Wednesday, August 15, 2012

1979 Vespa P200E

At the risk of jinxing everything I am hoping to do a fly-and-ride next month to Iowa to pick up this beauty. It has 1200 miles on the clock since a ground up restoration in 2009 and aside from a couple of paint nicks it is said to be in perfect running order, spare wheel and all.

In the past five years I have put nearly 70,000 miles on my Triumph Bonneville which have included several day trips around Florida and several multi day trips as far north as the Catskills in New York state. However mostly it has been a case of commuting the 27 miles to work on the Overseas Highway.

While there is no known upper limit on modern Bonnevilles I'd like to save some mileage on my bike and at the same time indulge my unrequited love for two stroke Vespas. I rode across country 30 years ago on an identical ride and after my disastrous time spent with the unreliable Indian Stella scooter and the electrically challenged modern Vespa GTS I have decided to return to the fold of the slower, mechanically simpler original Vespa design. 15hp, 63mph, 60mpg and no centrifugal belt to break, no rollers to wear out, easy wheel and tire changes, no special tools needed, and no broken exhausts or evaporative cannisters to worry about. Vespas are considered urban riding tools but I know better.

I met Roberto Patrignani after he rode his Vespa to Tokyo from Milan. He rode a Moto Guzzi 50 across Africa and a Garelli 50 across the US. He was convinced the easy step through Vespa was the ultimate light weight inexpensive touring motorcycle. It worked for me across the US and Mexico, thirty years ago.

I am very excited to have a P200 of my own soon, once again. Please God. Conchscooter indeed.

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Plaquemines Parish

If you see an elephant as you drive south from New Orleans you expect the day to be filled with the unexpected and delightful and mysterious. It was not to be.

Highway 23 to Venice (a name to conjure with!) seems like it should be a scenic drive but the lack of traffic, particularly tourist traffic, should have alerted us to what was ahead. It looked like this:

Chemical plants and long straight stretches of empty highway under a broiling hundred degree sun. Then we spotted ships rising up out of the fields, ocean navigators riding the river to collect the chemical products.

Plaquemines is a word of Creole and Indian origin meaning persimmon though originally it was the name of a French fort built on the river bank and surrounded by said trees. Nowadays it is the largest Louisiana parish even though 65 percent of it is water!

Hurricane Katrina ravaged this place sending powerful winds and wall of water twenty feet deep across the parish. That only three people died is a tribute to the value of a sensible evacuation plan.

It is a damaged place still.

Trees growing through permanently stationary boats and cars.

Poverty seems endemic to this parish (which is what Lousiana calls it's counties), with half the population living in trailers and the other half living in nice houses.

This is a rather slick trash barrel. I studied it for a while and I cam t the conclusion you could empty it by lifting the low end and dumping the contents into a container. Pretty smart.

Classic Louisiana cemetery.

We drove as far as Port Sulphur, a name to conjure with, until we got bored with the absence of anything to look at and turned around and drove back to the Crescent City.

Plaquemines is a tough place to live as flooding and hurricanes are of life. Devastating conditions flooded the place in 1915 and 1927 and 1965’s Hurricane Betsy did another shitty number on these people.

The other piece of parish history that fascinated me was the grip one Leander Perez is said to have had on the entire parish from 1919 to 1969 when he ruled the place like a dictator.

It's a strange drive along this wide open four lane highway in flat lands past grazing cattle and alternating trailers and mansions.

There were no actual people to be seen except those few driving pick up trucks far faster than my sedate 65 miles per hour.

The parish website Plaquemines Parish paints a rather more cheerful picture than my rather bleak assessment of the place.

I have to confess we were rather glad to turn tail and head north to the bright lights of cosmopolitan New Orleans.

My wife never reproached me for persuading her we needed to explore this corner of Louisiana.

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