Tag Archives: St. Pete Beach

Parking Lot Workshop, or: ‘Does That Look Like It’s Leaking/Bending/Going Flat to You?’

Charley did the most incredible bodge job, using about 40 cable ties to strap two wrenches as splints across the split in the frame.

– Ewan McGregor, “Long Way Round”

Not very pretty, but still pretty sturdy.

Saturday, Oct. 22 | Day 18: It wasn’t perfect, but I did manage a classic bodge job1 on Terra Nova’s sidestand2 when it started bending under all the weight I stupidly put on the bike.

After fueling up somewhere in Georgia on the way home, I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks and looked at the Yamaha — I mean, really looked at it — and I said to Linda, “Does that sidestand look like it’s bending?”

“Yes, it does,” she said.

It was a true son-of-a-bitch moment. Ever since the sins of the 2020 ride, when I failed to monitor the engine oil in Linda’s Vespa, I’ve been a religious convert to fanatically checking both motorcycles every morning during our long-distance tours.

The fervor was part of this year’s pilgrimage, but it wasn’t enough. As you’ll see, I still haven’t learned the art of packing light. (We’ll talk about that elsewhere.) I knew the Yamaha was overloaded but I didn’t think the sidestand would be affected.

We left the gas station and got to the hotel, where I conducted an internal all-night debate in my mind, serious as the Nuremberg Trials, on whether I should leave the sidestand for later or try to improvise a brace now.

Santee Hardware, with a kind, competent staff.

In the morning (shades of the St. Pete Beach Ace Hardware!) I found Santee Hardware3 about a half-mile away. They didn’t have any suitable angle iron but they did have 12-inch lengths of half-inch square solid steel rod I thought would work. The problem was, I needed a piece only 8 inches long.

“Can you cut 4 inches off of this?” I asked one of the guys who worked there.

“We don’t really do any cutting,” he said.

“Here’s the problem,” I said. “I’m on a motorcycle, on my way home to Virginia, and I need this to be 8 inches long for a brace. Can you help me out?”

He took the piece to a back room, put it in a vise and used a Sawzall to cut it. He even smoothed down the rough edges on a grinding wheel.

I bought the metal, a handful of hose clamps, and a 5/16 nut driver to tighten them down. “If this works, you won’t see me again,” I told the guy at the cash register and he laughed.

The six hose clamps may not look like much, but they’re strong.

I took it all out to Terra Nova in the parking lot next door and fashioned a brace to prevent the stand from further disfigurement. I rode back to the hotel feeling better.

Making repairs and checking oil and tires admittedly isn’t very exciting, but every motorcycle traveler/author scribbles something about maintenance. There’s something deeply self-satisfying about catching and fixing a mechanical problem that could have disrupted your ride.

In the unused parking lot next door.

Robert Pirsig, for example, writes about tuning up the engine of his Honda Super Hawk in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and describes his satisfaction in doing it right.

It’s another essential aspect of two-wheel travel, one of many that sets motorcycles apart from cars.

In a car, you can find suitable parts and oil just about anywhere, but if you have a motorcycle, or (God help us) an exotic motorbike or scooter like a Vespa, you have to prepare, pre-service, and carry what you need with you, including special made-for-motorcycle oil.

The portable AirHawk air pump, which plugged into Terra Nova’s power system, was perfect for keeping the tires inflated.

Otherwise, if you break down 300 miles from a Vespa dealer, you’re stuck4.

At home, I do motorcycle maintenance in the cozy confines of the phone-booth-size workshop at Starbase 8. While traveling on the road, other locales are pressed into service.


“For a temporary shop, your first consideration is to look around for the best available floor. It could be the pavement you’re parked on, the shoulder of the road, or a supermarket parking lot.”

– C. G. Masi, How to Set Up Your Motorcycle Workshop


In my case, that means commandeering parking lot spaces out in the good-weather open as I did in Santee, or (with the consent of bemused hotel clerks) driveways beneath grand entrance canopies.

So, using Terra Nova’s rear luggage plate as my workbench, I did my little daily reassuring rituals of checking oil levels and tire pressures and whatnot – everything except for the sidestand.

Tools on the rear rack.

But the oil was easy. Terra Nova had been fully serviced5 before we left and her oil level never changed. The Vespa was a different story; the oil consumption varied based on the speed at which we’d traveled the day before. A faster pace guaranteed more oil usage.

That’s because Linda has a 2020 Vespa with a 300cc HPE, a high-performance engine that puts out about 24 hp6 and burns a lot of oil during its 6,000-mile break-in period. The consumption is a bit startling until you get used to it.

Motorcycles and scooters require the aforementioned motorbike-specific oil so I carried about a pint for Terra Nova and a quart and a half for the Vespa. I brought along funnels, shop rags, and enough plastic storage bags to choke a Safeway7.

Scrap cardboard to minimize oil drops.

I also took care to scrounge pieces of used cardboard for the inevitable oil drips of the dipstick and funnel, not wanting to leave oily stains on nice clean pavements and irritate the hotel folks who graciously let us park there.

You wouldn’t want any engine oil on those bricks, for example.

So the oil was okay. The only surprise came after we got home and I started looking at replacement sidestands and discovering some of them had pre-formed bends. Even past photos of Terra Nova indicate, from certain angles, that some sort of bend was already there.

I don’t know for sure yet, but I’m tempted to say the stand had a bend that was later made worse by the luggage weight.

