Category Archives: 2020: St. Petersburg

Pass the Mountain Dew, or: Our Dinner at Chez Sheetz in Orange

No tablecloth required at Chez Sheetz.

Day 1 | Wed., Oct. 14: As usual, we start much later than anticipated and as usual it was my fault and I don’t know why, except I took too much time trying to design an interior support for the three – yes, three – laptops1 we were hauling inside a 1520 Pelican case.

We both have an irritating yet enduring problem with packing light, perhaps a lack of mission resolve, as the British would say. I take too many tools and probably too many clothes, though I did trim back the number of books this year2.

But we finally roll away a little before 5 p.m. and crazy stuff starts happening about an hour later.

Linda unexpectedly stops her Vespa on the left shoulder of a divided four-lane state highway in rural Virginia, forcing me to overshoot and stop ahead of her, parking Terra Nova literally inches from cars racing past.

Sidestand down, I jog back and ask what the hell is going on.

It’s a dog that was trying to cross the road and was hit by a semi. It happened literally in front of Linda, and the truck kept going without hesitation. The poor dog is on its side in the tall grass of the median.

Some other guy appears, a nearby resident, I think. He has a cellphone in his hand and looks on as I kneel beside the dog, a white pit-bull-type terrier, young, about 25 lbs. He is unmarked, but most assuredly dead. He has a chain collar but I can’t find a name tag.

Another guy in a pickup truck stops, asks if we’re okay, and we try to explain what happened. There doesn’t seem to be much concern for the dog on their part. The pickup truck guy leaves and we ask the cellphone resident if he can call someone to get the dog, but he appears to not quite understand what we’re saying.

Fueling up before reaching Raleigh, North Carolina.

There isn’t much else we can do and it’s getting even later and we’re both tired with miles to go. So we leave, figuring we can call the sheriff’s office or someone after reaching the hotel.

The dog, of course, follows us for the rest of the night. We have three dogs of our own3, one of them literally rescued by us on I-95 two years ago, so the terrier’s death haunts us, especially Linda.

We stop for gas at about 8 p.m. at a Sheetz station in Orange, Virginia, both of us tired and hungry. With the coronavirus still raging across the country, we’d decided to stay away from indoor restaurants and end up getting sandwiches and such at the station.

The outdoor seating is vacant and fenced off, so the base of a lamp post becomes an impromptu table. We eat standing up in the parking lot.

And we press on after that, through an empty Gordonsville, Virginia, on U.S. 15, deserted at this late hour but wonderfully lit up with white lights hung in Main Street sidewalk trees, a marvelous, warming effect.

It’s colder than we expected so we add extra layers4 and move along a series of dark county roads, wisps of Halloween fog rising and passing around us. The new light bar on Linda’s Vespa really brightens up the back of her scooter; watching it ahead, I’m glad I installed it.

The gas pumps were open, but everything else was emphatically closed.

After fueling at one of most locked-up Exxon stations I’ve ever seen – more like Attica than a rural gas station – we shut down the bikes a little after 1 a.m. at the hotel outside of Raleigh, North Carolina.

We’re now really tired and beat. We take the bags upstairs, put the covers on the motorcycles, and, about 280 miles and too many hours from home, go to bed.

1 – We usually each carry a work computer in case news breaks (I put in a few hours when George H.W. Bush died in 2018) and she needed a second computer for her online Hungarian class.

2 – One paperback, “Rice and Dirt,” about a couple riding through Africa on a Vespa, and my usual 8×5 Moleskine notebook.

3 – They are: Cody, an 11-year-old Shetland sheepdog; Remy, a 7-year-old border collie; and Skipper, a 5-year-old treeing Walker coonhound, the one we found along the highway.

4 – I used the same Harley rain jacket I bought in 2016.

Mission Prep: Lights In The Night

The light bar is from AdMore.

Linda’s Vespa was brand-new, so some pre-mission upgrades naturally had to be made, specifically the brake lights and forward running lights. We’d be moving at night and I wanted (1) the scooter to be as conspicuous as possible in the dark, and (2) more lighting for the road ahead.

The replacement front turn signals provide more light. Cody is ready to help.

That meant more mail-order stuff from scooterwest.com and clearing out my tiny workshop1 at Starbase 8 to wedge the Vespa inside. It also required protecting the scoot from our curious cats2 by covering it with enough old towels to resemble a ghost in a Bowery Boys movie.

As Sunny demonstrates here.

I’d upwired enough accessories on her 2010 Vespa for bad memories to linger. I find Italian scoots rather difficult to work on, with tight spaces and overly complex hardware.

The headache started after the AdMore light bar arrived; the wiring harness was too short for our model and I had to order a two-foot extension. And then I had to learn how to solder the wires3 together.

