(2sb welcomes Karen Giezyng of Bumpstart magazine talking to Jeff Lillie about his seminal and beloved ’90s zine, PDX Scooter Rider:)
The Pacific Northwest is known for a lot of things, but many of you might not be aware of the region’s rich scooter ‘zine history. During the ‘zine explosion of the ’90s there were three different scooter ‘zines in publication. The Vespa Club of Canada published the region’s first scooter ‘zine, The Indicator in 1992. A few years later, in 1995, Jeff Lillie created PDX Scooter Rider. Susan Goodwin and Danean Mauer followed suit with the rollicking, P-Town Uncensored from 1999-2002 and from 2006-2008, I did Kickstart. (Karen’s new ‘zine, Bumpstart, is available now at Scootmoto.)
I recently chatted with the creator of PDX Scooter Rider, Jeff Lillie about his ‘zine and what it was like being a part of the scooter community back then.
Karen: How’d you get into scootering? What was your first scooter?
Jeff: In 1982 I was living in Huntington Beach, California and at my high school there were a few Mods who drove some pretty sweet scooters. I dug their style. One of my pals’ older brothers had a Vespa. He talked about going to see The Jam in concert and riding with a bunch of other scooters to see Quadrophenia in Long Beach. A year later my family moved up to Portland and I acquired my first Vespa, a 1960s 90. I was still in high school and didn’t get a license or get it running till after graduation. In 1986, I got my first P200.
Karen: Could you talk about the scooter scene and rallies back then?
Jeff: I remember the excitement of getting ready for a rally. Often I didn’t have a bike ready until the last minute. One time I had recently bought a P200 with multiple patches on the inner tube, but didn’t realize it until I had a rear tire blow out on I-5 South the way back from a Seattle rally. I snapped the headset casting around the bolt, scraped up my knee, got a ticket for driving while suspended and had to call my old lady to pick me up.
I rode around with my best friend Darrin Castillo at the time. He got his first P200 soon after I did. We would ride downtown and hang out at Scoochies after front loading by the Washington Park reservoir. We’d also sit at McMenamins and draw little cartoons of all the scooter wrecks we’ve been in. One time we wrecked into each other and he had to go to the hospital. There was a couple of legendary Mod scooterists I heard of who had scooters like “Bob the Mod” and Ralph Moore. There were some Reed College kids who were into scooters and Ska like Sean and Opie. I heard that their scene was rather exclusive. I cared more about riding and having fun. A scooter club called The Hamilton Street Fliers started consisting of Dave Rinella, Dave Bright and a bunch of other folks whose names escape me. Regular meetings started happening at Jaime’s Hamburgers on NW 23rd.
Karen: Tell us your story about Mr. Holland’s Opus. What ever happened to the Allstate handlebar scooter that you had?
Jeff: There was a time when we were getting the odd casting calls for our scooters. In the USA Network movie Child of Darkness Child of Light, they tried to use Skidmore Fountain as Rome. We rode our scooters around it for awhile before getting bored. I think Darrin on his P is noticeable. I am not. For Mr. Holland’s Opus, I rode my ’55 Allstate with a ’58 VB1 motor all the way down to NE Portland early in the AM. Went to costume and was told I didn’t have to wear one because I had already dressed the way they wanted the extras to. I always dressed like that. I was supposed to be in a scene where Richard Dreyfus was a driving instructor. Me and a bunch of old cars spent all morning and most of that hot afternoon on NE Glisan waiting. They got one scene of us driving a few hundred feet. We waited more hours then I eventually got bored and went to a tavern and drank beer. I heard they were looking for me for another shoot. I’ve never saw the movie but I’m pretty sure my Allstate isn’t in it.
Karen: How did your ‘zine, PDX Scooter Rider come about?
Jeff: I had been learning how to work on Vespas and meeting other scooter kids in Portland. They were willing to let me work on their bikes for practice because Mario’s Italian Motors was so expensive. I was into the idea of a scene that did not revolve around being mod. I was really into cool fanzines like Thrift Score and 8 Track Mind so decided I could make one about the Portland scooter scene the way I saw it (and wanted it to be).
Karen: Was it the first Portland ‘zine about scooters?
Jeff: Fanzine maybe.
Karen: What made you want to do a ‘zine? Can I reprint your famous scooter poem
Jeff: I just wanted to submit something to 2strokeBuzz. Yes, is it famous?
