Sunday, June 5, 2011

Everybody look at me coz I'm ridin on a segway

"What are those lights between my legs?"

This unfortunate choice of wording was underlined by my friend having to clutch the handle of her own illuminated machine as she doubled over with laughter. Our tour guide made a brave attempt to answer my question straight-faced.

"They tell you the segway is activated."

Yes, I was on a segway. One of those electric two wheeled mobiles that look somewhere between a scooter and a circus act. It was one of the multiple options I had for taking a tour of Chicago; bus, boat, bike or segway. Sorry, did I say this was a choice? Who wouldn't take a segway?!

Segways are operated by touch sensitive pads under your feet. Move your weight onto your toes and you will accelerate, lean back and you slow down. Lean too far back and you reverse; not a good thing. Pulling the handlebars straight to the left or right causes you to turn. After a brief instruction, we were set free to wheel around a small square in Millennium Park. Forwards, backwards, round and round and ... okay, I was good to go!

Our tour guide explained to us that our route would involve many hills and dips and a few road crossings. By the time he had explained what we had to do to handle each of these events (lean forward, back, speed up slight to go over bumps) I was less good to go. Actually, I was quite sure I was going to die.

Myself and a long-standing friend were the only two people taking this particular tour. This situation (me feeling death was imminent while my friend wondered where the turbo-boost button was located) had been mirrored multiple times throughout our childhood. It perhaps didn't help that I had been reminded of a certain horse riding incident from when we were about eight twenty minutes previously. Currently, I was concerned about how I'd explain what a segway was to Saint Peter at heaven's pearly gates.

Evidently, my anxiety regarding this near-future conversation must have shown on my face. Our tour guide kindly suggested I went behind him in our line and my friend behind me. As we reached the road, he put a hand on my segway to ensure I survived the crossing, or at least had company into the afterlife.

After a short distance, I gained more confidence and zipped off after our guide around Chicago's parks. A typical segway has a maximum speed of 12 mph and when switched on, cannot be over-turned. The police, incidentally, have suped-up segways that can travel up to 30 mph, go down stairs and can be over-turned so the riding officer can jump over the segway's handle to bring down a suspect. I tried to show enthusiasm for this information while feeling secretly grateful my segway could do no such thing.

The paths we travelled along where largely very smooth, making it ideal segway conditions. Occasionally, we did go over a bump large enough to warrant me holding onto the segway's handle pretty firmly but the large wheels meant they weren't a real problem.

"Boing." I helpfully supplemented as we went over a particularly big crack.

We saw the Chicago Planetarium, the Buckingham Memorial Fountain (which is one of the largest in the world and is bizarrely operated by controls in Georgia), the spot where Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech for president, the four-story presidential suit on top of the Hilton Hotel (complete with helicopter pad), the building that looks more like a vagina than a penis (apparently an intentional move by the female architect) and the outside of the aquarium and Field Museum where Sue the most complete (and male) Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton is housed.

Our tour guide greeted people cheerfully as we moved around the pavements. This had the combined effect of being good publicity and preventing people from getting annoyed at the more unpredictable driving of the people following him. As we drew level with a runner, our tour guide glanced at the computer on his segway and said casually, "You're going at about 8 mph." He then glanced back at us and shrugged. "I thought he might want to know!"

Finally, we headed back to the rental shop. As we roller over a few cracks in the street, our guide turned to me, looking slightly exasperated;

"Thanks to you, all I can think of is 'boing!' everytime we go over a crack."

My work here was done.

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