But, over a few days, I eventually figured it out, got all the lights and bodywork installed, and felt better afterwards. I finally wheeled the Vespa out of the workshop, leaving a space that reminded me of the Time Machine’s departure4.

The Time Traveller was not there. I seemed to see a ghostly, indistinct figure sitting in a whirling mass of black and brass for a moment — a figure so transparent that the bench behind with its sheets of drawings was absolutely distinct; but this phantasm vanished as I rubbed my eyes. The Time Machine had gone.

1 – About 7 feet wide x 14 feet deep, I reckon, or roughly the size of three phone booths combined.

2 – Lexi, especially. He’s the black-and-white cat we rescued from the Dollar General in Ohio in 2008 while traveling aboard Endurance. He’s developed an affinity for lounging on the saddles of all our motorcycles and scooters.

3 – The harness contained six wires, all 26-gauge, which is pretty thin and challenging to work with. I had to get a proper soldering iron, the correct 60-40 lead/tin solder, paste and heat-shrink tubing, and watch about 400 YouTube videos to learn how to do it.

4 – From the 1895 H.G. Wells novel, The Time Machine. The narrator reaches the workshop just in time to see the machine vanish, leaving a poignant space behind.

‘Assembly of Vespa Luggage Rack Requires Great Peace of Mind’ or: ‘Sweet Jesus, Did I Really Do That?’

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Yes, those two holes above the tail light.

“I worried over that blunder for an hour, and called myself a great many hard names, meantime.”

– Samuel Clemens, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”

Here’s one I’ll never forget: While mounting the rear luggage rack, I managed to drive two bolts into the plastic gas tank of Linda’s Vespa.

It was both the simplest and greatest piece of mechanical idiocy I’ve ever done; I simply took the wrong bolts and unmindfully began screwing them into the threaded holes in the rear panel. They were metric M6 bolts, same diameter and thread count, just twice as long as needed.

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Tools of destruction.

I’m spinning them in by hand with an Allen wrench. They go in smoothly at first, then start to balk. I try a little more force, then back off and unscrew both.

That’s when I realize I’m using too-long bolts, precipitating one of those anguished head-in-your-hands moments of oh, sweet Jesus, I can’t believe this. I thought I was using the right ones. We’ve had her scooter a week and I’ve already ruined it.

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That’s Robot of Vespa Motorsports/Scooter West on the upper left screen. Despite his advice…

I’d even been warned about it; I’d watched the Vespa Motorsport video on luggage rack installation1 and Robot2 mentions it at 6:38 into the video. “Had people put too long of a screw in there and puncture the gas tank, not a good thing,” he says. Oh, sweet Jesus.

It’s times like these you have to talk yourself off the ledge and I think about the passage in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in which author Robert Pirsig mentions an instruction sheet for putting together a bicycle.

“Assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind,” say the instructions, and Pirsig goes on about peace of mind and says “If you don’t have this when you start and maintain it while you’re working, you’re likely to build your personal problems right into the machine itself.”

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The windscreen was not part of this fiasco. I just thought I should mention that.

It wasn’t a lack of serenity that caused the mistake; I simply picked up the wrong bolts. But maybe serenity includes acting properly within the moment, which I certainly was not doing.

So after a lengthy period of critically severe self-beratement, I move from Self Destruct to Damage Control mode and start to assess how bad it is. The gas level is low, so it’s not possible to check for leaks yet, but there’s no smell of fuel from the threaded holes.

I run a hand-held mechanic’s light on a flexible tube up inside the back fenders but see nothing. (I do relearn that Vespa buttons up everything very tight on its scooters and it’s impossible to get your hand around the tank, or even get a good view of it.) So I can’t feel or see what I did.

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The fuel tank, depicted in ‘sea green,’ like the Crayola crayon we had back in the first grade.

But I can shine the light down into the holes and see new thread lines scored into the plastic below. Online views of the fuel tank show the back is sculpted like a valley, so it appears I’ve cut a little into the valley walls, instead of boring directly into the tank itself.

I take one of Tera Nova’s reserve fuel bottles and fill the Vespa’s tank to the brim of the filler tube. And wait. No leaks.

That was on Aug. 18.

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A stop in Port Royal, Virginia, on the road to Deltaville.

On Aug. 22, we ride out toward Deltaville, Virginia, as part-tank-test, part-get-the-mileage-up-to-600 for the service. Aside from the rain, everything is okay.

And finally, we take the Vespa back to Scoot Richmond on Saturday, Aug. 29, for the 600-mile work and ask the mechanics to check.

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Stopping for fuel, shaking off rainwater. That’s Terra Nova on the left and Linda’s Vespa between it and Linda on the right.

