The Horrible Death of Ramble Plan Alpha

August 3rd, 2007

Weather: Sunny skies, but gloomy outlook.
Road Conditions: FUBAR (Look it up…)

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This is what They do when they don’t know what else to do.

By now, everyone who reads this blog must know about the horrible tragedy of the I-35W bridge collapse. It has been on the national news almost 24/7 for the past couple of days.

Before I go any further, let me extend my heartfelt sympathy to the families of those who lost loved ones, or are anxiously visiting hospital patients, or are still waiting for news on somebody who is suddenly missing from their lives.

This was a horrible disaster, and it happened right here in my home town. So I have got to temper my frustration at losing my favorite route to and from work with an understanding that others have lost so much more.

Ramble Plan Alpha was my lifeline. It was the calm, slow route along beautiful parkways, down by the Mississippi River, that made commuting on a scooter during the Winter possible. The scenery was gorgeous, and the traffic moved along at speeds between 25 and 35 miles per hour.

It took me exactly one hour, plus or minus a couple of minutes, to complete Ramble Plan Alpha, almost every single time. On evenings when work had taken everything I had to give for that day, I welcomed the tranquility that this green corridor offered on the ride home.

But last Wednesday, something horrible happened. Now West River Road is buried under tons of concrete and steel, and the remains of who knows how many vehicles… and worse.

The City of Minneapolis put out a map of road closures, in response to this disaster. I faithfully downloaded it, and printed it out, to place under the clear cover of Frogwing’s tankbag. In these days of uncertain road conditions, I have elected to rely on the multi-surface capability of my old faithful companion to get me to and from work.

But that map doesn’t take into account the whims of civic so-called “leaders”, and their desire to keep any unauthorized imagery from getting into the public domain. Roads are blocked off far from the published locations, to block any possible sightlines to the collapsed bridge, and the activities going on there. Only those with corporate press-passes are allowed access, because their imagery will be carefully scrutinized before publication.

I’m seeing badges everywhere. Police reserves, and even retirees are being imported from the surrounding suburbs, to man roadblocks and deny access to as many people as possible. I’m sure I could get there on foot, or even on a mountain bike, but there is no way to infiltrate the Authorities’ battle lines on any kind of motor vehicle.

So tonight, Frogwing and I were funnelled into the worst traffic we have ever seen. Hennepin Avenue was an absolute nightmare. We had to resort to guerrilla tactics in order to get anywhere. Let’s put it this way: we only took to the sidewalks when there were no pedestrians present.

To that guy in the big 4×4 diesel pickup truck who tried to run me over… Be glad it was only your mirror I amputated! I’m on a motorbike, asshole! I’m GOING to get ahead of you! GET USED TO IT!!!

(Note to Ride to Work(tm): This might be good bumper-sticker material. Oh, motorbikes don’t have bumpers… never mind.)

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This is a sample of the scenery on our new main route home from work.

So, we are now defaulting to a modified Ramble Plan Bravo. This takes us past The Sportsman’s Pub, home of that wonderful chili that I reviewed last year.

The streets we use to get there are choked with the traffic overflow from I-35W, but so far I haven’t been able to figure out a way around them. It’s going to require an extra measure of patience, creativity, and maybe outright lawlessness to make my job worth the commute in the future.

I mean, we can’t move. Housing near work is WAY higher than where I live right now. Our house is not ready for sale anyway, and it would take several years of hated labor on my part to bring it up to spec.

So, I am going to have to discover new Ramble Plans to get around all this craziness. When the Repugnican National Convention comes here next year, I’m gonna have to leave. There’s no way I will grant Right of Way to Rich Bastards in Limosines… and they will have plenty of armed mercenaries willing to take me down.

Better to choose my battles….

GREAT BIG RAGE! …in a tiny little cage.

August 1st, 2007

Weather: Clear skies and 75°F (24°C) with rain on the way.
Road Conditions: Dry and clear, with scattered maniacs.

Zero-dark-thirty.

Frogwing and I entered the Tunnel of Hate Freeway in our usual manner this morning. Our entrance is located at the beginning of what they call “Spaghetti Junction” around here, at the confluence of two Interstates: I-94 and I-35E.

So, while we’re still leaned to the right in the cloverleaf on-ramp, I am looking over my shoulder for a break in traffic. Once spotted, we accelerate briskly in third gear to slot-in, grab fourth to match the speed of traffic, and immediately begin looking for our course to the fast lane.

Fifth gear.

Now, we lean through the left and right turns which lead us out of Spaghetti Junction and onto the freeway proper. But this time, we have aroused somebody’s ire…

I see the headlights swerving between lanes in Frogwing’s mirrors. They are low, and rather closely spaced, so I know that it is a compact car. I’m thinking it’s some youngster in one of those hopped-up Hondas, playing a videogame in meatspace.

