Thursday, June 26, 2003
By Laurie Loisel, Staff Writer
Daily Hampshire Gazette
I met up with Linda Lazarus last Wednesday on Main Street.
For Lazarus, the encounter was extraordinary for the simple reason that for our entire 45-minute conversation, we talked eye-to eye.
Experiences such as that have turned Lazarus into something of a proselytizer when it comes to her ownership of the Segway Human Transporter.
"It has given me so much freedom," the 55-year-old Feeding Hills resident told me of the computerized, battery-powered stand-up scooter first shown to the world in 2001 by inventor Dean Kamen of New Hampshire.
"I have a sit-down scooter and it takes up much more space and then you're below the conversation all the time," she said. "This puts me eye to eye, I feel safer, and everybody talks to me."
Lazarus was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic, debilitating disease that affects the central nervous system, in 1990. Since then, her illness has progressed to the point that she can barely walk, relying on her three-wheeled walker, or motorized, sit-down scooter to get around.
Her illness forced her to leave her high school teaching job in 1998. She contends with symptoms common for people with MS - intense, debilitating fatigue, word-retrieval problems, mental confusion, and problems with balance and vision.
But she's managed to maintain as active a lifestyle as her health permits on a given day - and now the Segway makes that even more possible.
"You know the amazing thing, I can barely walk any more - I used to walk two miles a day, and now I can be on this for two hours and I don't get tired," she said. "Life is fun again."
Every morning she drives her Segway down the ramp off the front of her house and Segways (she's taken to using the name as a verb) a mile to the Curves gym in her neighborhood, where she works out. On the way home, she usually goes past a school.
"I go 'segging' by the high school and the kids always want to meet me - well, my Segway really," she says.
Lazarus bought her Segway on Amazon.com for $5,000, but before she could take it home she was required to undergo a two-hour training session. Among the things she learned: it can go 10-15 miles on one charge; it has three different keys, a black key that allows a maximum speed of 6 mph, a yellow one that allows 10 mph and a red one that takes it up to 12 mph; the machine, which uses computer microprocessors, is so sensitive that it responds to its rider's tiniest movements, correcting for balance 100 times per second.
Lazarus drives herself to Northampton several times a week to have lunch with friends, shop, and visit art galleries, and for the Wednesday morning matinee at the Pleasant Street Theater. She also comes to town Saturday mornings for the Northampton Farmers Market, where she runs the Twin Oaks farm booth selling produce grown by her husband John Spineti, 65, a retired college professor. She has run the booth for 33 years.
As we made our way down Main Street, several people stopped and stared curiously at the device, some venturing over to ask questions, which Lazarus answered with friendly patience. "It's better than having a puppy," she said after one such encounter.
After each such conversation, Lazarus extolled the benefits of her Segway, each time in slightly different words. "It's like gliding," she said once. "It's like riding a magic carpet."
Another time she said, "On this, I'm graceful and wonderful - without it, I look like an ugly duckling."
When we reached the intersection of Main and King streets, she left me behind and speedily zipped diagonally across, waiting for me on the opposite corner. Other than that, though, she used her Segway (which makes no noise I could detect) at a speed I could easily keep pace with.
We went into the William Baczek Gallery, where Lazarus chatted with Baczek, and engaged in a conversation with other gallery visitors in which we laughed at the idea that come winter, she'd need to put snow tires on her Segway for outdoor navigation. She answered all the questions they posed, and then easily "segged" her way around the spacious gallery.
At the end of our time together, I walked Lazarus to her Subaru wagon, where she opened the back and pulled out a folding metal ramp, slowly set it on the bumper, and pushed the Segway backwards up it, declining my offers of help.
"See, I'm strong, but I'm klutzy," she said as she closed the back, and slowly made her way around the car to get inside for the drive home.
And I thought, graceful and wonderful is more like it.
Copyright © 2003 Daily Hampshire Gazette