Archive for May, 2007

Ramblin’ and Wrenchin’ with Roadbum

Monday, May 21st, 2007

Weather: Isolated Thunderstorms threatened, but never happened.
Road Conditions: Dry and twisty, just the way we like `em.

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Scooters and boats. What’s the connection? Read on…

My new Vespa “Rose” and I headed North this past weekend. This was our first long roadtrip together, and I have really been looking forward to it. I wanted to see how my new GTS performed out on the open roads, beyond the suburbs and into the hinterlands of agricultural Minnesota.

Our destination was Sartell, a small town ninety miles away, to visit a fellow scooterist and moto-blogger who calls himself “Roadbum”. He is the proprietor of a little place on the web called “Midwest Scooter Enthusiast”.

The route I planned took us up the Mississippi River, starting with the urban Parkways, and following the county two-lanes all the way to Saint Cloud. From there, we proceeded through contemporary suburban developments to my friend’s tidy split-level home in a nice neighborhood in this very modern small town.

Parking Rose in the driveway, I walked up to the door and rang the bell, wondering what this guy I know only from internet and telephone conversations was going to look like.

Harvey “Roadbum” Binder is a compact fellow, with an oversize personality. After we shook hands, I had to re-tune my mental modem to a higher baud-rate in order to keep up with everything he was telling me. People of my parent’s generation might have called him “high-strung”. I found him fascinating, because he is the kind of guy who won’t tolerate intellectual laziness, and I found myself rising to his challenge in a most enjoyable way.

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Roadbum was fascinated by this old ragtop fire engine at the boatyard.

Within the space of the first hour or so, we had pretty-well covered the subject of modern Vespas, and were beginning to delve into philosophy when Harvey’s wife Annette showed up, coming home from her job as a nuclear medicine techologist. This was our cue to hand over the domestic duties and saddle-up our scooters for a ride around the local landmarks. The poor lady never even had a chance to unwind after work before we went buzzing off over the horizon.

Please accept my apology, Annette. It is only in retrospect that I feel your pain…

What followed was a whirlwind of local roads, mostly sweeping curves and grand vistas. We toured past huge houses built on the shores of local lakes, and farms that had a prosperous, horsey flavour about them. I wasn’t keeping track of the names of the roads, because The Roadbum rides his Vespa LX 150 almost as fast as he talks, and it was all I could do to keep Rose’s headlight in his rearview mirrors.

After awhile, we came upon the Little Rock Boat Works, featured in the two photos above. This place felt, to me, like the legendary Elephant Graveyard of Rudyard Kipling’s novels. This is where the classic old wooden boats go to die… or is it?

No, I believe that Little Rock’s business is to restore these gorgeous old relics back to their former glory, maybe even beyond. I’ll have to make it a point to go back there someday to confirm that.

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Rose and Kythera at Stonehouse Tavern and Eatery.

We worked up an appetite on these mostly-deserted country roads, and pretty soon I asked Harvey if he had a dinner stop in mind.

Of course he did. Stonehouse Tavern and Eatery in Saint Joseph, Minnesota, was going to be our refreshment destination for the evening.

Anyway, we parked outside of this modern, sports-bar looking joint, and sure-enough, that’s what it was. Which is to say that the food was adequate, in the “You get what you pay for” -sort of way. I ordered the Mushroom and Swiss Burger, which is usually a safe bet at such places. And it was good, but I’ve had better.

However, looking at the menu now, I notice that they have a wonderful “Steak Michael”, with all of the things I like in a steak.

Maybe Stonehouse will have another chance to impress me in the future? We’ll see…

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The Swiss and Mushroom Burger at Stonehouse. Utterly adequate…

After dinner, we rambled over some interesting roads on the way back to Harvey’s house. Little did I know that this was only the beginning of the evening’s adventures.

I mean, I was tired, having come over ninety miles on a motorscooter just to get there, and then untold miles exploring the local attractions. While I was picturing the classic “brandy and cigars in front of the fireplace” routine, Mr. Roadbum broke out his huge, world-class collection of air-rifles, in order to test my Marine Corps marksmanship.

Well, this was an offer that I couldn’t refuse…

Once he confirmed that the children were in bed, he set up tiny targets at about nine meters range down the hallway in the basement. Then we proceded to plink at them from the standing-up, “offhand” position.

I swear, I felt like James Bond, coming into the lair of his nemesis, and proving his worthiness in order not to be fed to the sharks in the tank just a foot-switch below the floor he was standing on. For the record here, Harvey was not holding a cat…

So, how did I do? As well as Harvey, with his own guns. That made me feel pretty good. I’m not even going to ask if he was sandbagging me…

Sunday morning, Annette went off to work again. This meant that Harvey and I had to entertain the kids. Let me tell you, these twins Dolan and Christina are delightful little urchins. At four years old, they are past the terrible-twos and into that consciousness where they can really surprise you with their perceptions.

We spent the day shopping for necessities, and doing the First Service on my Vespa, Rose. I had brought a few tools with me, and Harvey had everything else we needed in his well-ordered garage. I had printed the shop manual off of a site on the fabulous Internet, and was able to figure out how to check all of the parameters required.

