vespa1When the weather is reasonable, I forgo my Chevy Silverado and ride a little white Vespa to work. The decision to ‘scoot’ as opposed to ‘rumble in’ costs me an extra five minutes or so in side-street traffic and prevents me from one of life’s little pleasures—AM radio. Still, I save money on gas, which, in California, is no small thing.

I’m regularly surprised (oxymoron) at the common kinship of those who choose to drive places on two wheels and not four. If I see a motorcycle or fellow Vesper waiting at a red light, they will, more often than not, give me a little head-nod, as if to say, “Yeah. I get it.” I have to admit that I feel like a member of a secret society that exists right underneath the noses of regular, Volkswagen-driving … well…Volk.

What is the nature of this little community and why does it exist? It’s certainly not the same when I take my Silverado to work; I never notice any head nods from the F-150 or Tundra drivers.

I have my theories.

Theory #1 – The motorcycle/scooter kinship is based on a five-sense appreciation of the world. Sure, you might get a little more exhaust in your lungs, but nothing can replace the smell of pines, parks, asphalt, and McDonald’s, as you whistle by in a 45mph blur of twin-hamster generated power. The brisk wind charges into your skin in exhilarating fashion, a far better wake up solution than a cup of joe or a Red Bull.

Cars shut out the outside—on purpose. Mercedes Benz and Lexus invest millions of dollars to isolate the driver from the road, promoting a quiet, bounce-free, stress-free ride to get you from place to place. Roll the windows up, and your connection to the outside world ceases to exist. Which leads me to believe that…

Theory #2 — …if car drivers rolled their windows down, they’d start random conversations with the neighbors at the stop light and little communities would develop. Yeah, no kidding. People would be friendlier, and more of us would allow people to merge into our lanes without mental profanity. We casually cuss up a storm when someone cuts us off on the road—when we’re sure they don’t hear us. Not too different than every single comment thread in the history of YouTube. If I’m anonymous, all manner of vile behavior is permitted. Roll down the windows, however, and everyone becomes a little more human(e).

Erecting buffers from the world may promote a sense of quiet and tranquility, vespa2whatever that means, but it might also be stripping us of the central features of community. Even something as small as a car window can become another wall between me and the homeless guy asking for some change. Throw tint on your windows and you’ve upped the degree of separation even more; no one can tell if you are throwing up the ‘thank-you’ wave or the ‘you-should’ve-given-me-more-space’ finger.

Overstatement? Perhaps. But talk to a Vespa devotee, and they’ll tell you that they love the drive precisely because it draws them closer to their surroundings, not further away. Talk to a naturalist and they’ll tell you that their understanding of community is richer for having a keen awareness of flora and fauna. Talk to a surfer and they’ll tell you that the fastest way to kill a person is to lock them up in a 7-by-7 cubicle and have them stare at a screen all day. These people understand that a tribe is healthiest when there is an embodied component to their daily lives.

Embodiment embraces the sensory perception of the world, knowing that the world is from a God which called the created order, ‘good.’

“If I’m anonymous, all manner of vile behavior is permitted. Roll down the windows and everyone becomes a little more human(e).”

A workout session at the local gym is ridiculously embodied. Plopping earbuds in while you’re doing it numbs your brain to that embodiment. This is hard work for introverts but altogether necessary. The grit of community is what sands us down from rough-edged nihilists to become people who are willing to serve and be served.

Take stock of the things that shut out the world and, conversely, those things that embrace it. A healthy balance might keep you from stunting your concern for the neighbors in your midst, and you just might be surprised that a new community springs into being. Tight communities have sensory connections with one another. They recognize one another’s smell. They share food together. Each member knows the creases on the other’s face. This is the remedy to a world of tinted windows, earbuds and inner sanctums. It’s a way-of-being that gives full dignity to human experience, where people meet one another with open hands and empathetic hearts.

I don’t always drive a Vespa, but when I do, I know that a merry band of Vespers will be out there with me, smiling.


© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.