I rented a car last Saturday and drove to Tampa to pick up my new-to-me Suzuki scooter. Even though I have been riding Vespas since 1970, when my mother bought me my first, an orange 50R, I have never owned a modern Japanese automatic plastic scooter much derided by motorcyclists. Those of the type that require you to ride more or less feet forward. Here goes nothing...
My Burgman 200 was waiting for me outside the shop ready to go as promised. The story was a wife bought the scooter to ride with her husband then a family friend fell off his motorcycle and after 3100 miles she lost her nerve and got rid of her 2014 scooter almost unused. Good for me as I had no break in to deal with and got a scooter for $3000 on a list price of $5,000. I dropped the rental car off and got a Lyft back. I was ready.
I signed the papers, Tom the salesman bolted the temporary tag on for me and after shaking hands I buzzed off with my luggage in the huge cave under the seat. That, a plug to charge my phone and full car-like instruments made me think this was indeed half way to being a car. No wonder hard core motorcyclists like I used to be, sneer at the modern conveniences of a gear-free scooter.
They had a used Vespa for sale but I wasn't tempted. My old 2007 was a horror story of unreliability and I wanted my new scooter to keep up with traffic but also to start go and stop without question every day. Vespas are status symbols, the Suzuki Burgman range I am discovering, gets ridden. This poor Vespa had also been a garage queen and as I have no need to pull chicks or polish chrome I was content with my "Tupperware rice burner." Motorcyclists of all stripes are brimming with prejudices. I just like to ride..
I soon discovered the "Baby Burgman" as it is known to people who ride the 400 or 650 versions, is fast enough to keep up with traffic on the freeway, frugal if ridden carefully and very comfortable. It soon became clear I would be able to commute with ease on the Overseas Highway. But with the performance on tap I could also allow myself in future some occasional road trips to mainland Florida on my powerful Baby Burgman 200. More to the point I got lost riding to the hotel a mere 30 minutes away... I had nowhere to mount my phone and was thus forced to keep stopping to check the route which got boring, I tended to follow my instincts which were wrong all the time and I ended up in Zephyrhills not Plant City.
The big weekend plan was to ride with the Seven Bridges Scooter Club in Jacksonville where I would finally meet Bill with whom I have corresponded electronically for several years. This meant leaving the hotel at 3:30 in the morning to arrive at the designated meeting spot in Mayport at 7:30am. I knew it was going to be a cold ride up the freeways to the northern end of Sunshine State.
It was a ridiculous grand adventure in the style of my youth which saw me shivering at gas stations, uncertain how far I could go when the fuel gauge started blinking and negotiating the inevitable construction around Orlando. It was all a bit of of a test for a new scooter and its rider. However the Burgman is easy, as it handled well, had no vices and all controls fell easily to hand. I quite enjoyed myself through chattering teeth.
The sun was coming up as I pulled into Hardee's parking lot about 7:15 shivering and ready for coffee. I wasn't the first and there was a small huddle inside, but more and more scooters arrived as I ate a sandwich served with...tater tots? Okay then I was fueled and ready. Russ gathered the troops for the shortest briefing ever - one: don't be an ass and two: stay in your group. Which rule I failed right away as I tried to start my perfectly behaved scooter and I found suddenly it refused to show the least sign of life. Just bloody perfect right when I need it to start it dies! I stood there peering at the controls which showed nothing amiss. Except the engine wouldn't turn over as scooters took off all around me.
I groped around trying to get the stupid bloody machine to go and when finally figured I had the kickstand down which was preventing it from firing up, I was two groups back as my neighbors peeled out of the lot. No big deal I told myself as I hovered in the road between the riders in front and another bunch behind, belonging nowhere, I'll find Bill again I muttered as the Suzuki leaped to life as though to make up for past failures.
This was what he looked like (below) and with that helmet he should have been easy to spot but he rides as fast as I do and he was GONE.
I have no knowledge of Jacksonville so the whole ride was a blur of unknown people and places. No clue where we were or where we were going and that was fine by me. I was there to enjoy the ride and to hang out with Bill. That took all my attention and photography was in third place somewhere in my list of Things To Do.
I caught up with my group at the ferry and Bill was there to flag me down to my proper place. Phew! All we had to do now was catch our breath and wait for the Mayport Ferry while hunting for five dollars to pay the fare. Done and dusted. The Vespa on the front there, below, is Bill's Rocket is a scooter that has been ridden coast to coast including Alaska and has more than 80,000 miles on the clock. It is a deep love affair for Bill, a bit like me and Rusty who was I hoped at home pining for me. Good dog.
Several of the riders that I overheard had never been on the ten minute ferry ride but oddly enough my wife and I and Cheyenne were up here exploring the area for the 2012 Thanksgiving break, so I was slightly familiar with the river crossing.
I had seen this scooter, below, a Piaggio BV350 for sale on Cycletrader and I had considered it for myself but as the enthusiastic owner Shane told me, it is heavy and very motorcycle-like. I sat on it at Shane's insistence (the guy in the blue) and he was right. It confirmed my decision to buy the Burgman. Shane is selling the Piaggio to get a Vespa which will be slower and smaller but lighter and easier around town. More scooter and less motorcycle he said. He has kept the scooter well and it would be a good deal for someone who wants one.
