Thursday, July 31, 2008


Back in the early part of this past spring I attended a meeting of the local chapter of A.B.A.T.E. - "Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education" - in order to get a few lawn signs that warn motorists to be watchful for motorcycles. I'd hoped to get there early to grab a few signs and leave, but unfortunately I didn't arrive until their meeting had already started. I walked into a room too full of blue cigarette smoke, denim, and colorful tattoos, and I quietly took a seat in the back.

The topic of heated discussion was politics - namely politicians who seem to favor or disfavor biker legislation - and as I sat down a big lummox of a man had the floor. He was denigrating one of our local state representatives who for many years had been a music teacher in one of the local school districts. The slob who was speaking spoke in a tone of voice that made me cringe as he quite literally made fun of the legislator to the general amusement of most of the folks in attendance. He called him a "former school teacher" with a tenor and timbre that one might reserve for describing a serial ax murderer, and he further poked fun at the man's Polish heritage by calling him a kind of "N-word" used here in the valley to put down persons of Slavic descent. And there I sat, a teacher with a Slavic background, wondering what it was about my heritage and chosen profession that somehow invited the scorn and ridicule of bikers. Indeed, the state representative hadn't done a thing that was anti-biker. The guy was simply making fun of him for being a freshman representative in Harrisburg. It's somewhat ironic that the "T" and "E" in A.B.A.T.E. mean "Toward Education" when at their meeting a man who had chosen education as his career was put down for it.

At the end of the meeting the president asked if there was anybody new in the crowd. Two guys put their hands up. I just sat there, and it was good that I kept mine down and my mouth shut. She asked each of the guys in turn, "What did you think of our meeting?" I shudder to think of what I might have said if she'd asked me because I know I'd not have been able to run from that room fast enough to save my sorry butt if I'd given an honest answer. If the folks there represented a fair cross section of bikers, just keep calling me a scooterist and I'll take my wallet off its chain.

I saw this sign at the park yesterday...

...and thought about how incensed I'd have been if I had seen it some years ago. I used to be a militant smoker who didn't much care if my smoking bothered anybody. I insisted that outdoors smoke couldn't be an annoyance because the sky's just too big for a little puff of smoke not to dissipate instantly. Now when I walk out of a store and have to make my way through the cloud of tar and nicotine and burning particulates coughed up by the smokers who hang out by the doors I can gag. After years of trying the gum and the patch on and off unsuccessfully I became a true quitter after one hypnosis session with Dr. Jeff Fremont. I walked out of his office as if I'd never smoked a day in my life, and I mention all of this because a few days ago I celebrated my fourth anniversary of being a non-smoker.

It was in 1991 that my dad bought a Dodge Dynasty. I was horrified in a morbid kind of way when I heard him say on the night he picked it up, "Well, this is the last car I'll ever buy." He would have been 59 then, only nine years older than I am now, and with that statement I heard my father seeming to throw in the towel on life in admitting his mortality and acknowledging his eventual demise. Now and then through the years I'd remember him saying that and my heart would sink, especially last year when he was diagnosed with lung cancer and through the long months during which he endured radiation and chemotherapy.

Dad's cancer is in remission for now and he seems as strong as ever. It was with a most joyful heart that I accompanied him to the car lot yesterday where he traded in that Dynasty. It wasn't the last car he'd buy after all, and I couldn't be happier!

Dad climbing out of the Dynasty for the last time before trading it in.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Can They Do That?

I'm writing this entry from the place about which I'm writing, a municipal park in Plains, Pennsylvania, a few miles from home. The entrance to the park is at the top of a hill, and at the summit before one might enter the park is a huge sign that reads as follows. (You might need to click to see a larger view in order to read the words - that part about motorcycles being prohibited.)

Could it be? Could a street legal, registered, licensed motorcycle be totally forbidden in a public park? Well, I didn't know, and typical of legislation of any sort, it seemed to be open to interpretation. There was the motorcycle clearly spelled out among the forbidden rides, yet it didn't seem quite right that a properly papered vehicle could be outlawed by a recreational authority. It was time to investigate.

