Chris Hoefer has discovered a key to Minneapolis' past and a way to earn extra cash thanks to the futuristic Segway.
Hoefer, 34, is in his second summer as a Segway-based tour guide for Mobile Entertainment LLC, which has locations in Minneapolis (St. Anthony Main) and St. Paul (Grand Avenue).
Gliding on a Segway, a two-wheeled, self-balancing electric scooter, Hoefer leads riders through several miles of Minneapolis riverfront on the three-hour Magical History Tour. It includes frequent stops at places like the Stone Arch Bridge, St. Anthony Falls and the overlooked Pillsbury A mill, one of his favorites.
Hoefer, who had worked as a securities trader before getting an architecture degree from the University of Minnesota, sought out part-time work after was laid off last year from his job as an architect. He led six to 10 tours a week last summer but is down to two or three a week this year after getting rehired at his old firm.
Most new riders, Hoefer said, quickly get the hang of riding the intuitive contraptions, which move forward, backward or turn depending on which way the rider leans.
Guiding Segway tours combines his background in theatrical performance with his extensive knowledge of history and architecture. But it occasionally calls on other skills. "It's like herding cats," he said. "You're trying to get 40 people in a straight line across the Stone Arch Bridge and it just doesn't happen."
For more information on the Segway tours, go to www.humanonastick.com.
Three and out with Segway tour guide Chris Hoefer
- What does it take to be a Segway tour guide?
You're riding around on these nerdy machines. You don't look your coolest in your yellow T-shirt and your big helmet. If you're self-conscious, it probably isn't going to be something you enjoy because you're getting stared at. It is a great way to be outside, meet people from all over the world and earn some easy extra money.
The people who are nervous are not the people that I'm concerned about. It's the people who are overly confident. The 45-year-old lawyer guy showing off. Those are the guys who end up putting the Segways in the river, crashing into each other, taking them for joyride and who I have to chase through Gold Medal Park to calm down.
- When is a good time to take a tour?
I would do the sunset tour. A weeknight is the best time. You end up with a smaller group. They're regularly scheduled but you have to ask for it. Most people don't know to ask.
Three more and out with Hoefer
- How do you coach a new rider?
You get them up really quickly, simply standing and finding their balance on it. Finding your sea legs is the key. I also tell them that 20 minutes from now this will not seem as freaky as it is right now. And be careful of the wheels. You're about six-inches wider on either side.
- What do you get out of guiding tours?
Doing this job makes me incredibly proud of Minneapolis. It's like, see what have here? People see the Guthrie, the Metrodome, the new Twins stadium. They see all these skyscrapers and the new library and everything that's going on in Minneapolis. It's pretty impressive.
- What do you do when you're not on a Segway?
Last year when I was laid off, I started a nonprofit organization called Social Capital, with a couple of friends. It raises funds for underfunded small organizations in the city. I write a lot about architecture and I'm into photography and like to travel