Back in the good old days, strong men such as Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Ken Kesey went screaming across the great American highways with heads hopped full of sour mash and benzedrine. They performed lewd acts, taunted the police, harassed the stiffs and produced great art. These days we're left with four twenty-something geeks traveling country roads at 10 mph with their Segways, iPods and blogs.
Is the American Dream dead? It may well be.
This Thursday four white-toast yuppies will set out on a 4,300 mile trek from Seattle to Boston. One of the four - Josh Caldwell - will be riding a Segway scooter for this entire journey backed up by Hunter Weeks, Pat Armstrong and J. Fred Keough in a support vehicle. The fearsome foursome plan to make an online documentary of the Segway journey, interviewing people along the road and blogging about the rigors of going up mountains on an upright, glorified wheelchair.
"My american dream is to be an individual and to be the best person I can be with the talents that I have [Such as standing - Ed]," Armstrong says in a video promoting the Segway stunt. "And so that's part of what I like about this expedition is that I am just going to go out there and find out for myself and learn about it and hopefully come back and be able to make some sense of it."
Right . . .
Team 10mph will have two Segways and 16 batteries available during their grand glide. They've also set up a web site, asking people to donate their homes, money and broadband connections to make this endeavor a success. In total, the group plans to visit 46 cities and 17 states over 80 days, although we suspect the ride will take much longer.
"We have about 50 or 100 people signed up to help so far," said Caldwell, in an interview. "We'll camp where we don't have places lined up to stay or see if hotels will sponsor us for a night."
The Segway fans are all close to 26 years old and have unremarkable backgrounds. They apparently dabbled in online content production and have a non-profit organization. They profess to carrying on Segway inventor Dean Kamen's American Dream by traveling across the US in a scooter.
"This is someone's dream," Caldwell said. "Kamen sees this as a device that cities will be built around someday. Our dream is to produce content. So they work well together."
"We're going out there during a unique time in the US. This vehicle forces us to slow down life to ten miles per hour on average. It allows us to take time to tell stories along the way. It's a natural ice-breaker."
It's unclear how a Segway makes it easier to stop and talk to people than say a car or bike also resting at a hotel or person's house. Caldwell, however, might be referring to the gripping conversations that take place after a passing 18-wheeler has blasted him 30 feet into a cotton field. After the driver is done swearing at the scooter rider, he may offer assistance and then recount his own vision of the American Dream.
"The Segway is not a vehicle of the common man because of the price point," Caldwell admits.
But surely the Average Joe can identify with a young man heading out on the open road on his $4,000 scooter and listening to his $400 iPod packed full of tunes and audio books. "Yeah, I can actually post to our blog from the Segway by sending text messages, and there is a web cam broadcasting a picture of me every thirty minutes."
Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were also said to have debated the use of text messaging on their trip across in the US. In the end, however, they decided that a fridge full of acid-laced orange juice would be a more profound use of technology. For Kerouac, there was but a typewriter, gallons of red wine and meth.
Caldwell hasn't done any special training to prepare for the trek. We suggested a rigorous NASA-approved muscle atrophy avoidance course or perhaps days on end pulling slot machines in Vegas for preparation.
The rider, however, is pretty sure he is physically fit and looks to be seen as a kind of geeky Lance Armstrong.
"I think the idea of having one person ride it is that it creates an icon," he said. "There is somebody out there that people recognize. Lance Armstrong could not do it without his team, but he's the one out there being seen. He's the face to that team."
Well said. The two-testicled Segway icon. That's something people can get behind. A nut above Lance, if you will.
The 10mph team is not afraid of being heckled or even assaulted along the way, although we urge all teenagers out there to consider how they want to spend their last days of summer vacation. Here's a form for following along with the race. We're checking on Segway hate-crime legislation at this very moment, but it looks as if taunting blogging rubes is completely acceptable. Go kiddies, go!
(There's more information on beating Segway owners available here.)
All mocking aside, these people have inspired us. The Register has started a funding search for the One Burger at a Time excursion to Mexico. This will require a bus, a couch on a trailer, 50 gallons of Tequila and Register readers lobbing Big Macs into the mouth of a giant, plastic vulture, which will then poop the burgers into our hands. That's our American Dream and one that's closer to that of the general public, we dare suggest, than a globule on a gimpy scooter.
Sadly, Segway LLC has not responded to our calls for monetary support, but, hey, they haven't supported the 10mph team either. Good luck, boys. You'll need it. ®