Thankfully nothing much was going on at Grant Park the day of our tour (no Democratic National Conventions, no popes and no presidents), although we did run into thousands of disappointed Bears fans exiting Soldier Field at the south end of the park late that afternoon following a loss to the New Orleans Saints (I hate when that happens!);
I felt equal parts silly and sensible (the helmet is not my best look) as Jimmy and I took off with six other novices and one very personable and knowledgeable glide guide named Meadow (he admitted he was the product of free-spirited hippie parents) on a cool, cloudy day in October.
I hadn’t had this much fun since the training wheels came off my bike a few years back. On the other hand, Meadow had to keep reminding Jimmy not to “overthink” the experience, a common issue for analytical types who can get caught up in the mechanics of all those gyroscopes and motors and wheels and lose sight of the fun. Jimmy is a mechanical genius to my ineptitude with all things involving moving parts; I can manage a tube of lipstick. There’s hope for me yet.
We made our first of approximately half a dozen stops that day just to the left of Ivan Mestrovic’s famous bronze equestrian gatekeepers flanking opposite sides of Congress Drive, the Bowman and the Spearman; Meadow launched into an introduction to Chicago history.
French explorers who followed on the heels of the Indians began adopting the word, with a variety of spellings, in the later seventeenth century when referring to this area along Lake Michigan.
Even before Chicago was incorporated as a city, the land that one day would be called Grant Park, swampy marshland along the lake at the south end of the city, was designated public ground free of buildings; the land was originally called Lake Park.
After the great Chicago Fire of 1871, much of the debris from the massive fire (in an area four miles long and an average of three-quarters of a mile wide some 18,000 buildings and $200 million in property, approximately one-third of the valuation of the entire city, was gone) was pushed into the lake, creating fill for Lake Park. We were standing on that landfill, now called Grant Park, renamed in 1901 in honor of the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant.
Meadow just kept tossing historical tidbits into the already savory, garlicky dish called Chicago. For instance, why was Grant Park sporting a monument of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln? Shouldn’t Lincoln be in Chicago’s first public park further north, in Lincoln Park? Not a single monument of President Grant appears in Grant Park.
Okay, let’s go with the legend; it’s as tasty as all that wild garlic growing so freely in these parts. According to Meadow, given two monuments, two parks, and one sloppy city worker who didn’t know his presidents, and voila, we have a truly monumental error. I'd say so!
We were off again like a herd of turtles (actually more like ducks all lined up in a row) in search of more sites and more history, although I was feeling the need for speed on my new toy. Maximum speed on these babies was approximately 13 mph. I managed two laps around Buckingham Fountain at full throttle before it was time for a little history on this centerpiece of Grant Park.
memorialize her brother after his death. The fountain is one of the largest of its kind, built in the vein of the Latona Basin at Versailles.
The fountain was designed to symbolize Lake Michigan; the four Art Deco style sea horses symbolize the four states that border Lake Michigan. How well do you know your geography?
We moved on to Grant Park’s Museum Campus area heading south on Michigan Avenue,
Of course, I still had Jimmy. He’s always been quite adept at transporting me to some spectacular destinations.
I gave up my mechanical toy without a fuss.
The Bottom Line on City Segway Tours of Chicago:
Verdict: “Yes, yes, yes!” to borrow a famous quote from the movie, When Harry Met Sally. These are wonderful machines perfectly suited to sightseeing; so much so, you can find City Segway Tours in Munich, Berlin, New Orleans, Paris, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
How to Get There: From Chicago’s Loop (business district) head south along Michigan Avenue past Congress Parkway four blocks, to 9th Street. Turn right for the entrance to City Segway Tours of Chicago on the left at 910 S. Michigan Avenue.
Ideal for: Anyone with a sense of adventure weighing more than 100 pounds and at least 12 years of age. Pregnant women were wisely not permitted to rent through City Segway Tours. The potential for injury is certainly part of the rental agreement; that being said, I’d rent a Segway again without hesitation.
We had two mishaps during our tour; I was one of those, although I managed to escape injury when the right wheel of my human transporter slipped off the sidewalk and pitched me and the Segway onto the grass. I adroitly stepped off the Segway without injury as the 120 pound machine toppled.
Meadow warned us repeatedly to “watch our wheels,” as the expression goes. While the Segway melds to your every move, it’s important to remember the wheels extend about six inches on either side of your body (think saddlebags, ladies). The other casualty wasn’t as lucky as I was. She came away with a broken, bloody nail when she hit the sidewalk and a fat lip where the handlebars caught her in the mouth. Ouch! She was a trooper though; got right back on and enjoyed the rest of the tour with us.
Insider Information: If you’re more into the Segway experience and less about the history, you might enjoy the two-hour tour more than the three-hour tour we took. Both tours cover the same territory; the extra hour of our tour was devoted to planned stops that allowed for more time for learning about the history along the way.
Nearby Food: The hotdog stand outside the Shedd Aquarium was the only food option available during the tour proper. Otherwise, one block up from Congress Parkway on the west side of Michigan Avenue directly across from the Art Institute is a Bennighans Restaurant.
Good for Kids: Yes, kids of all ages (well, 12 years and older) will enjoy this moving experience. If you can ride a bike, you can ride a Segway. Driver's license not required.