Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Night Vespa

My wife's summer vacation is coming to an end so I have been feeling more driven than usual to take her 2004 ET4 out on the road for a few rides before summer turns to Fall and school gets back in session. That's when she takes the scooter to work and leaves it there for use on round town trips when she's away from the classroom.At 150cc the "little" Vespa can pull 65 mph and returns 70 mpg which makes it a nice ride even for someone as impatient as myself. However on Highway One, my only route to and from work, the scooter does have a couple of limitations. One is that it is almost impossible to safely pass any vehicle that is doing 45mph or more. That can be a bit annoying if the car in question is dawdling in a 55mph zone...The other issue with a scooter is that some other drivers see me coming and start to drive badly as a matter of course. They will presume the scooter can't go "fast enough" and they like to crowd me.I read a comment recently on Scooter in the Sticks blog quoting some "expert" who said one should never ride at night. http://vespalx150.blogspot.com/2010/07/into-night.html Huh? I guess I didn't get the memo because I've been riding at night for 40 years for pleasure and enjoyed every minute of it. Last week I had an overtime shift starting at one in the morning so I decided to take the Vespa and see if riding my wife's scooter after reading that ridiculous statement felt any different. Not so far. I made it safely two miles to the Dion's Chicken (closed!) on Summerland Key. I have never even considered not riding at night. The idea makes a nonsense of using motorcycles as sensible alternatives to cars. Besides, I like riding at night.Riding at night is a whole world of different sensory pleasures compared to riding in daylight. Especially in the sub tropics.I enjoy the warm night air of summer. In daytime the temperatures have been hovering in the low to mid 90s, which I find pleasant enough. But at two in the morning the air is that much cooler, and softer on the skin. The night smells of seaweed, cut grass and the occasional night blooming flower hang over the highway. To my surprise there are a few cars passing in the night and choosing to stop in the middle of the road is an an exercise fraught with a little danger. I like the resulting picture...the ET4 in the middle of the Overseas Highway, with oncoming traffic. Leaving the house thirty minutes early gave me enough spare time to choose to stop along the way and investigate spots along my 27 mile commute that I would usually ignore in my hurry to get to work on time. I stopped under the street light and to my astonishment, when I stopped the motor to listen to the sounds of silence, I was instead deafened by the sounds of amorous bullfrogs. It gave me great pleasure to stop on the bridges along the Overseas Highway and look out across the dark waters of the channels, their outlines marked by mangrove islands, low and black in the night. Then I'd fire up the Vespa and take off for another blast of relatively cool air.I read in various forums about the "improvements" people make to their machines. I have decided I'd rather ride than improve my ride. I have the greatest respect for the engineers who take a blank computer screen and create a motorcycle out of nothing more than thin air and the thoughts in their minds. From such unpromising material they put together a machine that runs and performs to exact specifications. And I want to be messing with their handiwork?
Past Boca Chica Key (Mile Marker 7) the highway gets street lights, a shock after the darkness of the rural Overseas Highway. On Stock island bridges give way to mangroves and salt water gradually disappears from view in the approaches to Key West itself.In the photo below I played with the mirror and realized the lights of Stock Island were visible in front of me. Like the other pictures in this essay I took this picture with a steady hand and set the shutter speed to compensate for the lack of light, probably a tenth of a second under the street lights.As I rolled down a deserted North Roosevelt Boulevard into the city I noticed a heron standing on a small mangrove island fifty feet off the side of the road. I stopped the scooter in a bus stop and balanced the camera on the top case.Across the street I saw George Carey's manatee hovering over the main street into Key West. Carey died ten days ago in West Virginia, his public statuary lives on.A mile from work I was stopped at the lights at Kennedy and North Roosevelt and i took a quick picture through the windshield. I had no idea it was so mucky. The little round dot on the shield is the manufacturer's label. By the time I reached the traffic light at North Roosevelt and First Street I was almost at the Police Station. Some days on my ride in to work I catch every light on a red and my progress gets very herky jerky. Other days the lights are all green and I progress like royalty.
And then, finally, forty minutes from home, there appears the pink rotunda in front of the Police Station. Home from home, and the blessings of overtime. It's hard to believe that in these economically depressed times I have access to overtime, however not enough capable people want to dispatch in party town USA so we few, we happy few, get to do all the work. A happy band of dispatchers.If anyone tells you riding at night is anything other than pure pleasure tell them they're quite wrong. At least that's what my experience tells me.