Rolf Soltau and the Vespa Tech Workshop I may never use

I was looking up something about my Vespa. In grand Jockomo fashion I had forgotten what a particular indicator light meant on my scooter’s instrument cluster and after failing to find the information in either the Google or Google Images results I pulled up YouTube and entered the same criteria.

When the results came up, I saw something that instantly reminded me of my father and his legend, of my struggle with making new friends, and of the icon parked in my garage–the thing I’m trying to figure out, the thing I will never really figure out. I saw an image of Rolf Soltau on a Vespa. Rolf Soltau: Preceptor of the American Vespa Technician.

Immediately, I was taken back to the first rally I ever attended, IL Inferno Scorciante Due (or The Hottest Hell 2) hosted by the Vespa Club of Sacramento (VCOS). It was July of 2010, and I had recently purchased a used 2005 Portofino green Vespa GT 200L. On the Friday-night Meet & Greet, Billy, a member of VCOS, had walked up to me at Bonn Lair, an Irish Pub here in Sacramento, and shook my hand as if he meant it. He was so friendly, making it his honor to introduce me to all the club members that I nearly didn’t believe him when he said No to my query about becoming a member of VCOS.

It was Billy who, on the second day of the rally, introduced me to Soltau. We were now at The Shady Lady. Billy yelled in my ear over the music something like “I want you to meet Rolf Soltau,” as if I was supposed to know who Rolf Soltau was. Soltau looked like any guy in his mid-70s or so, but he was surrounded by adoring scooterists–many of them young enough to be his grandchildren. As Billy and I came closer, I heard others mention his name in reverent whispers. It was Déjà vu in the dark. Replace Vespa owners with Keaton Boat owners, The Shady Lady with a boat ramp or the Stockton Ski Club and Soltau with my father and it was the same thing. I was not fully aware of it at the time, but I was in the presence of a living legend.

Rolf Soltau was born in Hamburg, Germany. (As a student of journalism, I’m a man of dates, but as a particularly poor student of journalism, I haven’t been able to find an obituary or a death notice on the man. I only know he is dead because I accidentally stumbled upon the sad news in Modern Vespa one night some months ago.) It’s a crime that Wikipedia.org doesn’t have an entry for the man, but no one has come forth with enough information to post one, I suppose. (I would think someone at Vespa Club of America or his own Vespa Club of Los Gatos (VCLG) would have enough information to at least start a post. Hell, maybe if I ever find a death notice I’ll start one!)

Soltau worked for Porsche from around 1951 to 2000. In 2000 Piaggio (the company that owns Vespa) approached Soltau with a five-year contract to spearhead a training program for Vespa‘s newly formed North American division. Soltau trained over 700 technicians in five years across the U.S. and Mexico on how to fix these iconic scooters. He would go into semi-retirement in 2005 and work five more years in a similar capacity before finally hanging it up in 2010–around the time I met him. Soltau was living in the South Bay Area most of the time he worked with Vespa and, in retirement, was the celebrity (and I would imagine the heart) of the VCLG. He died in May of 2016. From the posts of that time period, it appeared the Vespa world wept.

So that’s who the old guy with the silver hair and glasses keeping the young scooterists in rapt attention was. Billy introduced me to Soltau. Billy told Soltau my name and what kind of Vespa I rode. Everyone stopped and looked at me with their judging vintage-scooter eyes. Soltau smiled and said hi and then said in a thick German accent, “GT 200? All you’ll need to do is keep oil in it, and it will serve you for years.” He smiled at me again then continued to explain how P125s or some other old Vespa needed so on and so forth. I walked to the bar and ordered some non-alcohol drink at an alcohol price while Billy and the rest of the vintage VCOS listened to every word that proceedeth from Soltau’s mouth.

That evening the rally moved to Midtown Scooters for a barbecue. Midtown Scooters is a tiny shop, in fact, it is a fragment of a larger property that is leased out to multiple small auto service business, but the word among the vintage crowd was that it is the place to get your older scooter fixed. “Tim is the only guy you want working on your scoot,” I recall someone saying when I asked how good the mechanic was. I doubt the person I was talking to knew I was one of the few Judases riding a newer Vespa.

I didn’t see Soltau there. I did meet someone else besides Billy from the VCOS though I don’t remember his name. He was tending the grill and explaining to me when Vespa cut over from the two-stroke motors to the four-stroke a little bit of its soul got lost or some BS like that. Despite that foreboding (and stupid) comment I decided to ask him if he thought someone would sponsor me with my late-model Vespa as a VCOS prospect.

