The Motorcycle (Taxi) Diaries

One time, as we were driving to Pattaya one evening, my friend hit a dog. The impact was surprisingly loud, but the dog got up and ran away. We wondered if it was hurt, and I couldn’t help but imagine that once it ran far enough into the woods, the pain of injury would catch up with it, and it would be left with a pathetic limp…or maybe it would just lie down and never get up again.

***

Living in Thailand for the past few years, I’ve encountered my fair share of minor mishaps. From getting stabbed in the knee by a bamboo meatball skewer to slipping on the rocks drunkenly trying to pee into the ocean on Samet island to the sharp edges and man-eaters at Mystique (RIP). Luckily, nothing serious every happened, leading me to suspect I am Unbreakable like Bruce Willis.

Anyone who has lived in muggy Bangkok knows that walking outside more than 100 meters involves sweating, exposure to pollution, twisted ankles on the uneven sidewalks, dodging stray doggy doo, and more sweating. For extended journeys, nothing beats the heat like the MRT subway and BTS Skytrain with their glorious meat-locker frigidity. But when you absolutely, positively gotta get somewhere fast, there is the ubiquitous motorcycle taxis, or the “Bangkok helicopter.”

I had to take a harrowing 45 minute journey from the rush-hour congestion of Lad Phrao road to the gridlock of Sukhumvit. After the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert at Impact Arena, there were no available taxis back to civilization, but my friend the “taxi mo’cy'” was there for me. I’ve lost track how many hundreds of times I have ridden one, and I’ve gotten used to it to the point where I blithely send text messages en route. Sometimes my biggest concern riding pillion is how to prevent the wind (and those bothersome helmets) from ruining my coiffure. I know, I know…I sound like such a careless dandy.

Now, from my office to my apartment is a 2 kilometer, 6 minute, 30 baht ride. There was nothing out of the ordinary about yesterday when I flagged one down for a ride back home. The driver was a little unfamiliar with the route, so I had to tell him where to turn. As we approached one intersection, I told him he needed to make a right. He slowed, put on his turn signal and…

BAM!

A motorcycle approaching from behind clipped our rear wheel, sending the driver and I sprawling from our bike. Just like in the movies (and the cliché), everything went in slow motion. I fell face first down on my hands, dropping my mobile phone and watching it come apart. In that moment I wasn’t sure if I could stop myself, and if I was headed for an asphalt face-plant. What’s it going to be? Broken teeth? Crushed nose? Shattered cheekbone? This was no adrenaline rush, it was more pure dread. The kind that drags your man-sack up into your body in anticipation of disfigurement and a world of pain. The ground hurtled up to meet me…

And the next thing I know, the driver is helping me up.

“Are you okay, sir?”

I grunted and did a quick check. Other than the palms of my hands being a bit red and sore, I was fine, not even a scrape! The Nokia I was holding was a little worse for wear, having come apart on impact.

In a daze, I looked around. There’s a reason it’s called hit-and-run, because that’s what he did. All I remember was that it was a motorcycle, and the guy riding it said [the equivalent of] “Oh, $hit.” when he rammed us. I don’t know why, but I started shaking. Maybe out of relief of, or maybe it was the realization of what I narrowly avoided.

My driver kept asking me “Are you hurt? Do you want me to take you to the hospital?” I insisted that I was fine and asked him how he was doing. There was a bloody gash on his right elbow (and his left eyeball was hanging out of the socket) but other than that, he was okay. He retrieved my phone and put it back together. It still worked!

We picked up his chopper, and inspected the damage. Along with the expected cosmetic scratches and dents, the right rear view mirror was shattered and the brake handle bent. The rear wheel was also slightly bent from impact, like a taco shell. I said, “You know what? Maybe I’ll just walk home.” And I meant it.

The driver just would not allow it. He offered to take me to the hospital, or at least take me home. He promised to drive slowly and carefully, probably breaking the unwritten code of Bangkok motorcycle taxis. I believe it was also partly a matter of pride for him to take me to my intended destination.

Still in a slightly retarded daze, I weighed my options. Is it safe to get back on that thing? What are the chances of getting into two accidents in the same day? And do I really want to walk the remaining 1.5 kilometers?

In the end, I did what I think would have caused Mom to shake her head in disapproval. I got back on the dented steed. After all, if I let this little spill affect me, then the terrorists win, right?

The remaining journey–conducted at granny-like speed–was mostly quiet, punctuated by comments like, “Man, that guy came out of nowhere, huh?”, “You sure you’re alright?” and “That’s crazy.” On that trip, I think we were each more aware of our mortality, though we weren’t worried about another accident so much as wondering how long we would have to bear this uncomfortable tentative feeling. I think it was worse for him, because he had to go right back out and do his job. Me, the only thing I was thinking about was that travel-size bottle of Absolut in the back of my freezer and whether to mix it with juice, or drink it straight.

We finally wobbled to the front of my apartment and I dismounted, more that a little relieved. As the driver inspected the damage once more (the brake handle had now come completely off) I offered him the 30 baht fare. He waved it off, saying it was okay, it’s not necessary. But I insisted, in an attempt to end this experience with some normalcy, I guess. Besides, repairs were probably going to cost him a couple thousand baht, so he would need it.

I passed my landlady on the way into the building, and she could tell by our mannerisms (as well as the blood dripping from the guy’s arm) that we had just been in an accident. She asked me if I was okay; I just smiled and nodded on my way to the elevator.

***

I wondered if anything would manifest, but other than my wrists and right shoulder being a bit sore, there was nothing my mutant healing factor couldn’t take care of. I thought about calling someone to tell them about it. But who? I had just broken up with my girlfriend, and I didn’t want to worry her needlessly. I definitely wasn’t calling Mom to have her say “I keep telling you to be careful, son.” And any conversation with my friends wouldn’t be very exciting, would it?

Me: Dude, I got into a motorcycle accident today!

Them: Really? Did you get hurt?

Me: No…

Them: Did anyone else get hurt? Was there any blood? Carnage?

Me: Not really.

Them: (yawning) Oh. Great story.

So I’m left with writing it down, in a feeble attempt to capture the essence of the moment, which–at the time–seemed significant, while at the same time momentarily revealing examples of kindnesses and cruelties punctuating my Thailand experience.

If there is a silver lining, this incident has given me the necessary motivation to get off my ass and continue writing. And while my pen may be a little rusty, it’s all coming back naturally.

Just like riding a bike.

4 responses to “The Motorcycle (Taxi) Diaries

  1. Another one survives!

    Wish everyone had a compulsory blog to write. I would love to also read the blog from the driver and from the guy who hitandrun away!

  2. Nice writing.

  3. I have certainly seen my share of motorcycle accidents in the 6 months I have been here. I have a new Honda 125cc, but I steer clear of the weaving in and out of traffic and stay on the side of road if at all possible. It is still quite a scare every time I go out.

  4. I’ve seen my fare share of accident and lucking enough to be in as much during my time staying in Thailand. None ever serious tho. One was drunken me. I’m not proud to say more damage to the bike than me. :O I guess there isn’t anything wrong with being scared. I’m also guessing that your driver were as scared as you were. Maybe it was his first time in an accident with “farang” as a passanger…