Commentary: Making the segue to Segways

May 12, 2008

Have you seen Margot Eccles or Brian Payne cruising downtown sidewalks on their Segways?

It's quite the sight, and a still-novel one considering Eccles and Payne are the only two people I know who have the two-wheelers and use them regularly in the central business district, save the security people at Circle Centre mall.

I went to a meeting Eccles attended on the 29th floor of One American Square and her Segway was parked in the corner of the conference room. Payne came to a meeting at IBJ recently and drove right into our second-floor lobby.

The two regularly blow by security people and concierges, glide onto elevators with everyone else, and head to their destinations in buildings all over the city, getting more than a few curious looks along the way.

If you are downtown, you might also see Bob Whitt riding a Segway. He's head of White River State Park, where a fleet of the personal transportation devices is used to conduct tours. Whitt rides one regularly to cruise the park and make it to downtown meetings and events.

I and a few others from IBJ recently overcame our fear of looking like dorks and took the park tour, with Bob leading the way. We donned those funky-looking helmets, took a brief tutorial, and were off and running.

Bob didn't wear a helmet, by the way, and looked a lot cooler. Well, less dorky is probably a better description.

I don't know what it is, but it's pretty much impossible to look cool when you're on one of those things, which my daughters reminded me of gleefully when I told them about my adventure.

Be that as it may, I'm here to tell you that a ride on a Segway and a tour of the park are well worth the humiliation. You get over it fast because you're having so much fun.

Our tour lasted more than an hour, and we covered about every inch of the park. We cruised through the open mall, around NIFS and across White River on the New York Street bridge and glided through the Promenade behind the zoo.

We came back over the river on the Washington Street pedestrian bridge, went down behind the NCAA and the Indiana State and Eiteljorg museums, and headed north along the canal all the way to Buggs Temple and back.

Whitt was an expert tour guide and darn good on that Segway. He couldn't resist the urge to hot dog a little near the end of our journey when he slalomed in and out of a group of building columns.

While none of the rest of us could perform at that level, we were all quite comfortable on our machines. After the two- to three-minute instructional lecture and a demonstration from the guide, we were fine. Most otherwisecapable people will have no problem riding a Segway.

The "two-wheeled, battery-powered personal conveyances" and tours at the park ($45 a head) are provided by Segway of Indiana, the state's only dealership. If you want to own one, you're talking about $5,000. You can see them up close and personal at SI's Broad Ripple showroom.

Whitt tells me the tourist business is growing nicely, but that corporations have also started to use the park tour on Segways as an outing and bonding experience for employees and management teams.

Not only does a tour show off one of the city's premier assets, but it also gives participants a unique experience in which they've learned a new skill, and they've done it together. They've also been seen in public together looking like dorks! What could be more bonding than that?

I liked it so much, an IBJ management outing is already on the agenda.

Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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