Rush of Freedom
Three score and ten is around the corner and olde phartism is near upon me. Some might bitch and moan and piss and groan about their state of being when nearing their eighth decade, aches and pains being predominant, but I prefer to be thankful for what I have and to revel in the discoveries that age and experience and good luck sometimes bring me.
Here in Thailand, the very appropriately named Land of Smiles, my most frequent mode of transportation is on the hind end of a motorbike taxi. A car is out of the question both for financial and practical reasons, and songtaews – the public ‘baht bus’ – are subject to numerous stoppages, frequent bouts of traffic congestion and sudden and unannounced changes of destination (TIT*), not to mention the rubbing of hips with drunken expats from northern European climes and odiferous multitudes from another. Walking on rebellious knees is simply not an option these days; it is enough that I am able to strap on a bouyancy belt and content myself with water-running. That leaves taxis to get from point to point; metre taxis are both inconvenient and usually a ripoff, as well as being subject to congestion. What is left is the motorbike taxi and the bicycle, the latter being a local option for those with suicidal tendencies. Some say mototaxis are similar, as they frequently go where they need to go to get where they’re going – between rows of cars and buses, usually with but inches to spare on either side, into oncoming lanes before ducking back into one’s own, and even onto sidewalks in order to get past clumps of stalled traffic. The advantage, of course, is that a trip of half an hour or more can be cut by three-quarters. I insist upon a helmet, and always tell the driver “go cha-cha for old farang” (go slow for old non-Thai). Since I have never driven a motorbike, and only twice in my life been on the back of motorcycles (and was scared shitless both times), the experience of being a comfortable passenger was unknown to me.
Motorbike taxis are easy to find. On virtually every other corner and on both sides of every main street and even on side ‘sois’ one will find groups of men of all ages gathered with their motorbikes parked nearby. They wear coloured vests with numbers on the back to identify their local group or affiliation as well as their individual calling. There they wait playing board games and sometimes even guitars, ever vigilante for customers. Where I reside, in the middle of a green belt a few hundred metres from the Gulf of Thailand, and at the top of an eight-storey condo building with a cool and intoxicating morning breeze off the water, I am about a kilometre from the nearest mototaxi location. As a result I have a regular driver on speed-dial, and three others from which to choose should my fave be unavailable. It usually takes but a three to five minute wait before my driver arrives at my door.
Yesterday a combination of circumstances led me to experience a particular emotion so intense it was unique in my life.
It is today but a week before Christmas, and is high season everywhere, yet – probably because of the political semi-unrest in Bangkok and the general ignorance of the travelling masses – tourists have evaded Thailand in droves. Relatively speaking, the roads are quiet and traffic is minimal, a happenstance normal to summer off-season, but unheard of at this time of year. That was happenstance number one.
Happenstance number two has been a sharp change in the weather, as temperatures after sundown have dropped into the Celsius teens. The locals have bundled themselves in sweaters and jackets and longpants. They regard me bemusedly in my t-shirt and shorts, and when I tell them I am from Canada they chuckle and nod knowingly. Eskimos, after all, roll in the snows for entertainment.
So there I was, on the hind end of a motorbike behind my regular driver, zipping south on the newly widened Beach Road with the lightest traffic I have ever known here in Pattaya. The air was refreshingly cool as to my right the wind whipped waves tipped with whitecaps onto the beach, and into my face from the motion of the motorbike.
In my mind I was transported more than a half-century into the past, to a time of childhood when I was on my bicycle in the springtime of the Canadian prairie, zipping down the 25th Street (Two-Bit) Bridge in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the scent of renewed life in the air, and the exquisite feel of freedom in my soul.
But…this was better! It was different; it was more than different – it was to me unique, because of happenstance number three: I did not have the responsibility of steering the bike!
Suddenly I was again a child, and again experiencing the joy of freedom in motion. But when I was a child that freedom, as wonderful as it was, was always tempered by the responsibiliity of having to pay attention to where I was going, and to other traffic on the road. Now that last responsibility was gone. Except for the blasted reality of gravity I was flying! I could not help myself. With tears in my eyes I literally whooped with joy. Poor Aad, my driver, was startled, and jerked the handle of his bike a moment before recovering. I didn’t know what to say to calm him so I yelled “Sanuk maak maak!” (Great fun!) and he laughed.
It was a trifecta of happenstance, and a rush of absolute freedom unlike any I have ever known. I suppose that’s why olde pharts sometimes decide that skydiving might be a good thing to try. Hmmmm…
*TIT – “This is Thailand”, a common phrase used with a shrug when anything and possibly everything chooses to phucque up for no apparent reason.