9 November - Segway into Individuality

"Arrested Development" is one of our all time favorite shows. My husband lovingly gave me the full series a few years ago for my Christmas present...then he didn't see me for two days. I watched all episodes back to back - same pjs, same blanket, same couch. One of the most hilarious characters on the tele - across the board - is Gob. I belly laugh until I cackle and cry...his chicken dance while singing "ka ka ka ka kaw"; his whistling "s"'s from a broken tooth; his constant yearning for his father's approval; wearing a fake eyebrow on his cheek from hugging a father figure who has alopecia and... his mode of transportation? A Segway.

I always wondered how difficult it was to ride those motorized adult scooters. I also thought it was quite the humorous site to see Chicago police ride them around the city. My husband and I laughed in brainstorming a blog entry comparing a Harley, Vespa, then ultimately, the Segway. But a tad overambitious within a week.

I researched where I could even find one to try and was thrilled to find Chicago offered tours. 3-hour commitment? Why not? Time to make time. Since I love learning the origins of a city and its anthropology, what better way to learn, meet some kind folk and tool around? I tried recruiting my hilarious ad guru raconteur Kyle, but he kindly declined with a sardonic chuckle, "have fun with half of Gary, Indiana."

I found four different companies, and went with my gut - Chicago Segway Tour. The owner Demetris was quite responsive and seemed to run a tight ship. His instructors and guides, Joe, Brian and Scott were fun, respectful, informative and efficient. We met across Navy Pier at the Lake Point Tower building. There were about 12 of us and were taught the mechanics of the machine, equipped with computer and all.

I stepped up and started to giggle with my protective helmet on. Joe explained the Segway is controlled by the pressure or weight on your toes and heels. The handlebars only control turning left and right, not forward or backward. If you want to slow or stop, you simply lean back then center your body. And if you continue to lean back, you will go backwards. It seems extremely rudimentary but necessary to process, as there are no brakes and yet no standing still. If we find we are at the maximum speed of 12 mph, the computer will automatically tip the Segway back, causing it to stop. After 20 minutes of lessons and getting comfortable in the warehouse, we were ready to head out into the city - real streets, construction, bikes and people.

Within the two hours, we stopped at different points such as DuSable Harbor, the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Campus (Shedd Aquarium, Soldier Field, Adler Planetarium and Field Museum), Buckingham Fountain, Queen's Landing, Millenium Park.... We learned interesting tidbits along the way. It inspired me to learn more about these places, so I researched them when I returned from my excursion.

In no particular order, morsels of trivia included... Lake Point Tower, whose previous residents included Tom Cruise, Halle Berry and NOT Oprah, is the only building east of Lake Shore Drive and is erected on stilts. Chicago has the highest population of Poles outside of Poland. The horrific Chicago Fire of 1871 ruined 2,000 acres of land in only two days, killing 300 people and leaving 1/3 of the population homeless. After the Fire, many of the debris and ash were pushed towards the lake, changing the shoreline from Michigan Avenue to east of the Buckingham Fountain to Queen's Landing. It was interesting to note that under all the land that we toured that day was based on debris from the historic and epic fire. Queen's Landing was named after Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip's visit to Chicago's International Trade Fair in 1959. It celebrated the city as an international seaport and was the first time British royalty came to Chicago. Buckingham Fountain was gifted to Chicago by Kate Buckingham. She dedicated it to her late brother, Clarence. It is modeled after the gorgeous Latona Basin at King Louis XIV's Palace of Versailles. The water represents Lake Michigan and the four sea horses represent the four states touching Lake Michigan. Lastly, an interesting art installation, The Agora, resonated with me a bit. It was a cluster of 9-foot tall sarcophagus-like iron sculptures. The agora in ancient Athens, was a gathering place or marketplace where the artist contends spawned art, philosophy and theater. These sculptures are headless and armless bodies facing different directions. The artist says, "Every crowd is like a headless organism."

Based on the artist's childhood and history, I believe this particular installation had underlying tones with war in mind. She witnessed tragic events as a child and refers to standing alone and facing the world within these headless towering sculptures.

But I process her statement: every crowd is like a headless organism. In a country where freedom of speech, expression and thought is an emphatic part of our culture, do we act like a headless organism when acting as one? Mindless? Is that a good or bad thing? I guess it depends on what the "act" might be. I sure hope that these years of supposed progress in creating, in technology, in stepping outside our own convictions to seek an open mind is not forgotten if our natural, subconscious inclination is to allow an external vacuum to navigate what we believe. That the introduction and evolution of what is supposed "truth" in objectivity, whether it be journalism or non-fiction anthology, has become null and caves to social dynamic waves that come and go with ebb and flow. Then there are people who scream their individuality, demanding attention for being unique. They try so hard to stand apart and guard their extraordinary mark in the world...just...like...the next....person. Perhaps not so unique.

Huh. Interesting installation to say the least. Little did I know I would have some philosophical inner monologue regarding the rhythm of our society and its social dynamics from riding on a Segway. But as art is and as art does, it evokes thought and is open to any individual's interpretation. Mine was simply that these randomly positioned headless and armless bodies represent the global society. The faces, shells and words may not necessarily matter. Body position, direction, intention and action is what drives the truth within in individual and a group. And we may try to maintain our individuality, but also look to each other for inspiration, which then creates the next idea. To me, this cluster of bodies includes many different souls that think on their own but co-exist, hopefully coming together when needed.

Altruistic, I know, but everything, including perspective, is a choice...as I ride away in a cluster of Segways headed in the same direction.

For more information, please visit http://www.chicagosegwaytour.com/.