By Douglas Hanks
I’m doing about 27 mph down 17th Street, ignoring a woman telling me where to turn. "Stop!" she barks. "You went the wrong way."
This unheeded advice is costing my employer 73 cents a minute, but I feel no guilt in disregarding it. The voice is only recorded, after all — the satellite-coached tour guide inside a little yellow buggy called a GoCar.
Part scooter, part golf cart, the two-seater represents the latest attempt to separate South Beach tourists from their money.
Owner Craig Kruman hopes to combine the freedom of a rental scooter with the structure of a guided tour — and most of all he hopes the concept justifies his $150 daily rates.
For the price of a day in a GoCar, a vacationing couple could rent two scooters (about $40 a head) and still have money for lunch. They could ride the Duck Tour amphibious vehicle ($36 per person) for its 90-minute circuit through South Beach and Biscayne Bay, then do it again the next day.
Or they could board an air-conditioned bus and see all the sights from South Beach to the Everglades and beyond with companies like Safari Tours.
But for those willing to pay a premium to literally be in the driver’s seat of their own tour, GoCar delivers. (Our 100-minute ride came to $73.)
Each three-wheeled GoCar comes equipped with a GPS device that tracks where the vehicle goes, prompting the recorded tour to kick in at the appropriate location.
So our nameless guide tells us to turn right at the next stop sign, which takes us onto Collins Avenue. We rev the handle accelerator to pass a bus ahead when the voice breaks the silence with some trivia.
"That’s the Shore Club Hotel in front of us, " Computer Lady says, sounding friendlier since we’re now following her directions. "Its Art Deco lobby connects to an outdoor labyrinth of gardens, secret passageways and candle-lit alcoves."
During two years of research and lining up investors, owner Kruman says he put 1,200 miles on one GoCar devising the route, and hired professional tour guide Kevin Doran to compile the narration. Among the local fun facts: A harbor island off Miami housed a runway in the 1930s, and the Hotel Victor serves a $45 cup of coffee.
Because a satellite tracks the car’s movement, you can go off course and still pick up the tour again once you’re back on the map. You can also flip off the sound and even plug in an MP3 player and cruise to your own soundtrack.
After several attempts to get me to turn off Washington Avenue, Computer Lady finally gave up and started telling me about the thoroughfare’s nightclubs "jamming the streets until as late as 6 a.m."
It’s a bumpy ride (Computer Lady never mentioned how my back would hurt the next morning) but a fun one, as I zip past the café tables on Espanola Way and watch sullen South Beachers resist even glancing at the canary-yellow go cart idling a few feet from them.
One woman in an SUV yelled "Weird!" as she drove past. (What a weird thing to do.) But the low-riding, open-air buggy makes for a great crossing of the Venetian Causeway on this sunny afternoon, making me wonder why I don’t own a convertible.
Oh, right: the rain. GoCars offer no protection from the elements, but do come with umbrellas and rain ponchos in the back. The car’s waterproof, so you can ditch it for a cup of coffee (and yes we said that in our best disapproving mother’s voice; no drinking in this thing) when the showers come.
Hope for sunny weather, though. It sure beats driving a black Nissan Altima during a beautiful day. Trust us on this one.
IF YOU GO
* GoCar Tours is at 1661 James Ave., Miami Beach.
* Rates for renting a GoCar: $49 for the first hour; $39 for the second hour; $29 for the third hour. Daily rate is $150.
* Find out more: 888-462-2755 or www.gocartours.com