He smiled, handing me a hotdog in a bun and said, “No. We’re a vintage club.” Then started in on how great it is to have a vintage Vespa. I wanted right then and there–hotdog in hand–to ask him rhetorically isn’t the whole reason the Vespa Club of America exists is to promote the Vespa product? Not these old ones (and maybe even not my five-year-old Granturismo, for that matter). Vespa does not get a dime from someone buying a rusty old 1966 Super Sprint. Of course, I held my tongue and ate the dog. My teetotalling ways probably won’t mesh with these excessive beer drinkers, anyway. After I finished the dog, I downed a diet soda and quietly mounted my ooooh so gauche GT 200 and left. Since I decided to never attend another VCOS rally (and hazard the chance of photobombing club members’ shots of all their K00L P125s, Super Sprint’s, and Rallys with my butt-ugly GT 200), I never had the opportunity to see Soltau again.

Belated vindication! Soltau is using a late model Granturismo in the attached videos. (Either a GTS 300 or 350; a Super by the looks of the detail.) Take that, VCOS vintage snobs! Soltau also took a swipe at vintage snobs in the first video, as well. 

Sorry for the rag-tangent. This post is sounding like it’s about me rather than the Master Technician. Then again this blog’s foundation is principally made with first person singular cement. Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, I never turned out to be a club guy. I tried to hang out with the Sacramento chapter of the Royal Bastards Scooter Club. A club that happily accepted owners of all makes/models of scooters–Billy! After only a few awkward meetups and a Rio Vista run gone sideways I was reminded there’s a reason I’m a loner: whenever I make an effort to become a part of something beyond myself someone usually pisses me off. I’ve been riding solo ever since.

Anyway, below is the ten-part Vespa Tech Workshop I accidentally ran across. Strange I didn’t find this earlier. I don’t think any of my usual readers are going to go through the ten videos lasting over six and a half hours. I’m posting it anyway because I’m a hopeless hero worshiper and though I only saw him for a moment (and occasionally see his immortal image on many VCLG Facebook posts popping wheelies, eating, drinking, smiling, and laughing with his club members) he was a monumental figure in the scooter world, though very approachable. Kudos to Ryan Kirk who recorded and posted these on his YouTube channel back in 2012. Will I ever use these videos? Me? Ha! I’m the guy who struggles to replace an inner tube on his bicycle! No, I don’t think so, but my model is mentioned throughout the videos, so one never knows. I’m just glad Soltau and Kirk had the foresight to record these treasures and share them with the shooter world!

Postscript: While watching these videos, Rolf answered the question that indirectly led me to the discovery of this treasure trove: the light on my instrument cluster is a diagnostic LED for the electrical system. Now to look up the flash sequence codes to figure out what my ride is trying to tell me. So I did glean something from these videos.Thanks, Rolfie! You were a mensch!

Finding My Vespa

I recently got my scooter towed. I and three or four motorcyclists had been parking our rides in a tow away zone for a couple of days. Sure there were signs, but each day I found my Vespa in the spot where I left it–in between two signs prominently stating: NO PARKING BETWEEN 9-5 PM. The City was laying a new sewer line and where we were parked we were about four feet away from where the jackhammer was scheduled to work. No problem we all thought.

On the third day, I left my work excited to dine and see American Made with some friends of mine. When emerged from an alley ready to jaywalk to my scooter (I like to break petty laws, as you may have gathered) I could see it was gone. I panicked. Sure the City’s sandwich boards were still their warning all drivers and riders they will get towed if they dare, but, as I tried to convey above–motorcyclists and their rides are special, these rules don’t apply to us.

After I calmed down, I considered the remote possibility that the City towed my Vespa. I called a number I got from 3-1-1. It turns out my Vespa had been towed, after all. This was good news. I knew I was going to have to pay up the nose to get my scooter back, but the alternative was much worse.

It was past 5 p.m. when I nailed down exactly where my ride was but, unless I wanted to shell out more money I would have to wait until tomorrow, and even the overnight stay would cost more. Ugh. Below is a modest, poorly-shot storyboard of my adventure reclaiming my Vespa GT 200L.

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The next morning after re-verifying where my scooter was, I needed a ride. Lucky for me I work next to a taxi hub.

 

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I caught the closest cab to me and found out there is a pecking order. I was instructed to walk to the front of the line. The driver in that car drove me to the Sacramento Police Station. I have only been a paid rider in a taxi once before. I paid the driver in cash to take me to a River Cats game in town. It is nice that taxi drivers have those credit card scanners on their smartphones. It turns out the police station was the one that was walking distance from my house. It would have been far more convenient and a little cheaper if I had just walked to the station from my house. Unfortunately, last night I didn’t know that I needed a Vehicle Release form that is provided by the police at the price of a parking ticket. I had started from scratch that morning at work and spoke to a person who worked at the tow yard.

