How are the mighty, erm, fallen. Nudge. Wink.

By Michael J. Smith on Monday September 27, 2010 01:29 PM

You wouldn't believe how many people sent me links to this choice item:

Segway company owner James 'Jimi' Heselden dies in England after riding a Segway off cliff

The British businessman who owns the Segway company was killed when he drove one of his famous two-wheeled scooters right off a cliff.

James "Jimi" Heselden, who was using an off-road version of the iconic ride to inspect the grounds of his estate in northern England, was fished out of a river shortly after the freak accident Sunday.

... Heselden, who began working in a coal mine at age 15, became one of Britain's richest men with a $265 million fortune after he was laid off from his job.

Using his severance pay, Heselden started Hesco and raked in the defense contracts building blast walls to help protect troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from suicide bombers.

As one of my correspondents wrote: "I didn't make this up!"

One couldn't make it up -- the details are too delicious. (Well, maybe if one were Jonathan Franzen.)

Estate in Yorkshire! "Offroad" version of the loathesome gadget -- the Segway SUV! And of course the guy made his bundle as a war profiteer supplying the aggressors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Fished out of a river" is ghoulishly vivid, isn't it? One can just see the sodden former mil-spec mushroom billionaire, dressed from head to toe in dripping Barbour tweed. The only thing missing, annoyingly, is the name of the river: that would have provided just the touch of specificity needed to hammer the nail home. (It was the Wharfe.)

I've always loathed the Segway. Anything motorized on a sidewalk drives me crazy. I'm even Grinch enough to think that those motorized wheelchairs go too fast, and that their drivers too often exhibit a motorist's sense of entitlement -- get the hell out of my way! (I don't think I'd mind 'em so much if they were restricted to a walking pace.)

Some years ago I was involved in a little anti-car activist group. One of my comrades was a chap named -- well, let's call him Lewis Gold. Lewis was a bit of a hipster avant la lettre. He got mad at the rest of us -- felt we weren't giving him sufficient credit for his ideas, as I recall -- and quit the group. He ended up becoming a shill for the Segway people.

In one of those curious degrees-of-separation encounters so common in New York, he and my wife -- who had never met him while he and I were comrades -- recently had an acrimonious contretemps on a neighborhood sidewalk after he buzzed past her too close and too fast on one of his Segway fleet. She came home and described the guy -- tattoos; Himalayan knit hat with ear flaps -- and his strange manner, an unsettling combination of hostility, aggressiveness, manifest self-regard, and a weird kind of flirtatiousness. "He was, like, c'mon, you know you can't resist me," as she put it. I knew instantly it could only be Lewis.

Haven't thought of him in years, but the news of Heselden's manorial plunge recalled him vividly to mind. If only he had been along on t'Squooiyer's little moorland jaunt...

Comments (11)


I assumed "river" was some euphemism for a little ramped-up brook, or artificial stream, fed by a pistonless electrical pump designed by Heselden himself for torturing suspects in Iraq.

But what is that choice picture at the top of the post? Assault team chasing the deadly octogenarian car-theft gang!

That picture accompanying the post is disturbing on far too many levels, not least of which they all look like they clinching their knees around riding phalluses.

Be that as it may once again the term "poetic justice" comes to mind.

Does it say whether he rode off a cliff while following the directions of a GPS device? That would've been more ironic than I could stand.

There's at least three people here on Capitol Hill who I know of who have them; appropriately enough, I've seen them all riding their Dorkmobiles while wearing standard-issue light-blue dress shirts and khaki slacks.

Earlier this summer I was very nearly bowled over by one of them, riding on the sidewalk, at what was probably top speed -- while steering with one hand and drinking out of one of those metal water bottles with the other. They're really quiet, too, so that I didn't know he was coming until he was almost right up on me. He was gone, halfway down the block, before I had a chance to shout "HEY, DIPSHIT! Why don't you take a chance and ride that stupid-assed thing in the fucking BIKE LANE?!"


When I first read this story, I was hoping it was Dean Kamen who went over the cliff -- with his creepy-calm, vaguely messianic demeanor and brilliant ideas to revolutionize the world's water supply, he always struck me as a well-meaning but utterly psychotic villain in an anthology-grade sci-fi story from 1994. Also, "kamen" is the Japanese word for "mask." Eeesh!

Also: Jonathan Franzen?!


I can get you in touch w/ Kamen (or his buddy and investor, Bezos), if you want. We in the Granite have had him (and his toy helicopter) inflicted upon us for too long now.

Take him, please.

Even if he does want to build that nifty and ridiculous maglev, right here in the home town...




I had the same response -- hoping it was Kamen, although the porker who actually bought it is not a bad second best.

"Creepy" is just the right word for this idea -- widely shared, and certainly embraced by Kamen himself -- that some Gyro Gearloose "inventor" is going to save the world.

As for Franzen, I just finished reading Freedom, and, pace M. IOZ, I liked it a lot.


Jack: You can keep him, really! If he’s bizzy, he’s probably less dangerous. Also, a Boston shinkansen would be amazingly ridiculously Blade Runneresque, which would be funny. Also, conventional wisdom suggests that Kamen is improving your community by being rich near it, so you should feel blessed! (But thank you anyway.)

MJS: that some Gyro Gearloose "inventor" is going to save the world. Icky, right. I blame this apostasy on the ready availability of sci-fi anthologies.

I’ve found that the characters in Franzen’s novels are generally the sort of aspirational douchenozzles you rail against here — I figured you’d despise him. Then again, the only Franzen novel I’ve ever attempted to read is The Corrections, which was so awful I think it should get its own shelf. To each his own, though, I guess.


Well yeah, there's no accounting for taste. I think one of the reasons I like Franzen is that he's so clear-eyed about just the people I love to hate. But there's another side to it: He gets all the detail, all the mannerisms and turns of phrase, so right that I just have to tip my cap to him. It's not so easy, that.

FYI, Mr. Bezos has dumped a bunch of dough into the campaign against a state initiative on the ballot here that would tax the rich (income over $250,000) to pay for education and health for some of us that needs it.

I'd like to fix his segue.

Then again, the only Franzen novel I’ve ever attempted to read is The Corrections, which was so awful I think it should get its own shelf. To each his own, though, I guess.

Emma, that's about what I thought of Corxns.

Fr Smith, you should read some Gaddis, because that's who Franzen's trying desperately to be (and failing badly). Maybe try Carpenter's Gothic, it's the shortest and most direct.

Segways))) I would use one to go to work, but I agree that it is annoying that the mechanical vehicles compromise the traffic. Ideally, there must be a separate way for both bicycles and the segways. . And by the way, can anybody explain why these segways are so expensive???

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