There was no time to ponder how the ozone was doing or how the melting glaciers fared as Washington basked in the 60-degrees-in-January miracle.
All Michael Osver knew was that it was the first time since the motorized contraption had arrived at his Dupont Circle apartment in mid-December that a day like this had fallen from the sky. In the dead of winter, the sun-soaked, periwinkle glory had injected city streets with an energy that Osver was eager to experience, and human feet couldn't take him fast enough.
He knocked off a few hours early from his job as a program manager at the Commerce Department, unplugged the scooter from the wall outlet near his office and got on the upright Segway Human Transporter, the much-hyped -- world's first! -- self-balancing battery-powered carrier.
For months, prolific inventor Dean Kamen, the so-called "Pied Piper of technology," had toiled away in secret as he and a team of engineers at New Hampshire-based Segway polished up the scooter, code-named Ginger. Before the world knew what it was, techies were hailing it as the biggest thing since the personal computer. What the car was to the horse and buggy. Would change civilization as we know it!
Osver mounted his next-big-thing machine and bolted out of the elevator. Twelve minutes later, he was whizzing aboard the two-wheeled push-mower-looking gadget along the strip of restaurants, shops and bars on 17th Street. That's when a flurry of unsolicited interrogation/advice/finger-wagging began.
"The Segway! How'd you get it?" one passerby asked.
"Wait till we start having deaths with those things," a helpful silver-haired man predicted.
"Why don't you get some exercise!" a passing driver suggested from a car window.
Through it all, Osver, 51, remained congenial, but responded to only the most civil of the street pundits.
This was part of the bargain. The Segway won't be available to the general public until March, and only via the online retailer Amazon. Osver had paid $4,950 for the machine -- and to evangelize Segway's vision of the future of personal transport. He submitted a 75-word essay (and credit card number) to the company last year to earn his spot as one of 30 pilot Segway consumers from around the country who received the device early but paid the standard retail price. In it, he suggested what that future might look like:
My dream . . . Gliding effortlessly onto the sidewalk, crowded with commuters. Someone calls my name and I turn on a dime to see a neighbor who looks out of breath. He says he's running late for work. I smile. Their way, the old way. My way, Segway.
Back on 17th Street, not everyone saw things his way. Osver zoomed into a pack of tech-savvy 10-year-old girls leaving Ross Elementary School in white button-down shirts and pleated-skirt uniforms. Candace Paris, Keysi Estevez and Vernetta Jenkins blocked his path, demanding answers.
"What is that? A commercial?" Candace asked.
"That's a Segway," Keysi answered for him. "Can I have it?"
"Hey! How'd you get one?" Vernetta wondered.
"Have you ever had an accident in that thing?" Candace demanded to know.
Osver, naturally 5 feet 11 but on the machine about 6 feet 6, peered down wearing jeans, a faded green baseball cap and salt-and-pepper beard. He stopped the vehicle by shifting his body backward -- the Segway has no brakes in the traditional sense -- and did his best to explain.
He's very careful. Yes, he drives it to work. He puts his lunch right in the basket holder. It goes up to 12 1/2 miles per hour. It weighs 85 pounds.
Do the girls know what a gyroscope is? That's how he stays balanced. The two rechargeable (nickel-metal hydride) batteries last up to four hours. No, they aren't double-A.
"It's interesting," Keysi told a reporter after she and the rest of the gaggle had wrung Osver dry. "It's, like, for the future."
"That's not for the future," Candace corrected. "It's not going to even have wheels in the future. I'm going to fly to the moon. No gravity!"
Segway won't say how many people have joined Osver. The company, founded by Kamen to "provide a solution to short-distance travel," claims pre-orders are selling briskly on Amazon.
It allows only that there are 30 contest "winners" -- if that's how you can describe the company's ingenious bit of marketing: Thirty people scattered around the country who shelled out five G's for a technology that may still have some unknown kinks, may make Americans even fatter than they already are, and is being eyed with suspicion by some lawmakers.
In addition to that group, there are an unspecified number of institutional types -- people at businesses, universities, the U.S. Postal Service, law enforcement agencies -- who've sampled the Segway.
Last summer, 12 Capitol Police officers buzzed around the Capitol grounds during a trial that ended in October. The force is still undecided on whether the machine will, as Segway has promised, make "your business more profitable, your city more livable and your daily life more convenient."
Just as Osver's foray on the streets of Washington suggests, the technology has received a mixed response. Late last year, officials in San Francisco, of all places, banned Segway from its sidewalks over safety concerns, and other Northern California cities are debating whether to follow suit.
Non-pedestrian traffic (including bicycles) is prohibited on sidewalks in many cities. So even before the technology has officially hit the streets, various jurisdictions are considering laws that say explicitly whether Segways can be used. So far, 33 states, including Maryland and Virginia, have given the machines the nod.
In the District, a bill allowing the Segway to be operated in areas that are not heavily trafficked business districts has been approved by both the D.C. Council and Mayor Anthony Williams, and is currently under congressional review.
The past month has made Osver an enthusiastic proponent. "I really like the adventure, the experience of trying new and different things," he says. He's a Mac guy, but not one of the class of perpetual "early adopters" (gadget geeks). A die-hard city dweller, Osver was intrigued by the prospect of being part of a transportation revolution.
In the 22 years the Sacramento native has lived in Dupont Circle and worked for the government, he has bicycled around but never owned a car. "I can get anywhere by foot," he said, "or now, by wheel."
After he won the Segway contest, the company flew him and a friend to Manchester, N.H., where he underwent four hours of training. He and a handful of other winners also had dinner at the 80,000-square-foot home of Kamen, also the mastermind behind the iBOT wheelchair made by Johnson & Johnson -- which climbs stairs -- and a slew of other medical devices.
Osver described a massive antique steam engine that sat in the foyer of Kamen's windmill-powered home, secret passageways that appeared behind bookcases and stairwells. He said a New Yorker cartoon of Osama bin Laden riding the Segway decorated one wall; a portrait of Albert Einstein was on another.
"It was like a small city," Osver recalls.
Osver is a people person, and he's enjoying the newfound neighborhood notoriety. But there have been a few snags. USAA, his homeowner's insurance company, flat-out refused to insure the scooter. (Segway says other companies will.) And a solution hasn't yet been invented for the biggest obstacle he's encountered so far: the weather.
It has been a frosty winter. The battery expires too quickly when the temperature drops to 40 or so. That 60-degree day allowed Osver one of his first real opportunities to truly experience the Segway.
That afternoon a man walked past Osver wearing shorts and a T-shirt and lugging groceries from the Safeway down the block.
"Is it worth it?" he shouted over a shoulder.
"Oh yeah!" Osver yelled into the man's back.
The next night, the temperature nose-dived and snow briefly powdered the same sidewalk. Until the heavens deemed otherwise, the Segway would have to stay parked inside.