19 April, 2007
About six months ago, I sold my car and bought a scooter. This, I thought, as an urban dweller with a five minute commute, was merely the logical thing to do in times of four dollar gas and global climate collapse. We still had a car (my wife's Prius) for such things as schlepping desks across town, fetching Christmas trees and stocking the Blakemore Institute with comestibles and liquescences. Now, many of you have seen what passes for a scooter these days: chiselled wads of Chinese plastic and tin foil meant to summon visions of Luke's Speeder rather than Quadrophenia. Me, I love the old Lambrettas: time capsules of classic 1960's Italian design, made to tool around town with a plait-wrapped bottle of Chianti whilst the raven-haired, pneumatic sirens simply melt at your pointy-toed feet. Sadly, Lambretta has joined the Avanti and the Cord in the graveyard of beautiful ideas, but the Vespa, always more conventional and less dorky-gorgeous, still aspirates, still draws stares... and gasps from anyone perusing its price sticker. Me, I teach. School. In Los Angeles. So a seven-thousand dollar scooter was about as likely in my driveway as a Tiffany's diamond on my wife's finger.
I fancy myself very clever. And knowledgable of the ways of the 'net. So when the dream of a new Vespa went south, I parked my ass at Google and reckoned up my few alternatives. There were the Japanese faux Vespas, the so-called "retro" Vinos and their ilk. There were a few macho-looking German scoots with names like automatic weapons, all of which severely underpowered by crippling 50cc engines. There were the breathtaking restored Vespas and Lambrettas advertised on eBay for sale from Vietnam, whose new parts were pressed from recycled aluminum cans (an environmentally-sound decision that unfortunately resulted in bikes which crumpled when pushed against a drunken frat-boy's forehead). And then there was the Bajaj.
Ahh, the Bajaj. Built in the subcontinent at what was once the Vespa India factory, using mostly Italian design but modern 4-stroke engines, gearing and brakes, this lovely little throw-back seemed to my jaded eyes the best of all possible worlds: new yet old, stylish yet reliable, economical (90 mpg, according to the screaming web-page) yet powerful (55-60 mph, baby!). This would be my bike. At 3800 measly schekels, how could I lose? And then, as if God were shouting "BUY!! BUY!!" in my ear like some commodities trader, while surfing through Craigslist for solid gold noseclippers I stumbled across a jade 2006 Chetak, 94 strapping miles on the odometer, whose owner was willing to part with it for only 2500 beans. What could I do?
Well, running the opposite direction might have been a good start.