Segways are not a recent thing. If you walk around downtown Richmond, you often see a tour group going by on wheels. I never thought much of it - Segwaying seems easy enough, but not something I would go out of my way to experience.
That changed several weekends ago while up in DC with some friends from Qatar. Our group leaders booked us a private Segway tour of the DC monuments. I didn't think much of it. Everyone who had Segwayed before said it was easy to pick up. They kept saying hoverboards are a lot harder. But I've never hoverboarded and, similarly, don't have plans to, so that was really null comment.
I probably should have worried more. After all, I never learned to rollerblade or skate. I am the twenty-something holding a walker on the skating rink at disco night. I also used training wheels on my bike in third grade. Balance is not my thing.
(I went looking for a picture of me on said walker, but apparently I untagged myself from all incriminating photos on Facebook. Oops.)
The Segway place split our tour into several smaller groups, demonstrated how easy-peasy Segwaying is, and then asked who wanted to try it first.
I did not volunteer obviously. But the woman who did volunteer effortlessly hopped on and glided around the courtyard. The same happened with the next two participants. Okay, one of them looked a bit uneasy, but regained composure after some gliding.
Then it was my turn. The instructor held the Segway steady while I stepped on. And that was where "easy" left my vocabulary. She gently let go of the Segway, and I realized I had not an idea how to balance. She warned us a lot of people do the "Segway shuffle" when they first get on, but I would call this "80-year-old arthritic man learns to use legs after two hip replacements."
"Do you got it?" the instructor asked.
"No," I said bluntly.
I started to roll forward. At least I wasn't falling.
The instructor backed up fast, in case I did fall. "Now stop," she directed. "Practice stopping."
Me: "I don't know how."
Instructor: "Stand up straight."
She grabbed the Segway as I threatened to roll out of the courtyard.
"Okay, stop," she continued. "Now go forward."
This time the Segway did not move. At least I had now mastered staying stationary.
"Lean forward," she instructed.
I leaned forward.
The Segway went backward.
"Oh no," she said audibly. She grabbed my machine. "Try moving your hips forward. You put your chest forward that time."
I stared, confused. I understood my anatomy, but I realized I did not know my body.
I tried to move my hips forward, but looked like I was doing a back bend. The Segway did something vicious.
Finally, I mastered keeping my body as a whole as I leaned gently forward.
"There!" the instructor cried. "You got it. Now turn around."
This was easy. You don't use the handle to go forward or backward on a Segway - that's done by leaning bodily - but you do use the handle to turn. The handle moves side to side like a windshield wiper. You move the handle whichever way to turn that direction.
I completed my turn like a pro, though I felt like a ballerina on a surfboard or like that time I did (not do) yoga on a paddle board.
"Okay, come forward," the instructor said.
I involuntarily rolled toward the instructor. That is, I did not consciously lean my body, but somehow the Segway went forward.
I tried to slow down. I tried to stop. I began to roll backwards. The speed increased. I was catapulting backward.
Instructor: "Are you trying to go backward?"
Me: "Not at all!"
The instructor grabbed the machine and stopped me. "Okay, let's let someone else try."
The rest of the group seemed to master it faster than me. As one of my friends circled around the courtyard, she asked how fast we would be going once we started the tour.
"About 10 mph," the instructor replied.
"And how fast am I going now?" my friend asked.
I would have guessed six mph.
"About one and a half miles per hour," the instructor said.
I considered asking if I could just jog beside the group. Of course I doubted I could keep up at 10 mph (wtf is that?!), but at least I wouldn't end up in emergency room with my scalp split open.
The instructor allowed us a final practice round. Not surprisingly, she solely focused on my abilities. Everyone else seemed able to glide. I struggled to make the Segway even go in an intended direction. At long last I managed to roll forward and backward at my own will and stop - except that required me to squat on the machine, which isn't the suggested mode of stopping.
"Okay, everyone, let's go," the instructor said. "One at a time, come down this ramp."
I think I said that out loud.
"Lean backward to stay upright," the instructor suggested.
What an absurd suggestion.
Since I am writing this, I guess you know I made it down the ramp. I don't know how. I felt like my soul was departing my body and gravity was no longer in existence and how would anyone open a Segway shop and take on this liability.
We hit the road. We had to partner up. My partner was good at staying beside me. We approached our first red light. I panicked if I would be able to stop. What if I just kept gliding and rolled right into the intersection and goodbye, Cazey? The instructor also must have been thinking this because I saw her ready to grab me.
I squatted to stop.
My partner asked, "Why are you squatting?"
Me: "It's the only way I know how to stop!"
The light turned green.
"Remember to fill the road," the instructor shouted. "We block a lane of traffic."
"C'mon, Cazey," my partner said. "There's a bus behind us."
"A bus!?!?" I wanted to wheel around, but I would have flipped off my Segway. "A bus?" I repeated.
Instructor: "Let's get on the sidewalk."
I would say we reached about 5 mph when we came upon a flock of pedestrians. Just like a flock, they did not part. I recognized myself in them: how many times had I seen Segways and continued in my ways, assuming they were in full control? Surely the Segways would brake like a regular car or would go around me - but what sort of fantasy world had I been in! If Segway drivers are anything like me, there is no control. They are just gliding and hoping they stop and don't fall off or run you over.
I hurdled toward toward the unsuspecting foreign idiotic pedestrians. "Get out of the way!" I wanted to bellow. "You're going to die!"
Thankfully, the instructor honked at them, and they jumped out of the way.
About a half later, I stopped feeling like I was in a Three Stooges comedy. I got the hang of rolling, gliding, and stopping. By the time we returned to the starting point, I had even stopped squatting.
I will probably Segway again if the opportunity presents itself, but I'll never tell someone you'll pick it up right away (that's a damned lie) and I'll also probably not walk in front of Segways anymore unless I'm trying to file a lawsuit against someone after they trample me.