But the inner glow of bodge-jobbing the sidestand — a sort of Pirsig Zen Buddhist calm satisfaction, I suppose — stayed with me for the ride home and after.


1Bodge job is British term that means temporary repair. A botched job, on the other hand, is a screwed-up affair.

2 — Or a kickstand, as some philistines would call it.

3 — In Santee, South Carolina, a great hardware store.

4 — I suppose you could put car oil into your motorcycle just to get it to safety, if you had approximate viscosity and synthetic content and nothing else was available. Still, the thought of an engine tearing itself up from insufficient lubrication is enough to cause cardiac arrest in a rider. That’s why I willingly carry all that rather heavy oil.

5 — And I have the bill from the Yamaha dealer to prove it. You’d think I was paying off the national debt of France or something.

6 — Which makes it Vespa’s most powerful engine these days.

7 — Maybe all that stuff conspired to help bend the sidestand.

‘We Seem to Have Reached the Age Where Life Stops Giving Us Things and Starts Taking Them Away’

“Brutal couple of years, huh, Charlie? First Dad, then Marcus.”

– Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones1

Saturday, Oct. 16 | Day 11: We bought the flowers, as usual, at the Publix supermarket in Dade City, though this time we carried them aboard Terra Nova to the cemetery down the street.

Flight-wise, our ride to St. Pete Beach, Florida, was much better this year than last. No U-Hauls were needed. We had no mechanical problems, other than a nail in a tire on the return route. More on that later.

Bungeed to Terra Nova’s rear rack.

On the road, there was plenty of time for reluctant reflection (inside my helmet) on 2021 as a year of loss, of both people and places.

My father died of COVID on Jan. 23 and my beloved Aunt Jo of the same on June 12.

And then there was Cyril Kúdela, the Eastern European cousin of my father and Aunt Jo, who died April 29 in Piestany, Slovakia2. Incredibly, he and Aunt Jo wrote each other throughout the Cold War, letters that kept the Petras family connected over decades.

Cyril, on his CZ Jawa motorcycle, with his two daughters Iva and Kamila.

And wise and kind-hearted Bob Russ, a colleague and old friend from my days at the Sandusky Register, died Jan. 23, the same day as my father. He was only 63.

On Linda’s side, Rich Stapin, the husband of her cousin Pat, died Oct. 5.

Our family house in Bedford Heights, Ohio, which my parents bought in 1959, was sold Oct. 12; I’ll never again step foot inside my childhood home.

The house on Eldridge Boulevard in Bedford Heights.

The sale was finalized and proceeds transferred while we were in Florida.

Which explains the necessity of our four visits to Regions bank in South Pasadena, Florida, thanks to miscommunication among Ohio attorneys and title company. Folks here at the bank were super-nice and extraordinarily helpful, especially Nicole.

We parked the bikes in Floral Memory Gardens, trimmed the grass around the headstone, and put flowers in the vase, as we did the year before, and for nearly a dozen years before that.

Emphasis on purple, her favorite.

And, after visiting the cemetery, we found the lot on Bahia Drive in Zephyrhills, Florida, where my grandparents moved in 1963, has a new mobile home on it, owned by strangers.

The lot stood empty after the original house was condemned and torn down a few years ago.

Linda and I had discussed buying the house at one point, but it wasn’t feasible. The owner abandoned it after taking out too many loans he was unable to repay and everything was locked up in legal disputes that continued until the demolition. Another childhood place gone.

The new house on the former site of my grandparents’ home.

We ended the Zephyrhills house-and-memorial-park duty by stopping for ice cream at Dave’s Treats3, the old Twistee Treat4 on Route 54, not far from my grandparents’ former place.

It’s a comforting part of the Zephyrhills ritual.

Time keeps moving but I still don’t know how to deal with loss. I think the only thing left to us is to remember and respect who and what we’ve lost, and to remind those still here that we love them.

And to be aware of what time we ourselves have left, keep moving forward, and live as fully as we can, with few regrets as possible.

Marlene and Linda, during her visit to Washington. We enjoyed showing her the District.

I was thinking of all this (inside my helmet) and I got a text the very next day, Oct. 17, from my cousin Joey that my wonderful cousin Marlene had died.

Marlene was truly a special person and I always enjoyed her wisdom, her outlook on life, and her company.

I last saw her in Cleveland on July 13 and was aware of her medical problems but I did not know how bad they were. Life is ruthlessly taking things away.

1 – The title of this report is from “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008). I don’t remember much about the movie but I’ll never forget that line, spoken by actor Jim Broadbent. It rings so true.

2 – The two sections of the family probably would not have known of the other’s existence had it not been for those letters. And Linda and I (and Aunt Jo) wouldn’t have traveled to Slovakia in 2006, our first of three visits.

Drahovce, Slovakia, 2006: Linda, Cyril, Aunt Jo, and Cyril’s grandchildren Linda and Ivo.

It was so good to see Jo and Cyril meet in person at last. We were on the side of the angels that day.

I’ve written about Cyril a few times; I admired him and though we visited him and his family three times, I will always regret not being able to know him better.

3 – The cone-shaped building is irresistible. And the ice cream there is always good.

4 – The buildings are 25 feet tall, according to the company website. They’ve been around since 1983, apparently.

And finally: In the top photo (from a wall in my workshop here at Starbase 8) that’s Dad and my brother Rob with Endurance at the American Motorcycle Association Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington, Ohio. We’d gone there in the early 2000s to look at Indian motorcycles. On the left is Van Dale Yasek, the father of my best friend Van. Cyril, of course, is there, too.