All this past summer, I saw packs of people riding stupid motorized two-wheeled Segways across the Hawthorne Bridge or along the Vera Katz Esplanade. Now they're gone. Was this just some kind of fad, or should I brace myself for more? —Sarah
I'm not going to go so far as to say you need to be American to truly understand the concept of "cool/uncool." That said, there are few people who miss the entire hipness boat with more blissfully ignorant gusto than German tourists on their first Wanderwoche in the Rose City.
We'll never know for sure if the pale riders you saw were German tourists (maybe it was an instance of wilding by the world's lamest street gang). But Segway tours are all the rage in Germany itself, and German travel sites pimp them for both European and American destinations as though it were a perfectly normal thing to do—and there's no reason to think that will change any time soon.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. When it comes to raw efficiency, we all know no one beats the Germans, and it's undeniably true that seeing a city by Segway—faster and less taxing than walking, more leisurely and intimate than taking a tour bus—is a very practical way to do it.
Then again, does the world begin and end with practicality? At what point does "looking like a complete ass" enter the calculation? If we were going to go strictly by what's practical, everyone in Portland would wear one of those novelty hats that folds out into an umbrella every day from October till June. One hand for your coffee, one for your phone—what's not to like?
There are a lot of things that are practical—drawstring pants, Velcro-fastened sneakers, those giant Terminator-style sunglasses that old people wear over their regular glasses. But if you actually go around like that, you lose all self-respect, eventually sinking into a joyless torpor that can only be assuaged by some grand, impractical gesture, like invading Poland. Do yourselves a favor, tourists: See Portland by bike.