I Googled the number for the municipal police, but my repeated dialings scored me either an answering machine or a busy signal. My next step was to pay a visit to the police station. That didn't pay off any better because a friendly fireman who's stationed at the same location told me that all of the police officers were out on the road. Because I've never been one to sit around waiting for anything I resorted to plan C which was to drive around some of the main streets in Plains to find a police car to pull over. It took me about fifteen minutes of cruising and having one police car elude me until I caught up with a patrol car with two officers in it stopped at a traffic light. I pulled up alongside them and asked if there was somewhere where we might pull over for me to ask them a question. They directed me a little farther up the road and finally I was able to talk to somebody who should be in the know.

Their answer was the one I'd hoped to hear - that a street legal bike is as welcome a means of conveyance at the park as any other such vehicle and that only off road bikes are verboten as per the sign. Thus I was able to add this relatively secluded and pretty location to my list of places from which I might write while the weather's still nice and I'm off for the summer.

Add to the pleasant surroundings the availability of an unsecured Linksys router running somewhere in the neighborhood and here I am, in business at the top of the hill enjoying the summer weather, the stirring view, the chirping birds, - the groan of the ATV engine that some kids are running through here. Wait a minute! They're riding all over the place on a quad and I worried about riding my bike in, parking it, and writing? Sheesh!

And another thing... Does any Recreational Board anywhere have the power to imprison somebody for breaking their little park rules?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Finding Things

Halfway up the valley wall opposite the epicenter of the universe (The Wal-Mart parking lot.) stands a water tower which has been there for at least 25 years. I know the number because that's how long we've been married and I remember being able to see it from the window of the bathroom in our first apartment. In this hazy photo snapped before the morning fog had burned out of the valley it's above and slightly to the right of the rotunda of the Luzerne County Courthouse.

For all those years I wondered where the water tower was, precisely, though I had a vague idea of where it might be. I never ventured out to find it in the car because I'd imagined that little more than a rutted gravel road might lead to where it stands. When the weather turned warm in the spring, I finally set out on the scooter to find it and to see how close I might be able to get to it.

Ta da!

As the definition of adventure goes my trek to the other side of the valley isn't going to put me up there with Neil Armstrong, but I did enjoy finding the mystery water tower on the scooter. Now if I could just find an access road to the windmills on our side of the valley that isn't posted with NO TRESPASSING signs every two feet, or at least has better pavement than cubic inch chunks of crushed rock, I'd be happy.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Scooters: The Great Equalizers

Since the 70s I've loved the sight of Volkswagen Beetles on the roads. They always seemed to have an "I really don't care" attitude about their appearances on highways full of cars, many of which are supposed to be status symbols. All of the traditional status cars are kind of brought down a notch or two in having to share the road with the humble Beetle, and I like that because I don't have much use for snobs of any sort, even the mechanical variety.

Besides that, I'm s sucker for cute little things - like scooters, for example. I'm apt to coo, "Awwww, isn't it adorable," when I see a small bike that I haven't seen before. Sometimes I miss the Fly for its cuteness factor among other things like forcing me to slow down and savor the things past which I ride.

This remains one of my favorite shots of the little bugger, poised in the parkade overlooking part of the downtown skyscape. It almost looks as if it's ready to soar above the rooftops, and that's the feeling it gave me many times while it carried me around the valley through familiar scenes and parts till then unknown.

I've become somewhat of a scooter preacher, encouraging anybody who expresses the slightest interest in getting a scooter to go ahead and do it. I took my first ride at age 49 and will regret for many years to come that I didn't do it much sooner. There's such a sense of freedom in being on two wheels that I'll never be able to describe though I might try here from time to time to put it into words. And, I must admit that I enjoy that feeling of forcing the luxury vehicles to share the road with my humble scooter. Their drivers might have their heated seats, individual sound controls, and real wood trim, but they'll never experience quite the same feeling of being alive that I have on my two small wheels.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Greg was the first best friend I ever made outside of my own neighborhood. We met in our freshman year of high school and became best friends in our sophomore year. He was the best man at my wedding and has been one of my closest friends for most of my life. One of his favorite sayings is - and I paraphrase it here - All you ever really know about someone is what he tells you. It sounds terribly trite on the surface, and not totally accurate because surely there are things about others that we might know objectively, but when you give it some serious thought, it's more true than it seems.

