--2 Mother Tongue: La Dolce Vespa
       
Sept. 18, 2014

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Mother Tongue: La Dolce Vespa

August 30, 2012, 3:00 pm
By Lauren Whitehurst

My cherry-red Vespa ET2 has spent the vast majority of the past two years parked on our driveway. I used to drive it to work and on small errands around town, feeling very free and lithe and cosmopolitan. Although I’d wanted a Vespa for years, I only got mine after Theo was born, so I must have thought it would be totally compatible with this stage of my life.

After I had Sylvia two years ago, however, my little 50cc motor scooter has been mostly looking very cute underneath its UV-protective cover. It’s a shame—a crying one. From the Vespa’s perspective, the severely child-hampered life of our poor dog probably looks like blissful freedom.

We’ve had a few moments together recently, though, my scooter and I. It felt really good last week to reclaim my helmet from Theo, who wears it on his super-speedy couch-cushion motorcycles, put it on and go for a ride. The irony is that I’m riding it because I’m trying to sell it.

The other irony is that it’s been so long since I rode it last, I’ve actually spent more time pushing the Vespa. Details of neglect—old gas, a clogged idle circuit, a dead battery and a mercurial starter—have cramped my few last carefree and babysitter-covered tours around town. A good 40 minutes of this precious time, for instance, was spent trying to restart the engine at the intersection of Siler Road and Agua Fria. I finally went in to the gas station there and bought a Gatorade so I could enjoy a recharging beverage while calculating whether I could push the bike home in time to get the car and pick up the kids.

According to the Vespa website, the Italian company’s original 1946 motor scooter was conceived in part as “a means of transportation for the entire family.” But mostly irrelevant, or tragic, links turn up on a Google search for “moms with Vespas.” The stock photograph of scooter-riding en famille that circulated a couple years ago must have been insufficiently inspiring.

My dad forwarded it to me just after Sylvia was born. It’s a picture of a family of nine riding a scooter somewhere in Asia. One baby is riding on the mom’s back in a cloth carrier, another baby has been PhotoShopped into a 3-gallon bucket she’s holding. This could work! I have two 5-gallon Home Depot buckets: Their higher sides would make them safer. And I know the kids fit in them because they served as our backyard kiddie pools this summer.

Really, who needs a minivan? Or even a car? Perhaps I have just not discovered the Britax child-restraint-system models that are compatible with an ET2. Maybe I could hook our bicycle trailer to the back?

The truth is, I’m a full-bore American parent, and wasteful as it is, I drive my kids around in an SUV that, while it ranks as small-to-medium in the US car lexicon, would operate as a multi-family bus somewhere like Vietnam or China or mid-20th-century Italy.

Here in our small city, I do stare wistfully at scooter-sized parking spaces, but we go most places by automobile. We listen to Bruce Springsteen sing Woody Guthrie’s “Take You Riding in My Car.” When I can get somewhere with two wheels and not be too, too late, I opt for my bicycle and the trailer; we can sing Queen’s “I Like to Ride My Bicycle.” The kids and I ride away on our bicycle train and leave the Vespa and the 5-gallon buckets at home. I don’t even know a Vespa song, although I think a Camper Van Beethoven line mentions one.  

My husband and I did take the scooter to our anniversary dinner last year. While we didn’t quite resemble Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on their Roman Holiday Vespa, we had a lovely time.

After our meal, we decided to take a spin around the Plaza, not anticipating that it would be lined with powerful Japanese motorcycles, rather macho young men and their girlfriends. We scooted by them revving the fine-tuned, waspish nnnrrreee nnnrrreee of our two-stroke engine. Adam commandeered our ride in his spherical white “Chips” helmet, rectangular Euro specs and Spanish man purse; I perched behind him with my legs flapping around because there’s no real place to put my feet. A bit later, we drew alongside a large man on a large Harley Davidson, and he looked over at us and laughed.

Nevertheless, Theo was impressed and agog when he saw us, wowed primarily by our bulbous helmets. It matters very little if you’re a dork in the adult world when your 2-to-5-year-old thinks you’re completely cool.

Since I’ve been working on the Vespa, it’s been out in all its shiny red cuteness lately, and I’m a little sad to let it go. The person who buys it will ride it far more than I do, though, and that’s how it should be. The bicycle-stroller-car troika is our crack team for now.

Still, I will go on one more Vespa ride on the road above the dog park before I sell it. I will keep my helmet—someday I’d like to get another scooter or a motorcycle. And before the ET2 is gone, Theo says he wants a ride.

 

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