The best way to experience scooter culture is to attend a rally, and no sooner after starting this blog did the Vespa Club of Sacramento announce its second annual rally IL Inferno Scorciante Due (or The Hottest Hell 2). So, on Friday night July 23, I scooted to The Bonn Lair, an Irish Pub on J Street near 36th for the first of five events to take place between July 23 and 25. It was my first rally and I was nervous.
As I rode up J Street, I could just see me, a scooter rookie, knocking over one newly detailed vintage scooter, which would then start a chain reaction knocking down a dozen scooters on J Street while trying to set the scooter’s center stand. I would fee from the scene of the crime only to be chased by a bunch of Mods. Instead, there was only an old orange Stella parked in front of Bonn Lair with plenty of room for my clumsy parking job.
It was not until about a half-hour later, while munching on some fish & chips at the bar, that I started hearing people talk about scooters. At one point, the bartender point out one of the leaders of the Vespa Club of Sacramento (or VCOS). Billy smiled and pushed his right hand through the crowd as I franticly wiped the grease off mine to meet his. When I met him again later at the back of the pub, the amiable Billy introduced me to about eight other scooterists. This was my first real experience in the culture of the scooter.
Like all the parties I attended in college and later with my wife I ended up a wallflower, intimidated by everyone’s commanding knowledge in everything that is scooter as well as my doomed inability to just walk up to strangers and engage them in conversation. I also realized that so much of the talk revolved around vintage scooters and the various makes and models—I did not do my homework, I was completely lost. Billy would occasionally see me standing alone in a corner, call me over, and ask me shallow questions like how I liked my GTL. “I love it!” I said feigning a cool manner, as if I have been talking all night, and not desperate for attention. I felt Billy was just being nice—these guys do not really talk about new scooters, their interest is in the older classic models. From this point on, I realized the only way to survive was to play the inquisitive rookie card. Therefore, I started asking questions. For the rest of the three-day rally, I would speak to scooterists with a beginner’s curiosity, which was the truth, even if I felt more of an outsider than someone trying to fit in as an equal would.
I had heard that the VCOS acted superior around other scooterists—ones who rode newer rides. I asked about the VCOS’s members and how does one become a club member. Billy told me the VCOS is really about vintage scooters, but anyone can attend meetings and runs. “We’re aware of the ‘snob factor’ some people label us, but I think we are misunderstood,” he said. He also said that one could find faults with other clubs, but it really comes down to individuals.
I almost won a free one-year Vespa Club of America membership in a dart game. I considered this a good omen for the rally since I have never played darts before. Riding home that night I was exited to meet new people, but also wondered why I stayed so long with the last half-hour spent sipping my mineral water alone in a corner. These coinsurers of vintage scooters could only find so much to talk about to a newbie with a 2005 scooter.
I missed the run to Woodland on Saturday morning. I did show up at what I thought would be the best part of the rally—“The Custom Show & Cocktails” part later that afternoon at The Shady Lady Saloon on R Street. No one told me what the show would be like so I was expecting Hot August Nights for scooters. There was no show, just another place to drink and talk. Since I do not drink and I do not know anyone I, once again, ended up the wallflower. On the other hand, I was introduced to Sic Bastard, Bodacious Bastard, Commie Bastard, and Absolute Bastard of the Royal Bastards Scooter Club.
I had been waiting to meet the Bastards ever since Rebecca of The Scoot Shop told me The Bastards have members with newer scooters. I met Sic Bastard and Absolute Bastard who were very friendly. I also met VCOS President Ben, who told me a little of the history of the club, which began in the 50s, disbanded some time later and was resurrected only recently.
Of all the people I met during IL Inferno Scorciante Due, I was most impressed with the legendary Rolf Soltau. Soltau was a scooter racer and founder of the Vespa Club of Los Gatos, but his claim to fame is that he is most likely the best mechanic Piaggio had this side of the Atlantic. I do not remember any of the technical and historical information he bestowed upon the crowd who surrounded him, but when he spoke, they listened. When he asked me what kind of scooter I had and I promptly answered. He said, “All you have to do is replace the oil every 3000 miles and it will cause you no problems.” A very different kind of comment compared to what he said about various vintage scooters. Still, Rolf and his fans talked about vintage scooters the most, rarely mentioning anything Piaggio has produced in the last twenty years. I wanted to ask him about the MP3s (Piaggio’s three-wheeled scooters), but felt outgunned by all the vintage talk.