There are so many facets of those of us who blog although each of us typically chooses one particular slice of his life to write about. Though I've only been writing here for a month now, sometimes sticking to the scooter topic seems shallow because it's such a small part of who I am. I find myself at times wanting to talk about other parts of my life that matter to me, but if I want to keep a reader base I figure I had best stick to scootering which is most likely what brought you here in the first place.

Unless you're a mind reader, all you ever really know about someone is what he tells you.

So, what does a good blogger do on a day when there isn't much of note to say about his chosen topic? Is it better not to write anything at all, or to write off topic hoping that somebody out there will find something of value in what might be written? Is a blog more the topic or the person? What do you think?

Saturday, July 26, 2008


I never noticed much before I started riding how claustrophobic the inside of a car can be. I was uncomfortably aware of it today when we rode out to New York to visit the in-laws' graves. Tomorrow will be the 20th anniversary of my mother-in-law's passing and it was a somber trip with each of us pretty much absorbed in our own thoughts.

For a time I looked around kind of studying the inside of the car finding it almost hard to believe that I never really noticed how oppressive the ceiling, the dash, the door frame, the seemingly huge mirror, and other parts in front of me can be. I almost felt trapped and when we stopped at rest areas I was the first one out every time. I suppose I'm going to consider cars as necessary evils for the most part.

I know I'll never be able to ride the scooter all the time with the kinds of winters we have here and when the rains are fierce, but I'm looking forward to my first school year of commuting alone. Our baby will be off to college in a few weeks and when school starts for me I'll be going alone for the first time in many years. In a number of ways I'll be less caged. I'm not terribly fond of change, but I'm ready to take this one by the horns. Okay, handlebars.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Biker Down!

I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. All in all I'd have preferred later - much later...

I awoke yesterday morning, about a half an hour before my alarm would have buzzed, to the lovely sound of, "Joe! There's no hot water!" Investigation downstairs revealed a leak in the hot water heater. After having been grounded from the bike for days because of my weekend trip and then a few days straight of rain I spent the better part of yesterday, which was mostly sunny and relatively cool, waiting for the plumber. After supper I was finally able to get on the bike and when I made it to my favorite Sheetz station, a few miles away, I called a friend to see how her friend who'd been hospitalized was doing. We chatted for a few minutes and just as I was firing up the scooter I heard a siren approaching from a short distance away. I slowed as I rolled toward the exit and determined that the emergency vehicle which was a fire truck was coming from my left. My eyes followed it as it came toward me and then continued to the right. I still didn't notice the accident, maybe 500 feet to my right until the truck, the first vehicle to respond, came to a stop. That's when I saw the accident. That's when I saw the bikes in the middle of the scene.

I made my way out of the exit and the accident was in the direction that I'd been headed anyway. As I rolled past, hoping against all odds that the bikes I'd seen belonged only to witnesses and not to one or more of the accident victims, I knew I'd wasted a good wish when I saw the guy on the ground beside his bike which his riding companion had already righted. He wasn't moving, and ironically, he was wearing a bright orange safety vest. As I drove away more responders arrived. An ambulance. A few police cars. It was then that I realized that the accident must have happened while I was on the phone barely a good stone's throw away. I could have been the guy lying on the ground if not for my decision to pause to make that call. It was a sobering realization.

I said a prayer, and a half mile later when it was safe, I did a U-turn. I needed to know that the rider wasn't dead. As I passed by the scene for the second time, this time closer to the lane where the accident had happened, he was still down as the paramedics scrambled about. I went back to Sheetz, rolled around the parking lot, and came down the exit ramp again pausing at the bottom to take the picture I knew I'd want to post here. I waited through a few light changes at the intersection where the accident had happened just studying the scene and letting the huge sobering feeling sink into me. My best guess was that somebody leaving the casino alongside the highway did a right turn on red in front of the bikes. I'm so vigilant in watching for somebody attempting the classic left turn in front of me that until now I'd not much thought to watch for somebody on the right who might pull out on his red into my green. It was a lesson, but taught to me at another man's expense.