Karen: Yup, it was immortalized on 2strokeBuzz‘s website. Your poem nicely answered some of the annoying questions scooterists get asked at gas stations.
Karen: What was your favorite part of PDX Scooter Rider?
Jeff: It was not as much about a fashion clique as it was about a wide range of individual styles: freaks, grungers, nerds, etc. People who rode their bikes to work and hundreds of miles to rallies. In retrospect I’m glad I have a document of the details of our little scene at the time. It was definitely DIY.
Karen: Do you have a favorite issue or a favorite story from it?
Jeff: Jeff Reese’s story about our scooter ride from Portland to Amerivespa #3 in Colorado Springs, definitely.
Karen: How did you first learn to work on Vespas?
Jeff: My friend Darrin had some mechanical knowledge from working on old Volkswagens. His first Vespa had problems and he didn’t want to spend a bunch of money to have Mario fix it. Darrin showed me what he learned and I picked it up from there. Once I figured out things like cable replacement and top end work it just went from there. There were plenty of other people who didn’t want to pay Mario either, so I worked on their bikes for practice in exchange for beer or nominal fees for parts. Mario was very helpful in explaining things to me as long as I bought my parts from him. I once had a GS160 motor rebuilt at Brewington Scooters in Olympia, Washington. I looked at all the replaced parts like the connecting rod and crank gears and seals and decided I could learn to do all this myself. Victor Voris at Big People Scooters in Seattle was a huge help with technical advice and running me an account for parts. I still have a huge stack of receipts from Victor. I spent quite a bit there, but was glad he cared enough to only carry quality parts. Eventually I gained enough confidence in my work to start charging for it. I never charged over 15 bucks an hour. I wasn’t a very good business man and constantly gave “deals”. It got pretty frustrating so I went back to working for the man. At least I can still work on my own bike. I prefer large frame Vespas. I hate working on small frames. Victor once said “have Mario work on them”. I always have bad luck with them. I have a pal here in Salem with a 100 Sport. I helped drop the motor and had Patrick at P-town rebuild it. So much easier.
Karen: How was your relationship with Mario?
Jeff: I definitely gained more and more respect for him, as I grew older. We were pretty disrespectful when we were young in our complaints. He was a factory-trained Piaggio mechanic from Italy with an insane amount of NOS parts and we really took him for granted. It seemed in Portland that Vespas were sort of a joke to everyone but the people who owned them during the time Piaggio wasn’t in the U.S. Mario stuck it out trying to help out his old customers. He sold new bikes too, but also had to deal with this younger, broke crowd of kids who discovered how cool they were. He yelled at us lots of times. I always admired his attitude about only working on stock Vespas only. A lot of people were gung-ho on performance stuff. It always made me laugh to see all the money dumped onto a race motor just to see it blow up. I harbored a fantasy of buying Mario’s shop when he was selling his original building on NE Cully, but didn’t have the money. He moved store locations about 5 times over the years. All the while he owned another building, but thought it was too much of a “bad area” to run his shop out of. Mario did run the shop at that location before he closed up for good though.
Karen: Describe the legendary “scooter shed” out in Hillsboro.
Jeff: It was a shack with a power cord running from a shack of a house. Dirt floor. A small wood floor area and a bench to work on. It was a joke, but a good place to learn.
Karen: What’s the deal with Jeff Reese and you as the scooter repair guys?
Jeff: Jeff came from Utah or California. He started collecting tons of bikes on East Burnside and working on them and selling them. Then he split to Seattle to work at Big People Scooters ’cause our video poker habit was getting out of control. I remember things like “I’ll give you those racks and NOS VBB fender for 20.00” I would take that and lose it. He got a lot of my spare parts this way.
Karen: Did you have a Vespa that you fell in love with and rode all over or were you more of a Casanova of scootering, riding whatever you had at the present time and then moving on to something else?
Jeff: No I just rode whatever broken bike I fixed up, sold it and got another one. I’ve had them all. A P200 is hard to beat for reliability, safety and long trips. I always wanted to have a GS VS5 daily driver. I started that project, but never got that far before I sold it.
Karen: So, why did you decide to stop doing the ‘zine?
Jeff: Combinations of the following. Burn out. Had to get a real job. Few people wanted to shell out a buck. Personal relationships. Overwhelmed. Booze. Selling out. All the usual things involved in something coming to an end. It was a fun little project. I still have some submissions that never made into a fifth issue. Maybe someday.