Probably one of the most over-hyped inventions of modern times is the Segway. You know, the little scooter thing with two wheels side by side and a post with a handle on top. It’s battery operated, and you ride it by standing between the wheels and sort of leaning forward. When you do that it takes off, and then you steer by sort of leaning the direction you want to go. I think it should have been called the Leaner, or something.
When Dean Kamen invented the Segway several years ago, he leaked little bits of news about it to the press for months before he finally unveiled it, and he had lots of people drooling to buy one before they even knew what it was. It was supposed to be some kind of revolutionary new way to get around, which to me suggests teleportation or rocket jet pack or being carried or something like that. When Kamen rolled the first one out I was pretty disappointed.
For one thing it cost way too much. Over $5,000. It would have to do something pretty spectacular for folks to fork over enough cash to buy a decent used car, yet it didn’t. Plus it was basically a way to travel at walking speed without walking. Just what America needed with half the population overweight – a way to get from one place to another without getting any exercise at all.
The Segway website says it is ‘the leader in personal, green transportation, transforming the way you work, play, and live.’ I’m sure that’s true. The Segway can transform you from a fairly fit human into an obese slob, and it can do it without harming the environment. You can’t get more American than that.
Anyway, Kamen sold the business last year to a British businessman and multi-millionaire named Jim Heselden who, by all accounts, was a really nice fellow. Jim grew up poor and stayed that way until about 20 years ago, when he invented a new kind of concertina wire. He gave millions of dollars away to charities, and was really well thought of around Boston Spa, where he lived. Peach of a guy.
And then, last weekend, Jim was riding one of his Segways near his home in Yorkshire, and drove it off a 30-foot cliff into a river and died. No one knows yet exactly what happened, but it looks like just an unfortunate accident.
I’m not going to make any jokes about Jim, because it doesn’t sound like he was doing anything stupid that killed him, he just went off the cliff. As a matter of fact it sounds like he went the way I’d like to go, doing something I enjoy in a nice outdoor environment. We should all be so lucky.
But the news isn’t all bad. A sharp reader sent me an email containing a video of a reporter interviewing Gay Wilkinson, of Farmington, Missouri. Gay is a nice, older fellow who has what can only be referred to as an ‘anvil Jones.’ He likes anvils. He really likes anvils. He even has an anvil on his roof, appearing to have fallen there and stuck through the shingles, although it’s made of Styrofoam. Gay likes anvils so much his wife says she plans to put one on his grave when he dies. Which could be any day, considering his hobby is anvil shooting.
Now, anvil shooting is nothing new. It has been going on, evidently, for hundreds of years in America, although not, unfortunately, at my house. Our ancestors used to shoot anvils as a warning sign, or as a celebration, or maybe just for fun. And I have to admit that anvil shooting looks like a lot of fun. Not fun for women, necessarily, but for guys.
What you do is you set an anvil on the ground upside down. This has to be a special anvil, with a hole in it and a depression on the bottom. You stick a fuse through the hole, and pour a pound (yes, a pound) of black powder into the depression. Then you set another anvil on the first one, right side up. Then you light the fuse and run like nobody’s business.
When the powder goes off the top anvil is shot a couple of hundred feet into the air. This is, without question, an impressive sight. When it comes back down the anvil makes a pretty good hole in the ground, but is generally otherwise unhurt. So you can do it again.
Gay shot an anvil at his daughter’s recent wedding. You just can’t beat that.
Gay has been shooting anvils for years, and is presently still alive, but you never know when one of those suckers will come down in the wrong place. But if that happens Gay will have gone out like Jim, doing something he enjoyed.
We should all be so lucky . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who plans to shoot a Segway from an anvil at Christmas. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org