Eventually I left the lot, turning to pass the accident scene again. When I got close enough to see between the emergency vehicles I saw the rider, shaky, but on his feet. I can't describe the feeling of relief that washed over me, but I'm sure you can imagine it if you haven't felt it under similar circumstances yourself. I'd seen motorcycle accidents before, but this was the first since I started riding. I didn't know the man who went down, but it felt as if he were my brother. Though I ride a humble scooter I feel a fraternal kinship to others who ride on two wheels, even bicyclists. No matter how rough and tough a man might look on his bike, on the road he's as fragile as a possum, or a deer, or anything else that ventures out onto a roadway wearing mostly his skin as armor. I need to keep remembering that.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Long Shadows

During the school year my best riding times are in the evenings after dinner. It used to be that I had to gauge my time on the road by the setting of the sun because I didn't have the "M" on my license, and back then I knew that the longer my shadow ran the sooner I'd need to head back home. It seems that my best thinking happens when the sun's going down and at times I'd regret getting back to the house before I'd thought something through as far as I wanted to because as soon as I'd kill the engine the focus was gone. I was a philosophy major once upon a time and the best, deepest thinking is the kind that requires me to be in a zone. Riding, I discovered, puts my head in just the right place to ponder and contemplate under the surface while my conscious mind lends its attention to the important things like watching out for little old ladies pulling out of parking lots without seeing my approach.

The longer, summer evenings just aren't the same, somehow. That stolen time between the last bite of supper and the sun's fading wink during the other seasons was more special and more conducive to thinking. The rides are just as enjoyable now on July's balmy eves - maybe even more so. When it comes to spinning my cerebral gears, though, I suppose I'll just have to wait for those longer shadows to come 'round again to get any real traction.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mechanically Affectionate

I made that face that I make when something seems goofy to me a few days ago when I was visiting one of the scooter forums and came upon a post asking how many scooterists have named their scooters. I thought of J.D. on Scrubs with his beloved "Sasha." I thought of my late mother-in-law and her seemingly immortal "Buster Duster." I thought of our own Chevy hatchback years ago which somebody named "Sylvester" complete with a Sylvester the cat statuette on the dash. Naming vehicles? Goofy all around! Yet...

I remember the first car I owned - a monstrous Fury II given to me by my dad when I married and left his house. It didn't have a name, but one day when I was at work my wife and my dad junked it. We'd been on the verge of buying a new car and it wasn't like I didn't know that the Fury's eventual ride to the scrap heap was on the horizon, but with the way they did it I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to it and some part of me still feels the less for that. Goofy? You bet!

If it appears that I'm touching the Fly50 affectionately in this picture, pat yourself on the back for being emotionally observant. I snapped this shot before I took my final ride on it - back to Team Effort Cycle to trade it in for the BV250. I never did name the Fly, but I did feel a particular closeness to the little thing. (Certain family members occasionally referred to it as "Ladybug" but I wasn't about to call it that myself!) It had served me well in giving me the unmistakable taste of being on two wheels with a motor in between them and of the incomparable sense of freedom that riding provides. And, what can I say? It was cute.

By the way, the BV in BV250 stands for "Beverly." NO! I didn't name it that. Piaggio did. Will I ever call it that? Not even in a nightmare! Well, unless the translation of "Beverly" from Italian means something like, "Manly ride."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

La Cucaracha!

I took French in high school so I don't know much Spanish, hence "La Cucaracha" to sound Spanish for the title of this entry. I calculated this morning that I've ridden the BV250 far enough to have driven from where I live to the west coast of Spain. Granted all that water between here and there would make such a trip a bit soggy, not to mention impossible, but it's a considerable distance to ponder nonetheless.

Yes, this is a really bad map, but I drew it freehand so as not to step on any real cartographers' toes.

