Tuesday, November 26, 2013

All About the Ride

This motorcycle taxi driver is far too cheery and animated about the forty baht($1.10) fare he's going to get for driving me 10 blocks through this night of  hot, greasy Bangkok rain.  I can see from his pupils that he's wasted on local Thai crystal meth (Yah Bah they call it here.  That translates to Drug Crazy.).  He's twitchy and wide-eyed.  Still, he seems like he can hold it together for ten blocks so there’s no protest from me. I’m dead tired and I don’t feel like walking through the rain.  I just want to go home.

We have a short conversation first:

Twitchy driver:  Ow muakmai kopp?  Fon tok! (do you want to wear a useless piece of shit plastic helmet that I'm required to carry?  Its pissing rain)
Me:  Mai Owkopp.  Hua biak leew! (No thanks.  My heads already wet.)

His friend has been monitoring our exchange--he has nothing else to do.  He tells mytweaky driver that Farang (foreigners), like many farm animals, don't care if their heads get wet.  We all share a laugh at my expense. Then we're off into the pissing rain.  I'm sure at this point that the sensible reader is wondering why an educated man like myself doesn't know enough to get out of the rain by stepping into one of the hundred pink, yellow, red and green taxis littering Sukhumvit road.  There are hundreds of available at any given hour.  Bangkok taxis are air-conditioned, metered and unless a group of Indian tourists and their prostitutes have just exited, fairly clean and fresh.  Is Erik Travels all about the ride?

No.  Erik Travels has good sense regarding time efficiency.  A five minute motorcycle ride through flooded Bangkok streets trumps a 2 hour parking lot traffic experience every time.  I'll be home and toweling off before these poor bastards in traffic even make it to the next light.  Furthermore, during the rain you can expect a mercenary experience in price gouging from a Bangkok taxi driver.  Rain seems to   coincidentally break the taxi meter.  The drivers  quote a price five times the usual cost.  I've gotten into my share of come-to-blows arguments with these pirates. Not today, pal.  I'm wet, tired and jetlagged.  I want to be home.

I'm sitting on the back of Crystal Meth-boy's  churning Suzuki-50 and firmly clutching the wet seat support bar with both hands. It would be safe and practical to hold the driver's waist, but I'd look like a total pussy.  Coolness has its risks.  He's weaving magically between appearing and disappearing spaces between cars in this three lane road.  I’m careful to lean with him or his zig will zag me straight into the side-view mirror of the cars on either side of me.  This happens a lotIt turns out those mirrorsare not as sturdy as they appear.  If this ever happens to you don't look back.  Push forward.  Even thought you are not the driver, your deeper pockets will leave you as the responsible offenderInstant settlement will be expected if the broken mirror's owner catches up with you.  Also, keep those appendages in tightly so as not to crack a kneecap on a car fender.

Usually  in the midst of a "cultural" experience I find myself thinking about what I’dbe doing if I was still in America.  This day would have found me driving on Venice Boulevard in a new BMW Z4, top down, arm resting out the window.  I'd be fiddling with a GPS embedded sound system that does everything including read email to me in Jessica Alba's voice.  More importantly, I’d be in control of my own destiny.  Not leaving it up to a high, tweaky Bangkok youth's addled sense of direction and depth perception.  I consider how far I've gone………………….. and then how close I just came to the rusty fender of a haul truck.  Good time to quit dreaming and get back into character.

In reality, this guy is driving reasonably safely (if hanging on the back of a Suzuki-50 with bald tires through a flooded Bangkok road can be regarded as even remotely reasonable or safe).  Some of these jokers drive like they are trying to leave the country via high speed chase.  Scaring the foreigner breaks the monotony of the job.And much in the same way as not complaining about a waiter until after your meal has been served, its best not to chastise your motorcycle driver until you've reached your destination.  I’ve slapped a few drivers in the helmet when they were driving particularly stupidly, but to be honest it was an impetuous action that was in no one’s best interest.  The more mature move is to hold on, suck it up and keep quietly mouthing the word "asshole" under your breath.  He's not going to stop.  One acquaintance of mine badly needed to stop and pee, but couldn't successfully convey this to his driver.  He ended up just pissing all over the seat and the back of the motorcycle driver.  This created a volatile situation.   My friend wisely quelled the anger with a hundred Baht tip.   Negotiation is a key skill in Bangkok. One learns survival by surviving.

As we made it ahead of the traffic to a brief, clear space in the road I loosened my grip and tilted my face up to the rain.  Something momentary and magical happened.  All that is Bangkok became clear for a moment.  I saw a street vendor wearing  aplastic 7-11 bag  on his head to keep it dry.  Four young girls squatted patiently under a small overhang  waiting for the storm to stop.  They were in no hurry.  They chattedand smiled.  Korean tourists stepped out of restaurants and squinted into the sky looking for a clue that will calculate how long this storm would last.  The girls working the massage salons looked bored and disinterestedThey knew that customers would not be on the street if the rain lasted much longer.  They all wore traditional Thai ankle length skirts and turquoise knock-off polo shirts.  A shoe-less street vendor pushed his rattling fruit cart through the water and up the pot-holed sidewalk. He went uphill, against the crowd.  He was looking for a better spot to sell.  The cart wasfour times his sizeHe never acknowledged the rain.   And in that moment I realizedone thing that living in Bangkok had always reminded me: It is all about the ride.

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