Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Raising the roof, again

It's one of those semi-rare events, when the Blogger stats break another level.  For months on end the graphic box stays the same, and then signs loom of a coming change of ceiling.  For a few weeks I wonder 'will it, or won't it'.

Well, the bubble was set to burst, with less than a day's pageviews before the ceiling would pop up, and I couldn't just let it go unnoticed.  Without a pic, it just didn't happen.

Stats-guy, with his latest stick-figure exploit, helps to provide context.

He started his trek way back in January 2012.
He reappeared back at the end of March 2012 and we didn't see him again until...
... we caught up with him two years later, again in March, earlier this year.
And now here he is again, helping to raise the roof once more.
I need to take some drawing lessons from fellow blogger Stephanie Yue, because this little game of mine is only barely workable now. Stats-guy keeps shrinking.  Next time he shows up, he'll be a fly speck.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Tokens of appreciation

A while back Bob reached out to me. "iPhone 5 Vespa cases,  $10, do you want one? - Bob".

That's Bob.

If I were in a teasing mood, I'd accuse him of trying to even the score.  Although the truth is, the match is already so heavily tilted in Bob's favour, that I have only the faintest hope of catching up.

He sent along evidence of his find.
'I'll be in Vancouver on August 18' I told him. "I'll be out east on August 18" he replied.  Ha! Wouldn't you know.

A couple of days ago Canada Post delivered the case to me in one piece. The box it came in was mashed, but Bob explained that he mashed it. Apparently if you pre-mash the mail for them, Canada Post gives you a discount on the postage.  I suppose they see it as a win-win. Less tedious time-consuming work for them, so they split the savings with the sender.  Quite thoughtful. And delivering it in one piece, now that's a nice touch.

When I'm at work in a meeting, sipping coffee and checking my mail, people will know I'm a Vespa groupie for sure.
But wait, there's more.

I dropped in to Vespa Montreal on my lunch hour to browse and chew the fat with Paul Brunette the sales director.

Paul and all the staff were sporting Vespa Montreal T-shirts, and beaming smiles.  Good things and good vibes are happening there for sure.

I was wrapping up my visit when Paul asked if I had a Vespa Montreal T.   When I answered that I didn't, he promptly offered me one.
I really appreciate these tokens of appreciation.  They may be tokens, but the appreciation I know is very sincere, and it is truly nice to be appreciated. There's not enough of that going around in the world.

I think I'll tear a page from Sonja's book and indulge in a little bilingualism.

PS: Apologies to Paul, I managed to confuse his family name. Sorry Paul!


C'est bien la première fois que j'écris un mot de Français ici, vous l'aurez constaté j'en suis certain.

J'écris en Anglais car c'est la meilleure façon d'atteindre le but que je me suis fixé il y a maintenant quatre ans: de retourner la faveur pour tous les conseils venant d'un peu partout via internet, conseils dont j'ai eu le bénéfice à l'époque que je me proposais, bien témérèrement, de voyager quotidiennement au bouleau en Vespa.

Vespa Montréal, et particulièrement Paul Brunette, ont figure de proue dans la réalisation de ce rêve. Sans les conseils de Paul et sa patience en souffrant très gentillement toutes les questions de néophite que je lui posais jadis dans la boutique Vespa de la rue St-Laurent (depuis disparue), je doute fort que j'aurais pu aboutir où je suis rendu aujourd'hui. Tant d'aventures, tant de nouveaux amis, tant de voyages, tant de bonheur, tous insoupçonnés au point de départ.

J'espère que mes lecteurs français n'ont pas trop de peine à suivre mes exploits, et à profiter de mes conseils.

Un grand merci à vous, et continuons de profiter de ce très bel été et de belles randonnées sur nos jolies bêtes italiennes.

PS: Mes sincères excuses à Paul, j'ai commis l'erreur inexcusable de lui avoir donné un nom de famille autre que le sien.  Il devait s'intérroger sur l'identité de sa sosie.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Making an impression

All life is ephemeral.

Here today, gone tomorrow.

Billions of men and women, many more billions of house pets, have come and gone.

Most of us leave traces in our wake. We live on for three or four generations in the memories of our loved ones and descendants.

One hundred years after our passing is my best estimate of the time it takes for the memory of us to dim to the faintest trace; to be barely discernible; perhaps only perceptible to the committed genealogists, and only if we are blessed to have one of those lunatic arborists in our extended family.

Of course there are exceptions.

There are those among us who have dared to be truly vile specimens in their lifetime. Their memory lives on for a while longer, in infamy, like the Boston strangler, or Jack the Ripper. Some particularly despicable miscreants, Caligula to call out an odious example, can persist in our collective memory for century upon century.

