Hubris on a Vespa

Hubris. I’ll be the first to admit that I think I can do way more things than I can do.

Like riding a Vespa.

In the final days before we left on our trip to Italy, I madly booked tours in the five locations of our trip. Food tours, a concert, and skip-the-line access everywhere because, in addition to having too much pride, I am also impatient.    

“Honey, I’m booking a Vespa and Wine Tasting Tour,” I yelled through Paul’s office door at home. He was working on his computer and whistling. The words were barely out of my mouth when the whistling stopped. I heard his chair roll backwards and the door creak open. I even heard Sibby shake her collar and get to her feet.

“Do you think that is such a good idea?” Paul leaned against the door frame of the kitchen where paper, my phone, and my computer surrounded me. He folded his arms across his chest. Any good marriage counselor will tell you that crossed arms means resistance to an idea.

“Sure. I can do it,” I said showing him the Budget Italy Tour picture of all the sweet, young people scootering along waving at the camera. The sun was shining, the road was empty, the medieval town, San Gimignano, beckoned in the distance. “It says we will ride to this town in the Tuscan Hills, taste wine, eat lunch, and then return back to the Vespa place.” Paul stood unmoved and Sibby, the golden retriever with a great deal of hair, lowered her butt to the floor. They both looked like they didn’t believe me. “Paul, I can do this. Everyone can ride a Vespa. It’s like a scooter.”

No, it’s not.

We pulled into the Mailbox Etc. store where the Vespa company rented a garage in the back. Five shiny Vespas were lined up outside the door. I looked closer and a black one had several scrapes on its sides and the front fender was missing over the wheel. Up close, it looked more like dirt bike than a scooter—just with tiny, cute wheels.  

“Okay, I am Vincenzo, I will be your guide today,” He walked the line of Vespas, pausing to run his hand across the gleaming silver chrome of the handlebars. “First off, I need to assure you can ride safely.” He gestured to the black one. “Get on.” Paul obediently straddled the machine with his feet on the ground, twisted the key, turned the handles back and forth and squeezed the brakes. He sat down on the seat and vroomed off to the end of the parking lot. He made it look easy.

“Okay, your turn,” Vincenzo pointed at me. “Pick one. Pick the pretty orange one.” I couldn’t move. Paul was circling the parking lot and doing that Van Disel move where you put your foot down and spin the motorcycle in a half circle.

“I can’t.” I stared at Vincenzo’s Sibby-like, brown eyes. “I can’t.”

“But you have paid?” Panic made his voice a little higher. “Your husband is ready.” He pointed to Paul who was just about ready to ride with no hands.

“I can’t.” Poor, young Vincenzo looked uncertain. Obviously, everyone he knew could ride a Vespa. I stepped closer to him and said in a low voice. “Look you don’t know me, but I promise you, I can’t do it. I would crash…like into something, not just myself.”

Sighing, Vincenzo waved Paul back. He had to whistle to get his attention, actually. My husband was bent with his chest to the handlebars pretending to be Tom Cruise racing alongside the airplane runway.

So, four Vespas left the Mailbox Etc. parking lot. Our teenage leader, Vincenzo, Robbie and Travis from Tennessee, and me and Paul. I rode behind Paul on the black, beat up Vespa. It was really not meant for two—at least the two of us.   

Vincenzo led us out to the highway where we rode in a line on the side of the road. We stayed on the white line inches from the shoulder. Cars whizzed past us honking, and good old Vincenzo and Robbie and Travis honked back. Paul couldn’t. I had his arm in a vise grip.

“We are on a freeway! What is that kid thinking?” I screeched in Paul’s ear.

“I am going to stop this thing right now and turn around if you can’t get a hold of yourself,” Paul snapped. Unlike when we drive together in the car, my mouth was directly in his ear even with our helmets on.

“What do I do? I don’t know what to do. Tell me what to do,” I moaned over the buzzing of the Vespa motor. Vincenzo looked back and gave us a thumbs up with a big grin.

“Don’t move so much. Hold onto me. I have to balance both of us,” Paul talked out of the side of his mouth concentrating on the road. “Lean into me.”

“Okay,” I said and leaned forward to lay against his back.

“Ooh, that’s nice,” he said.

“What?”

“Your breasts,” Paul announced.

“Paul, that’s not even funny. This is dangerous.” I jerked back up as bits of gravel kicked up from under the front tire.

“Don’t move!” Paul grabbed both hand brakes. “No, it’s good. When you lean against me like that you don’t wiggle so much. Just stay like that.”       

We rode. I was terrified. I didn’t know where to hold on, and my short legs prevented my feet from resting on the platform behind Paul’s legs. I finally gave in. I wrapped my arms around my husband’s torso and clasped my middle fingers together over his tummy. I laid my chest onto his back and nestled my chin into his shoulder. We would have been the perfect picture for Budget Italy Tour’s advertisement.

We motored towards San Gimignano, and the road of the valley fell away. Carefully, I sat up and looked on either side of us. Olive orchards streamed down the hills like grey and silver smoke and curled against the land. Purple grapes, plump and full, on vigorous green stalks marched in leafed rows down the hills while the leaves of white grapes, softer and already harvested, sank into the soil ready for sleep. Cypress trees, tall and singular, paraded down the landscape.

It looked exactly like—Tuscany.

“Breasts!” Paul hollered.

“What?”

“Lean forward!”

We were on a steep incline and the Vespa was groaning under our weight. It slowed to 20 kilometers an hour and then to fifteen kilometers an hour.

“Should I jump off?” I yelled in Paul’s ear.

“No, just lean in, Honey. Lean in.”

We crawled up the hill at a tortuous pace. Cars six deep honked impatiently behind us and pulled into the center of the road to see if there was enough room to pass. Alas, there was not. Everyone, including Robbie and Travis, had to plod up the hill behind us. Vincenzo sat at the top of the hill waving the cars on, looking more like a safety officer at an elementary school than a cool Vespa wine tasting tour guide.

Hubris. It doesn’t matter who you are. It gets you every time.

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