Early on in my hour and 20 minutes aboard the miraculous invention that was supposed to revolutionize urban transportation but didn't-but might still-I find myself letting go of the hand grips and trusting in the self-balancing Segway Human Transporter as I surge through an empty parking lot at a respectable 12 miles an hour. The wind is rippling my jacket against the drive of clean, rechargeable propulsion beneath my feet. For a moment, I'm a ***image1***stowaway teen heartthrob. I am Leonardo DiCaprio: My arms are spread out wide and I'm on top of the world.
"Yeah, everybody does that," Billy Sadler, my Segway guru, says as he glides silently beside me. Sadler and his father operate Ground Gliders, offering guided Segway rentals in Santa Fe. We had been getting on well, until he burst my teen fantasy bubble.
Briefly, I consider kicking him toward an oncoming car. But I've logged only a few minutes of time on the two-wheeled contraption that Sadler has been riding for close to two years. I've seen photographic evidence of him and the Seattle Seahawks astride several Segways-big brutal men who play to win. No, attempting to maim my guide would only end badly for me. And to hell with it if I'm experiencing the same sense of elation as a pinch-eyed hausfraü from Wichita. I'm having a damn good time, a distinct turnaround from the deep suspicion and resentment I previously harbored toward Segways.
Part of the problem was the hype, of course. When quirky inventor Dean Kamen, of artificial heart fame, of stair-climbing wheelchair fame, announced that he was about to unveil a miraculous invention that would change the world, most people thought it would be something useful; a pleasure-doubling male contraceptive, a device to correct the brain flaws that make people criminals and Republicans. When Kamen's big idea turned out to be a weird stand-up scooter, the world was non-plussed. In fact, most of us laughed at him. Aside from the dubious value in making sidewalks as congested as rush hour streets, Kamen has retained only the negative aspects of his history with medical equipment. The Segway looks like it should be toting oxygen tanks and is disturbingly close in color to a dialysis machine.
But now, riding one, I can understand why one of Sadler's previous clients dubbed the device a "personal chariot." I feel like a strange, street-savvy gazelle, gliding along the road, effortlessly climbing hills, turning on a dime, passersby looking at me with the appreciation for exotic beauty that I always knew I deserved. Yes, with a few select changes, the Segway could survive, could flourish. It's marketing mistake was to look responsible; muted tones and a bag for your laptop and schoolbooks, but no obvious place to mount important things, like speakers. Make mine a metal-flake chartreuse with wicked gold pinstriping and tiny ***image2***mudflaps with those aluminum cut-outs of naked women that truckers always have. Engineering objects for social and environmental responsibility is swell, but they sell better if they're dangerous leisure toys.
I was already thinking of how much it would cost to have someone custom fabricate some top-shelf alloy wheels, when Sadler sold me for good. Assuming you have some aptitude for the continuous back and forth weight-shifting required to operate the Segway and that your helmet is buckled down tight and that you grin like a sex-drunk monkey as you lean into sharp corners, Sadler may be willing to school you too in the fine art of column slalom. That is to say, whipping in and out of the supports of Santa Fe's lengthy portals, a kind of medium-speed game of chicken with our brown town's permanent awnings. Performance pedestrianism, if you will.
I now have starry-eyed visions of myself as an early adopter of new technology, the kind of guy who will stand around other men in a few years and say with assurance, "That's right, I had one of those babies back in '04, when the gyroscopic motors only calculated your weight distribution 500 times a second and before the Feds stepped in with their Seg-safe regulations. I had one back when the thing was a wild, fire breathing, untamed beast and men were men."
Of course when I called the Saab dealership-the people to speak with if you want to buy a shiny new, incredibly expensive Segway-and asked them about the free three-day test drive that Segway says dealers are offering, they pretended not to know what I was talking about. Even over the telephone, I think they caught an edge of eager obsession in my voice, a sense that I would take their fine, electric chariot and pitch it sideways across long ice patches, go bar-hopping a la Segway and attempt to do tricks for an audience of compulsive drunkards, end up in the riverbed, face down, the machine's gyros twitching wildly in the snow.
My recommendation if you call the dealer, or Sadler's Ground Gliders, is to avoid heavy breathing. Oh, and if you're worried about Segging in winter, well, Sadler assures me that a studded-snow tire is available.