port Road, the major arterial to this part of town. Peak hour is a doddle. It is busy enough and fast enough that the cagers are generally well behaved. It is one of the few places considerate driving is still practiced – for the most part – with vehicles making allowances for those needing to change lanes. We’re all just trying to get to work.

Night time on this road is another story. But I might save that one for later.

I bypass the city. There is a real bottle neck through the northern end of Adelaide’s square-mile CBD at the moment, as the tramline (our only tramline, from Glenelg Beach to the south west of the city) is extended along North Terrace. Lanes are closed down, right hand turns are limited. It’s not anything I’m interested in before my vital heart-starter dose of caffeine.

The city bypass takes me around the outside edge of Adelaide’s parklands. As I just mentioned in passing, our CBD was designed as a square mile, surrounded by parklands. A very civilised concept. Some public buildings have been built on this protected strip, but any attempts at further clawing back of public land are fought off tenaciously.

Big house, big palm tree. Not mine!

I am about to head through some of our wealthiest suburbs, in stark contrast to what I have just left behind.

Medindie is a postage stamp-sized locale full of very large houses. Very, very large. And palm trees, for some reason. A little flamboyant for such an old-money kind of place, I would have thought.

My journey around the parklands soon takes me past Adelaide’s most exclusive boy’s school. St. Peter’s College is the size of a whole suburb. The doctors and lawyers of tomorrow are all in there.

From a traffic point of view, you don’t have to slow down for children in the area, none of them walk to school. You just avoid the left lane because 99.9% of European cars will be turning in to the school gates.

To my right is the Botanical Gardens’ “Glass Pasty” and the Adelaide Wine Centre, a piece of architecture that divides people. I belong on the “love it” team. And the plonk inside is alright, too.

Okay, I’m stumped too… What, exactly, is this “plonk” of which you speak?

This, I guess, is the “glass pasty” she is talking about. Nice scooter, btw…=gc=

If I’ve managed to set off before 7.30am, I will get a pretty clear run without much traffic. I will have made it to this point by about 8am (and dontcha just love the way so many people seem to head out of their driveways at 8am on the dot?) – I’ve got time for my coffee ritual!!

Up the Norwood Parade to Buongiorno, where they understand I drink coffee like a wog, not a skippy, so when I say strong I really mean it.

Both “wog” and “skippy” are a bit ambiguous in web definitions. Please elaborate?

They know my name, they know what I order. Except for the depths of winter, I sit outside, adjacent to a table full of old Greek guys who meet up every morning to take the piss out of each other. Sometimes one or other of them will bring me a rose. I love all of this stuff. Why would you go to Starbucks?

Actually, in Adelaide, you can’t. They haven’t invaded here yet!

On the way home…feeling peckish? No it’s not a soprano in a coffin, it’s a wog in a box.

A quick read of The Australian and a bit of a chat with some of the other locals, and I’m off. Work is only a few minutes away from here, and I’ve had a great ride to start my day.

I once heard someone describe the difference between driving and riding to work; driving to work, your work day starts when you get in the car, but your time on
two wheels is your own.

I agree completely.

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Time, Stand Still… Wed, 25 Jul 2007 16:25:27 +0000 Gary Charpentier Weather: Hot and Humid
Road Conditions: Congestion and Construction in the `Cities.

Captivated by motion, some days I wish I could stop the clock.

“Summer’s going fast, nights growing colder
Children growing up, old friends growing older
Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each impression a little bit stronger
Experience slips away…” – Rush, “Time Stand Still”

It must have been the Back to School crap on the store shelves that started the reaction.

Suddenly, time seems to be going too fast. Summer is getting away from us! There’s still so much I want to do this riding season, before Winter comes back and I have to make The Decision.

Even the Existential Gravity, which slows the clock whenever I walk through the doors at work, seems to be weakening. It seems I have so much to do, and so little time, both in and out of work. Trying to fill every moment with meaningful experience eventually wears you down. When can I rest?

“When you’re dead…”, says the dark one with the scythe on my shoulder.

Yeah, I seem to remember saying something like that, back when I was young, and every day was an adventure. Now that I am battling middle age and high blood pressure, I’m just not feeling it like that anymore. (160/100 yesterday… bad?)

“Alright Charpentier, just what the hell are you whining about now? Shut your pie-hole and get back on that treadmill. Move! ”
-Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Ego

So, my brand new Vespa Rose is in pieces out in the garage, and it is too hot and humid to work on her right now. Frogwing is happy to be back in harness as my primary mount. We won’t be going up to Duluth for “Bring Out Your Dead” this weekend, it’s just not in the budget.

No, I’ll be staying home this weekend, working on my motorbikes, and maybe we’ll get out for a ride or two.

In the meanwhile, I am going to meet with the man known as “Motogristle” after work tonight. We are going to take photos of him with his unique Honda GL500 “Gullepumpe”, and discuss his Winter riding strategy, among other things.

I’ve got a young lady from Adelaide, Australia who rides to work. She has sent me a story of her daily ride, along with some photos from Down Under. Just a little editing to do on that one, and you will see it here.

As the Aerostich sticker says, “So many roads, so little time”.

Are you feeling the pressure yet?

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