It’s impractical for them to remove the tank on the day we’re there – it’s a three-hour job, like most things Vespa – but they say they couldn’t see any leaks. “And since you haven’t seen anything, it’s probably okay,” says one. “Just keep an eye on it.”

I’m afraid I’ll do much more than that. I’ll be consumed, obsessed, haunted by it and I’ll carry the concern like Quasimodo’s hump. Maybe a new gas tank, installed in the fall, will restore my peace of mind.


1 – Vespa Motorsports how-to videos are top-notch, in my opinion.
2 – That’s his nom de guerre, I reckon.

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New Bike & Next Ride

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2020 on the left, 2010 on the right. Both red, of course.

So Linda hit the commit button and traded in her 2010 300cc Vespa for a 2020 Vespa; same style, same engine size, almost the same daring shade of red, you can’t hardly tell them apart. We brought the new scooter home from Scoot Richmond on Saturday.

What’s different is that the new bike has anti-lock brakes and traction control, making it a safer machine than its 10-year-old mate. It also has what Vespa calls HPE, a High Performance Engine that offers a little more horsepower than the old 300.

New
I doubt the sign was much of a deterrent to a dedicated fondler.

“Have you ridden her bike?” the young woman armed with Scoot Richmond’s financial paperwork asks me. “You’ll have to try this new one, you’ll really feel a difference.”

Linda and I had talked about her trading up to a new Vespa, especially when the company was reportedly planning to build a new 350cc model. Since we were doing more long-distance travel, we wanted that extra horsepower.

And I really wanted her to have a machine with ABS. She was amenable to all that, but in red, of course1.

Alas, Vespa scuttled its 350cc idea2, but my interest was piqued by the new HPE. We started dropping in on Vespa dealers to look at them, and when a red one arrived in Richmond, Va., we got it.

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The 2010 Vespa was a really good bike.

We got it for the ABS and the engine, of course, but also because we’ve decided to take the motorcycles to St. Petersburg, Fla., this year as our traditional long-distance ride3.

In this time of coronavirus, it seems to be the best choice, the best compromise between breaking the rule of going someplace new4 and not going anywhere at all. More on that later.

But it was difficult to say good-bye to the 2010 bike, which we’ve had for nearly nine years and more than 14,000 miles. It had its moments, but it never let us down.

I put some effort into upgrading it for her, including a windscreen, brighter headlights and running lights, an exterior power socket for a heated vest, a quarter-sized Formotion thermometer, and flashing hyperlights that really brightened up the stern when she braked.

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The sticker has meaning, but only to us.

So there are memories in those parts, and others, like the green sticker put on the windscreen by someone in a Marriott hotel garage in New Orleans in 2017. Terra Nova has one, too.

The 2020 bike will get some of those. I transferred, from old to new, the Hungarian flag5 bolts for the license plate and the Vespa logo valve-stem caps obtained at Modern Classic6 in the District a few years ago. The thermometer migrated over, too.

We got our first taste of the new bike duo on the way home from Richmond, taking U.S. 522 instead of I-95, a good ride through rolling Virginia countryside.

winston1
Yes, the third floor.

We stopped at the picturesque deli & grocery7 in Winston, an area best described as a combination of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry and one of those spooky places you photograph, examine later, and discover someone staring down at you from an abandoned third-floor window.

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Before the red-haired kid showed up.

We looked around a bit, and then, as we were suiting up to leave, some little red-haired kid came around a corner, forced open a shed door and, in a true Children of the Corn moment, emerged with a sheathed hunting knife the size of a Marine Corps KA-BAR8. He went into the main building and never acknowledged us, or even looked at the Vespa.

New bike, new ride. I’ve already started futzing with the 2020 Vespa; I wonder how many Winstons we’ll see between here and St. Pete.


1 – She loves Vespa red more than the Cookie Monster loves Oreos.
2 – It was something about the inability to upsize the engine and still keep the classic Vespa profile, or some such.
3 – Hence the new mission designation.
4 – This one sort of hurts. We always say we’ll go someplace we haven’t been before, and we’ve been pretty good about that, up to now. At least we’ll see some new places on an untraveled route, since we usually go by air.
5 – They were actually bolts with the Italian flag on them, but if you rotate them 90 degrees counter-clockwise, they become Hungarian.
6 – Modern Classic closed about three months ago, we learned. It wasn’t the coronavirus, but because the owner retired. He’d mentioned to us in 2019 that he was considering it. It was a great shop; we shall miss them.
7 – I assume it’s permanently closed for business, though someone is living there.
8 – Which is an acronym for Knife Attachment-Browning Automatic Rifle. In other words, a good-sized knife.