Imagine my surprise when a little red Geo Metro pulls alongside, and I get a gunsight glare from the grizzled grey head of an unmistakable combat veteran. We stay like that for a moment, and then he floors it and pulls ahead.

Sure enough, the back of his car is completely festooned with “Retired U.S. Marine”, and “Vietnam Combat Veteran” stickers. The Southeast Asia Campaign Ribbon bumper sticker has pride of place in the bottom center of the rear window, and on his license plate is a Purple Heart.

He is driving as though the Hounds of Hell are after him, torturing every last measure of speed out of the poor little cage. He is tailgating, weaving between lanes, and charging through gaps that I would hesitate to exploit on a motorbike. For some reason; a mixture of morbid fascination and maybe a tiny bit of residual malice towards this ghost of Drill Instructors past, Frogwing and I follow.

We keep our distance, mind you. No telling what kind of havoc this fool might wreak out here. But I take every opportunity to place Frogwing’s headlight squarely in his rearview mirror. I’ve memorized his license number, and I will be a witness to any collateral damage he causes. I want him to know that. Today is my day to be a Bastard, I guess…

After awhile, he calms down a bit. We are still well over the speed limit, and he is still tailgating and passing at random, but somehow it seems a tightly controlled aggression. I find myself wondering where all this rage is coming from. Here is a man, obviously on a military pension, driving a crappy little car to a job he has to start very early.

He is wearing a t-shirt, so it’s obvious he is not The Boss. I wonder how much of his rage originates there.

Though I am loathe to admit it, I know exactly where he is coming from. Many’s the time, driving my own cage, when I felt trapped by the glass and steel around me. Trapped in my vehicle as I sometimes felt trapped in my life.

On a motorbike, I never feel trapped. I have Options.

I want to pull this guy over, tell him to get a motorbike, get out and ride, get over his rage…

But what do I really know about him? I’m just projecting here. I know what I know, but I have no idea what is going through his head.

Twenty-six miles is a long way to keep something like this going. At about eighteen miles, I let him go. Frogwing and I slide over into the middle lane and blend in with the rest of the traffic. Maybe that will take the pressure off this ticking time-bomb of a road-raging cager. Good thing he can’t afford a Hummer…

I really hate the fact that he is so obviously a Marine. It makes me want to take the sticker off the front of Frogwing. We get so much bad press these days, because of the insanity over in Iraq. Just like we got bad press in the `60’s and `70’s over Vietnam.

Sometimes, people at the side of the road begin to smile when they see us riding along, but then I see that smile freeze into a grimace at the sight of that sticker.

Still, I can’t help thinking that riding a motorcycle or scooter would help this guy gain some perspective, just like it has for me. Or, if his fuse gets lit, and he goes off, at least he won’t do as much damage.

Ride to Work Profile: “Scooterriffic”

July 27th, 2007

Today’s RTW Profile features another scooterist, another “Vesparado”.

She lives in Adelaide, Australia, and I became aware of her by the frequent posts she puts up on the Modern Vespa forum. The photo you see below is a larger copy of the image she uses as her “avatar” there.

“Scooterriffic” prefers that her real name remain a secret, so I cannot publish that here. In her Ride to Work essay, she uses a lot of Australian slang, which I will do my best to translate. My comments will be in italics.

If you have any questions about what you read here, please address them to the comments section.

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The face that graces so many posts on the Modern Vespa forum.

“Scooterriffic” says:

My normal ride to work is too short to bother describing. About two kilometres through a few leafy terraces, with a one hour stop for two double shot long blacks and a browse of the national broadsheet on the way to the office.

For the next few weeks it’s a little different. I am house-sitting for a friend. Or more accurately, dog, cat and chook-sitting in a suburb by the sea to the north-west of Adelaide, increasing my commute to 40 plus k’s a day.

“chook” means chicken.

This is the first time since I bought the Vespa that I have had to visit a service station more than once a fortnight.

Semaphore and the Port Adelaide area is a great part of town. Old pubs that haven’t been turned into renovated meat markets selling boutique beers. No way! This place has a great sense of community and pride that comes from its working class roots, its footy team and its sense of its own history.


The journey begins here – typical working class cottage from the early
20th century. Timber and corrugated iron – now gentrified.

Two films have been shot down here; Bad Boy Bubby (in the 90s) and Look Both Ways (a few years ago.) Look them up to see more, but please don’t take Bubby as being representative of a typical Australian life.

While gentrification hasn’t passed the area by, it still hasn’t been invaded by yuppies in SUVs who want to turn it into the overpriced bourgeois enclave they just moved out of.