Those who, by dint of their singular will and charisma, have become towering political figures and commanded legions of us in their lifetime, conquering millions more, whether for good or ill, have clawed their way into the history books where their memory seems to be safe, if not for eternity, then at least for thousands of years. The Pharaohs come easily to mind.

But say, for instance, that subjugation, tyranny, and, to put it more simply, murder on an industrial scale, is not your thing.

What can simple, ordinary, loving, caring humans do to strive for immortality?

When an interviewer asked Woody Allen how he might achieve immortality, he replied “I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don't want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.”

Well this, dear reader, is your lucky day.

The secret for good people who strive to be remembered, is art.

Artists live on. Their memory is safe for as long as their art survives.

Authors live on as long as their words are remembered: Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare,  Julius Caesar, Aristotle (OK, yes it's true, Julius did murder hundreds of thousands of his contemporaries, but, in his defence, it was more acceptable back in his day, and his memory lives more potently because of his writings - "... veni, vidi, vici!" - how poetic and succinct!).  These are the examples that come easily to mind without the aid of Google or Siri.

But if you really want to leave an impression, forget dancing, acting, or singing.  Nobody remembers those artists for very long.  Quick, name a hit tune from the 900s, 1100s, or even the 1460s (and I don't mean AM radio frequencies)?  See?

To achieve relative immortality, you've got to make a good impression. By that I mean, make a mark. Like a scratch, or a dent, or a chip, or a smear. Now we're talking the real deal.

Those who became serial smearers have left their mark: Picasso, Monet, Vermeer, Da Vinci, Tintoretto, and those graffiti taggers who defaced the caves of Lasceaux.

The scratchers, chippers, and denters may, just may, have done better: Hank Moore, Alex Caldwell, Louis Tiffany, Fred Remington, Augie Rodin, Bernini, Donatello (no, not the Ninja Turtle, the sculptor dude), and Alex of Antioch, to name a few.

Those who dared to cross platforms, to smear and to chip or tinker, just may be eternally immortal, like Leonardo (no, not Di Caprio or the Ninja Turtle, Da Vinci) and Michelangelo.

Don't get me started on the mudders, all those boys and girls who threw pots. They are among the oldest denters.  The more famous ones both dented and smeared.  In fact, it's the potters (no, not Harry) who really made their mark.

Makers' marks (no, not the bourbon). Don't believe me? Go no further than any episode of the Antiques Roadshow.

So what's a moto blogger to do to live on in popular memory?

We are artists. That's a decent start.

It's much too soon to tell how long our words and photos will persist. But there is definitely more than faint hope. Bits and bytes might just, in spite of their fragile nature ("my computer crashed!?!?!? I lost everything!?!?!"), be the cockroaches of all art media, virtually impossible to eradicate. Folks who suffer as victims of embarrassing content on the internet, have to resort to the highest courts to have the offending data expunged.

That said, there may be no substitute for making or leaving a mark.

I'm hedging my bets.

As a moto blogger I have made the bold move. I am a cross-platform artist. I have left a mark (many marks actually, truth be told). And now I'm recording it (them) right here, in this blog.
There, done.

Well at least it's a start.

Stop laughing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Vespa Effect

You have to ride a Vespa GTS to learn this.

A Vespa on an expressway doubtless causes some drivers I pass to check their dashboard.

What!?!? Did I just get passed by a scooter???  Did I stall? Run out of gas? Am I in neutral?

Scooters on an expressway are still very much a novelty here.  Some drivers probably wonder how I can pedal my 'moped' so damn fast.

But that's only part of the Vespa Effect.  That aspect of the Vespa Effect can only be imagined.

You don't get to appreciate the other entertaining aspect of the Vespa Effect until you share the road with a motorcycle.  Correction, a sportbike.

Harleys and other cruisers are pretty cool.  Dual-sportsters with the whole Paris-Dakar look, are also very cool.  They find the time to wave.

Guys on sportbikes however behave quite differently and the Vespa Effect behaviour is obvious, characteristic, and too often predictable.

Consider this guy (If you want to skip right to the point and save yourself three minutes of my commute, go to the 3'15" mark).

In no time, this happens (again, to skip to the point, go to the 0'35" mark).


I wonder if I ruined his commute?

Mine was just fine, thanks very much.

Down the expressway a ways, I figured I had time and shifted to the slow route.  Here's what that looked like right to the office, at which point my GoPro remote died.  Otherwise I would have filmed all the way to my underground parking spot.

