Winston and I wanted to make it to Pattaya in two days. Four friends would meet us there by taxi.
The plan was to cycle south, hit the ocean, follow the coast southeast. This route, from Bangkok to Pattaya, was 150 kilometers.
We had to checkout of our Airbnb at 11. The cleaning lady, all smiles, entered as we wheeled out the bicycles. Waiting for the elevator, I noticed my back tire was flat, and we hadn’t even started yet. We tried to air it up with my mini-pump that’s so small you have to jack it off until exhaustion. Winston, a better jacker-offer than me, jacked it and jacked it, but still my tire wouldn’t inflate.
We walked the bikes up the road to the nearby skytrain station, took them up the escalator and then down an elevator to put us on the other side of Sukhumvit Road, the road we’d ride south on. We locked the bikes to a hand rail outside a $2 noodle shop and ordered cokes and noodles.
Winston can’t use chopsticks. He speared the fish out of his bowl and put it in mine. “You don’t like fish?”
“I’m allergic to fish.”
“No you’re not.”
“Yes, I am. When I eat fish my face goes like this.” He made a retard face.
Winston suggested we take the bikes to the original shop where I bought my new tires. Since I hadn’t touched my bicycle since that day, it had to have been an error on their part and they’d probably fix it for free. I decided to take only the tire instead of the whole bike to save time.
Winston removed the tire easily. A handtight pin held it in place. Then you removed the chain. No tools necessary.
While I ran the tire to the shop, Winston worked on straightening my saddle rack that tilted forward at an angle, causing my saddlebag to slide forward.
I rode the train two stops to Phra Khanong. From there, tire in hand, I got on the back of a motorcycle taxi and rode it down Rama 9 road, to 66 Bicycle shop.
The two children who replaced my tires weren’t there, but the owner was. He removed the inner tube and found the hole. The rim had pinched it somehow. He said the tape that went around the inside of my rim was bad. He didn’t explain why, and I didn’t know why tape was needed in the first place. I don’t know much about bicycles. I did have a bmx as a kid. My dad had taught me how to change tubes and patch them. He had an air compressor in the garage and once when it was shut and I was at work in there, I overpressured my tire until it exploded. My heart stopped and I thought I’d died.
He charged me $6 for the tape and the tube. That was unfair, since he didn’t do the job right the first time, but I didn’t say anything. He said I should bring in my front tire too.
I made it back to Winston in just under an hour. The tire was more difficult to put on then remove. At first we forced the tire through the brake pads but Winston, after later having changed several flat tires, learned how to disconnect the brakes with an easy tug of the cable.
Since we’d lost 2.5 hours already, we decided to take our chances on my front tire being okay. We’d never make it halfway to Pattaya now, not with how much daylight remained, but we’d do our best and see where we ended up.
We followed Sukhumvit Road, staying in the far left lane, alongside the curb, allowing the faster taxis and buses to pass us on our right. At intersections, cars would cross in front of us to make left turns so we learned to move over to our right just before them. When traffic slowed or came to a stop, we weaved between the cars to advance to the front.
You breathed in car exhaust. You had to stay alert and hope no one would hit you from behind and that no taxi door in front of you would suddenly swing open. Cars, coming from highways above, would race down exit ramps that joined the Sukhumvit, adding lanes to our left and pinching us between fast-moving traffic. During one of those moments, not even 30 minutes into our ride, a driver slammed his brakes and horn to avoid hitting me.
The people were great, though. Thais look like Mexicans but don’t want to kill you or say chupa mi gordo huevos, puhto. Many rolled down their windows and gave us a cheer or thumbs up. Once we got off Sukhumvit, after having turned left, traffic became less, but not by much. At least now we had a somewhat wide shoulder to ride on and could relax . . .
Often cars and motorbikes, only wanting to travel a short distance and not cross the highway to do so, would drive towards us on the shoulder, against traffic. Laws against this, and motorcycles riding on sidewalks, I never saw enforced. Parked cars on the shoulder also had us looking over or shoulder to see if we could move into the fast-lane to go around them.
We took turns leading but Winston, a man who goes to the gym regularly and has thighs like tree trunks, would easily outdistance me. I couldn’t keep up. I played with the gears, found one that was comfortable, although – not known yet – it had me pedaling and exhausting myself faster. We tried switching bikes, but I was still slower.
I found a bike trail alongside a river. It had one annoyance: when it crossed an intersecting road, to prevent cars from entering it had small evenly spaced poles that slowed us down since we could barely squeeze through them with our saddle bags.
Out of water and exhausted, we stopped at a TESCO, a store like Wal-Mart. Winston told me it’s English. I didn’t know his country still exported anything useful. I thought the only thing they produced nowadays was little boys named Muhammad.
We’d only been riding for two hours but my ass hurt. My back hurt. My legs were fatigued. Already sunburned, the back of my neck was on fire.
