It's easy riding for the Westenders
When a tight cluster of 40 scooters whir down California Avenue on a pleasant weekend morning these quaint two-wheelers of pink, powder blue, mustard yellow and rosy red look about as menacing as a parade of grinning Golden Retrievers and just as fun to observe.
They are the Westenders Scooter Club, a practical and whimsical troupe anchored in West Seattle that operate 70-100 mile-per-gallon toys. This international fleet of Italian-made Vespas, Indian-made Stellas, Chicago-based Buddy's, and Japanese Yamaha Vino's, run lean and clean.
"My Vespa is a two-stroke (engine) but it is important to point out it has a catalytic converter and runs very clean," said Westender president, Robert Brown. He named his bright red PX 150 "Luciana."
"Luciana Paluzzi was the Italian actress in the James Bond film 'Thunderball.' Like her namesake, my Luciana is exotic, sexy, and red," he said. The actress had red hair.
Brown is an operator at the Seattle Air Route Traffic Control Center in Auburn. His deep voice and wide alert eyes seem to serve him well for corralling his "tribe of mischief-makers" as he calls his club members, for safe take-offs and landings on their little scoots amid the competing snarl of Seattle traffic.
The Westenders started two years ago and evoke the trendy "Mod's" of early- 1960's London. Think "Austin Powers" but with a child clinging to him instead of Elizabeth Hurley. The West End is also London's popular shopping, commercial and museum district. The Westenders' logo is borrowed from the London Underground's "roundel" symbol, the read wheel with white letters on a blue horizontal dash.
"When riding a scooter it's hard to take yourself too seriously," acknowledged Brown. He pointed out that a new quality scooter can cost under $2,500 while a Vespa is close to $4,000.
"You do pay more for the name," he said.
They ride every other weekend in summer and squeeze in a ride here and there over the winter. There is also the big annual "Amerivespa" rally. Last year's gathering was in Seattle.
The Westenders linked with several hundred Seattle Vespa Club riders and those from other area scooter clubs. This year's rally was held in Chattanooga July 24. Brown said that a truck would transport the club members' scooters while they fly in. As for scooting to Tennessee, "It's quite a ways away," he said. "And most of us have fairly busy schedules."
"I'm so vertically challenged, under 5 feet, that this is the closest thing I can ride to a motorcycle," said Dana German, knicknamed "Tiny." She loves to ride her 1974, 125cc Pink Primavera Vespa, and has two more scooters at home.
"I love the freedom and doing something different," she said, adding that her scooter has no back rest so her young daughter, Megan, hitches a ride on the back of club member Robert Morgan's scooter.
"It used to feel dangerous, but I feel safe now," said Megan. "Also, he's a medical doctor."
And yes, his knickname is "Doc," said Morgan, who has a private practice in Mill Creek and still makes house calls. "There is definitely security riding in a group, and you can't be talking on the telephone while you are riding."
Doc appreciates vintage technology.
A thrill-seeker whose first bike was a Harley-Davidson, he flies his own fabric-covered 1946 Taylor Craft airplane. He compares the Vespa's teardrop back, and bent and spot-welded steel "monocoque" construction to the classic airplane design.
Referring to the Westenders he said, "All of us have a little bit of interest in greening the Earth, taking up less space."
Kristin Donovan, or "Katt," also becomes philosophical when talking about being a club member and utilizes her scooter for poetry. She affixes little magnetic letters onto her dark metallic blue Vespa, like the ones people stick on their refrigerator.
She explained, "When I park outside, people walk by and contribute poetry." At the Sustainable West Seattle fair someone composed "I'd kiss a nature nut" with the magnetic alphabet pieces under her handlebars.
"I have a Ford Escape to carry people and stuff, but it only gets 20 miles a gallon," said Westender regular Orin O'Neill, a reporter who has covered motor sports and appeared on Armed Forces Radio in Germany.
"You get 'helmet-head,'" complained Robert Lopez, aptly nicknamed "Hairy." A hairdresser, he operates the Styling Studio on California Avenue. His salon's name is prominently labeled on his white scooter, "A tax deduction," he said.
"We like the friends who come with it," said Joni James of her membership along with husband Russ, and their 10-year-old son Ben.
"Being a Westender is a state of mind," said Ralph Leach, who wears a jacket of patches and buttons. "This is a family friendly scooter club. We aren't a bunch of derelicts, just some of us."
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Steve Shay can be reached at email@example.com.