Like most people, I don’t want to stand out as a tourist.
But here’s the catch-22: Tourism is one of the driving industries of New Orleans, and most of the Quarter thrives on business from tourists. I may love to hate them, but tourists are crucial to the economy of New Orleans.
So I recently made a foray into the dreaded realm of tourism: My sister, Carolyn, and I took a Segway tour of downtown New Orleans. It was probably the most touristy thing I have ever done (and probably ever will do) in my life.
Don’t get me wrong — I’ve always wanted to ride a Segway, but never had the opportunity (or the money). So when I was asked to try out the tour for NolaVie, I jumped on it. I’ve always thought that traveling by Segway — those odd-looking, two-wheeled personal transportation machines — would be awesome. For people who have watched “Arrested Development” (I am a fanatic), you can’t think of Segways without thinking of GOB, who would climb up mounds of dirt (and pretty much anything else, too) on his.
You definitely cannot do that on a Segway. We even asked our guide if it was possible, and she said no, unless maybe you had a special off-road Segway (which may or may not even exist). Regardless, you can’t even ride over a curb without throwing off the balance, so driving over mounds of dirt would be impossible. So much for reality in TV.Our tour with Segway New Orleans started at 2 p.m. on a sunny Thursday afternoon. We were the only ones on it, which I suppose was nice, but it made it a little awkward, too. The 11 a.m. tour had sold out, so the crowd is not always this thin. The tour is offered twice a day and can have as many as 20 people on it, including the guide. Locals get $10 off the $70 price for a two-hour city tour. The office is located on Conti Street, close to Decatur, in a little hole-in-the-wall ex-apartment. It’s easy to miss, so make sure you know the address before you go.
The first order of business was a lesson in Segway riding by our tour guide, Dawn. She’s originally from Louisville, Kentucky, and, like many transplants, moved to New Orleans after falling in love with the city over 10 years’ worth of visits. Dawn was one of the best tour guides for anything I’ve ever had, and she made learning to ride the Segway super easy.
The Segway is powered by a gyroscope, which reacts to your body movements, which is so Zen (kidding). Riding a Segway is sort of like riding a roller coaster. It’s hard to explain what it feels like, but the same feeling you get when you step on the ground after skiing or rollerblading also happens after riding a Segway. I was a little nervous at first, because the roads in New Orleans are littered with potholes. Also, the drivers in New Orleans are wack, which makes it that much more interesting.
What I didn’t like about travel by Segway were the looks from passer-bys. Most were friendly or curious, but some were disdainful. I even heard, “That’s so stupid.” I suppose my attitude once might have been similar upon seeing tourists gliding by on Segways, but it was embarrassing when it happened to me. Remember that the next time you run across a Segway tour (I will).
For locals, or people who have been to New Orleans before, the tour may be a little redundant. Many of the sights we saw we had already been to. We did learn more about some of New Orleans’ haunted houses and history, which was nice. We rode all around the French Quarter (mercifully, she skipped Bourbon Street), into Marigny and along the river.
All things considered, my next two-wheel tour will probably be by bicycle rather than Segway. A bike offers the same sights with less of the touristy embarrassment, and we would be getting our daily exercise.
The Segway was a blast. Looking like a tourist? Not so much.
Christian Brandt is a junior at Dartmouth College and current intern at NolaVie.com.