We wheeled the bikes inside, parked them inside a Kentucky Fried Chicken. I heard the staff say “farang” and giggle. Only this far outside Bangkok and we were a novelty. They wanted to lie us down on a bed of fried chicken skins and rub up against us with greasy naked bodies, but we didn’t have time.
My appetite had doubled. I ate two chickens. From TESCO I bought sunscreen and a supersized chocolate milk. I downed the milk like a baby calf. Chocolate milk—we called rocket fuel. I told Winston to try to keep up with me now.
I had an instant energy boost. I felt renewed but my ass still hurt when I sat back on the bicycle seat. Not after long, my stomach began to rumble. I bitched and moaned, thought I was going to shit my pants. Why didn’t I buy baby wipes! Luckily we found a gas station with a toilet. The men’s room had all asian floor-shitters. I used the handicap bathroom. It had a western toilet. If anyone had a problem with me being in there, I’d make Winston’s fish-eating face and say durrrhhhhhh I’m from England.
Now we really needed to quicken pace, if we were going to reach the point we’d picked out on a map with a hotel before sunset.
Pedal pedal pedal—we didn’t make it far. As we cycled through this small town, while coming down the other side of an overpass, I heard POWWWW! I though it was the blowback of a muffler of one of many cars. Then I heard my name and looked back. Winston’s back tire, not just the tube, had exploded, and we didn’t have a spare.
We found a bicycle shop with Google Maps, but it was closed. Inside was a barking Shih Tzu. I asked the neighbors next-door, street food vendors, for help. The older woman, the younger son, the Burmese girl; they spoke no English. It was the first time I wished I had bothered to learn some basic Thai.
Winston tried to communicate with them like someone who’s never taught English as a foreign language. “My tire exploded and we don’t have a spare. I was riding my bicycle and it went bang like the gunshot of a trigger-happy American. This shop looks closed? Do you know when will it open? And may we have a full kettle of English breakfast tea while we wait?”
I pointed to the tire. “That tire bad. No good. We peaceful white men. No kill you if give new tire.” And I pointed to the shop.
The boy made a phone call. No one answered. He then gestured for us to follow him. Around the corner was a tire shop with tires piled outside. A short Thai man, in jeans and flip-flops, was beating a tractor tire off the rim with a sledgehammer. He stopped to look at Winston’s bicycle. The Thais talked. A motorcycle taxi pulled up and joined the discussion, and then told Winston to come with him and bring the exploded tire. I stayed behind and watched our bags, once having to chase stray dogs away from getting inside to my stash of snack fuel, dried cantaloupe and chocolate crackers.
We were in luck. Winston returned with a new tire. He tried to fit it on the rim with a new tube inside. Lacking experience, we weren’t smooth about it, but Mr. Tireman jumped in to help. He changed it faster than anyone at the bicycle shop in Bangkok. We gave him and his assistant $3 each for their time. At first they refused, but we insisted it was cigarette and beer money.
The sun was gone. We had flashing red lights, but neither of us wanted to ride along the shoulder of the highway in the dark if we didn’t have to. So we went back around the corner, to the street food vendors, sat down at a table and ordered beer and searched for a hotel. The nearest one was about 20 kilometers away, about an hour’s cycle. We ordered another big bottle of Leo.
This crazy old man, wearing EazyE sunglasses and sitting at a table next to ours, kept shouting at us like he wanted to party. He’d stand up out of his chair, throw his hands down and thrust his hips forward like he was telling us to “suck it.”
The guy eating alone to our right was tame. He ordered a beer and filled our glasses. I downloaded a voice translation app on my phone and tried to tell him Winston was the famous gay prince of England. I failed to communicate that, but not that we wanted a hotel. He called a friend and handed me the phone. All I could understand was $20 and that we should follow our new friend, Jerome.
After paying our bill we followed Jerome on his motorbike with our bikes, crossing the busy highway and going down a residential road. There were three bungalows on a lot surrounded by a 10 foot mesh wire fence. A woman, a family member or friend of Jerome, showed us our bungalow. We carried in the bikes. There was only one bed, but I built a wall with pillows in the middle and told Winston not to cross into America.
Jerome waited outside. We hopped on back of his scooter, and he drove us to a bar that was like a treefort but not in a tree. A woman was DJing. Jerome requested Hotel California and sang along. Winston sang along too. Although his taste in music is shit, he can sing a beautiful rendition of Taylor Swift’s Love Story.
Winston order a bottle of Red Cock vodka. We had limes and salt. Jerome got hammered fast and wanted to leave on his motorbike, but he struggled to walk straight. Winston got the DJ’s attention. She, with encouragement from us good people, convinced him to walk home.
I don’t know what else happened, but there’s evidence of me holding onto my small pee-pee with my left hand, very unnatural form for someone right-handed. I must believe that picture images, like those in a mirror, are reversed.
The bicycle seat had already raped my ass for hours so if Winston had raped me in the middle of the night, I probably wouldn’t have known it. But I trust that my wall, like Trump’s future wall, kept me safe from an Englishman who I could not then know for certain was any different from a Mexican rapist.