by: Matthew Simoni
“Aren’t you on vacation?... and in the Holy Land?” my fellow rider on the tour bus asked, “Why are you skipping a tour at an important site to meet with a guy about Vespa’s?”
Like the adage says, ‘If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand.’ ANY trip to the Holy land will likely be amazing. There are SO MANY sites. The history is incredible intense… and has shaped the very world we live in today.
On my first visit in 1997, I lost track as to how many times I said, “Oh, wow!” In fact, I think that meter broke on day 3… with more than a week to go. This trip added even more, with major stops in the Greece (Athens and Corinth), plus a bonus stop in Ephesus (Turkey).
But about twenty years later, now I am part of the Vespa culture (or was that ‘cult’?). And wherever I travel, I like to meet up with Vesparados like myself. This time, I was pinging Oren Resnik, the President of the Vespa Club of Israel. My conversation with Oren, prior to the trip, was initial contact through Facebook Messenger, with discussions about meeting face-to-face. To pull that off, we needed a surgical plan that fit within the boundaries of my itinerary. We both seemed excited to meet up and promised the exchange of some club items.
But now I was IN Israel… so, I returned to my texting, frantically trying to arrange our meeting in a well-timed, mutually beneficial place. (I was trying to time our tour bus stops (several a day) with a visit with Oren.) We determined that Beth She’an was the place. This was an ancient city that had important, but dubious, history in the Bible (King Saul’s body was hung there in celebration after a defeat of Israel… and then David, the new king, and his men, stole the body back for proper burial).
In 1997, on my first tour of the Holy land, I had a full hour to walk about. Twenty years later, I could skip this one EASY and hang with Oren. Oren pulled in on a tangerine P200 with a big smile, happy to finally be able to meet face to face, shaking hands and working through the language barrier.
We talked of club stuff and the place of scooters in Israel… a major mode of transportation for many. His P was in great shape. It was clearly owned by a Vespa Master. The fit and finish spoke the truth of tender-loving care. This wasn’t a show bike, mind you, but a well-cared for beast of burden, transporting Oren all over the country.
In Israel, most of the ‘vintage’ scooters have been replaced with modern 4-stroke ‘whatevers’. Thus, the old Vespas and Lambo’s were fairly rare. In fact, quite rare. I took a photo of the only Lambo I saw the whole trip. 2-stroke Vespa’s, with that unique sound and smell we’ve come to know and love, could easily be singled out on a busy street. Nearly every city had a few, but seemingly just a few. The week before in Athens, Greece, Vespas were ALL OVER. Our tour bus traveled ‘In town’ on only three days, yet I saw SEVERAL Vespa shops each day. Luckily, one was only about 10 blocks from our hotel.
The Athens streets were covered in cars and buses. Only in the late night did the streets settle down. So, in the break before dinner and with the concierge’s map, I settled for a taxi to deliver me the half-mile to the store.
NO ONE spoke any English, but we ALL spoke the universal language of Vespa! I emerged with some GREAT SWAG: A mechanic’s polo shirt (too small, but a great wall hanging), a pile of stickers, and coolest of all… a double-sided patch that was used as a key chain (with the store name and phone number in Greek, now permanently attached to my Chrome messenger bag).
I had tried to have the Vespa Club of Athens peeps come to the hotel for a round (I hardly ever drink, so this is saying something)… but they had a city-wide even on the far end of town and couldn’t make it. Bummer.
I decided to walk back to the hotel from the store. But with my bag full of Grecian goodies, I ‘frolicked’ instead, basking in the glow of my international prowess. I made it just in time for dinner, providing a perfect opportunity for show-n-tell. (I was traveling with a couple Harley geeks, so they ‘got it’.)
My time with Oren in Israel was different. We weren’t just exchanging loot in the Beth She’an parking lot; we were cementing a long-distance friendship that continues to this day. I still read the FB postings as if I was there, dreaming (JUST) of how I could ever afford to import an Ape into the US; or, going on a run through the Golan Heights towering above the northern Galilee valley. Time was running out, as was his English vocabulary to talk about scooters and our families, so I opened the bag of goodies I had stuffed in my suitcase more than a week ago. I pulled out some Vespa Club of Seattle stickers and a patch; Plus, from old stock when my wife did silk-screening, several scooter-themed shirts to be handed out to club peeps or family. My heart skipped a beat when his bag opened and he handed me a white polo shirt. It was it my size (I’m well-fed)!
He clearly noted the joy on my face. With that he pulled out a leg-shield cover with “Vespa Club of Israel” all over it, but he said in fairly good English, “For club members only.”
“Does this mean I am a member?” I asked.
“For life,” he replied.
I was stunned and deeply honored.
Adding to this awesomeness, we exchanged scooter license plates. Mine from Washington state and his from somewhere in Israel (I can’t read Hebrew, but they STILL LOOK COOL on the office wall!). Good thing I was wearing glasses, lest my tear of joy be noticed. Oren rolled out, with his famous smile still on his face. And I got on the bus, giddy with excitement. Like many scooter runs, I made a friend.