Tuesday, September 08, 2009

How I got temporarily un-cranked by a Segway tour of Paris


Personally, until last week I’ve regarded the Segway — that two-parallel-wheeled, battery-powered gizmo that looks like a lawn mower or a scooter with a genetic defect — as something of a gimmick.

Having finally ridden one, I still regard it as a gimmick. But it’s a marvelous gimmick if you simply want to have fun.

I’m talking about this now — and about Paris — because I just got back from vacation and I’m so PO’d at Obama’s waffling on healthcare and the “public option” while I was gone that I want to puke. (Maybe the “public option” would fly if he’d only call it what it really is — Medicare For All. Or at least for all those who want it.) So instead let me talk about something more agreeable.

I want you to know that if you ever go to Paris again, despite the dollar looking increasingly like cheaply-printed play money in comparison to the Euro, you gotta be sure to take a Paris Segway Tour.

I woke up in Paris one morning last week feeling as cranky as usual. I hurried my beautiful girlfriend over to the south leg of the Eiffel Tower, where we met up with a representative of City Segway Tours. From there we were guided on foot through the back streets of the 15th Arrondissement to a combination bicycle and Segway garage in a housing project that you’d otherwise have a hell of a time finding on your own. Next we were equipped with Segways and taught to ride them (it only takes a few minutes to learn) by our guide, a willowy blond Texan from Fort Worth named Crystal. That’s Crystal in the photograph, teaching the Crank’s beautiful girlfriend how to Segway like a pro.

History, guides, gore, yarns,
Segways — and some amazed Parisians

There are guides who throw names, dates and statistics about steel tonnage and elevations at you until you’re ready either to scream, nod off, or drown yourself. And then there are guides like Crystal who know that the word “story” is what history is all about. It turned out that Crystal knows not only her Segways, but also her French revolution, and can tell you a gripping tale about it with the best of ‘em.

Her recounting of the execution of Robespierre, the leading figure in the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror until he got it in his own neck, was alone worth the price of the tour. It's no secret that he got what he gave, and that what he got was decapitated. But Crystal was armed with details, narrative skills and a bit of mimicry that made it not just a story but one hell of a story. I won’t repeat it for you here, because I’m not a spoiler for American tour guides in Paris. Suffice it to say that Crystal's narration covered dingbat royalty, outrageous tax rate quotations (those were taxes on the poor, not the rich), street riots, a failed suicide, a horribly busted jaw, and a small taste of gore. It was a hoot.

But so was the Segway ride.

It’s simply a great kick zipping around town on those things. They go fast if you want them to go fast. They slow down easily when you want them to. They take turns like a Porsche on steroids. And counterintuitively, there are no balance issues. Your Segway is full of gyroscopes that simply don’t want you to fall down. Or off.

We learned that Segways have become a sort of reverse tourist attraction in Paris. While you ride around looking at Paris, the amazed Parisians are staring at you. It’s an interactive travel experience that you’ll just never get sitting in a tour bus.

If you want to go Segway-ing with Crystal, go soon. Her contract is up in December and she mentioned that she’s not sure whether she’ll renew and stay in Paris, or go back to Fort Worth where there’s evidently a bustling theater scene (Who knew?) and resume her career as an actress.

Lunch included with the tour.
Lunch at l'Ami Louis definitely not included.

The tour met at 9:30 in the morning and lasted until after lunch. Lunch, incidentally, was included in the price. The Crank's beautiful girlfriend had a croque monsieur (essentially a grilled cheese and ham sandwich that doesn't taste at all like the one you had the other day in some American diner), and said it was the best she ever tasted in Paris.

By the time I stepped off my rented Segway for the last time, I was having a lot of trouble feeling cranky, damnit. In fact, I stayed in a good mood until the next day, when my beautiful girlfriend steered me to a $300 chicken lunch at a place on the other side of town called l’Ami Louis. Now that was a lunch to get enraged about.

Admittedly, the chicken was the size of a small pony, it came with a mountain of frites (that’s “Freedom Fries” to you idiot Republicans who can remember back a few years) and enough duck liver pate to stop your arteries, the arteries of everyone in your family, and all the traffic arteries in your own city, from Interstates to back alleys. Oh, plus we had a half bottle of wine and some fizzy water.

I’ve been thoroughly and appropriately cranky ever the check arrived. Even so, I recommend that you sell the farm and go to Paris — whether you're into $300 chicken lunches or not.

While you're there, spring for a Segway tour. Preferably while Crystal is still in town.

1 comment:

Crystal Faye said...

Thanks for the great review, Peter!! =) -Crystal