There are some things I'll only do if a Groupon or similar group coupon offer is involved. Apparently Segway tourism is one such thing. I was concerned about this sort of outcome: “I know two people who fell over on Segways,” a co-worker warned. “But they were both kind of...busty,” she added in a whisper. That was one problem I didn't necessarily have. “We're supposed to wear comfortable shoes,” advised Rose, my companion and the buyer of the Groupon. We both turned up for the 3:45 pm safety orientation in jeans, even though it was 102° F. out, neither of us wanting to leave any skin behind. The thing is, I can walk and drive various vehicles, but ordinarily I don't like to have wheels on my person. I can fall down just fine using only my own feet, thanks. That includes bicycles and roller skates, even quad skates -- and no, the stopper doesn't help. I just have a thing about it, I guess, as if I'm precariously in control. I'm not what you'd call an adrenaline junkie. Our tour would take us through downtown Austin and the Capitol grounds, with a little nip onto the Hike and Bike Trail and a gawk at the Congress Avenue bridge, home to a colony of about a million bats. Of course, the bats would be sleeping at that hour and we'd just scope the scenery.
For better or worse, we'd also encounter many potential Segway obstacles, including the following:
- The crowd from the UT-BYU game;
- The crowd for Austin Pride;
- The statue of Angelina Eberly firing off the town cannon in 1842, reputedly with her lit cigar;
- Various benches and hydrants;
- CowParade Austin;
- Awesome protestors demonstrating against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad;
- Several groups gathered for scenic wedding and quinceanera photos;
- One other group of Segway tourists.
Our tour guy, who will be known as Tour Guy, rounded up four Segways and lined them up against a railing -- one for me, one for Rose, and two for a couple I think was from Illinois (I might be misremembering). If it matters, we all had Groupons. Tour Guy whizzed around us instructively, then hopped off to watch us try. Who was first? “I'll go,” a voice said. My voice. WTF, voice? The concept of a Segway is simple enough. It's gyroscopic! You lean forward to move forward. You tilt the steering column -- not the handlebars -- to turn. You can turn in place like a ballerina! To stop, right yourself. Or stick your butt out. “When in doubt, stick your butt out!” Tour Guy beamed. Segways top out at 12.5 miles per hour. I discovered that I could practically peel out by leading with my post-Caesarian muffin top. I'm pretty sure this is an evolutionary adaptation that allows mothers of young to survive in the shining future we were all supposed to have aboard electric two-wheeled people movers. I zoomed back and forth while the rest of the group trained up, and then it was time for us all to roll out.In my locale, at least, Segways are classified as “upright wheelchairs,” so they are entitled to share sidewalks with pedestrians. But that doesn't necessarily mean you won't feel like a jerk careening around, even if you're careful. “Did you know the inventor of Segway fell off a cliff on it and died?” one semi-hater remarked to us outside the Paramount Theatre. Tour Guy just smiled. “Nope! That was just the guy who bought the company.” And I guess you're toast if you go over a cliff on anything, including your feet. Take-home message: Avoid cliffs?
Midway through our two-hour jaunt, when we'd passed Lance Armstrong's bar (warning: cheesy audio) and were headed back toward Congress Avenue, I realized we weren't actually photobombing people, as I'd feared whenever we'd roll past an art cow and in frame of someone's clicking smartphone.We ourselves were getting snapped on the street. Nobody fell off, either! I got confused and stepped off backward twice, once in shock at the list price of some downtown condos and once just because I was on a gyroscopic electric two-wheeled people mover and that's not exactly status quo. If you don't stop properly before you dismount, your Segway will continue merrily on without you. This is more embarrassing than dangerous. As for the tourism bit of it, there's no denying that you can cover a lot of ground on a Segway without getting tired, unless you count mild occasional pins-and-needles in your feet and a miniature version of the exhilarated-exhausted sensation that sets in after a motorcycle ride. And bike-helmet sweat, which drove us southward, clutching our bangs, to the dark and sheltering air-conditioned confines of the Whip-In for naan tacos and goat biryani. Because I can't fit it in anywhere else, I leave you with Segway madness from Arrested Development: