Weird & Wonderful: The Vespa

Vespa: Italian for wasp. My SO says the best way to pick up girls in Manhattan is to walk the dog. “They can’t help themselves,” he says. “They have to stop and cuddle.” Out here in PA the best way to meet people is to park the Vespa. It’s so exotic. What is it? A minibike? A moped? A motor scooter? No, it’s a Vespa.

The best part of riding a Vespa is that you get to participate vicariously in the Hawg culture. The real ones nod and wave when you pass on the road as if you really were one of them. I don’t know if they extend that courtesy to the rice burners. I think they like us because we don’t pose a threat. We’re so cute. Or maybe it’s just that regardless of what you own, out here when you ride a bike, you’re on a Harley. Nothing else is worthy of notice.

Park a Vespa, though, and you get more than just a passing nod. Folks stop and talk. I mean the nice ones, the ones that find tattoos too daunting. Vespas are sweet, non-confrontational, conversation starters. Everyone wants to know all about them.

Today we got into it with a couple of Brits. They had fond memories of when they owned one of their own way back when. Apparently it had a two-cylinder engine. “Illegal now, you know,” the man said.

They waxed nostalgically for a bit and then before you know it we were onto bigger things like the confidence game known as the American automobile industry. “It’s ridiculous,” he said. “All these big vehicles.” “It’s just about money,” she said.

Normally I take offence when out of towners trash the home team, but I happen to agree on this point. If Americans demanded little trucks, little cars, and little motor scooters, maybe the home team would be more inclined to give them to us. Maybe we’d get out of this energy/global warming crisis. Maybe we wouldn’t have the rest of the world mad at us. Now that would be weird and wonderful.

Sue Lange
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Weird & Wonderful: The Vespa — 6 Comments

  1. We went to Germany last year to visit my daughter, and it is -notable- how small vehicles are there. There is an entire class off eensy weensy cars that are simply not available in the US. Example: the Smart Fortwo, which has been driven in Europe for years and years before finally appearing here. I saw pocket Hondas, tiny Toyotas, and midget Nissans that I didn’t recognize except for the nameplate. We need them here!
    And the number of bicycles and scooters is dazzling. People use vehicles only for local travel; when they go anywhere far they take the train. There is no need for monster cars at all.

  2. Non-US citizens use bicycles, Vespas, scooters, trams, trains, buses, small cars — the Smart is the size of a large slipper. In most places on the planet, an SUV wouldn’t even fit in the street, let alone be able to park anywhere. And the trains in Europe and Japan are simply fantastic (so is the Acela, but it’s currently going at 1/2 its maximum possible velocity, because the rails are subpar). The US addiction with petroleum has skewed today’s physical and political climate significantly, and decidedly not for the better.

  3. My daughter lives in a medieval town with a curtain wall; to get to her house you have to drive through the ancient stone gate. Of course this gate was not built for cars; the usual practice is to flip your side mirrors in to lay flat against the flank of the car before trying to drive through. Otherwise it’s too easy to snap the mirror off!

  4. I just returned from a visit to my parents in Greece, where I flattened the mirrors whenever I parked my rental car. Most of the streets of the seaside town where they live are too narrow to let other cars pass without bumping into the mirrors. I had a similar experience in Ireland. Fortunately, I had the window open: the mirror lens landed intact on my lap and got promptly re-inserted.

  5. I love Vespas. Our neighbor had one when I was a kid and used to ride me around on it. As a result, Vespas figure prominently in TACO DEL AND THE FABLED TREE OF DESTINY. They are the noble steeds of Del and his band of gallant knighties.

    Just imagine a group of leather and spandex clad guerrilla fighters speeding along the deserted Bay Area freeways toward Mount Diablo on Vespas!

  6. Okay I have to link this now:
    Eddie Izzard on Italians

    By the way, it’s true we have lots more smaller cars on the road over here in Germany, but the rich people still enjoy their big Mercedes, BMW or Audis and SUVs have gotten a toe-hold in. There are also the autobahns which lots of people use for long distance travelling – but I think it’s true that half of the people who need to go long distances use the train or the bus.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the US got smaller cars now that they finally feel the pinch of higher oil prices.