On Vespa Mechanics

For anyone who owns a vintage Vespa (or a vintage anything for that matter) a good mechanic is worth his weight in gold. Vespas–not unlike their mechanics–are temperamental bikes at best and, as they age, become grumpy and delicate.

I love my Vespas. Both of them. The 1987 Iris 200 model that I use practically every day has become a roadside attraction, drawing the ire of downtown shoppers looking for a place to park. The Vespa is also, it would seem, a source of amusement for my neighbours, who see it as somehow quaint as the peer down from their gas guzzling SUVs. For most of them, it is bizarre that a foreigner would come to Spain to driver around on a twenty year old bike that, if anything, represents what Spain has been attempting to run away from ever since you-know-who died in 1975.

My other Vespa, a white customized TX 200 with chrome trim and a full windshield (don’t laugh, it came that way) is parked in my father-in-laws garage on the mainland. It hasn’t been insured for a couple of years, but ever so often I kick it over, look at the 1980s digital tachometer go up and down, and take it for a spin. Given that this event usually occurs in mid-August when the temperature along the Mediterranean coast sits at around 34º for weeks on end, I have taken up the local habit of leaving the helmet at home and letting the wind mussel my hair and hoping that the local fuzz doesn’t catch me pay attention to my reenactment of Easy Rider.

Part of the charm of a Vespa is that your instantly part of a club. You know, when you’re cruising down the highway, fellow Vespa riders lift up their left arm in camaraderie. Hell, even the postmen wave from their yellow 125 PXs. And normally going to the mechanic is the crucible of the experience. It’s church day. “Is the Vespa clean?” “How’s the gas mix?” “Any burnt out bulbs?” Today though was different. I walked downstairs, started the bike, pushed over the kickstand and–ugggh–the motor moans and stalls. A flat tire. I run upstairs, get the bike pump, hoping that the air I can get into the inner tube can last until I can get to the shop. And I do.

Alfredo (the mechanic) on a good day is a testy fellow. He complains about how he is getting old. This I can’t debate since, according to the diploma on the wall, he graduated from the Vespa mechanic’s school in 1955.There are pictures of him touring in Galicia with his wife on a beautiful 150 cc model with square headlight and 1960s posters of sexy Italian girls spread out over Vespas in every imaginable way.

But this morning he was mad. He was throwing his wrenches. Grumbling under his breath. Had he been bickering with his wife? Was the morning coffee too strong? Are Mondays a bad day for him?

I bite my tongue until the foreigner remark comes. Los extranjeros, ustedes quieren que nosotros trabajamos…. I protest: ¿que te pasa Alfredo? Vuelvate a Canada… blah, blah, blah.

I tell him to fuck off. My beloved Vespa mechanic, I tell to fuck off.

And I am the worse off for it.

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