“The Odd Case of the Ironic Segway Incident”
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As we smoked our cigarettes just outside some grungy downtown hipster bar, a family of five sped by on these futuristic-looking, two-wheeled vehicles.
“What the heck were those?” I asked.
“Segways,” said my friend.
“Come again?” I said.
“Segways – don’t tell me know you’ve never heard of them. They’re those little vehicles that mall cops ride around on standing up. They’re quick. Lot of fun to ride.”
We had originally set out to explore the city a little, me hoping to entertain my visiting friend for the afternoon. I had a fairly concrete agenda for the day. But, after seeing the how Segways captured my friend’s attention, I knew there was no turning back. He was awestruck like a small child seeing something very shiny for the first time, and I knew we were going to rent two of our own.
The day was Sept. 26, 2010. We were fresh college graduates; we had no jobs – or any career prospects, for that matter – and spent too much time hoping our future careers would just fall from the sky. But this day was meant for fun, not work. It was a Sunday we had planned for quite some time, a way for us to blow off some steam during these hard economic times.
At the office, just a couple blocks away, after providing our information, we endured a brief tutorial about driving these awkward-looking machines. Then we set off. We had two hours to play.
“Where should we go?” my friend said.
“I think we should stay away from the cobblestones around here. Could be a little bumpy. Lot of people, too. Ross Island isn’t far. You up for that?”
“Hey, great idea,” he said. “There we definitely won’t have to worry about running over somebody or hitting a car or something.”
Arriving close to the island, we then took the bridge from Branch Street. There was just enough room on the steel structure for these unwieldy machines to muscle their way to the island. By now the sun was taking its toll on us, but we were more than satisfied going a full 10 miles per hour standing up, ducking the protruding tree limbs and dodging large rocks and sticks throughout the island’s trail.
At one point, I became a bit light-headed, probably from moving too much while trying to avoid these obstacles … instead of focusing on the path in front of me. So I took a break from riding and took a seat on a stump that was just off the trail. Hesitantly, my friend, disappointed by the interruption to his fun, did the same. A few minutes passed before I regained my bearings, stood up and went on my way.
“You good now? I don’t want you getting sick all over me if I’m riding behind you,” he said.
“No, I’m good. Probably just too much motion.”
“Listen, I’ll race you back to the bridge. Whoever gets there last, pays for dinner and a taxi when we get back to the city.”
Broke and hungry, I needed this one. “Absolutely,” I said, “and winner gets to pick the place.”
“Deal,” he said. “But nothing too pricy, though.”
We agreed to begin toward the front of the island and take off at a slow count of ten, after which he then darted quickly ahead of me; and I found myself already in the losing seat. But I couldn’t let him win so easily. I caught up and we rode along, side by side, for a few minutes until we were fast approaching an unexpected curve in the trail. Not wanting to give him the advantage, I quickly cut in front of him, and the two of us rammed our Segways hard. Too hard. The collision sent him off in a completely different direction. He was closing in fast on a steep riverbank we had not noticed until this very moment.
Approaching the bank, he abruptly jerked his vehicle, which then threw him completely off it, sending him inevitably rolling toward the precipice.
I quickly stopped my vehicle and sprinted over to him. When I got to him, he was lying there on the ground just inches from the riverbank, the rushing Jackson River and several jagged rocks some forty feet below. His quick reaction had saved his own life.
“Are you okay? Good God! I’m so sorry, man!”
He sat up, bleeding, sweating and dirty from the fall, and said nothing. He was fine, that was evident, but the damage had already been done.
After coming to, he stood up and brushed himself off.
“Let’s just go home, take these things back,” he said. “They’re dangerous.”
So, driving as slow as we possibly could, we went back to the downtown part of the city.
After we returned them to the office, we got a taxi to the parking lot, then walked to my car parked near the 21st Street Farmer’s Market and headed home. The 20-minute ride home was silent like a hospital and I, feeling very guilty, knew he’d be upset for a while. I had almost killed him. I was always too competitive, too intent on beating people. I saw it took a toll on my friendships. This time I had gone too far. And I felt horrible, like I had lost a good friend.
The next morning I stepped out of bed and checked my cell phone. Not a word from my friend. But while checking Facebook, I saw his private message. I hoped he wasn’t berating me for nearly killing him the day before. Instead it was a link to national news story, which told how yesterday, the day of our Segway incident, Jimi Heselden, the multi-millionaire owner of the Segway Company, had died after driving one of his machines off a cliff and into a river.
It was an eerie day, and I had a learned a very valuable lesson: Winning is as important as having good friends who have your back no matter what.
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