Thursday, July 25, 2013

Balancing Act


I took a day off yesterday to cash in a birthday present from my son. The two of us took a two-hour Segway tour through Oakland, and if you think this sounds incredibly geeky or dorky, then you haven't even begun to imagine me in a bright-yellow safety vest and bike helmet, trying to look in control of a $6700 hunk of technology with grace and poise, though I possess neither. I'd hoped to snap a picture or two, but the tour didn't afford us much chance to stop.

It was incredibly fun. I've only experienced Oakland from inside a car while passing through, usually from the elevated highway that slices the waterfront district from the rest of the city. I don't have a lot of reason or opportunity to go into either of our cities these days. My job is close to home in the suburbs, and the kids have school and sports and activities that keep us within a 5-mile radius or so. My son is purely a product of the suburbs, too, and rode wide-eyed through the various highs and lows that any major urban center has to offer: the bustle of Chinatown and the riot of color for murals both official and "volunteer", "old" Oakland vs. "new" Oakland, the polish of Jack London Square contrasted with the obvious signs of human habitation under the highway, the sunny spectacle of Lake Merritt just two blocks away from homes with bars on all the windows, beauty shops offering permanent makeup, and an all-grillz jeweler. It was good to shake him up a little bit, and give him a taste of life outside the sycamore-lined streets of his hometown.

It was good for me, too. I don't take nearly enough time off from work, which is something I'm reminded off on those few times I arrange it, like yesterday. My own self-balancing mechanism is out of true.

The Segway pulls off a pretty complex technical act to stay upright, and there's a little training at the start of the tour for newbies and vets on basics like getting on and off, and moving and stopping and turning. As a first-timer, you need to overcome your awareness that the machine is standing, impossibly, on two parallel wheels without visible aid... and that it's going to react to your slightest movement in an undesirable way. Hesitation or staring down at the ground is a recipe for disaster. A tour-mate did this, and his body posture made the scooter edge away. I'm pretty sure they can smell fear.

The advice the tour guides gave for starting out was pretty good, and no-doubt applicable to those of us who need to work at maintaining our own balance:
  1. Hang on with both hands
  2. Look straight ahead, not at your feet
  3. Step up with confidence
  4. Find your center
  5. Relax

Admittedly, there are are other device-centric instructions in there like "don't run into fire hydrants" and "stick out your butt to stop" but that doesn't translate as well to life advice for the chronic workaholic. I'll have to keep working at my own balancing act.


Richard P said...

Sounds like fun -- I recognize many features of my hometown. Never have tried a Segway yet.

Rob Bowker said...

You should compare notes with Joe Van Cleve - I think his Segway baptism was close by yours (well, same state at least). I'm glad you had fun and I really want a go on one of those things after the first time I saw Peter Gabriel presenting something or other on TV aboard one.