PS: GoPro video beats iPhone video on YouTube every time. By a country mile. For those blessed with a short memory, see the previous post.

PPS: There's a view of our shot tower in its context beginning at the 2'32" mark in the third video.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Two speeds, many modes

I'm blessed with a commute that offers many permutations and combinations.

I've got the beeline: a high speed straight line shot downtown.  There is no charm, nothing to admire about this route, other than the occasional art work on high, when the sun is playing in the clouds.  It's a crisp way to travel on two wheels: alert, extremely focused, drifting around seams and patches left by constant construction.

The opposite is the meandering coastal route.  The route hugs the lake and then branches off about midway and follows the Lachine Canal downtown.
The difference is about twenty minutes, depending on the traffic on the expressway.

Sometimes I'll split the difference.  Start out on the meandering slow route to contemplate the meaning of life and my place in the universe.  When it dawns on me that I have places to be and people to meet, I shift gears and hop on the highway.

Here's a glimpse, a very poor glimpse, of what that looks like.  All I had was my iPhone.  Google did the rest of the damage on the upload.

I'm almost embarrassed to offer the evidence.  But from a forensic point of view, it does the job.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ride to the land of fire

It's time once more to share some correspondence with a reader.  I think you'll find this interesting.  I know I do.  I've edited it only to correct typos from our fat-fingered typing, and to add links to make the references easy to follow.

Ralph writes:
I have been viewing your blog now for couple of months.

You have a very clear and unique prose style that makes for easy and enjoyable reading. Plus you do an excellent job in describing changes, additions and upgrades.

I would like your opinion on my consideration of riding a Vespa to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.

This is not a new or novel idea as it has been done a number of times from what I can determine. The Germans have been running around South America on their high powered motorcycles.

I have read the following publications:
What Vespa would you recommend for such a trip? I noted your recent experience on the Vespa three wheeler. Is that one for such a trip?

I have been riding a 1996 Vespa for years and now have more than a hundred thousand miles on it. I changed the original engine for a  LML unit that has an electronic ignition system as an upgrade.

Any comments or feed back on this email?



Hi Ralph,

Thanks for the kind words.

A trip like that is truly an adventure. I don't have any experience with that sort of tour, but I have read accounts of long distance touring on Vespas.

If it were me, I'd choose the Vespa you've got, or something similar. Vintage Vespas or their more modern counterparts like the P200, have the advantage of being much simpler machines mechanically, and parts are more readily available.

I've read accounts of riders who have gone that route and those that rode motorcycles went for something light and mechanically simple like a Kawasaki KLR or a Honda XR or another relatively simple dual-sport bike.

With any of the modern Vespas you'll need to change tires and belts for a trip of that length, and you are unlikely to find the parts you'll need in many places in Mexico, or Central or South America.

The vintage Vespas are similar in terms of being a) very reliable and b) relatively simple to work on. Check out the Cannonball links on the right side of my blog page. If you go to the official Scooter Cannonball page, you'll find the blogs of some of the vintage Vespa and Stella riders.  See if you can get in touch with some of them. Riders of two-stroke scooters have basically rebuilt their vintage bikes in their motel rooms on more than one occasion.

My other advice is to join the forum, and go to the Not-so-Modern discussion group. That's where all the vintage Vespa owners hang out. You'll get excellent advice there.  You'll find links to the ModernVespa Cannonball threads for 2014, 2012 and 2010 in the sidebar.

Also check out Ken Wilson's Cross Egypt Challenge page in my links in the sidebar.

Finally, there are some South Africans who have ridden from Cape Town to Dublin. See

On their blog they list the reasons for selecting their scooters (4 speed manual, two stroke, LML scooters). One word of caution though, read the official 2014 Cannonball thread on ModernVespa. There is a link to the thread on my blog. Someone in the 2014 Cannonball was riding a Stella (LMLs are marketed in the US as Stellas) and I think they ran into some issues.

If you could reliably get parts for a modern 4 stroke CVT fuel injected Vespa along your route, my recommendation would be the Vespa LX150. It's been as reliable as the day is long. That said, you'll have a hard time finding parts, and changing the rear tire will be a colossal pain: a) because you have to take the exhaust off first (not easy) and b) because it's a tubeless tire and breaking the bead will be a chore all by itself. The LML, or Stella, or Vespa P200 have split rims, and the rear and front tire are interchangeable, plus you can carry a spare.

The Vespa P200 will do a maximum of 120 kph (75 mph) which should be plenty on the roads you'll be traveling.