The hub oil drain plug is located in a ridiculous spot, and getting to it resulted in burning my hand on a hot exhaust pipe. Draining it resulted in oil on my rear brake disc, which took much effort to clean off properly. When the stuff did come out, it was clean and perfect, and didn’t need to be replaced after all. Damned Italians…

But the regular oil change and other checks went like clockwork, and we were ready to ride within about three hours, which is only one hour more than the dealership charges for this operation.

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This wheelhouse is a good icon for the ride home.

How to say goodbye? Annette was still at work, on-call. Harvey the Roadbum had been the perfect host, and I felt like hanging around, just to enjoy his conversation. But my own family obligations were calling, and I wasn’t even sure which way I was going to ride home.

Have you ever tried to follow a set of directions in reverse? Without electronic assistance? On a piece of paper which you had to repeatedly pull out of the inside pocket of your jacket?

I knew I would need quite some time just to ride home the way I had planned… which was, essentially, no plan at all.

What I had decided to do was to navigate by the sun, riding south and east on country roads until I bumped against a known highway or river, and adjust my course accordingly.

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Here’s one for Steve Williams… My scooter Rose, In the Sticks.

Well, Harvey the Roadbum understood this, and I left his place shortly after noon. Let me tell you, this was one of the most interesting rides I’ve ever had. Literally navigating by dead-reckoning, when the sun went behind the clouds, I was lost. In those cases, Rose and I would head towards the nearest watertower on the horizon.

The speed limit was almost always 55 mph. We did that easily. On long, straight sections, where I could see for miles, we stretched that a bit. I can now say with confidence that Rose will top 70 mph. That’s with my 230 lbs seated upright on her back. Not bad…

We made it back to the familiar roads in the Twin Cities, and soon found ourselves on the Parkways which make up Ramble Plan Alpha. Why not? What better way to go home than the route we use almost every day?

Only this time, there was no traffic.

Yeah, I’m Dating a Supermodel!

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Weather: 71°F (22°C) Perfect temperature under partly cloudy skies.
Road Conditions: Dry and clear. Heavy traffic of fans and admirers.

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Rose strikes a pose, everwhere she goes. The camera loves her.

This Vespa adventure isn’t costing me much; only all of my spending money, and all of my free-time. But when you are dating a Supermodel, certain sacrifices have to be made.

The weather I was worried about, earlier in the week, never materialized. Saved by the “urban heat-bubble” again!

What rain there was passed to the north and south of us, but never even wet the streets of our fair Twin Cities, at least not during daylight hours. At night, I dropped into an exhausted sleep, and wouldn’t have awakened to Thunder or The Apocalypse. Rose has been keeping me busy…

I have fallen in love with photography again. Once my prime passion and hobby, second only to riding, I had sort of pushed it into the background in order to concentrate on my writing. But the camera really loves my new Vespa, and I am finding all sorts of new places to take pictures.

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The “Cockpit View” from Rose’s saddle.

Every night after work this week, Rose and I have rambled around, stopping to pose her up against anything that looked interesting. In some cases, I put myself in mortal danger in order to capture a fleeting image. Stopped on a bridge, with traffic whizzing by, just to freeze a special moment, for a record which will soon be forgotten.

But it felt like The Right Thing To Do, at the time. For that brief instant, nothing else existed outside of the viewfinder, even though part of my brain registered the buffeting wind of the trucks passing only a few feet away.

Those of you who pursue Art in any serious form know exactly what I mean…

The hours spent at work, trapped in boxes of cubicle and building, have been very hard to take. I walk past windows which have a view of the parking lot, where Rose awaits impatiently, and try to think of reasons to ride over to our other plant, five miles across town.

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Rose shows off her sleek derriere.

Surprisingly enough, circumstance has provided those opportunities without any help from me. At least once per day I have had to saddle up and sally forth on a mission of great urgency. On these sorties, unfortunately, I have to leave the camera behind.

You see, there is no stopping for the pursuit of Art on Company Time. But Rose has served me very well in my dual role as Corporate Courier, and Quality Man to the Rescue.

She really is an asset to The Company. When we have to carry cargo, the luggage rack folds down, and the bungee cords keep everything securely in place. When time is of the essence, we can dash off through traffic at freeway speeds, getting around obstacles which would confound the Company Truck.

But even more, our time on the road is like therapy for me. These trips help to break the grip of Existential Gravity, and keep my mind fresh so I can tackle each new challenge with renewed vigor. Or, something like that…

I wonder if there is a tax-break for this sort of thing.

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Rose looks right at home in the Big City.

At the end of the day, which is three-thirty pee-em in my case, Rose is ready to party! She has moves that leave the drones dumbfounded. This is her favorite time, because we have no set schedule, and we can explore her new environment at will.

We look for scenic spots and twisty roads, any place which has character beyond the Gray Everyday. We often stop for photographs, as a Supermodel must. People wave at us, and we always meep the horn in response. Sometimes we feel like Rockstars, just riding down the street…

In the end, however, I am still simply a working man. Rose is my newest Ride to Work. She makes me feel special, in certain circumstances. Like when I’m riding down my home street, and the gang of school girls flashes me the “peace” sign. I flash it back, and they squeal with delight! They don’t do that when I ride Frogwing.

