Every few years I register for a car show, not so much in the hopes of actually winning a trophy or even being noticed by judges, attendees, or other exhibitors, but mostly to remind myself why scooters as transportation/hobby/lifestyle are superior to any other motor vehicle. The people watching is pretty magnificent, too, because if the car show is big/general enough, you’re not only exposed to several hardcore subcultures, but you get to watch them uncomfortably interact with each other.

First, arguments for scootering as a pastime:

  • Both vintage and modern scooters are, even at currently-high Vespa/Lambretta prices, a pretty inexpensive hobby. The bikes, parts, and accessories seem expensive, but compared to other vintage vehicles, they’re pretty cheap to buy, ride, restore, and maintain.
  • A cool vintage car or hopped-up-street racer or Harley custom will get you attention, but you’ll get more attention for your buck with a scooter, and it’ll come from people that matter (cute kids, dogs, weird/entertaining/old immigrants)
  • While there could surely be more diversity in the scooter scene, especially the vintage scooter scene, it’s a LOT more diverse than most car/motorcycle scenes. There is diversity in the car scene as a whole, but the hispanic car club guys don’t mix with the Asian tuner guys, who don’t mix with the muscle car boomer guys, who don’t mix with the classic hot rod guys… and they’re almost ALL guys.

Which brings us to the people watching… Most shows i’ve been to are, I guess, what you’d call “medium-sized,” maybe a couple hundred cars at the most, and are organized by well-meaning organizations trying to attract car owners and gawkers. In most cases, cars are not arranged in any meaningful fashion, you show up and park somewhere and someone gives you a number, and the handful of safety-vested volunteers running around mean well, but no one knows what’s going on. The schedule and the award categories are vague, the judging criteria is a mystery…

That situation must be super frustrating for people who spend tens of thousands of dollars on their cars, but it’s super-fun to watch the chaos as an outsider. A random row of cars might feature a spotless 1969 GTO “Judge,” a beat up 1946 Packard Clipper, a 1987 Fiero, a 2009 Honda Accord with a bunch of LEDs and ground effects, a fresh-off-the-showroom-floor McLaren 720s, a 1960 Nash Metropolitan, 1997 Ford Thunderbird, and, if you’re lucky, a reasonably-solid example of a 1971 Vespa Primavera.

Every single person in that cluster is disappointed to be next to whoever’s next to them. Some will make small talk and find some common ground, or at least kill the time and learn more than they wanted to know about 1997 Thunderbirds. Each will be secretly angry that all these other dumb cars could win an award while they won’t.

Meanwhile, everyone exhibiting, and their families, and the public, wanders through the event, each with their own interests and biases and alternately swoons over, snorts their nose, or rolls their eyes at each car they pass. The vintage guys think (or say out loud, often,) that there’s no place at a car show for a vehicle that just rolled off the assembly line. The Low Riders laugh at the guys who spent tons of money to make their vintage car look so boring, while they secretly covet the Ferrari across the way. The concours restoration guys just don’t get why you’d want to drive a rusted-out beater with one mismatched quarter panel that others (me) might find weirdly charming. Just about everyone wonders what possessed someone to bring a spotless but wildly uninspired stock 1997 Thunderbird. And EVERYONE wonders why they let that scooter sign up.

My original hope was to have a group of scooters to hang out with so we could shoot the shit and experience the surrounding mayhem, but apparently no one else wanted to sit in a parking lot for four hours of “Hey, bro, how fast does that thing go?” But it turned out to be a beautiful day, there was a huge turnout (of cars) and I did have a few good conversations with friends of friends and a couple new Vespa owners. Then Matt stopped by for a while, and Phil came towards the end (and parked his blackout GTS on his concourse, which certainly wasn’t any less out of place than my smallframe). and as we were gearing up to go for a post-show ride, I got a text from Darren that he was getting gas a mile away. In the parking lot we found Mike, a new member who just moved back to Chicago from Indiana, so we had a solid posse for a group ride. We rode up the Des Plaines river, back down the other side, across the bottom of O’Hare Airport. Then we stopped for late lunch/early dinner at Hamburger Heaven in Elmhurst, and rode back toward the city alongside the freight rails south of O’Hare. At Hala Kahiki, Phil and Mike headed home, and Darren and I stopped for a LCUSA/VCOA brotherhood tiki drink (wonderful “Bar Pilots,” if you’re asking) then headed back east into the fading light.

Thanks to Matt, Phil, Mike, and Darren for coming out. It was great to meet you, Mike, and I hope to see you again soon! I gotta admit, it’d woulda been nice to have a little cluster of vintage bikes at the show, and to have a few more people on the ride, but I know people are busy and some members live an hour or more away, and maybe folks don’t want to go out until Covid settles down, I know riding’s one of the very few things I feel comfortable doing. And hey, 4-6 riders is the sweet spot for a group ride, anyway. Hopefully this kind of stuff is appealing, if not, tell me what is and I’ll work it into the schedule, I tend to plan things that are fun/convenient for me, since I know at least I’m going to show up, but I’m listening to your feedback and welcome all suggestions!

The 2021 Triton Car Show