With so many local odes to Italian culture—the statue of David as a City of Sarasota symbol, John Ringling's obsession with Italian art and architecture, and Italian-owned-and-operated restaurants galore—it's about time someone put together a Vespa club.
The Sarasota chapter of the Vespa Club of America club has 14 members, and this Sunday was its first annual parade. Chapter president Peter Pawlus started the club right before the pandemic, which put events on hold—but members are re-emerging with monthly meetups, group rides and, now, a parade in conjunction with the Vespa Club of America's annual celebration (about 50 cities across the country participate).
The Sarasota revved to life when Pawlus started a local Facebook group to connect with fellow Vespa aficionados. He also leaves an invitation card to join the club on Vespas he sees around town. That’s how he came to meet Raffaele “Raf” Perna, for example, who's owner-partner of the Italian chop house Clasico. Perna's cherry-red Vespa is often parked outside the restaurant.
As an Italian, riding a Vespa “makes it feel like home,” Perna says. He’s been driving his godson, David, on his since David was four years old.
Before Sunday's parade, Perna got the group’s engines started with the gift of a morning espresso. Then the group set off from Clasico, on the corner of Palm Avenue and Main Street, toward Siesta Key, spreading smiles as they zipped down the street on their iconic, colorful mopeds that hum like the wasp for which they’re named ("vespa" is the Italian word for "wasp").
As for the monthly events, rides last about three hours, Pawlus says, and the gang usually kicks off in downtown Sarasota and heads to Anna Maria Island, past Myakka City to Solomon’s Castle, or to Stump Pass Beach State Park, grabbing breakfast or lunch along the way. As public gatherings and events resume, and Sarasota continues to experience an increase in residents, Pawlus says expects the group will double in size next year.
“Everyone we pass laughs, smiles and waves. You can't take life too seriously on a Vespa scooter,” Pawlus says.
For more information on Sarasota's Vespa club, click here.