Finally, I strongly suggest that for that kind of trip you get a Spot Messenger satellite transponder beacon. That will allow your loved ones and support team to track your travels, plus you get included search and rescue if you buy the search and rescue insurance. All told it's not that expensive and the peace of mind to know you can call for help literally anywhere on the planet even where there is no cell coverage is priceless.

Last but not least, with your permission I'd really like to post this e-mail exchange on my blog, but I won't do it without your permission. I don't need to mention names, I usually just say "a reader asks".

Whichever way you decide to go, please keep in touch. Also, If I were you, I'd start blogging about it now.

Oh... one more thing. If you decide to use a Vespa, a) raise money for charity, and b) get in touch with Piaggio, they might find a place in the Vespa museum for your scoot when you're done.



Greetings Dave,

Thank you for your comments and suggestions on my possible trip to the end of the Earth on a Vespa. 

As usual, you covered the subject in a very thorough and complete manner addressing some of serious considerations for a trip of this length and nature.

I think your comments should be made available to other people that follow your Blog so I have no problem with you releasing this and my original message to you.

As I indicated, I am at this point still in the stage of investigating all the problems and situations that I may encounter if I go forward with this idea. Should I make the go head decision after further discovery work I will get back to you on this. 

In the meantime continue with your excellent blog as I am sure there are a lot of other scooter riders who benefit from it and your descriptive writing style.

Best regards,


PS: My longest trip to date have been Cleveland, Ohio to Buffalo, New York. Not much distance in comparison to the ultimate trip I am looking at.

Bradley Timm added:

Good day David.

Once again, a very insightful read. I was glad to see you made mention of the CapeTown-to-Dublin ride by my scooter friends here in South Africa.

We rode regularly under the "Scooter Addicts" banner both before and after their long ride.

I was devastated to hear when I was in Paris last month that Chris (the guy in the red T-Shirt on the first picture) has gone blind as a result of a virus he picked up in middle Africa somewhere. I am still in regular contact with him, but his riding days are over.

Maybe an additional consideration is ensuring updated anti-viral shots/injections (and other prophelactics) relevant to countries being toured.

Keep up the interesting blog.




Hi Bradley,

How tragic.

We often think the modern world is a playground. It's sobering to hear that someone has paid so dear a price for venturing on a road trip.




Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rider profile: Michael Beattie

Name: Michael Beattie.  I was named Conchscooter for my avatar on a motorcycle forum, long since forgotten, years ago, by a moderator, and I adopted it.
Find me on Earth: Cudjoe Key, Florida
Find me Online:
Interview Date: Monday, July 14, 2014
Interview Location: It began in Beaconsfield, QC, and wrapped up in Brooklyn, NY
Scootcommute: When did you start riding, how old were you?

Michael:  My mother bought me an orange Vespa 50R in the summer of 1970 when I was 12 years old. In Italy it is only legal to ride at 14 but I rode it everywhere in the mountains round my home. My mother loved motorcycles and she planted the seed of my favorite way to tour. She died when I was 15, but the motorcycle bug remained. I've ridden ever since, no interruptions, for 44 years.

Scootcommute: How many motorbikes have you owned?

Michael:  I count roughly twenty, more or less. The largest was a Goldwing 1200 which was too much, the first real motorcycle was an MV Agusta 350B, to my current 2007 Bonneville.

Scootcommute: What is your current bike, and is the current bike your favorite?

Michael:  I believe it takes years to find the right motorcycle and my Bonneville is the culmination of years of buying the right bike for right now. The Bonneville is light enough to roll by hand, comfortable enough to ride for 36 hours straight, and easy and fun so that the prospect of riding never puts me off. It's the first bike I've ridden 80,000 miles with minimal maintenance and maximum reliability.

Scootcommute: Talk to me about the most challenging riding skill you learned.

Michael:  The most challenging riding skill is to hang back when circumstances require it. I like to ride five miles per hour faster than the traffic, but when I see a distracted driver ahead, the best policy is to slow down and let them go. Or if they come up from behind to pull over and let them go. I've got good at it after a half century of criticizing other road users.

Scootcommute: Are you a moto-commuter, a tourer, or a fair weather rider?

Michael:  I have ridden on many long journeys in the Americas, Europe and Africa. I live in a mild climate year round. If I commute by car my colleagues ask me what's wrong - usually I'm coming down with a cold or I needed the car for a specific reason. Rain doesn't bother me in a sub tropical climate.

Scootcommute: Are you a solitary rider? How about riding in a group?

Michael:   I am a solitary human. I go back to Umbria where I grew up and ride with my brother by other parents. Giovanni and I have been riding together for all these 44 years but aside from him I prefer to ride alone.

