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Exploring Atlanta aboard a futuristic Human Transporter

© By Hans Tammemagi
  Mounted on a Segway Human Transporter, I felt like a visitor from the future gliding along silently, the machine seemingly responding to my thoughts. Six of us were arrayed in single file aboard these incredible machines rolling along a sidewalk in central Atlanta, Georgia, and attracting stares everywhere we went.
     We had begun at City Segway Tours in Underground Atlanta, a funky six-block area that has been transformed into a lively marketplace featuring specialty shops, restaurants, entertainment and is just a neat place to hang out.
     "To go forward, lean forward. To stop or go backwards, lean back." To turn I had to twist the left hand grip. Laine, our instructor and guide, made it sound and look simple, yet once I gingerly climbed aboard, it was much harder than it looked. We gyrated back and forth for 15 minutes, occasionally bumping into a lamp post or curb until Laine proclaimed we were ready to embark.
     As I nervously maneuvered down the narrow sidewalk past staring pedestrians, I wondered at the technology behind this new generation of personal transportation. When a human leans forward, fluids in the ear recognize the tilt and the brain tells the leg muscles to step forward so we don't fall. A Segway does the same, but instead of ear fluids, it uses tilt sensors and gyroscopes. For a brain, it uses computers, and instead of legs, it has two wheels powered by motors. The computers receive and interpret dozens of measurements every second to ensure the machine stays upright and is safe. It was exhilarating and impressive.
     Human transporters remain a tool of the future, although they are being increasingly used by organizations such as police to replace foot patrols and by airport security staff. Currently, public tours are only offered in a few cities in North America.
     After a short stop at a park to regroup and check our confidence levels, we rolled on to the Georgia State Capital with its towering gold dome. Built in 1889, the elegant neoclassical building houses the state government and a museum and is surrounded by gracious lawns and trees that were brilliant in pink blossoms. We stopped next to a statue of former president, Jimmy Carter, one of Georgia's favourite sons.
     We trundled along in perfect silence and even though our machines had been set not to exceed six miles per hour, it felt like we were racing along on personal rocket ships. It was a wonderful adventure; I felt like a space alien travelling the streets of Terra. As we passed a railway line, Laine explained that Atlanta had begun as a railway centre, originally called Terminus. Then we rolled through Georgia State University and into the predominantly black and poor Sweet Auburn district where Martin Luther King Jr. was born, preached and gained fame for his ground-breaking civil rights work. We glided past Thelma's Rib House, a sad little shack adorned in garish pink and hand-lettered signs. A few doors down, the Auburn Grocery Store graced a group of tough-looking men loitering outside.
     We rolled alongside the famous Ebenezer Church and stopped at the red brick buildings of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. The tomb of King and his wife, Coretta, lies in a gracious white building next to a long still pool. Gazing at the reflections shimmering in the water, I quietly prayed that his dream would be fully realized.
     As we re-entered the city centre, many skyscrapers exhibited numerous windows covered with plywood, forming wonky checkerboard patterns, a sign of the recent tornadoes that ripped through Atlanta a week earlier. The downtown was dotted with many small parks built for the Olympic Games in 1996. Wiggling our way through rush-hour crowds, we reached the large Centennial Olympic Park which has transformed downtown Atlanta. This spring, the fountains were dry and lonely because of the biggest drought in decades. Concerts, artists' markets and family activities make the park a popular gathering place and focal point for Atlanta. As we coasted to a stop, I closed my eyes and imagined the medal ceremonies, athletes, crowds and excitement of the Olympic Games.

         

     Many Atlanta top attractions surround the Park. The New World of Coca Cola, as I experienced later illustrates the history and mystique behind the world's most recognized brand. Although I expected it to be crass and commercial, it was quite entertaining, especially the 4-D movie which squirted me with water, bumped my seat and had characters jumping practically into my lap. I also enjoyed sampling from over 70 Coke flavours sold around the world.
     Next door, the Georgia Aquarium is reputed to be the world's largest. When I arrived, it was packed while I meandered though a glass-walled tunnel surrounded by fish on all sides. The beluga whales, penguins, octopi and sea otters made me aware of the mysterious beauty of the watery realm and the plight that oceans and commercial fisheries are facing.
     Although time did not permit, to enjoy an inside look at how headlines are made, I yearned to visit the headquarters of CNN News whose tornado-damaged windows were heavily patched by plywood. You can fantasize that you are a famous news anchor while touring the Control Room Theatre, the special effects room and the main newsroom.
     Back aboard our Human Transporters, we circled the Olympic Park and Laine pointed out the spot where a bomb was detonated during the Olympics. Then, we glided back to Underground Atlanta and dismounted from our futuristic steeds. It had been an exhilarating tour and I gained a good insight into Atlanta as well as into the future of transportation.

Hans Tammemagi has written two travel books: Exploring Niagara - The Complete Guide to Niagara Falls & Vicinity and Exploring the Hill - A Guide to Canada's Parliament Past & Present. He writes an Environment column for the Vancouver Sun.

Photo Credits
Hans Tammemagi

If you go
This Destination
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Atlanta information, attractions and accommodation: www.atlanta.net
Segway tours: www.citysegwaytours.com/atlanta/ or 1-877-seg-tour
Coke: www.worldofcoca-cola.com
Aquarium: www.georgiaaquarium.org
CNN Center: www.cnn.com/StudioTour
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site: www.nps.gov/malu
Stay at the Ritz Carlton: www.ritzcarlton.com
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlanta,_Georgia
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Atlanta%2C_Georgia

What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/

Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/


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