by Jeremy Wilker
LOCAL SCOOTER BOOK AUTHOR
It is an oppressively steamy 90-degree day when I meet up with Eric Dregni at his slightly Victorian place in St. Paul. He politely offers me an iced coffee. Just the ice would be fine with me on this muggy afternoon. He pops into his tiny kitchen to make drinks.
Dregni has written three classic books on scooters: “Scooters!”, “Motorscooter Buyer’s Guide” (with brother Michael) and most recently “Scoot Mania.” No self-respecting vintage scooter aficionado should find their bookshelf lacking these wonderful and humorous tomes of scootering history. Heck, the rare vintage pictures and brochures featured throughout the books are reason enough to add them to your collection.
Scooters caught Dregni’s interest while his brother was working at Motorbooks International in Osceola, Wisconsin many years ago. Hanging out in the area they happened across a gentleman with two old Lambrettas they fancied and ended up purchasing them both for less than two hundred dollars. (You don’t find those kinds of deals these days!) The brothers would rip around all over on those scooters and this got the attention of the Motorbooks folks who suggested they put together a book on scooters. It wasn’t a hard sell to make to the Dregnis and after about a year of research and study they came up with “Motorscooter Buyer’s Guide,” which was met with great success.
“MBI gave us a small advance. I’d take time off work and travel around doing research and gathering photos while my brother worked,” he says with a smile on his face. The smile speaks of the giddy joy a person realizes when they get to do something completely fun AND get paid. Or maybe I’m just projecting my secret desires into his expression. Or maybe it’s the heat.
Dregni was also the Italian-to-English translator of the hefty “Lambretta: Definitive History” by Vittorio Tessera, the man responsible for keeping the Lambretta name alive and well. Tessera has been an indefatigable force for Lambretta fans world-wide and also keeps the scooter museum in Milan a vital site for scooter pilgrimages. It is impressive to me that a Minnesota boy knows Italian well enough to translate such an important book. “It took almost a year after writing to get paid, though,” Dregni confides. “I eventually held some proofs hostage until they met their agreement.”
“I lived in Italy during high school in the mid-80’s and found the culture really great. Especially for scooters. The streets are literally this narrow,” he informs, while stretching his arms out wide. “They are made for pedestrians, not automobiles.” But scooters fit in nicely and visitors to Italy can attest to their nimbleness and popularity. “Although sometimes a Fiat 500 will come barreling down the way and people throw themselves up against the walls to avoid impact!” Dregni also spent five months in Milan after college and just moved back to Minnesota a year ago after spending three years in Moderna.
Aha! Now I can find out how to live abroad and escape these weather extremes. “I was teaching English,” he explains, “and writing in Italian for a weekly newspaper.” Wait a second that sounds quite a lot like work. What about the dark-haired Italian beauties who take a fancy to sexy foreign writers such as myself and take us in and become our muses? I drink an ice water. The heat is clearly amplifying my delusions of grandeur.
Researching for books might sound tedious, but it does lead to quirky and amazing discoveries. “Everybody knows about Vespa, Lambretta, Cushman, and Comet, but these are just the tip of iceberg! There were SO many more scooters out there, some that appear to have been lost to history as only a lone advertisement or brochure hints to its existence.”
Dregni goes on to tell me stories about scooters used for paratroopers and other military personnel, scooters used in bullfights, American scooters, German scooters, Italian, in fact, scooters from every corner of the earth. “While doing research for the first book, I came across all these great pictures and brochures that didn’t really work but I kept them around and it was really fun to put them together in the second book.” This book, “Scooters!”, also took about a year to research and write, and then, with still more to publish, he went on to his third book on two-wheeled vintage vehicles, “Scoot Mania.”
“It was fun to finally do a book that had so much color, even though many of the shots were vintage black-and-white. I also got to tour the Piaggio factory in Potedera and they were great about letting me see all the areas, but unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take pictures.” Everything in Potedera revolves around Piaggio–a real factory town where everybody survives or struggles according to the company.
“Do you know in Italy they used to saw off the mufflers to make the scooters faster and louder? But then the little old ladies would throw buckets of water out their windows at people who made too much noise.” This is a very amusing revelation &emdash; I thought this was simply a quaint movie convention used to portray foreign widows or retirees. “You also see a lot of beat up machines on the streets as the new ones get stolen too quickly.”
I inquire about the future and what this Midwestern boy might do next. “My dream is to ride around Sicily for at least a month. But with old scooters, not new ones that attract thieves.” Hmm, sounds suspiciously like a pitch for another book project… “A book is such a big project that you have to keep chipping away at it a little each day to finish it. But it is very rewarding to see the little parts add up to a finished piece.” I can’t argue that &emdash; it is rewarding for readers to find such lovingly crafted volumes of scooter history, too. But it’s not just scooters that Dregni writes about. He recently published a paean to Minnesota’s road-side attractions called “Minnesota Marvels” (U of M Press) and Dregni’s next book is coming out next year through a small Italian publisher and will be all about living in Italy. “It’ll have some scooter stuff in it, too,” he promises.
SKOOTER DU 3 COMING SOON
Mark those calendars for The Regulars’ third annual scooter rally–Skooter Du 3! This year’s event takes place August 9-11th, 2002 and will once again be a city-based rally so leave those musty and leaky tents at home. If you’ve never attended before, the weekend kicks off on Friday night with check-in and socializing. Saturday holds the big ride and food, drinks, contests, music and general goofiness into the wee hours of the night. Sunday features brunch and a shorter ride before guests depart for home. All scooterists are invited to join in the fun! Check the Minnescoota website for more details.
As always, Ride Safe, Ride Often.
The Twin Cities’ Vintage Scooter Club, The Regulars, meets on the first and third Sundays of each month at Pizza Luce in Uptown Minneapolis (32nd and Lyndale Ave) at 2:00 pm for socializing and riding — as long as weather permits. Join us! The website is located at http://www.minnescoota.com or send me a message – firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com