Scootcommute: I dare you to share an awkward or embarassing riding moment.

Michael:   In 1977 I was riding my Moto Morini 350 on a congested street in Dorking, a town in Southern England where I grew up when I wasn't growing up in Italy. I lane split and got caught by a car turning across the traffic in a gap left by a considerate driver. I flew over the car, landed on my helmet, walked away, red faced, and bent the forks on my motorcycle. Lesson learned and I never did that again. I watch other traffic like a hawk.

Scootcommute: What is the best place your bike has taken you?

Michael:  Across the US in 1981 on my Vespa P200E, the perfect touring bike. I traveled light, no tent, just a sleeping bag, no cooking gear, barely enough clothes, no spare parts. Fantastic. I rode my SR500 Yamaha across West Africa two years prior and went overloaded and fearful. I was too young and did not get the most out of that journey. These days I love to ride 12 hours out of Key West to the Appalachians north of Atlanta and ride the Blue Ridge at random when I can get away alone. (Ed.: Here is a link to Michael's account of his 1981 adventure.)

Scootcommute: Tell me why you ride.

Michael:  I ride because riding makes every journey an adventure, a test of skill, and a flight into the unknown. Keeping a two wheeler upright takes constant effort as it's instinct is to fall down. On a motorcycle I can be the solitary human being I crave to be in daily life. Plus when I come across another rider I can be as social as necessary without having to explain or justify my pleasure in being alone.

Scootcommute: If I could grant you one riding wish, what would it be?

Michael: One riding wish would be to have Cheyenne meet me at the motel room at the end of a day of solitary riding. My wife knows why I leave on my motorcycle and reads my texts during the ride. Cheyenne sees me disappear and reappear a few days later without warning or explanation.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

A fairly typical week

Hurricane Arthur's embrace reached far enough inland to keep me off my Vespa on Monday.

On Tuesday everything seemed to be returning to normal, but when I emerged from the underground garage for my homeward-bound commute, I was facing some menacing clouds and stiff winds.  I got no further than the Turcotte Yards on Autoroute 20 when the rain started pelting down.  I made a bee-line for the Angrignon - Notre Dame exit because there's a seldom-used U-turn lane that doubles back under the Angrignon overpass that provides perfect shelter.

I really don't enjoy getting rain gear on over my riding attire.  In fact, if I never had to do it again, it would still be too soon.  A particular joy is fighting to get my motorcycle boots in and through the rain pants.  I had to resort to plopping my butt down on a dusty curb, because the one-foot-hopping-dance was clearly not doing the trick.  Once I struggle into the rain suit, riding is fine and, I should add, unfailingly dry.  That bit always amazes me.

When I got home, stripping out of the rain gear was relatively easy, mainly because I slid my boots off, and then the rain pants followed suit without such a fuss.

On Tuesday evening things got quite ugly and we had to do without power for an hour or so.  Silence and candle light on a dark night.  Not so bad.

On Wednesday morning, the skies were very angry and there were huge winds blowing.  I must have checked the weather on my phone three times.  Nope.  There was definitely no rain in the forecast, in spite of the menacing look of things.  So off I went, my rain gear stashed away under the seat.

The weather finally aligned with the forecast by mid-morning, and there was bright sunshine at noon.

I emptied the pet carrier bin into one of the fold-away shopping bags I carry in the topcase and lugged the contents up to my office.  That left room to store my riding jacket on the bike.

And that's how I set out for a business lunch in the old city, at Graziella, down at 116 McGill avenue.

I parked about a block north on McGill, in the company of PTWs, mainly Vespas.

Five Vespas at one intersection.  What a sight. It's eloquent testimony to this town's love affair with Vespas.  No wonder Vespa Montreal is selling more Vespas than any other Canadian dealership, the demand in Montreal continues to grow.  Way to go Paul!

Notice the gaps between those bikes.  What luxury.  Italian riders would have squeezed at least thirty percent more bikes into that space, without even trying.

I stowed my helmet and jacket, then strolled off to the restaurant.  Graziella offered us a  truly delicious lunch (a warm seafood salad for me, featuring marinated grilled shrimp, tender calamari, succulent sautéed octopus, and other assorted bits and bites, and for my host a gorgeous and generous osso bucco milanese).  The food was really top-notch and there was a wonderful white wine to match.  Nothing like a nice meal and three or four glasses of wine perfectly complementing the food, to help expedite fruitful plans for the fall conference season.