There was something else about Rolf—he was old. This made sense since his wisdom reflected his years, but it made me realize something: with the exception of the Master Scooterist, I was one of the oldest people in the bunch. Most of the attendees were in their twenties and thirties. There were a few guys in their forties, but I do not remember anyone looking my age. I was both the oldest and least experienced in the rally. My age did not bother me as much as my inexperience, but I did have this urge to tell all these scooterists to go easy on the beer and to stop smoking before it is too late, as if I was their uncle. I would discover a week later at a Royal Bastards “meetup” that there are plenty of older riders, some of them as old as Rolf, they just did not attend this rally.
The conversations I had with Rolf, Billy, Ben, Sic, and Absolute, were few, and far between chunks of time I spent counting all the bottles behind the bar while nursing my ice tea. When I got tired of the liquor inventory I would walk from one side of the bar to the other trying to get into various conversations, but that was not working. Finally, I took a walk up R Street and to my surprise and relief, I was delivered by, of all things, a hamburger!
Burgers & Brew: a Burger Interlude
Next door to The Shady Lady is Burgers & Brew. Now I am at home! Burgers & Brew sports nine different hamburgers, and five burgers with alternatives to beef: turkey, tofu, Portobello mushroom, a Garden Burger, and a Buffalo Burger I am going to have to return to try! I felt so relaxed that I forgot to order The Burger Scoot’s usual cheeseburger test. The Special was a Chipotle Burger—that was not on the menu, but I ordered it anyway.
The Chipotle Burger comes with the usual fixings: lettuce, tomato, pickle, a slice of red onion, and mayonnaise. It also comes with peperjack cheese, chopped jalapenos, and chipotle sauce. The patty is ½ lb of Niman Ranch beef and is good if not outstanding, but it is the whole package that makes it a remarkable burger. The sesame bun gets the Burger Scoot award for Best Bun So Far. This is the reason why I order burgers over patty melts. You can make a decent patty melt with just about any kind of bread since it is buttered and grilled anyway, but a good bun sandwiching a hamburger makes a big difference. The balance of beef, bun, red onion, lettuce, pickle, and tomato (even if the tomato was not very fresh) tasted down right excellent during some bites.
The fries were very good, thin, and crispy, and while I usually do not comment on my ice tea (I write this blog as if a cola would be the usual drink) the tea was excellent. Too bad I had already guzzled a pitcher of the stuff out of boredom and the desire to fit in with the rest of the scooterists who were drinking beer and alcohol next door.
Come to think of it, why isn’t there a Burger Rally sponsored by a Burger Club of Sacramento (BCOS)? I would be the Billy of the club! Guy Fieri could be the Rolf Soltau. I could help wallflowers who feel excluded and who do not think they know or love burgers as much as the club members do or can eat burgers with the same passion as BCOS members, and I could befriend them and make them feel at home. Of course, the club would discourage corporate chain burger fans from joining.
When I was at work the next day, I asked my friend who belongs to a motorcycle club what this meant and he told me I was not showing rider courtesy by sharing the lane. After recounting this story to the group at the Naked Lounge Absolute said, “Oh, you are definitely riding in the back!” I suppose I could have been hurt by this, but I was not. I know I did not have “street cred,” as they say in these circles.
When we rolled out, I was in the last third of the group, but found myself falling further back. I ended up one of the last few scooters when the ride was over and we parked our scooters in the alley between R & S Streets at 23rd. We were at Midtown Scooter Shop, a warehouse that also shares space with an auto shop. It was here in an alley, with music blaring, hot dogs grilling, and episodes of “The Prisoner” flickering across a half-lit garage onto a white wall, I could feel a special sense of community. A part of scooter culture was here in this alley in midtown Sacramento and I was a part of it.
I missed the final event, a barbeque at East Portal Park on Sunday morning. I was in church while the scooterists were playing bocce, croquet, and taking part in something called the Golden Sausage Ceremony. When I arrived, it was virtually over. Sunday would have been a wash for me but I met Marc who is a good friend of my father. We did not talk long and what we talked about had nothing to do with scooters, scooting, or scooterists, but the conversation was fruitful and worth the ride over to the park. I was introduced to Sic again, who is a good friend of Marc’s and I checked out Marc’s cool ride, an Aprilia Scarabeo 200. When it comes down to it, I guess I really do prefer the newer scooters, but I think the Royal Bastards and maybe even the Vespa Club of Sacramento would agree, when it comes down to it, it’s all about the ride.