Scooting the city

By ABIGAIL CROCKER  |  October 14, 2009

Move aside four-wheelers. On Wednesday nights, it's scooter time.

The weekly ride, kick-started by Patrick Engeman, owner of North Main's Javaspeed Scooters, draws about a dozen to two dozen riders. The assembled gear up behind the dealership/repair shop/coffee shop, strapping on helmets, leather, and eye protection. And then they ride.

The rides are meant for show. Engeman hopes to encourage novice riders to practice riding with traffic -- but also to create a buzz and revive scooter culture.

And the event has attracted attention. Not all of it approving.

"If there are 10 scooters, people think they've seen 50," said rider Marc Ardizzone.

"We sound like a pack of lawnmowers," added regular Gary Constantine.

The venture turned from a small sporadic gathering to a once-a-week staple soon after the rides got some notoriety in the fall of 2002, about the same time Engeman opened Javaspeed Scooters.

And the jaunts are not for the feint of heart. On a recent spin, the scooters rode across a Wickenden Street intersection and proceeded onto Benefit Street, gaping potholes shaking drivers' feet off the pegs meant to sturdy them.

The scooters took a turn onto Westminster Street and rode on the cobblestone. Some drivers darted in and out of formation but, like a school of fish, the group remained more or less intact. As they cut through the residential areas of the East Side, the riders spread out, carving S-turns across the pavement.

Downtown, a woman in a pink dress stopped on a corner next to Tazza to watch the motorists. She flashed a smile. Another man ready to cross the street scowled.

"We get a lot of reaction," said Engeman.

Engeman recalled the driver of a red Camaro shouting at Wednesday night regular Luigi Ghiasi after the group passed the vehicle idling at a stop sign.

"He said, 'Swerve at me again, you fat motherfucker,'" Engeman said. "It's funny that some guy felt assaulted by Luigi swerving near him when he's in a car. We're the ones who are vulnerable."

The squad has faced more than epithets, though. The gang used to make Thayer Street a routine dinner stop. But after neighbors complained of noise, the city enforced parking restrictions making it hard for two-wheelers to stop for long.

The group found alternatives. A couple of Wednesdays ago, the scooters stopped at Rick's Roadhouse on Richmond Street -- a venue with ample parking. The Red Fez on Peck Street is a favorite when the weather gets colder and the squad thins.

And despite the occasional hassle, the riders get away with quite a bit. Though Ardizzone rides his Stella (an Indian-built version of the 1970s Vespa) at 45 mph -- about 20 miles per hour over the city's residential speed limit -- the cops don't stop him. He attributes the lax attitude to his scooter's nerd factor.

"They chuckle at us and say, 'What a weenie,' " said Ardizzone. "If I was driving a red sports car, they would pull me over."

  Topics: This Just In , stella, Tazza, Tazza,  More more >
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