On Thursday morning I changed things up for the commute.  I swung northeast and then headed south through the tree-lined streets of Outremont.  Once I was in the neighborhood, I took an extra few minutes to pop into St-Viateur bagel bakery to pick up bagels for our team.

They were still nice and hot from the oven when I handed them out to the folks at the office.  Being able to just toss your shopping onto the bag hook without a care in the world is just one of the wonderful pluses of owning a Vespa.
 What a contrbution to the dolce vita.

Thursday evening's commute was pure bliss.  I took the scenic route home and rode slow and easy.  I had my helmet open and paid the price by getting fairly whacked by a couple of insects on suicide missions.

On Notre Dame street that runs parallel to the Lachine Canal on the north bank, as I coasted along with the heavy-ish and indolent summer evening traffic. I soon found the cause for the slow-down.  A movie set sat astride the street in the trendy restaurant and antique store stretch.  For once they were actually shooting and things were hopping (to the extent anything hops on a movie set, it's usually at a dead stop).

All along the canal people were jogging, biking and kayaking.  On the lakeshore road, the restaurant patios were full of people sipping wine, chatting and relaxing.  More kayakers were enjoying the lake, competing with the squadrons of ducks.  In the distance a flotilla of sailboats sat seemingly still on the broad expanse of Lac St-Louis, decorating the water like so many white, bright, shark fins.

I had Emilie-Claire Barlow charming my ears with one delightful rendition after another.  Her album Seule ce soir is a delight.  Her performance of Petit matin is a loving portrait of Montreal that rings as true as true can be.  As that song started up, my luxurious commute likely climaxed.  Imagine me feasting, taking a simultaneous bite of every one of my favorite comfort foods at once, in a kaleidoscope of bursting flavours and nostalgia. It was that good.

I really wanted to share the sights and sounds, but that would have meant interrupting the reverie to take a picture, and I just couldn't bring myself to do it.  I was an addict.  Hooked on the beauty of what a Vespa commute can be, and as high as a kite.

Friday.  TGIF.

Another blissful commute to work.

Brilliant sun, not a single cloud in sight, a cool breeze, and a promise of twenty-seven degrees for the afternoon commute.

For the morning route, I chose to split the difference.  I headed east on the expressway again, but this time got off due north of Mount Royal and headed south through the sleepy streets of Town of Mount Royal lined with the spacious elegant homes of the well-heeled elite, and then on to Cote des neiges road and over the pass between the twin summits of Montreal's mountain playground.  The traffic up the north face of the mountain pass moved languorously, and seemed to be slinking along in lazy fits and starts, as if it were succumbing to Halie Loren's Tango as I listened to I've got to see you again playing over the Sena.

When I crested the pass in front of the armory at Remembrance Road, I found myself traveling behind a couple riding two-up on a brand new Vespa Primavera in Azzurro Marechiaro.  Doesn't that sound nicer than greenish-blue?  Another stunning example of fine body work by a design team that manages to do something strikingly different, and truly beautiful, within the confines of the same simple elegant framework, time after time.  Art on two wheels.

What a sensuous way to start the day.

Then SNAP! The week was done.

I put my briefcase on the bag hook, fired up the bike and took the shortest, fastest route straight home. Well that's mostly true. I couldn't resist exiting at Cartier and taking it slow and easy through the Pointe Claire village. The weekend was already in full swing there. People on the terrasses, already into cocktails and friendly earnest chatter.

And so it goes.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A sunbird's summer travels with humans

 Cheyenne is a sunbird if ever there was one.

She explained patiently that a sunbird is just like a snowbird, but in reverse. A Floridian who temporarily migrates north to avoid the sweltering summer heat.

Cheyenne will tell you, if you take the time to listen her, that humans are a dog's best friend.

As long as you take the time to train your humans just so, that is.  Cheyenne has done a stellar job with her humans.

She managed a road trip up to the much cooler northeast coast, where temps were, by some accounts, overcast and in the 50F's.  Just what a Golden Labrador Retriever yearns for as an escape from the stifling tropics.

In for a penny, in for a pound.  She figured a short hop across the border to the wild and chilly Great White North might be fun.  She seemed a little disappointed with the balmy weather she found in Beaconsfield.  She told me she was hoping for the Labrador-in-September kind of weather.

Sorry Cheyenne.  You're still too far south.

Fortunately we had the air conditioning going.

Initially Cheyenne thought she'd keep her humans company in the den.  After all, you don't want your humans worrying that they've been abandoned far from home.  But the carpeting proved just too damn hot for a golden lab, so Cheyenne picked a nice spot in the kitchen, in the shade of the table, on a nice cool ceramic tile floor.
Ahhhh!.... now that's the life.