Where have I ridden all those miles? Pretty much right here in my own backyard - the Wyoming Valley. In the evening you might find me heading north toward Scranton or south to Nanticoke on the back roads and byways. It's not getting anywhere in particular that accounts for most of my miles - they simply add up fast when I'm scootering about for no reason at all other than enjoying the fun of the ride.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Friendly Bikers

Last year on the way back from a short family vacation to Woodstock we stopped at the Brotherhood Winery in New York. While we were there a bunch of boisterous biker types came rolling in on their big Harleys. For how they were whooping it up in the parking lot and on the grounds we all kind of rolled our eyes at each other and groaned when they got in line to take the same tour that we'd signed up for. We were quite surprised when the guide began the tour and the bikers all got quiet and paid attention. One of the guys in particular stood out because of the frequent, intelligent questions he asked the guide. I guess I'm revealing a kind of prejudice here because when I think biker I don't think doctor or lawyer who just happens to like riding a big bike on the weekends, but these guys were more like that than like the image of a biker I carried around in my head.

During a lull in the tour I approached the question guy. I explained to him that I had a small 50cc scooter at home and that my friends thought I looked hilarious on it. I asked if he thought some of his group would pose for a picture with me because it would crack my friends up even more. As soon as the tour ended and we were back in the lot he called together some of his bunch for the picture. They even dragged the guy with the sunglasses and lots of tattoos away from his sandwich to get into the shot with me, thinking it would make the photo even more funny - which it does.

My thanks to the Staten Island Chapter of the Harley Owners Group for this memorable photograph!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Gone Fishin'

Okay, I've never caught more than a sunny when I was about 13, so I'm not going fishing, but I will be away visiting a friend until Monday on a mini vacation. A local bike shop expresses the woes of working in the summer better than most with this neon sign...

I'll leave it to the other Pennsylvania scooter and cycle guys to pick up the slack till I get back.

Scootin' Fool

Scoot Lancaster

Twisted Roads

Two Lane Blacktop

Thursday, July 17, 2008

On Track

Fewer than 500 feet behind my house runs the old Delaware and Hudson rail line now active with Norfolk Southern and Canadian Pacific freight trains. My dad's family home is only five houses away from where I sit, and I came to love watching and hearing the trains at a very early age while spending many summer days and nights with my beloved grandma. I was talking to a friend last night when the 10:45 train came through with its horns blaring as it approached the nearby crossing. She asked me if the trains wake me at night. No, they don't, but when the sun goes down and I hear a train approaching from a distance I always smile as the sounds take me back to a simpler, easier time when my greatest responsibility was to clean my plate at mealtime - a job that was never hard to do.

Riding to the tracks is a handy excuse to get out on the scooter when I want to go somewhere but nowhere in particular. It's kind of like fishing in that you don't know if you're going to catch something, but also in that it really doesn't matter if you do or not. Being by the rails where countless trains have run since even before my grandfather came to Pennsylvania from Europe always feels like coming home to me. Happening to be there when a train is coming through is a bonus.

There's majesty in a train - in the raw power of the groaning diesels as they make their way up the grade out back. In the smoke, and the dirt, and the grime, in the men themselves who put the behemoth engines through their paces day and night, rain or shine. And there's magic, too. The magic of childhood to which I cling as much as I can with all my might as my beard turns more gray by the day and I notice more wrinkles on the tops of my hands.

There's magic in being on a scooter at age 50 too. Sometimes I'm tempted to put a bicycle bell on it so I can jingle it and wave merrily to kids playing on the sidewalks as I scoot by. Then again, this is a different day and time and place, and if I did that my daughters would call me a "creeper." Sigh! So much has changed. But the trains - they stay the same, and there's a gentle comfort in that.

Overlooking the rail yard at Taylor, Pennsylvania

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

That Didn't Last Long

So that posting via wi-fi from the park wasn't all that exciting after all, I guess. I went back today all set to post something from the same place, especially today on "Ride to Work Day," but when I got there and fired up the laptop I realized while I was waiting for everything to load that I should be out riding instead of just sitting on a concrete bench. Besides, the wave doesn't look like much when you're not on a cycle...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Wireless. Wheeeeeee!

