November 2002


In my spare time recently, I’ve been hosting Jane, one of my favorite first cousins once removed, who was here from Texas on her first visit and whose culinary horizons I pushed well beyond chicken fried steak in establishments like Ton Kiang. The only downside of her visit was our discovery that two of my houseplants are older than she is. Sigh.

During a break from eating with Jane last Wednesday, I had the opportunity to test-drive a Segway. It was an exhilarating experience. So much so that when I got home the Muse did not come fluttering down, alight on my shoulder, and start whispering gentle suggestions in my ear as she typically does during her infrequent visits.

Rather, she swooped down, sank her talons into my chest, looked me in the eye, barked, “Take a letter!” and started dictating.

But why, you wonder, was I given the chance to ride a Segway?

Because the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was holding a public hearing on the question of whether Segways should be banned from San Francisco sidewalks. And because, living in a flat not wheelchair accessible and on a hill too steep for a wheelchair, I had some time back realized that a Segway would be the perfect mobility device for me as my ability to walk declines, so I had registered on the Segway website.

Last week Segway sent an email to registrants in the Bay Area telling us about the hearing and soliciting our support. I emailed them back and said I’d try to make it, mentioning that my interest in a Segway was sparked by disability.

I was immediately contacted by a San Francisco representative because of course they really wanted disabled seniors to limp up to the podium and testify, thawing the cold hearts of the supervisors. The representative casually mentioned that there would be an opportunity for me to test a Segway before the hearing if I were interested. Well of course I was.

It was a glorious experience. I lifted the Segway out of the rep’s trunk (they weigh only 80 pounds), untelescoped the handle, put in the key, and stepped onto it while she held it steady. It took me about ten seconds to give up control to the thing and let it take care of balancing me. Actually, since it’s making hundreds of balancing corrections per second, you don’t really have much choice other than to let it have its way. And after that weird little introductory moment, it’s totally intuitive and easy to use.

My test ride consisted of following the rep up the ramp, along the porch, into the building, over to the elevator, into the elevator, out at the second floor, down the hall, and into her office…all without dismounting.

So I was really sold, which of course was the point in letting me try one, to enhance my eloquence at the hearing, which was Thursday afternoon at City Hall and was just astonishing, in a horrifying kind of way.  As i listened to Supervisor Chris Daly spew his nonsense about “that contraption”, I understood more fully how Billy Budd felt during Claggart’s testimony. Fortunately, I regained my ability to speak in time to testify although I admit that I did want to throttle Daly.

Alas, the supervisors voted to ban the Segway from the sidewalks anyhow, so my testimony was all for naught. Even so, I have one on order, but delivery is some months out, postponing for now the horrendous cost of the thing.

I never dreamed that frittering away Becky’s inheritance would be so much fun.

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