That's not to say that she forgets about her humans' needs.  She made arrangements to take them out to Smoke Meat Pete's.
Some humans claim that the Montreal smoked meat at Pete's place is the best in all the world.

She told me candidly that she just doesn't see what humans see in that stuff, or how they can stand to eat it.  Oh well, whatever floats their boat.  Cheyenne is philosophical that way.  But she wasn't having any of it.  Yuck!

She picked a breezy spot in the shade on the veranda and was content to wait patiently and take in the view, and maybe take a little nap, while her humans ate their fill.
In the end, she had expectations.  Places to go, dogs to see, grass to sniff.  So she gathered up her humans Michael and Layne and coaxed them into the car.  It was too damn hot here anyway, she said.
She wasn't sure where she would head next.  Definitely back to Key West, but only later on, she said.  Who knows, in the meantime she told me she would likely bum around the Northeast for a while longer, looking for more of that nice cool weather she was after.  So long as her humans didn't get too cranky.

Sometimes even the best-trained ones can be unpredictable, she said.  Something about constantly stopping to chat with humans, and then all it takes is for a motorcycle or scooter to cross your path and well they get fixated on that, and it all goes south pretty quickly... what's a dog to do?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

21st century life

We live in a world totally different from the one previous generations knew.

We have information that previous generations never had, likely never imagined having.  We know with insane precision where we are, where we are going, how fast we are going, and when we will arrive.

We can record with the same exacting precision where we have been, with images, sound, and motion. 

We are able instantly to know more about our surroundings, the people we meet, the weather we have, the weather to come, events that are shaping our lives and communities, where our loved ones are, and even the state of the homes we left behind, than any of the countless humans who came before.

If we choose, we can share that information about us in what we have come to call 'real time'.  We are able to call anyone, anywhere, speak to them, leave messages for them, and in turn be reached by anyone, anywhere. Our friends and family can see where we are to within a few feet and a handful of minutes, no matter where we are on the planet, even how fast we are moving.

If we stay in one place for more than a few minutes, there is virtually no limit to the information at our disposal.  When did Vivaldi write the Four Seasons?  How far is the moon? What portion of the universe is above us at this moment?  How many movies did Humphrey Bogart appear in?  How many elements are in the periodic table now?  How many were there when we were in high school?

Almost nothing is unknowable about our known universe, in this very moment. 

It blows my mind. 

I can have virtually all of that at my beck and call on my Vespa if I choose.


Yes, yes, yes, I know. Why?

Why would you want all that clutter when you're riding?

Well, mostly I don't.  But...

The thing is, that there are times when it's really, really useful. 

I spend a lot of time in the saddle.  There are many speed traps on my route. My speedometer is inaccurate and I want to go through them as fast as possible without triggering the camera, or giving the officer a reason to pull me over. Sometimes it's nice to be reachable and be able to be able to reach others.   Sometimes I need help getting where I want to go. 

And then, for me, personally, geekily, it's just friggin cool that I can, if I want to. 

And I can, and I do, because the world has RAM mounts. 

Any gadget you can own, can be mounted on any bike, in precisely the perfect spot, with a RAM mount.  That goes for global positioning satellite receivers (it's much more fun to say that than 'GPS unit'.  Satellites, a constellation of them, inform, guide me, and even speak to me. Wow!), so-called smart phones like my iPhone, point-of-view cameras like my GoPro, and satellite transponder position beacons, like SPOT Messengers.

RAM mounts are precision, no-nonsense, military-grade instruments.  But they aren't perfect. 

I found that out last weekend when the retaining clip on my iPhone mount snapped. Fortunately the phone was plugged into the charging cable and it landed in my lap when it sprang free. 

I had noticed that it had become easier to snap the phone in and that was good. In fact, it was a harbinger of imminent failure.  There was no way of knowing. 
The place for RAM mounts in Canada is Calgary. But not just anywhere in Calgary. In a little store in a strip mall in the suburbs. I used my Garmin GPS unit to get me there. 

Luckily for Canadians, a trip to the store in Calgary is a fun thing to do, if you happen to be in Calgary, but it's completely unnecessary. That's because they have a kick-ass website at where you can get anything RAM makes, and they ship instantly. 

It didn't take long to go there to replace the $8 iPhone mount. 

But wait, GPS City folks are as honest as good'ole cowpokes on the prairie.  They post product reviews for all products, including ones that prove to have defects. Like the mount for the iPhone series 5, for instance. Be warned those of you who have this mount. It will break and set your $800 iPhone free.  Those of you who have the RAM mount for the series 4 iPhones needn't worry, those are fine. 