It was over 30 years ago, when I was the accordion player in a popular, local polka band and hanging out with the other guys one summer day, that I suffered a humiliating experience at Grotto Pizza at Harvey’s Lake that left me with an anger that continues to this day. I ordered two slices of pizza and a soda. The guy charged me for them and then went to bring them to me. He served me and then went right back to the register and rang up my order again, forgetting completely that I’d already paid him. He insisted that I had not paid, but I had. I couldn’t talk to the manager – he was it. I was hungry. I paid him again. And in spite of Grotto Pizza expanding to other locations here in the valley, I’ve never given them so much as another tin nickel of business.

In part that experience shaped my adult shopping habits. I will not be mistreated by any business more than once. A person is allowed mistakes, but a business is not without recompense for wasting my time or causing me grief. I simply will not shop again in a place where I am not treated respectfully, fairly, promptly, courteously, and competently. The other side of that coin is my absolute loyalty to businesses which serve me well.

A few years ago I spent about $50 on a plumbing part that I needed to fix the shower only to bring it home and totally destroy it because I knew less about doing the job than I thought I did. I called The Home Depot and asked to speak to the manager. Jokingly I asked, “Do you have an I bought something at your store and brought it home and ruined it and you’ll give me a free one to replace it policy?” The guy laughed and asked me what had happened. I told him truthfully that I simply broke the part due to my own inexperience and carelessness. He told me to bring it back and they’d give me a new one. Guess where I always go first when I need home improvement supplies?

Thus it is that I shamelessly refer repeatedly to Team Effort Cycle here. They (the Schuler family) sold me the Fly and the BV and have been absolutely terrific at servicing me quickly, affordably, and happily since.

And thus it grieves me to acknowledge this on the back of my daughter’s car…

PCs have served me well. I have all the software I could possibly need, and much of it is freeware. The thought of having to rebuild my collection of utilities from the ground up for a different operating system is more than daunting. Unless I had to, I’d never switch from PCs and Windows in spite of believing Gates to be the greediest man who’s ever lived for selling knowingly flawed software and then charging for the fixes. I guess I admire my girls for abandoning PCs and Windows because they believe that their Apples will serve them better (They just got them within the past month.) but at this stage in the game I couldn’t do it myself.

What does any of this have to do with scootering? Just that I’m now writing this entry from a cozy little park on my daughter’s old Toshiba laptop. If I get up the nerve, I just might scooter off to McDonald’s, Starbucks, or Panera Bread and log onto one of their wi-fi networks to post it. I don’t exactly look like your typical wi-fi, laptop junkie, but then again, I kind of burst the mold of what comes down the street on a scooter too.

Hey! Wait a minute! On a lark I figured I'd check to see if there's a wireless connection available right here and what do you know? There is! Somebody's running an unsecured Linksys wireless router in the neighborhood! I'm posting this from right here in the park. Okay, so I'll have to add the pictures later at home today, but from now on I'll carry an interface for the camera card to post pictures live too.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Mechanically Declined

My dad taught me a lot about how to do a lot of things. I can do basic carpentry, masonry, electricity, a little plumbing, and general home improvement on a small scale. Good old dad, though, doesn't know squat about the workings of the internal combustion engine and I know even less than he does. When it came to maintaining my first car, dad gave me all he could - the name and number of his mechanic.

In visiting the various scooter related posting forums I feel like a total idiot whenever somebody writes about scooter modifications. I'd no sooner take a wrench to my Piaggio than I'd take a scalpel to my own midsection. I know I'd do something stupid and ruin the whole thing if I tried, so I don't try. I'd not have bought the Fly nor the BV if my dealer's shop wasn't able to service the bikes. And when I outgrew the Fly I didn't even think about trying to de-restrict it; I bought a bigger cycle.

There are actually guys who order their bikes online, wait for their big cartons to arrive, and then hit up Google or the bike forums to figure out what's wrong when the mail order bikes don't work outright or are plagued with problems. I shudder even to imagine myself in that situation because I'm so totally mechanically inept.

