As my whirlwind driving adventures continued eastward, I stopped in Chicago to visit my good friend Sarah, whose troop support organization kept me well-supplied through three tours in Iraq, and who has now come to be more of a second mother and confidant. She’d been inviting me up to Chicago for years, and for the first time, I took her up on the offer. She always serves good food.
Sarah has informed me repeatedly that Chicago is THE best city in the world, and that if I ever made it up this direction, she would give me a grand tour of the Windy City. I was anticipating a day of sightseeing, famous attractions, and an intimidating skyline cluttered with high rises. I was completely unprepared for what awaited me.
“When I was with my friends yesterday, I asked for their advice on how to see the most of the city in a single day. What to show you, where to go, and so on. Almost all of them said to do what we’re doing.”
When I inquired just what exactly we would be doing, she told me it was a surprise and I’d have to wait. The reality, however, is that she didn’t want me to shriek in horror, grab my bags and leave immediately. In hindsight, she was right to withhold information. While trapped on the train into Chicago, she broke the news.
“Ben, we’ll be touring downtown Chicago on Segway scooters!”
I was mortified immediately. For those who don’t know it, Segways are the strange-looking, electric, two-wheeled upright scooters that use gyroscopic balance to keep riders from wiping out (click here). They are also probably the largest source of dork jokes I have ever seen. Nobody with any shred of dignity would be caught dead on one, myself included. Yet now I was not only about to ride one, but do so in public, in a major city, while wearing a safety helmet, and accompanying a herd of other self-shaming dorks. I politely choked back my anger, as Sarah informed me of her life philosophy:
“You’ll never see these people again.”
All good and well, but I will remember being laughed at for the rest of my life. This would be better if I was drunk.
After a safety brief and helmet assignment, we all dragged our Segways outside the tour company’s storage room and commenced a lengthy operating lesson. To her credit, the tour guide made it look simple. Yet even she, petite, highly attractive, and well-attired in a short sundress, still looked like a dork. She, as an “expert,” was also not wearing a helmet. Still fighting to urge to run, I stepped on, nearly fell off once, and immediately felt my self-image deflate. As I timidly rolled forward a few steps, two Asian tourists on the walkway above immediately turned expensive video cameras on me and started filming. They were laughing. I had nothing to throw at them.
Twenty minutes later, we were rolling along the sidewalk and conducting more “training,” most of which is geared towards keeping us from panicking, which will most certainly cause a wipeout. When it was complete, we began the three-hour tour, which I would describe as an inglorious parade of a once-proud combat veteran through a sea of chortling pedestrians. I would have preferred roller skates and short shorts.
As our guide effortlessly trundled down the sidewalk, I utilized now-wasted combat observation skills to immediately notice that everybody was staring at me. Few looked curious. They were laughing. As we cut through a park towards the road, we passed several benches full of locals enjoying the scenery. They weren’t staring at the guide or the other riders, but at the 6ft 3in, helmeted man who wouldn’t look them in the eye. I looked away or down, and made every effort to pretend I didn’t notice their gaze. All I could think about was reading a fake advertisement for Segways years ago that boasted an optional “dork deflector” which projects an image of a ferocious Klingon onto nearby walls. I wanted to wear a mask.
As luck would have it, nearly every intersection was packed with cars – all of the passengers laughing. Every two or three blocks we would encounter a tour group with dozens of children. Lacking any sort of tact (and I can’t blame them), a number pointed at me directly and laughed. While I would normally glare back and intimidate them, I lacked the dignity, and a Klingon. I hung my head and tried not to wipe out, which would have been the epitome of soul death.
The picnic table loaded with young men also laughed, but with my pride completely departed, I called out to them with a cheery voice and a heavy lisp. “Oh, these things are wonderful, guys. You’ll be on them soon!”
As I passed, one muttered a reply: “Oh, I’m right behind you.” Crap. Fine.
In another park, I took my Segway up to its top speed of 8.5mph, tore into the grass, and chased away a flock of seagulls. The tour guide looked at me in irritation and Sarah asked what on earth I was doing.
“I wanted to see if SOMETHING was still afraid of me.” She cracked up and returned to taking pictures of me behind my back, no doubt for later blackmail.
When pretty girls shyly steal a look at me or smile, I usually smile back. But now, unsure if they were smiling at the humor of a tall moron on a Segway or because they just wanted to smile at me, I looked down in shame. I can’t hit on pretty girls when riding a Segway. It’s the antithesis of cool. Another group of Segway tourist passed us. The guide rolled into the middle of the intersection and hollered cheerfully at us.
“Woooo! Segways! Alright! Aren’t these things awesome? Segway nation! One world, two wheels!”
I wanted to shoot either him or myself; I was undecided. To boost my self-esteem, I attempted some offroading on a hill, almost wrecked, and received another glare from the tour guide. I don’t think she liked me. “You’re the ONLY guy who won’t admit he’s having fun,” she remarked.
How COULD I have fun? My masculinity was being sucked from my body. I missed my uniform, or any form of dignity, for that matter.
More guys pointing and laughing. I give them an extremely effeminate wave and look away before they can taunt me to my face. I didn’t want to see their reaction. Passing well-dressed professionals on the sidewalk, I concluded I was not properly garbed for such an excursion. If I’m going to look like an idiot without even trying, I should have completed the image altogether with a cape, a feather boa, or an animal costume. Maybe they’d stare at my outfit instead of my face. Maybe they’d feel sorry for the special needs man on the Segway. More pretty girls smile – probably laughing at me. Hooray. Segway Nation. I pretended not to notice them. Having a man smile at you while he rides past on a Segway is as awkward as a bezitted teenager waving adoringly at a bikini model. They’re not in the same league.
To make a long story short, I survived this undignified ordeal. I told nobody my name, distributed no business cards, and recovered my masculinity by writing an e-mail to a friend about guns, watched some videos of Marines blowing up some stuff, and later I will do some pushups. Tomorrow I will radically change my haircut, start to grow a beard, and leave the state before I can be humiliated any further.
When I returned to Sarah’s house, I checked voicemail messages on my phone. There was one from my little sister:
“Hi there! I just wanted to make sure you would be back home by Sunday. They’ll be running the Special Olympics torch through town and I don’t want you to miss your favorite event!”
Maybe I should reenlist in the military. So far, the Marines don’t use Segways. Some other special units do, but NOT the grunts. God help me; I’ve turned into a goober.
For humorous photos of Segways, see the links below:
Self-shamed cop on a Segway
Segway tourists looking lame
Asian SWAT police on Segways
SWAT officers training on Segways
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
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