They are, however, perfect for another group of people. People who don’t mind looking silly, whose feet hurt from way too much walking and, most importantly, who yearn to dominate roadways and bike lanes in impenetrable, slow-moving masses: tourists.
In the interest of journalism, I signed up for a sunset tour of the monuments with City Segway Tours (502 23rd St. NW; tours depart 10 a.m.- 7 p.m., $65-$80), one of at least five Segway tour outfits in the city. Before we set off, we had to learn the basics of riding a Segway. They are as follows: Lean forward to go forward, lean back to stop, and lean left or right to turn.
Not to brag, but my tour group mastered this complex protocol almost immediately. Once our guide, Dan, cleared us for the open road, we filed onto 23rd Street NW, the eight of us taking up the entire right lane.
A car screamed past, its driver honking and flipping the bird. Dan had a suspiciously well-practiced response: “Yeah, Segways are awesome!” he said, giving the driver a thumbs-up.
And they kind of are. From the vantage point of a car, a bicycle or even a flea on the back of an elderly dog, they may not seem speedy. But by golly, when you’re on one with the wind in your hair, they practically fly. I felt like a winged Urkel as we zoomed toward the White House.
My fellow tourists felt the rush, too.
“Let’s start a Segway gang!” said a middle-aged woman with a blond ponytail. “We need a gang name!”
“How about ‘Green Segs and Ham,’ ” her husband suggested.
We arrived at the White House and parked in front of the statue of Andrew Jackson on a rearing horse. This was Dan’s cue to regale us with questionable facts.
“Two hooves up is supposed to mean that a general died in battle,” he said. “Andrew Jackson wanted to look cool, so he changed the rules just for himself.”
I wanted to correct him, but stopped myself. There must, after all, be a reason the “hoof code” myth persists — even if it’s just to make boring military statues slightly less dull.
I must just have a know-it-all air about me, however, because as soon as we disembarked in front of the White House, a pair of French tourists approached me.
“This is the White House?” one of the men asked me in a perfect Pepe Le Pew accent. “Is this the front or the back?”
“I have no idea,” I answered.
“It is so small,” the other one said. “It is like a nice country home.”
This is a typical observation. Compared to other countries, we give our president fairly modest digs. This seems like something to be proud of — a signifier that, in America, presidents are public servants, not kings.
From the White House, we headed down 15th Street NW to the Washington Monument, then to the Tidal Basin. I have to say, Segways are an excellent way to traverse this city of magnificent distances. Plus, you become something of an attraction yourself. As we rolled along, people took our picture and asked us questions.
“Is that hard to drive?” one schoolkid asked me near the FDR Memorial.
“No,” I said. “It’s super easy.” Three seconds later, I crashed into a security pylon.
My tumble off the Segway was, I’m pretty sure, the highlight of at least one middle school’s entire Washington, D.C., field trip.
I assured Dan I was OK, remounted my Segway, and sped away as quickly as possible to keep the children from collecting more footage of me for their YouTube channels, or whatever kids use to cyberbully these days.
Our final stop was the Lincoln Memorial, and any lingering embarrassment I felt was eclipsed by awe. From the feet of the Civil War colossus, the Washington Monument shone bone-white against the darkening sky. The Capitol building peeked out behind the great obelisk, glowing with a warm, inviting light, but so very far away, like a promise not yet fulfilled.
We all seemed lost in thought as we rolled back to City Segway headquarters. Or perhaps we were just sleepy. In any case, I strongly recommend seeing the monuments at night via Segway or, if you don’t want to pay, by bike. Shining in the moonlight — or more precisely, the Park Service’s ultra-bright, energy-efficient LEDs — the monuments and memorials become an alien landscape, a collection of sculptures and structures that are trying to tell us something, perhaps something important, about our still-fragile democracy. Or maybe they’re just there to make us thankful that, though we continue to be dorks, at least we are no longer in middle school.
About the Staycationer
Last year, 19 million U.S. tourists visited the District, according to tourism bureau Destination DC. Who are these people? And what do they think of D.C. once they get here? Though I’ve lived here for 15 years, I have no idea. That’s because, unlike the many cities where tourists freely intermingle with locals, D.C. keeps its visitors quarantined on the National Mall: 146 acres of manicured lawn where you can wear matching T-shirts without fear of ridicule. Or so I’ve heard. Like most locals, I shun well-touristed places like the Washington Monument, Arlington Cemetery and the line at Georgetown Cupcake. But I’ve started to wonder if I’m missing out. That’s why, in the guise of an ordinary tourist, I am going to visit all the places I’ve been avoiding and let you, dear reader, know whether they’re worth skipping brunch for. I also plan to meet actual tourists and report back on what D.C. looks like from the left side of the escalator. Watch for future installments of The Staycationer in Weekend Pass and at wapo.st/staycationer.
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