Last night’s Vespa Club of Seattle meeting ended with a beautiful ride in the stunning February sunset.
Oh, wait – isn’t it June?
It’s membership renewal time and for $20 you, too, can be a member of VCOS. Joining was a good move in this scooter odyssey of mine. It’s given me access to the best minds in Seattle scootering. Scooterists love to help one another, especially if it gives them a chance to showcase their skill, talent, knowledge, or tools. And now I’ve been hanging around long enough that I actually have something to offer back.
While my bailiwick is often limited to the realm of digital design and CSS, my two most recent scooters have put me through the paces enough that I’ve become intimately acquainted with things like Vespa batteries and chrome installation, two-stroke carburetors, Stella exhaust systems, Stella electrical wiring, Stella spark plugs and Stella tires. And I’ll take “Towing a Scooter” for 600 please, Alex.
How I ended up at my first Vespa Club meeting last year is a slice of Universal synchronicity, if you subscribe to such beliefs.
In September I was riding the Frankenstella downtown, and a sleek silver ET4 pulled up next to me at the light. I was still in the habit of going a little weak in the knees when gazing upon a shiny, automatic four-stroke Vespa, if only because the Frankenstella was causing me such heartache. The rider had a green devil duck mounted to her headset, and her seat cover was a fun tweedy plaid. She gave me a big smile and said, “Nice paint job!” I thanked her, and then complimented her custom seat.
Having just moved to Capitol Hill, I’d been struggling with the Mercer St. climb to Eastlake Ave. — or rather, struggling with the light at the top of that hill, which evoked terrible panic when red because starting the Frankenstella on an incline had proven nearly impossible. I’d slip the clutch and gas her to all get-out, and she’d still die. With my battery dead and gone for months, I couldn’t use the electric start. So usually I’d push the stalled scooter up to the top of the hill, kick start it, and – after a dozen kicks – she’d cough back to life, allowing me to finish my trip home.
So I asked my new friend at the traffic light if her 150cc engine got her up the hills around Seattle, and she nodded emphatically, telling me it handled 2-up riding with her teenage daughter with ease. I flushed with jealousy, and breathlessly confessed to the infuriating problems I was having with the Frankenstella, in as much detail as I could while the traffic signal we were stopped at was still red. She frowned with empathy, assuring me the probelms weren’t normal, and then the signal turned green. Beeping brightly, she accelerated away, leaving me in the dust to ponder my pretty paint job and failing engine.
Two blocks up, I saw her again – she had pulled over to the curb and was gesturing wildly to me. Her hand signals alternated between “pull over” and a yappy sign indicating she wanted to talk. I pulled up alongside, laughing. “You know, there’s a Vespa Club meeting tonight,” she told me, light bulb appearing over her head. “You should come. There’s a ton of people there who could help you diagnose your problem and even help you fix it. Somebody will have a suggestion, I’m sure.” That sounded like a great idea to me. She extended her hand. “I’m Dawn, by the way.” Dawn gave me quick directions to Cafe Racer on Roosevelt, and then was gone again in a silvery flash.
I continued downtown to my appointment, smiling all the way, feeling hopeful about the Frankenstella and less overwhelmed by my predicament. Just knowing there was a community in my city that might be willing to help me soothed my fried nerves.
I headed down to Cafe Racer that fateful evening to find Dawn parking her devil duck. She whisked me inside, bought me a cup of coffee, and introduced me to a tableful of folks who had arrived early to gab.
Several people recognized my Frankenstella. That scooter had been parked at Ducati Seattle for months and months, so scooterists in the community were familiar with her. I’m sure they were also smirking inwardly when meeting the sucker who plunked down the ridiculous purchase price for that scooter. “Ohhh — so you’re the moron who finally bought that Stella!” I received a good-natured razzing and I was okay with it. Pretty paint job, remember?
Robert and Kelly promptly came to my rescue, putting down their drinks and trotting outside to survey the Frankenstella. I was blown away by their enthusiasm and expertise. Kelly’s custom Stella was parked at the curb. She’d modded it herself, and painted the scooter in her living room. It was silver and pink and very much hers. Robert’s white Stella was also personalized and perfect for him, bearing the name of his salon, Styling Studio, on the side and looking sharp in white and black.
Almost tearfully, I let loose my deluge of complaints about the Frankenstella – not starting, dying on hills, battery shorting out, low power, high idle… the list went on. Kelly listened intently and quickly began troubleshooting. Had I checked the spark plug? Had I adjusted the idle? I should check the fuel lines because the 2003 Stellas had a known issue with them being too long and getting pinched… I whipped out my notebook and took detailed notes.
Meanwhile, Robert said with finality, “I know exactly what you need.” He disappeared into the glove box of his scooter and emerged with the solution to all my problems. In his extended palm was a small, silver bell. I looked at him quizzically. “Gremlins,” he said. “You’ve got Gremlins. This will get rid of them.” He supplied me with a cable tie and I hung the little bell from the floorboard of the Frankenstella.
I felt better already.
When I got home, I began research in earnest now that I had something to go on. I figured out how to remove the cowls and check the spark plug. I even figured out what kind of spark plugs I needed – and discovered that the plug I was using was totally wrong for city riding. I learned how to use a screwdriver to adjust the idle. For the stuff I didn’t know, I at least learned what questions to ask and what words to use. Dieseling, bogging, jetting all became part of my vocabulary overnight.
Even though I had to take the bus to the next VCOS meeting, I was hooked and quickly dove into the community. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It takes a village to raise a Stella.
Last night VCOS met at Cafe Venus for the Member Appreciation meeting. We have a few new members, and several new Stellas. Here’s Grumpy Gus and his new orange beauty.
I love taking pictures at VCOS events because the long row of glossy customized scooters just curls my toes. Chuck Pefley rode his stunning Vespa GL that he won at Amerivespa last summer. It had been reclining in the shop for quite some time, but is up and running like a champ now. That paint work is absolutely beautiful. It reminds me a little of the Frankenstella, whose cowls are currently being painted by Russ at Custom Classics.
After the loud and chaotic meeting, Doc and Don lead us on a scenic sunset ride out to our old home base, Cafe Racer. It finally stopped raining and it was almost warm out. We rode through Montlake and Ravenna, a cheerful gang happy to be back on the road. The sight of Jett’s Atomic Fireball Stella at the front of the pack made me smile the whole way. What a beautiful winter evening.
Oh, right – it’s June.