I've always thought of a Vespa as a piece of art. But a piece of furniture?! That is how I met my first Vespa. It was the sixties. My father was living and working in Africa in what was then the Belgian Congo. He would send my brother, sister and me mini reel-to-reel tapes home in Texas. We listened to his narrative about the new Vespa 125 he had purchased and how it carried him through the jungle roads where he once met a lion face to face. In another instance it almost carried him into a river at night. There were no warning lights or safety gates, the road simply ended where the ferry crossed it. But he survived and so did the Vespa.
My father came home in 1968. As an employee of the US government, he was allowed to ship home furniture and a car, all expenses paid. But Uncle Sam would not pay for a motorcycle or scooter. Ever the resourceful quick-thinker, my father circumvented this restriction by parking the Vespa in his living room. He then convinced a French-speaking African moving company worker that this was a chair. “This is where I watch TV”, he told them in his best French. It worked. Our tax dollars brought this piece of classic Italian art-in-motion to the US. When it arrived, the US moving company unpacked the “chair” and put it in our den. That’s where I first saw it. After my first ride on the back (outside, not in the house), I was hooked. Since that day, the Vespa has symbolized on thing to me: an adventure.
I learned to ride the scooter when I was 15. I even took my motorcycle road test on it. I rode the scooter in high school off and on. My brother rode it for a while when he was in college. Then it sat. The scooter sat idle on my father’s back porch for almost two decades. Then, I embarked on my own Vespa adventure starting in 2001, lovingly restoring his scooter back to its original splendor. I spent two years on the restoration. Most of that time was waiting for the paint and body professionals to work their magic.
Now almost 50 years since that fateful day, I own 3 Vespas and 2 Lambrettas, including my father’s prized 125. My wife calls herself a “Vespa widow” but admits that I could have far worse obsessions. I must say, I think the scooter turned out beautifully. I wonder if my wife will ever let me put it in our living room…