Me on my Segway. Artist’s conception.
So I had a birthday recently, and my family gathered on Saturday to make a big deal of it. In their own, uniquely Walker way, of course.
The perfect Walker celebration involves finding an activity that’s a) something the subject’s interested in, b) fun, and c) slightly humiliating.
They found the perfect thing. First of all, it was a tour of St. Paul, the more colorful of our Twin Cities (there are two of them, reading from left to right, in case you’re wondering). Secondly, it was a history tour—right down my alley. Thirdly (and this was the clincher) it was a Segway tour, giving me (and, to be fair, all of us) the opportunity to look like dorks on the hallowed avenues of our state’s capitol.
It was a huge success. Honestly, my conservative, hidebound reservations about the Segway remain firmly in place. But it would be vain to deny that the things are easy to learn and a whole lot more fun than you think they’ll be.
The wonderful thing about a Segway is that it’s intuitive. You lean forward and it goes forward. You straighten up and it stops. Lean back (just a little) and it goes into reverse. You lean on the handlebar to go right or left. Because the machine senses your movements, and there’s no intermediate stage of controls and levers, it soon starts feeling like a part of you. When you have to yield it up at the end of your allotted time, you miss it, like an amputated (if numb) limb.
I hasten to add that this has not turned me into a “small is beautiful” greenie. The trouble with the Segway is that fun is about all it’s good for. When I ask myself, “What’s this marvelous device in service of?” the only answer I can come up with is, a showy toy for people with a lot of surplus money. It’s a cheap way (cheap in mileage, not in initial cost) to get around town, but most of us carry things when we travel, often bulky things. You can hang a backpack on a Segway, but that’s about the limit of its carrying capacity (I wonder if they sell a trailer).
My hope for the Segway is that American ingenuity can find a way to translate this cool technology into something actually useful—a new generation of wheelchairs, for instance. This is too good to languish as a rich man’s toy.
To my family, in any case, thanks for a very enjoyable day.