 

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Just outside the police station. I bet this gets plenty of use!

 

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Then again the SPD accepts all major credit cards! Otherwise, I guess I would have had to go to that ATM. The officer at the window was very nice and with a sense of humor–when I told her where my scooter was towed from she smiled and said three other motorcycles were towed from that location at that time. Sorry bros. Too bad we didn’t show up here at the same time. It would have been funny. Meh, probably not.

 

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Check it out, bitches, I’m a Junior Officer!

 

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After getting the form and paying the bill I walked over to Jack in the Box for a breakfast sandwich, hash browns, some truly horrid coffee and something else just as horrid.

 

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I did something I swore I would never do: I downloaded and used a ride-sharing app/service. I hate Uber. I hate the name Uber. (The Nazis loved that word. Remember the Nazis?) I like the idea I picked up somewhere to use word Uber as a euphemism for “shit,” “goddamnit,” or some other expletive I would use when I stub my toe or have my scooter towed. The screenshot above is not the Uber app. I was going to use Uber, but the first thing to come up on my phone’s browser was Lyft. So that’s what I setup while I had my artery-clogging breakfast. Notice all the hyperlinked Ubers? No, they don’t link to the shitty company’s corporate site, nor do any of them send you to a download page. They all go to different news, opinion, and even humorous videos that explain what a neo-liberal, ecology-busting, and utterly destructive company Uber is. You think Uber (as well as Lyft and all the other ride-sharing companies) is nifty, convenient, post-modern hip, not to mention money-saving? Think again.

 

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My hatred of Uber–the WalMart on Wheels–gave me an idea of comparing the taxi service with a ride-share service. My ride came quick, quicker than a taxi, I am sure, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for reasons Richard Wolff, the Chicago Tribune, Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman, The Nation Magazine, Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky, In These Times, Chris Hedges, DSA, Kshama Sawant, PSL, both of my sons, and other sources (some linked above) can explain far better than I can.

 

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My driver was nice. Maybe nicer than the taxi driver, but who gives a shit–the taxi didn’t get lost. I’m not kidding. The Lyft driver with his smartphone navigation app running couldn’t figure out how to get to the tow yard.

 

Lyft lost

Finally, he asked if he could use my phone. I already had the app up with the sound down so it wouldn’t confuse him. Too late. He was confused from the start. The sad thing was I–the customer–knew we were going the wrong direction before I asked Siri for directions. It was simple math–the avenue numbers were going up when we needed to go down, towards Downtown. Ultimately, he asked to use my phone. I turned up the volume and gave it to him and we were finally going in the correct direction.

 

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At the yard, I paid for the tow and the one-night layover. But first I paid the Lyft driver via the app/PayPal. He looked over my should and asked that I give him the highest rating–Five Stars. He also wanted me to click on all four areas of satisfaction–one of them being navigation. I did as he asked so I could get rid of him.

 

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When I saw my ride I checked to see if my jacket was under the saddle. Yep. Then I examined the contents of the top case: helmet, balaclava, gloves, glove liners, Arsenal FC scarf, sunglasses, and–as you can plainly see–toothpaste. You’re damn right I ride prepared!

 

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I checked my tires, breaks, and controls and I was off…

 

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for a cappuccino and a pastry. Then, finally, time to go back to work.

 

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As I pulled into the alley–the same alley where I emerged from to find my scooter gone twenty hours previous–I saw the construction workers tearing up my parking spot.

 

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When I got to my cube, I had the morbid curiosity to know how much money this whole ordeal set me back. It turns out it was over $400. Funny, the thing that got me the most was the $10 parking charge in my office’s covered parking. I used to pay $5, which was all I had in my pocket at the time since I sprang for pizza last night. It didn’t matter though since the attendant told me they only take plastic now. Looking back on it five bucks to me seemed okay considering my scooter doesn’t take a parking spot and there are free motorcycle parking slots all over Downtown (I was just too tired to ride to one). Now it costs a Hamilton. Greedy bastards.

Speaking of greedy bastards. You may wonder how a ride-share service matched up to a taxi. I mean, Lyft was half the price of the taxi. Remember my Lyft driver did not instill confidence and if you don’t know by now exactly why you pay so little for ride-sharing you are not paying attention.

I guess aside from my politics, the moral of this story is “Don’t Park in a Tow-Away Zone.” That’s tough when all my bros on bikes won’t comply. How about “Always Carry Plastic.” I can swing that!

The schizophrenic burger joint

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I started this blog as a journal about scooters, scooter culture, and hamburger joints around the Sacramento Area. I have strayed from those subjects, but not completely. I rode by Mango’s Burgertown at on K Street near 19th here in Sacramento often enough.

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Whew! Just beat the oil train!