The Ramble is going to be different with Rose, because we cannot go where Frogwing goes. I will still ride Frogwing, of course, when his talents are required. But for now, I am really enjoying this sweet, sexy, quiet, and sneaky-fast little scooter on my daily commute. We are almost done with her break-in period, and ready for a real-world evaluation.

That’s when I will have to put on my moto-journalist hat once again and see if I can find any blemishes under her makeup. I’ve been keeping track of the numbers, in a most un-romantic fashion, and will have the straight “Rush Hour Road-Test” data for you sometime next week.

But until then, I’m just gonna keep on Living The Dream…

Ramble Plan Lima: DeGidio’s via Vespa!

Monday, May 14th, 2007

Weather: 82°F (28°C) With thunderstorms on the horizon.
Road Conditions: Clean and dry, but not for long…

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Finally I have a motorbike that looks good in black and white!

Today turned out exactly the way I wanted it to. How often can you say that, especially on a Monday?

I awoke this morning primed for bad news from the weather man. A big storm system was brewing to our southwest, with thunderstorms and large hail, and it was moving in on us at an alarming rate. All through the long night, I listened to the wind howl between the vinyl siding on Ton-Up Manor. I imagined dark clouds gathering, massing for their invasion at sunrise. As I tossed and turned in bed, I began to mentally prepare myself for driving the pickup truck to work, through The Tunnel of Hate on I-94.

But then, an incredible thing happened! As I sipped my coffee at 5:05 in the a.m., I listened to the noble members of the Windsock and Crystal Ball Guild tell me that any storm activity would hold off until late afternoon. Chances were good that Rose and I could enjoy a dry ride to work, and a hail-free ride home. I don’t mind plain old rain, but hail is a real problem on a metal-bodied scooter.

So, with clear sailing ahead, I suited up in my Aerostich and headed out to the garage. Rose started eagerly, as if anxious to begin our first commute together. I know I certainly was. The parkways are empty at this time of morning, yet the sun is close enough to rising that we get that luminous blue glow everywhere, and the headlight is almost superfluous.

We had a smooth ride in, and before I knew it, I was punching the clock, to begin my busy workday. Rose sat out there in the parking lot, smiling at me every time I walked past the window. If she had hands, she would have been crooking a finger at me in a “come hither” gesture, tempting me to cast off the yoke of wage slavery for the day, to come out and play on the roads with her.

But I was engaged in the Serious Business of making the owners of my company even richer than they already are, so there was none of that nonsense in my immediate future. Existential Gravity was in full effect on this volatile Monday, and it was a real struggle to stick around and serve my time. But serve it I did, and I felt no guilt at all as I flew out the door right on the stroke of three-thirty. Free at last!

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Rose abides in a privileged spot, outside DeGidio’s Italian Restaurant.

Ramble Plan Lima is really just a modified Alpha, in that we follow that same tried-and-true River Parkway route until we get to our turn-off for the High Bridge. Then, instead of turning right, we turn left, and head back to 425 West 7th Street, where DeGidio’s Restaurant and Bar has been located since 1933.

Click on the link, and it will tell youse all about how Joe “Kid Bullets” DeGidio parlayed a successful bootlegging career into a thriving restaurant business that has survived into the family’s third generation. I love stories like that, and I was so happy to finally get there when they weren’t crowded. Arriving on an iconic Italian scooter made it even more special.

Rose and I got the parking spot closest to the door. Did I tell you that today turned out exactly the way I wanted it to?

After taking the photo up above there, I went inside and found a perfect booth, with decent lighting for photographs, near the door. A younger fellow named Paul appeared immediately, and after we became acquainted, he guessed my order: The Sloppy Hot Dago. This is the delicacy that Arizona Lucky recommended when he turned me on to this place awhile back. When I asked Paul how he knew, he told me, “I know your type.”

Hmmm… I wonder what that means? Well, the rest of the day was going so well, I decided to take it as a compliment.

I was still looking at the very interesting menu when my Dago arrived on the arm of a very attractive waitress. The service was lightning-quick at this early hour, and the half-pound of fresh Italian sausage was smothered between two slices of bread and lots of marinara and melted cheese. Well, see for yourself…

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A Dago to Die For! DeGidio’s Sloppy Hot Dago.

This sandwich was spicy enough to please my hardcore palate, and distinctly Italian in character. The sausage was hearty, and I appreciated the pepperoncini on the side. I decided to cut this masterpiece in half, so that I could enjoy it again at lunch tomorrow. My coworkers will be jealous when I pull the leftovers out of the microwave.

The To-Go box fit comfortably under Rose’s saddle, along with my rain gear, camera, and a thick, 600-page copy of LeCarre’s “The Honourable Schoolboy”. I mounted up, and we rode back across the river, stopping on the High Bridge to take the black & white photo you see at the top of the page.

It’s supposed to rain again tomorrow morning. How do you like my chances of having two perfect days in a row?