The only time I roll up my sleeves is if I'm eating lobster and I'm afraid that some butter might drip down my arm. Hmmmmmmm. There's an idea! Go scootering with a lobster bib over my shirt. Think the looks I'd get would be any stranger than the usual ones?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Small and Big

This is one of my favorite photos that I've taken on the road. Though I took it with the point and shoot digital camera that I carry on my hip and the contrast and overall quality are lousy, the comical value is rich. My old Fly50 is juxtaposed beside the "Big Boy" locomotive at Steamtown National Park and the contrast in their sizes amuses me as much in the picture as it did when I snapped it.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Sneaking In

I took my daughter to the dentist on the bike a few days ago, and in taking the long way home we came upon a major road with a detour sign and orange cones all over the place. There was no reason within sight that would explain why anybody would have blocked off a section of the entire road so my curiosity was piqued. After I dropped off the girl and had lunch I ventured back to the same road from the opposite direction and sure enough, it was blocked from the other side as well.

By riding into a nearby shopping center parking lot and making my way to the far end I discovered a small space that was way too narrow for a car to pass through, through which I could drive the bike into an adjacent lot. Two more times of doing the same thing, and I was parallel to the reason for the detour...

Parked in the lot into which I'd ridden was the punch line for an old Pennsylvania joke: What's big and orange and sleeps six? A PennDot truck. Sure enough, the commonwealth had sent out an "Emergency Incident Team" - a truck with a trailer that apparently holds detour signs and cones - and a crew of dedicated public servants to put up those obstructions and then to sit around and watch the other guys work.

Friday, July 11, 2008

What Are All Those Squiggly Lines For?

In my introductory post here I'd made mention of the fact that I wanted a scooter in part to avoid having to get a motorcycle license. Perhaps it's a bad attitude for a teacher to have, but it had been a long time since I had to worry about making the grade for anything and I was fearing the tests involved, both the knowledge test and the road test. Thus it was that I bought the Fly50.

Before I could upgrade to the BV250 a few months later I had to get the dreaded motorcycle permit. I picked up a copy of the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Operator Manual and gave it a few cursory glances before I headed down to the testing center the following Saturday. My plan was to nail the test and then head to Team Effort Cycle to buy the BV. Much to my horror, I failed the knowledge test and because of the schedule at the testing center I wouldn't be able to retake it until the following Tuesday. Shamefaced I made my way back home and started studying the manual in earnest.

I hit that manual with a highlighter as if it were a 500 page Psych 101 book in a bad back-in-college dream.

With the permit in hand on Tuesday, after passing the test with flying colors on the second try, I got the BV and was on my merry way. I was disappointed, though, to learn that without the full license I wouldn't be able to ride after dark nor carry a passenger. Dark comes early here in Northeast Pennsylvania in October, and my riding time after work would be very limited as winter approached and each day got a little bit shorter. Besides, I couldn't take the bike to work because I typically dropped my daughter off at school on my way to my own school and couldn't let her ride with me. I needed the license!

In Pennsylvania there are two ways to get the coveted "M" added to one's driver's license. One way is to take a road test like a 16 year old kid with a crotchety old examiner. The other is to spend some serious hours in taking a rider safety course. The experienced rider's course caught my eye - six hours on a single day and you get your license upon the successful completion of the exercises. Of course there's always a "but," however, and since it was late October there would be no more courses offered until the spring. I needed to take the road test! Failure, however, was a mighty big crow to eat and digest when I flunked that knowledge test and I wasn't crazy about the thought of having to risk it again.

I rode every now and then to the testing area a few miles out of town and stared at the lines in the parking lot which I knew were part of the motorcycle test, and it didn't help that they were mixed in with the CDL testing grids and markers. I'd hoped to find somebody running through the test so I'd know would be expected if I were to take the road test, but there was never anybody there taking the test and I wasn't going to take a number inside only to wait an hour to talk to a civil servant who might have been no help at all. The few bikers I'd approached and asked about the road test all said that they'd taken the safety course and recommended it, but that fifteen minute test compared to wasting the better part of a Sunday sounded awfully inviting even if I had to take my chances at failing.

There were way too many squiggly lines in that DMV parking lot, with nobody around to explain them.