Oh! Did I mention that RAM mounts have lifetime warranties?  

GPS City also have real-time chat on their website. In no time at all I had received expert advice and I had a universal smartphone 'X' mount (and a GoPro 1" RAM ball for good measure) winging their way to me.  As soon as they come in I'll post pics here. 

As for my broken mount, GPS City honors the RAM warranty with a picture of the broken mount and the original order number. In this case they gave a discount off the new purchase on the spot. How cool is that?

And that's life in the 21st century.  No floating cars yet, but still tons of cool stuff that this 1962 ten year-old never even dreamed would be possible.

I'm back.

Well that didn't take long, I'm back and the iPhone is back on its perch, in a brand new universal mount.  It's been ride-tested and it's fine.
The instructions, in keeping with K2's comment below, suggest tethering the phone.  I'm not sure how that is going to happen.

The only thing that comes to mind is a GoPro tether.  I don't know if that will work.  What will work is this product, a little pricy though.  I think I can come up with something sufficiently secure by exploiting the two connectors on the phone.  I already have an idea, but it's going to involve some shopping and hopefully a tiny amount of money.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"... this used to be fields..."

We would be going somewhere, driving down a street lined with stores or houses.  To the child I used to be (some would say, still am), that particular part of the planet seemed as permanent and unchangeable as any other.

"When I was your age, this used to be fields. I would come for horseback riding lessons near here. There were bridle paths all through the fields."

I never for an instant doubted my mother. Yet it was more than I could fathom.  My mother wasn't that old.  There were no fields anywhere in this place.  Mile upon mile of sidewalks, pavement and buildings. I couldn't remember seeing a field all drive long. It seemed a fantastic notion. Fields, here? Horses?

On Saturday my sister-in-law Bev was here for a visit. She was staying with her sister Linda in Laval. We went over for brunch.  When we turned onto Linda's street I noticed it had been repaved. From the look of the pavement, the paving was maybe a week old. Tops.

Every time I go to Linda's, it's a trip in a time machine. I grew up in that neighborhood. I distinctly remember when Linda's house was built, and when her street was paved, the first time.

Our kids are visiting for the long weekend, so we went to Linda's in two cars, and a scooter. I was in need of a ride.

After brunch, Susan drove Bev to the airport and I decided to take the scenic route home: west along the old river road to the ferry that goes to Ile Bizard, then over Ile Bizard back onto the Island and home.

Back in the late 70's Autoroute 13 was built. Laval's burgeoning population had made a second Autoroute link to Montreal a pressing and long overdue necessity.  The highway was built nineteen years after my parents' house was built, eighteen years after the seven year-old me moved in.  That was a very long eighteen year span.  Years back then lasted much longer.  Nothing like the recent ones that seem to slip by in uncounted numbers.

Our house in what is now the Chomedey sector of Laval was on the edge of the developed world back in 1959. The frontier was a couple of blocks away. Farmers' fields extended from our neighborhood and away to the west, as far as the crow could fly. Farther probably.

Autoroute 13 obliterated the ancient red brick two-story, four-room schoolhouse I attended in grades three and four. Good riddance. I had nuns, and was the only 'city boy' in the school, or so it seemed to me.  I shed no tears when that part of my childhood fell to the bulldozer.

I digressed on the way home, searching for any vestige of the world of the 1960's where my school and the nearby convent that supplied the school's nuns had stood.  The old riverside road, Chemin bord de l'eau, petered out as it approached the point where the western edge of the Autoroute blocked its original path.  The fields south of the old road that used to stretch a quarter mile or more down to the river, were no more. The three story convent was no more.

Cheek by jowel, acres of McMansions had mushroomed.  Imposing, elegant, brand-new, dressed-stone manor homes, with many-gabled roofs, and wrought iron adornments, succeeded one another, snaking along gracefully curving streets.  There was no trace, absolutely no visible trace, of the seven or eight-year-old's universe.

'... this used to be fields...' my mother's words were ricocheting in my slightly numbed brain.  My childhood world was gone. No school, no convent, no fields, no '57 Chevies, or Ford Fairlanes.

I turned the Vespa around and headed west on Chemin bord de l'eau. At least the old road still existed.

Many miles later, as I neared the ferry landing, development's grip slackened and the changes were less troubling.  The ten year old boy had no difficulty getting his bearings.
The three-dollar ferry ride was a comforting transition that left the unsettling vision of McMansions swirling in its wake.

Was that real?
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.