| All summer and fall I saw them gliding silently along the walk outside my apartment on Portland' Eastern Prom. They glided in groups of friends or family, having been rented somewhere down on Commercial Street.
The odd tranporters are called "segways" and when first unveiled over a decade ago they were supposed to change the way we lived, the way we thought about things and the way we moved ourselves through time and space from one place to another.
It never happened, of course. In fact, after it was introduced, very little on our planet changed.
In broadcasting a ‘segueway’ is when a host executes a seamless transition from one numb topic to another. O.K., so the topic isn’t always ‘numb’ and transitions are seldom seamless’ but are often threadbare or ragged. But I think you know what I mean when I use the word segway.
The thing that was supposed to change life on earth was also called a segway and it involves not a broadcasting technique but a mode of transportation. More specifically, something tourists now rent to take them around a tourist attraction.
I'm not suggesting that this new ‘segway’ refers to when someone goes seamlessly from riding in an SUVs to pealing out in an ATV.
The life-changing Segway a self-balancing, high tech scooter - was the creation of inventor Dean Kamen, owner of DEKA Research & Development Company in Manchester N.H., inventor of the handy-dandy hydraulic infusion pump and holder of more than 150 patents.
No, he doesn’t ‘hold’ them all at once. At least I don’t think he stands there holding 150 patents all at the same time.
I remember that Kamen’s segway was unveiled years ago with great fanfare and some ridicule.
Segway use a combination of gyroscopes for balance and microchips and software to run. They claim that after about 10 minutes, even non-computer geeks can master the basics. To move forward or backward just leaning on the balls of the feet or on the heels and off you go. Just don’t lean accidentally or the Segway may create an accident of its own.
To turn, the rider twists a wheel on the handlebars sort of like the throttle on a motorcycle. Sort of.
Anyway, in an interview the 51-year-old Kamen once said "I started inventing things early. At 5 years old, I figured out a way to make my bed without having to run from one side of the bed to another," he said describing a system of pulleys, blankets and strings. "It always seemed like such a big frustration." I guess the thought of leaving his bed a rumpled mess - like a normal kid would - never occurred to him. And how he survived childhood sleeping with all those ropes and strings and pulleys all over his bed I’ll never know.
I bring up the whole subject of Segways because I was looking through my newspaper clip file recently and came across an article telling about when Segways and ‘Segway tours’ first became available here on Portland's fashionable Eastern Prom.
Segway dealer Annie Cook was offering guided tours of the Eastern Promenade that allowed customers to try out the two-wheeled high-tech transport gizmos.
Cook's business, Segway Maine was set to provide twice-daily tours, adding just one more way to get from here to there in Maine’s largest port city.
Until Segways arrived choices for moving around Portland included amphibious duck boats, harbor boat tours, busses dressed-up as trolleys and a narrow-gauge railroad.
If you wanted a two-hour tour it cost you $62 if you were from away and $49 for Maine residents. Don't you wish ALL Maine businesses priced things that way?
Those who wanted a three-hour tour were reminded of what happened to Gilligan's S.S. Minnow.
Cook an authorized Segway dealer for Southern Maine - hoped to give people a chance to test out a Segway without dropping $3,895 or so for the basic model. Fancier versions can cost $600 more.
In an interview at the time Cook said the Segway will make you think ‘outside the box.’
I assume it’s best if you first take your Segway outside its box, too.
I'm not sure how many Segways Cook's company has sold here in Maine but since people's lives in Portland haven't changed radically, and the way we think about things has not been altered all that much, either, I would guess not many life-changing Segways have been sold.
As they say in broadcasting - just before a segway - "back after this brief message..."
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at email@example.com or 899-1868.