Today I decided to see how it stacks up with other Sacramento Area restaurants. I haven’t been checking out the burger joint scene here in a while (I still cannot lose weight!) but thought, with a name like Burgertown I should really check it out. If you’re going to put “burger” in your name you should have a good selection and higher quality burgers.

Burgertown does not disappoint. However, Mango’s Burgertown–as illustrated from its website–is a schizophrenic affair: by day it’s a local bar that serves over a dozen different types of burgers. By night it appears to be a very lively nightclub. Me, I’m a homebody with a list of TV shows and books to attend to, so I’ll have to trust the website’s claim that this is a hopping place. Now, around lunchtime, it is pretty quiet. There are the omnipresent giant-screen TVs, with a soccer match and a basketball game on when I visited. I didn’t check out the back yard where, presumably, there’s a large area for live bands and such.

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I ordered the Dirty Cheese Burger with Garlic Curly Fries. I do not order chiliburgers as a rule–too messy, but I was intrigued by the contents: besides the 1/2 lbs Five Dot Ranch beef patty and cheddar, the Dirty Cheese Burger features sour cream(!), jalapenos, red onions, and Burgertown’s own chili con carne. I was glad that they didn’t ruin the burger by throwing in the conventional tomatoes, pickles, and lettuce. You think those omissions are evident? I was at a deli recently where the customer had to ask the preparer to hold those items on her meatball sandwich! Some places think more is better regardless what that “more” is.

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Dirty Cheese Burger and Garlic Curly Fries

The burger comes standard on a focaccia bun and a pickle spear (somewhere buried under my fries). The chili in the burger was not as messy as it could have been. Even better–the bun did not disintegrate as I progressed through the burger, as often does with some burgers and especially with messy-types like a chiliburger. In the end, I wouldn’t order the Dirty Cheese Burger again, but I will come back to BurgerTown, and that is saying something! As for service, considering the parking meter situation in Sacramento, it was nice that I ordered and ate all within one hour. This says as much about how fast the service was as it does how the author inhales food!

Mango’s Burgertown is located at 1930 K St, Sacramento, CA 95811.

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play

via Daily Prompt: Prudent

I try to ride my bicycle to work every day. That’s eleven miles of commuting a day. Not much, but I don’t really like to ride on a recreational basis, and I don’t put in many steps in the form of walking my dog or “micro walks” (to quote a FitBit article) on my breaks. So, when I ride my scooter into work, there’s usually a valid reason.

Today I rode my scooter into work because I need to get my Vespa serviced and planned to ride the “Green Hornet” to my shop during my lunch hour and walk back to the office grabbing a bit along the way. I’d take public transit home. In the past, it would take only a day or two to work on my ride, and I would take the bus in the day after I got the call the scooter is ready to pick up–repeating the above process in reverse. Damn, I’m smart.

I started riding to Barber’s Automotive where I always get my service done. What’s the address? Uh, I don’t know, but I will recognize the landmarks. That’s how I work. Fifteen minutes later and I am way south of where I believed location is. I finally pull over and asked Siri on my iPhone where Barber’s Automotive is. Siri replies in a rather snooty tone, “Here is the contact information on Barber’s Automotive.” Yeah, I had the information in my Contacts and Siri is rubbing my nose it. I’m surprised it didn’t point out I could have looked this up at my desk before leaving. I’m glad I had changed Siri’s voice from the sexy British Female back to the default American Female–the Brit would have sounded intolerable!

scooter citySo after riding to the shop, I parked my scooter in front of Barber’s Automotive and walked into the garage. My mechanic, Frank, wasn’t around, but some younger guy walked up and asked if he could help me. I said I needed my ride serviced. He gave me a look of surprise and said, “We haven’t done that in quite some time. We do cars strictly. You want to go to Scooter City. It has a service center now.” He proceeds to tell me where Scooter City is. I thanked him and started to put on my helmet and jacket when he informed me that the Scooter City is closed on Mondays.

So I rode my scooter into work on a day I did not need to, which also means I did not get 11 miles exercise in. I rode my Vespa back to my parking spot and was told by my man a hardhat that tomorrow these motorcycle parking spots would be taped off for roadwork. So, unless I want to find some other–less convenient parking spot–, I will not be able to get my ride serviced tomorrow.

In my frustration of wasting a commute on my scooter, I threw figuratively throw my hands up and–with what little time I had left of my lunch–I walked to the nearest eatery, the less-than-healthy-choice Bud’s Buffet and got buffalo chicken sandwich and some chips and some diet cola. Baby with the bathwater. Now, what’s the Daily Post prompt word of the day? Oh yeah, “Prudent.” I’ll get right on it!

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When Prudence is not on the menu.