Santa Barbara seems to have an affinity for unusual and occasionally silly transportation. We have mountain unicyclists, those little bicycle carts available for rental by the beach, and even small electric cars, available with helmets for tourists with no sense of personal dignity.
Perhaps the most odd, and the coolest, form of alternative transportation available to Santa Barbarans is the Segway. This two-wheeled, gyroscopically balanced vehicle is available for rental or purchase from Segway of Santa Barbara, which has been in business for a little more than four years. At press time, a Segway of Santa Barbara employee was too busy with a mob of customers to do more than answer a few basic questions about the business. Tourist season is upon us, and it’s a profitable season indeed for rental companies catering to out-of-town visitors.
But tourists and shoppers aren’t the only people getting use out of the Segway. Police forces in places like Long Beach have begun to use the Segway as a faster and equally flexible alternative to bicycles and foot patrols. Despite the laughter of passersby, these little vehicles have proven their worth - they’re faster than a police officer on foot and easy to maneuver.
But they’re not the type of ride one might associate with elite forces, special forces, or any other group whose name and image is intended to provoke awe.
China, in typical nonchalant style, has ignored this glaring incongruity. Perhaps feeling that “Segway” is not in itself a sufficiently imposing name, Chinese officials have dubbed them “Anti-Terror Assault Vehicles,” and the assault Segways are already in use by elite Chinese police forces. These forces, already undergoing intensive training in the use and deployment of their terrifying camouflage-painted anti-terror two-wheelers, will be used to protect the Beijing Olympics from potential terrorist attacks. (Britain’s Mail on Sunday has photos that must be seen to be believed.)
If nothing else, any terrorists in attendance will be incapacitated by laughter.
Don’t tell that to the Chinese, though. The elite force’s use of Segways has caused an Internet phenomenon, as each blogger races to mock the Segways faster than the next - but Chinese officials are unfazed. Indifferent to the opinions of Internet critics, they’re going ahead with their plan to police the Olympics with anti-terrorist Segways at the ready.
If nothing else, perhaps Segway riders everywhere can feel a little tougher and more elite each time they step on board.