Try as I might, I couldn't get the scoop on that nefarious test in the least and by the time I grudgingly started thinking about taking the safety course winter had come and nearly gone. Pennsylvania offers the Motorcycle Safety Program free of charge, and now I'm among that group of riders who recommends it highly. I took the experienced rider's course in early May and learned a number of skills that I use every time I'm out. I'm very grateful to Marty and his crew of instructors at the Dunmore location of the MSP. And I got my "M" endorsement without having to figure out all those strange lines in the DMV parking lot!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Spying BV250's Big Brother

I rolled into a parking space by the local Wal-Mart a few days ago when I was headed to get a printer cartridge refilled and in the next space was a Piaggio BV500 - the big brother to my BV250. I dismounted, snapped a quick picture of the two bikes beside each other, and headed into Cartridge World where the good folks determined that my cartridge was just a little dried or blocked and not in need of refilling at all. They cleaned it up, printed a flawless test page and sent me on my merry way free of charge.

When I got back to the bike I raised the kickstand and was just about to fire it up when I heard, "How do you like it?" from behind me. A friendly looking baker type from Nello's Pizza next door approached and after he introduced himself as Ralph we got into talking about the joys of riding the BVs.

I like it that scooters seem to be quite the conversation pieces. I've had many friendly chats with folks about the Fly and the BV, and now that gas prices are through the ceiling I get more questions more often when stopped at traffic lights and purchasing gas. I'm always happy to provide encouragement when people tell me that they're considering getting a scooter and I even carry cards to steer prospective fellow scooterites to Team Effort Cycle where I got my bikes and where the Schuler family is simply first rate in providing sales and service to satisfied and happy riders like Ralph and me.

A very congenial Ralph, who also got his BV at Team Effort, took a break from baking pizzas to discuss the finer points of scootering with me.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fall Down, Go Boom!

I've been riding for over a year now and I've laid down the bikes three times. Luckily, each time I was barely moving, but I didn't see the falls coming at all.

The most recent spill happened two days ago at an intersection. I came a little faster than I'd anticipated upon a stop sign and when my forward motion stopped, so did my balance which teetered for a moment toward the right before I knew I was going over. I reached down firmly with my right foot to steady the bike, but there was nothing there, and as if in slow motion I saw and felt myself topple with the bike completely over to the right.

The road on which I'd been traveling approached the other which was a perpendicular hill rising to my left. Apparently the corner at which I'd stopped was banked so as to merge the roadway with that of the hill and the slant at the corner was just too much. A day later I revisited the same spot and was careful to reduce my speed appropriately sooner and to stay more to the center of the lane, but if not for having had the experience of going down the day before I'd have done exactly the same thing. The road's just too slanted to stop there comfortably and remain securely upright.

I'm a little sore where my thigh hit the pavement but other than that, even though I'd been wearing shorts and a tee shirt, I didn't suffer so much as a scratch. The evidence on my helmet was a bit sobering, however. The scratches might have been on my noggin and might have been worse than just some scratches!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Celebrity Scooter - Live and in Person!

Yours truly beside Duff Goldman's Vespa at Charm City Cakes.
[Photo by Edith]

My daughters watch The Food Network as if it were real TV. I can see watching it if one is interested in seeing how a particular culinary item is prepared, but to watch it for the sake of watching television? Hardly.

Anyway, one of the girls' hallowed shows on TFN is "Ace of Cakes" featuring master baker Duff Goldman and his crew of friends at Charm City Cakes who produce some truly amazing edible creations. When we happened to be in Baltimore over this past weekend to visit The Book Thing, the younger of our girls called my sister and asked her to Google the location of Goldman's bakery in relation to where we were at the time. It just so happened that Charm City Cakes was only a few blocks away, so after getting our fill of books we headed to the bakery.

The girls were tremendously excited to see the outside of the building. Goldman's bakery is locked up tight, like the impenetrable castle it resembles, with the windows even covered up lest one peer inside for a peek for which Charm City Cakes might not be able to assess a charge. Hours are by appointment only - with a $100 minimum to set foot inside Goldman's lair.

I'd have thought the visit a bust if not for getting my picture taken beside Goldman's Vespa scooter which was chained alongside his fortress of solitude.