By Charlie Sacchetti
In the summer of 1965, as a recent high school grad, I decided to make a significant purchase. My buddy Richie Downs had an old Vespa motor scooter. It gave him a degree of freedom while providing lots of fun. To me, that was a combination that seemed hard to beat, so I plopped down $450 and bought myself a brand-new, red, 1965 Vespa. It was manufactured in Italy by the Piaggio Corp., so my Vespa and I appeared to be a marriage made in heaven (or at least Pontedera, Italy). In no time at all, I was scooting all over the place. I’d take it to the store. I’d drive to my baseball games, in full uniform, with glove and spikes set securely in the storage basket under the handlebars. Richie and I even drove our scooters to Wildwood, New Jersey, a shore town about 80 miles from our homes in southwest Philly. With those 125-cc engines whirring at a cruising speed of about 35 mph, and after a stop or two on the way, the trip took about three hours but, heck, we were kids and had all the time in the world. The thing I remember most from that trip is, while riding on the Walt Whitman Bridge, we were almost blown over by passing tractor-trailers, whose drivers had the gall to actually want to drive at the legal speed limit!
When fall came around, it was time to start my classes at Temple University. My buddy Ronny Wagner and I made the daily trip on the scooter through some of the toughest neighborhoods in Philadelphia. With Ronny in the seat behind me, we sometimes had to dodge flying objects, wild dogs, and irate cab drivers who, for some reason, resented my buzzer-like horn in their ears when we snuck up on them
as they idled in a traffic jam. There was no such thing as a traffic backup for us. I could simply maneuver the scooter between the rows of stacked cars to reach the front of the line. If that didn’t work, I would drive up on the sidewalk to avoid the long wait. This technique was illegal, of course, but Ronny was a top-flight lookout, scanning for any cop cars that may have been lurking nearby. Upon arriving at campus, we would park the scooter alongside scores of Honda motorbikes and other Vespas on the Broad Street sidewalk. In the 1960s, such vehicles were very popular. It didn’t hurt that my gas expenditures averaged about 50 cents every other week and liability insurance only cost $35 per year.
As winter approached, we had to make sure we dressed appropriately for the ride. I would wear a heavy peacoat under a scarf and windbreaker. I had a pair of motorcycle gloves like the Highway Patrol cops had and a woolen stocking cap with goggles. I couldn’t afford a windshield. Ronny dressed similarly. Upon arriving at school, we would bolt to the Mitten Hall men’s room and get the blood circulating to our faces and hands again with the help of the hot-air hand dryers.
Of course, if there was snow in the forecast, we would resort to more mundane modes of transportation, like bumming a ride in a buddy’s car or taking the Broad Street subway. However, sometimes I would be surprised by unexpected weather changes. For example, during freshman-year midterms, I decided to go to my friend’s house so we could help each other prepare for our Economics 101 exam. As it was one of the most boring classes ever conceived, with a teacher that matched the excitement level, we reasoned that, between the two of us, we could figure things out. So I rode the scooter to his house, roughly 20 miles away in Havertown, Pennsylvania, and we did our best to be serious students for about an hour. Then break time arrived, so we decided to take a walk to the local basketball courts and play a little one-on-one. The time kind
of slipped away, so to speak, and, after two hours of b-ball, we realized it was time to resume our studies, just as the first snowflake began to fall. Naturally, I thought it was wise to get home ASAP, given the ominous-looking sky. On the way home, the snow started to come down harder. As I carefully drove at
a snail’s pace, I arrived at the top of the hill near the old Gimbel’s department store at 69th Street. When I began to brake for a red light, the rear of the scooter fishtailed, and down I went, thrown to the ground, landing on my rear end. The scooter went flying but, thanks be to God, both the scooter and I were unharmed.
I continued to drive that Vespa throughout my college career, taking it to daily baseball practice in the spring and then home each evening. Only after having another fall, this time on Girard Avenue near the Philadelphia Zoo, late in my senior year, did I think it might be a good idea to upgrade to other modes of transportation. You see, after slipping and falling on the wet cobblestones and having a tractor-trailer barely miss me, I figured I would give my guardian angel a break, so I sold the scooter.
During my 46 years of married life, I have occasionally suggested that I might want to buy another scooter, just for fun and for old times’ sake. However, that whim abruptly ends when I do a quick calculation in my head. Besides the cost of a new scooter, now several thousand dollars, there would, no doubt, be the added cost of a decent divorce lawyer. IAH
Charlie Sacchetti is the author of two books,“It’s All Good: Times and Events I’d Never Want to Change,” and “Knowing He’s There: True Stories of God’s Subtle Yet Unmistakable Touch.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org