33 – Segways

Ever heard of The Segway. No, neither had I, until I came here. It’s a two-wheeled electrically powered scooter type thing that is an alternative form of city transport with a top speed of…wait for it…12 mph. Now, I’m all for innovative clean transport, but hang on, haven’t we already done this. Let me think: two-wheeled environmentally friendly transportation that can average around 12 mph. Isn’t that called a bike?

Admittedly, there are not many of these weird contraptions around, but you do get the occasional sighting, normally in packs of five or six ranging along the banks of the Rhone like rare antelope on the Serengeti. It’s quite amusing when they appear with everybody pointing and laughing at them. The sentiment is the same among us all: you look ridiculous.

They just look so out-of-place on the old banks of the Rhone that for centuries has been a place where people gather for merriment: singing, dancing, writing, reading, juggling, drinking, smoking. I know we’re in the year 2012 with our iPads and iPhones, but this is a city where they still sell books in tobacconists and eat pig’s trotters for lunch.

The greatest bit is when the Segway pack is overtaken by a couple of guys on Velo’v bikes swigging wine with fags hanging out of their mouths. There’s always an almighty roar among the watching crowd as the frustrated Segway user desperately wrestles with the accelerator control only to realise that he or she is already at the eye watering top speed of 12 mph.

If it was a race down the Rhone, the Velo’v guys would be in Marseille drinking sweet Sancerre and eating Sicilian lobster while the Segways would still be trundling towards Vienne, 30 km from Lyon. That’s if their batteries don’t run out first.

I suppose they’re a bit of fun, but everything about them doesn’t add up: One, they are ludicrously expensive (seven grand for the basic model); two, they only have a range of 25 miles; three, they are slower than a half decent cyclist; four, they look ridiculous; and five, and this really is the killer blow if you had just bought one without knowing: you can’t use them on the roads because they are not classed as vehicles, and neither can you use them on the pavements because technically they are vehicles and therefore too dangerous. In short, they are not really anything, which is about the best description I can give them. The only place you can use them is the 10 km strip along the Rhone. And one final thing. The guy who owned the Segway company recently died. He drove over a cliff into the River Wharfe  in North Yorkshire. On a Segway.

So that’s the Segway, but what else has been happening? Well the binmen are still on strike and the rubbish pile is resembling Mount Everest. Yesterday I saw two Sherpas scaling it from the South where the evenly laid pizza boxes afforded them an easy climb. I’m told the North face is unconquerable due to the slimy rotting fruit and oily meat carcasses, making it impassable even with the best equipment.

I took my rubbish to a different arrondisement yesterday where the binmen aren’t on strike and dumped it in somebody else’s bin. I then ran away very quickly when I saw the camembert shaped face of an angry Frenchman glaring at me from behind his baguette imprinted curtain.

Yesterday I was given the afternoon off because I was ill. I say ill, I’ve had an annoying cold that has stalked me all week and I simply didn’t fancy driving up to Ecully 40 km north of Lyon for a three-hour class with people who make rubber sealants for car engines for a living. So after my early class I told my boss that I was ill and didn’t fancy it. To which he astonishingly replied. ‘No problem, Phil, go home, it’s fine.’ It must be his new girlfriend I saw him with last week: little seems to bother him at the moment.

So I went home at 11 o’clock on a Friday with the prospect of not returning to work until one o’clock on Monday. So I went to the pub. No I didn’t. I wanted to, a quiet early Friday lunchtime beer wouldn’t have gone amiss after what had been a horrendous week work wise. But I was meant to be ill and I knew the secretary walked back home this way for lunch. It would be too difficult to explain.

‘Err, it’s not mine! Honest!’

So instead I went to sleep and after went for a stroll along the Rhone for about the millionth time since I’ve been here. It was packed with students strumming guitars or reading or kissing or staring into space; tourists wondering which way to walk, North or South; sneaky Arabs drinking minuscule bottles of Heineken under the bridge; families showing off their multicoloured range of scooters, bikes, pushchairs, toys, games, kites, skipping ropes, balloons, dolls. And then, just to complete the scene, a band of Segways came gliding down the banks of the mighty Rhone like lemmings looking for a cliff.


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