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Interview: City Segway Tours Guide John Darey

By Peter Mavrik in Miscellaneous on Apr 3, 2007 1:30PM

2007_04_citysegway.jpgWe were on two wheels, standing about six inches taller than usual. Millennium Park looked a bit different from that angle. Like goslings following their mother, we toddled along at a cautious four miles per hour in a short line. But by the time we made it to Buckingham Fountain, the need for speed kicked in. A magic yellow key came into our lives. And then the real fun began.

Grant Park whizzed by at eight miles per hour. We were flying up and down hills, avoiding the cracked pavement and the occasional parking meter. Drivers waved. Tourists photographed us, and we photographed them. Little children stopped in their tracks and pointed. The city skyline spread out before us, and absolutely everyone we met was grinning from ear to ear.

Chicagoist likes life atop a Segway.

We don't own a Segway, but we had the chance to take a three-hour tour (a three-hour tour) led by John Darey of City Segway Tours. It's not something we'll soon forget. Trust us when we tell you it's all about the yellow key.

Chicagoist recently hung out at the City Segway Tours office located at 400 E. Randolph. For most people, their virginal Segway experience begins right there. John Darey, our tour guide and host, gave us the inside scoop on what you can expect.

Chicagoist: Tell us first about yourself. How did you get to be a Segway tour guide? How does that happen?

John Darey: I happen to live right here at 400 E. Randolph, and I work for the Hyatt Corporation. Coming home last summer, as I was walking past, I decided to just pop in and ask them about giving tours. The rest is history, and I've fallen in love with it. It's one of the most wonderful relaxing things and an enjoyable way to see the city.

C: When was the first time you hopped on a Segway?

JD: In Budapest about three years ago. I was on holiday with my partner. I had a chance to jump on them and go for a ride. I also rode when I was in Paris. Then they had them down here in my building, so I knew I could do it. I love Chicago, so it fit perfectly.

C: Let's get to the nitty-gritty of the tour. How much does it cost for the basic tour, and what do you get?

JD: There are two tours. A three-hour tour which is $70 per person, and we do an evening glide, which is two hours for $60. I can do both tours, but my favorite is the evening glide.

The three-hour tour starts at 400 E. Randolph. We practice over at the Cancer Survivors park. We head down to Daley Bicentennial Plaza to give them an idea how it is to ride up and down an incline. Then we head west toward Michigan Avenue, past the Standard Oil building and Millennium Park.

Then I take the group down along Michigan Avenue and talk about the sculptures and artists in the park. We go past the Art Institute, and when we get to Monroe, we head back east, going into Butler Field.

Then we head right across to Buckingham Fountain, which is a great photo opportunity. From there we head down to the Museum Campus, going through the baseball diamond and past where those wonderful lilac bushes grow. It's totally intoxicating when you've got a tour going through full-bloom lilacs for a block.

We go through the Museum Campus, take a right through Soldier Field and head over to the Shedd Aquarium, which I think has one of the most remarkable skyline photo ops in the city. Then we come from the skyline view and head along the lakefront through Monroe Harbor. That's basically the 6:00 tour. During the three-hour tour we head all the way over to the Adler Planetarium and all the way out along the lake.

C: So you're leading a group of people on Segways. What's the reaction of the crowds not on the Segways?

JD: One of the main points that I teach my guests is the ability to be able to stop. People see you on the Segway, and they assume you know exactly what you are doing on it. And they run right up to you. And that always frightens the guests. If they're not comfortable, they can't lean back and make it stop so you can stand and talk to the pedestrians. Everybody wants to know how it works.

C: What kinds of people take the tours?

JD: We get people literally from all over the world here at City Segway Tours. We do get a lot of international guests, but we get lots more Chicagoans. They've seen Segways running around the city, and they're curious. It gives them a different perspective for seeing their city. When you were in school, your field trips were always to the museums, the planetarium, the Shedd, whatever. It's different as an adult. As adults we don't get a chance to go out and play. I find it's a great adult play date.

C: What kind of reactions do people on the Segways have?

JD: I watch people when they get on the machine. When they first get on, people are standing very rigid and tight. They're almost like little turtles with their heads pulled down because they're gripping their machine so tight. As they get comfortable you see them relax. One of my favorite comments on the tour was from a woman in her 70's. Her late seventies. Her comment to me was "Honey, do you know how long it's been since I've moved this fast standing up?"

What I find mostly is that by the end of the tour, the guests don't want to get off. They're comfortable, and they understand how it operates. They just want to continue on forever. It's kind of like your first time riding a bicycle. When you get rid of the training wheels, you're on your own. You never want to go home. You just want to keep going.

C: So we've got to ask this. We saw President Bush fall off the Segway. Was he just being clumsy or what?

JD: No, no, and no. That had to do with whoever allowed him on it. What they didn't do was turn the machine on. The machine doesn't go into a balance mode unless you turn it on. You must have a "green smiley face," and he didn't have a green smiley face.

For information on times and open tour slots, contact City Segway Tours via their website or call 1-877-SEG-TOUR (1-877-734-8687).