Vespa Girl learns to scoot
In celebration of two-wheeled humdingers
Nick Grimm and Dixie scooter happily without a trace of weltschmerz.
For weltschmerz, that uniquely German word, defined as “world pain,”
that takes its unhappy exponents an exponential leap beyond ennui and is most frequently associated with winter, there is a simple and decidedly non-Germanic solution.
The simple solution could, in fact, be the answer to a host of life’s problems, from global warming to terminal boredom. So join hands and repeat after me: scooters.
For anyone who thinks those humble little, two-wheeled humdingers are mere motorized trifles, I invite you down to father Terry and son Nick Grimm’s shiny new Sorrento Imports on West Napa Street, where a multitude of their marvelous Volaris are cued up like chrome beauty queens in a polychromatic pageant.
There are frisky little scooters, with 50cc or 125cc motors, the color of brick, or butter, or Gia Scala’s ice-green eyes. There are old vintage Vespas with red upholstery and manual gearshifts and Coke-bottle-sized gauges that belong in some kind of Jules Verne road voyage. These rides have depth.
It’s an axiomatic truth that scooters can make life in a town like Sonoma infinitely breezier. They’re surprisingly affordable, get 80 miles per gallon, reach tidy speeds up to 40 mph and emit minimal pollution. Sorentos’ Volaris (their update on the classic Vespa) are automatic “twisters” with centrifugal clutches (if you know what that means) that require no shifting.
They’ll squeeze into places your Honda Fit can’t fit, and all you need to operate one is a driver’s license, a helmet, a couple of hours to get your sea legs—and perhaps a few de rigueur accessories such as goggles, scarf and dark glasses.
Mastermind and former owner of Kenwood Inn and Spa, Terry Grimm is no stranger to the good life. He and his wife have borne frequent witness to the scooter utopias of Europe, especially Italy where cobbled alleys and the slower pace of life long ago plopped bon vivants onto purring Vespas and Piaggios with fresh bread or shellfish or roses or lovers absorbed neatly onto the back of their modus operandi.
Surely you could pile the whole lot into your minivan, but according to Terry, “Why not make it fun?”
It seems that fuel efficient leanings and pragmatism aside, what Terri is really jump-starting is joie de vivre, a state of mind in which destination is mere dalliance and whatever doesn’t fit in your basket on the way back, who needs?
Terry and his 25-year-old son, Nick, are converting folks of every age and ilk into devout scooterists. Or is it scooteristas?
An adult couple they sold to (who had never ridden before) was spotted zipping happily down West Napa later that day like they’d been on a scooter all their lives. By preparing to offer daily rentals, and by planning as well for a future electric model, they’ll broaden their mod market share even more.
Master mechanic, motorcycle rider and Sonoma scooter buff John Saguto (you can call him Giovanni) will be able to provide repairs and maintenance to your wheels at the shop, which offers a fully equipped service garage. Although he’s more widely known as a disaster management specialist, John says he’s often “happiest working with scooters. I’ve seen people’s lives changed.”
When it comes to pop cultural credibility, the scooter’s hipster heft is uncontested. Over the decades it’s zipped along the zeitgeist of both subversive velvet undergrounds and mainstream cinema—carrying Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn (without helmets) through Rome like a buzzing heartbeat in Roman Holiday, weaving through the loose and lovely alleys of Fellini films, revving up the refractory anthems of chain-smoking Quadrophenia kids.
In the 1960s the Beats adopted them. The Mods, too. Scooters are like jeans: If done correctly, they mold to your generation and your personage. Salvador Dali took a paintbrush to his. Dennis Hopper (with Steve McQueen riding sidecar) appropriately crashed his into a car door in New York. On the other hand, you never saw Steve McQueen actually driving one, or Marlon Brando or, for that matter, Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt.
Scooters have never been the model for manliness, but in this age of global warming and four-dollar gas, the only relevant question is, who cares? That, and what to wear?
My answer is: the appropriate dress.
“When you see a scooter girl, you stop,” says John. “There’s just something about them.”
I may not be a scooter girl, but John duly reviewed my attire and observed that is exactly what I was trying to achieve. My fascination with the scooter dates back to freshman year of college when I became enamored of a certain class of Vespa boy... the shagg-coiffed, cravat-wearing, skinny-jeaned lads skulking the dance floors of Popscene, whose most notorious affectations were fake British accents and round sunglasses big enough to remind me of gaunt horseflies. And the girls who won them over? Mod mavens in well-cropped angles, pencil skirts and perfectly tied scarves. They all rode scooters.
Making my first attempt at Vespa vixen, I rev my way into this upper echelon of hipsterdom, only 14 years too late. With a twist of the handlebar, my red Volari clears her throat with a taut, kittenish rumble and we’re off.
Well, not really. It takes a few loops around the Safeway parking lot lurching over the throttle, revving and turning to get me more comfortable. An hour later, speeding down a thankfully straight country lane, life elevates to kinetic bliss. There is grandeur in every tuft of breeze that rustles up my arms, nerve centers awaken like flowers and spring comes alive in every hungry spurt of acceleration. An engine full of sparrows hums to the butterflies in my chest, “To the Pantheon!”
Now, where is Gregory Peck when I need him?
From the spring 2009 issue of SONOMA