The new apartments being built on what was once industrial wasteland may change this. People crazy enough to pay more than a million for a penthouse that includes the Adelaide Brighton Cement Works in its vista will be fighting hard to increase the value of their investment.

My days out here start with a ritual – get Barbara the labrador outside and the cats inside so she doesn’t eat their food. Then head out the front and feed the chooks and check for eggs. Tell crying dog at side gate to shut up. She is currently working on a 1:20 scale replica of the Suez Canal in the backyard. I am ignoring it.

Then get the cats out, sometimes involving threats of physical violence if they decide to try and hide under the bed for the day.

Once this is all out of the way (and I have taken to washing my hair at night to make it all happen without having to get up at 5am) I push the Vespa out of the garage.

Barbara likes to go for drives, so it is not possible to exit the yard without her trying to work out how to join me on the scoot if I have the engine running.

I start her up in the back alley, known colloquially in Australia as “dunny lanes” because they were used by the night soil men to collect the ummm…waste products from houses in the days before plumbing.

I’ve just had a PM Tuning exhaust fitted, so hello neighbours!

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Ever get the feeling they’re out to get you? The road to outer harbour, avec jaws.

I head straight onto a road that leads from Outer Harbour, Adelaide’s commercial port. The road is heavy with petrol tankers and B doubles, but it is a 60kph zone and vehicles are all well behaved. There are too many traffic lights and level crossings for those big beasts to build up any serious momentum.

Far as I can make out, a “B double” is what we typically call a semi-truck, or 18-wheeler.

A nice, gently curving road starts the journey, past a pub that actually had a horse grazing on the block next to it the first time I came down here. I am really only 15 minutes from the CBD, but it’s another world.

CBD = Central Business District.

My ride takes me along most of the length of Port Road, the major arterial to this part of town. Peak hour is a doddle. It is busy enough and fast enough that the cagers are generally well behaved. It is one of the few places considerate driving is still practiced – for the most part – with vehicles making allowances for those needing to change lanes. We’re all just trying to get to work.

Night time on this road is another story. But I might save that one for later.

I bypass the city. There is a real bottle neck through the northern end of Adelaide’s square-mile CBD at the moment, as the tramline (our only tramline, from Glenelg Beach to the south west of the city) is extended along North Terrace. Lanes are closed down, right hand turns are limited. It’s not anything I’m interested in before my vital heart-starter dose of caffeine.

The city bypass takes me around the outside edge of Adelaide’s parklands. As I just mentioned in passing, our CBD was designed as a square mile, surrounded by parklands. A very civilised concept. Some public buildings have been built on this protected strip, but any attempts at further clawing back of public land are fought off tenaciously.

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Big house, big palm tree. Not mine!

I am about to head through some of our wealthiest suburbs, in stark contrast to what I have just left behind.

Medindie is a postage stamp-sized locale full of very large houses. Very, very large. And palm trees, for some reason. A little flamboyant for such an old-money kind of place, I would have thought.

My journey around the parklands soon takes me past Adelaide’s most exclusive boy’s school. St. Peter’s College is the size of a whole suburb. The doctors and lawyers of tomorrow are all in there.

From a traffic point of view, you don’t have to slow down for children in the area, none of them walk to school. You just avoid the left lane because 99.9% of European cars will be turning in to the school gates.

To my right is the Botanical Gardens’ “Glass Pasty” and the Adelaide Wine Centre, a piece of architecture that divides people. I belong on the “love it” team. And the plonk inside is alright, too.

Okay, I’m stumped too… What, exactly, is this “plonk” of which you speak?

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This, I guess, is the “glass pasty” she is talking about. Nice scooter, btw…=gc=

If I’ve managed to set off before 7.30am, I will get a pretty clear run without much traffic. I will have made it to this point by about 8am (and dontcha just love the way so many people seem to head out of their driveways at 8am on the dot?) – I’ve got time for my coffee ritual!!

Up the Norwood Parade to Buongiorno, where they understand I drink coffee like a wog, not a skippy, so when I say strong I really mean it.

Both “wog” and “skippy” are a bit ambiguous in web definitions. Please elaborate?

They know my name, they know what I order. Except for the depths of winter, I sit outside, adjacent to a table full of old Greek guys who meet up every morning to take the piss out of each other. Sometimes one or other of them will bring me a rose. I love all of this stuff. Why would you go to Starbucks?

Actually, in Adelaide, you can’t. They haven’t invaded here yet!

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On the way home…feeling peckish? No it’s not a soprano in a coffin, it’s a wog in a box.

A quick read of The Australian and a bit of a chat with some of the other locals, and I’m off. Work is only a few minutes away from here, and I’ve had a great ride to start my day.

I once heard someone describe the difference between driving and riding to work; driving to work, your work day starts when you get in the car, but your time on
two wheels is your own.

I agree completely.