The sun made a slight appearance through the clouds so the pelicans wrapped in a noxious gas of bird urine took their pleasure in the heat.
Indeed one intrepid fellow showed up on an old school Stella, an Indian made copy of a Vespa 150. The parent company LML has gone bankrupt in India and my Stella was a useless lump so I shan't miss them. I don't know what happened to him as I didn't see him again, so possibly the old girld gave up, poor Stella. The old two stroke design tugs at my heart strings but I have moved on and am happy with modern conveniences and a comfortable fast ride.
The it was Mr Toad's wild ride, over bridges through neighborhoods with me having no idea where we were or what was next.
Bill takes amazing pictures like this (below). Check his blog for on the move photos like you've never seen, and pictures of me actually there. Bit surprising that, but I was.
We stopped twice including at the riverfront Memorial Park which was quite scenic and suitable for a group photo.
The statue made a name for itself around the world when it was photographed submerged to Mercury's ankles in flood waters in Hurricane Irma last September.
And here is Russ walking away from the statue to give proper perspective. There must have been a fair bit of water. A couple of scooterists who live on the oceanfront said they ironically had no flooding at all. Hurricanes are like that, unpredictable, and Irma was also particularly vicious.
The funny bit was when we had a Key West moment. The condo owners came out and bitched at the scooter riders for parking in "their" (unmarked) spots. Quite a spat they had just like they were in Old Town arguing over "my" parking space etc etc...Been there done that...I walked away.
We were parked round the corner so we buggered off in good order. Bill's brother David on the BMW. Bill is a Jacksonville native and very happy to live there with his siblings and parents. He's an architect by trade. David is retired and rides BMWs.
Till we all pulled up at the Seven Bridges Grille where I signally failed to get a souvenir T-shirt from Russ. Because I am an idiot.
Bill and I sat and chatted and barely scratched the surface. We will ride again on one of his oyster tours next time and we will check to make sure the Burgman is faster than the Vespa 200. Because it matters...
In Ocala National ForestI rode down the middle of the state ignoring the freeways. You could follow my route by numbers (17,19,31,27) but that's boring. I rode Palatka, Eustis,Groveland to Sebring through orange groves which scented the air with blossoms. I rode past trailer parks for winter refugees, past round dark lakes in the middle of fields and towns, under live oaks and up small Florida hills and through low Florida valleys.
I stopped to look at cows and to be reminded that there is no agriculture where I live. I was surprised there was any here in the land of the strip mall and six lane highway.
La Quinta in Sebring with dinner from Publix, sandwich fruit and yoghurt with a tipple brought from home. And fog in the morning on Highway 27.
It burned off soon enough and it was never too terribly cold. By the time I rode into LaBelle over the Caloosahatchee waterway, which I have navigated twice in my former life, the sun was out and hot, close to 90 degrees.
I stopped for tea and a danish which became my lunch even though it was around 11 am and I pressed on. I like LaBelle and the tea stop was really an excuse to spend time in the town, not because I was hungry but it worked out and I spent no further time seeking out food in the six hours remaining for my trip home..
I took another back road, straight as an arrow, State Highway 29 which intersects Tamiami Trail at the gas station called Carnestown. Before that I took another side trip on the inspired route called Oil Well Road:
As a lapsed Catholic I am fascinated by Ave Maria the Catholic town built by the billionaire founder of Domino's pizza. The concept of a community built around a religion seems odd to me especially when you consider the true meaning of "catholic" is "universal." The place seems to be thriving with lots of home construction and the storefronts in the main square are all occupied. Mass was underway and I slipped into my former altar boy persona. "Show me the boy to age 7 and I will show you the man" said St Francis Xavier and he was right. Here I am sixty years old and I have forgotten very little of it. What was even more weird was the priest started reciting the mass in Italian.I thought at first he had a speech impediment and he was trying to say Mass unintelligibly in Spanish. Then the penny dropped and I figured he was a visiting prelate from the motherland which posed no problems for me but it gave the whole experience a more than usually out of body quality to being back at the mass especially with my neighbors muttering in English and me the clarion call of Italian from the back of the church. The Italian responses popped out of my mouth without my even thinking. I nipped out after the communion ahead of the crowd and got back to the business of riding.
Tamiami Trail, Highway 41, is a bit more scenic than Alligator Alley and I was ready for less freeway all the way home.
I took a turn on the paved section of Loop Road usually a certain place to find alligators but none appeared.
The Miccosukee gas station was my last fuel stop before home. Indeed it was my last stop all the way through Homestead on Krome Avenue all the way down the Overseas Highway through the Keys.
I did stop for construction on Highway 41 where they are raising the roadway to increase water flow to help restore the Everglades.
And then home. Where I now have one too many scooters my wife says and the orange Vespa has to go. Too bad because its a rare model and fun to ride just not fast enough for the daily commute.