I’m outside the club. My wingman has stood me up. The easy option is to go home, get some rest, tomorrow’s another day. But I tell myself no, fuck it, I’ll never be here again. So in I go. First stop restroom. I sit on a throne and give myself a pep talk. When I emerge it’s destination dance floor. I feel foolish for a song, and then I stop caring. Ten minutes later I’m noticing all the cool dudes on the sidelines, sipping their beers, secretly terrified. I feel free.
Functional fitness rolls on. I find myself in a group of ten at Benjakiti Park, being introduced to Parkour by two limber-looking French dudes. We practice walking on all fours. Up, back and sideways. Apparently this is called a quadrupedal warm-up. We move on to cat leaps, precision jumps, tic tacs and vaults. I manage to fall on my ass just once.
Freshly showered and feeling that euphoric brand of exhaustion, I step out of CrossFit and up to the BTS. It’s less than five minutes from gym to train, and both are air conditioned, but in the space between I end up sweating through my shirt. The sweat. It’s the main reason I could never live here long-term. But then I do sweat more than most. If there was one thing I could change about my body, that would be it.
Must admit, I’m going to miss living with Johnny Ward. He just got back late from Phuket and we spent an hour or so chatting it up on the sofa, laughing and sharing stories. I’ve learned a lot from him these past few months, most of the lessons subconscious. Not to man-crush on him too much, but the chap is an assertive, socially confident alpha male with a healthy sense of entitlement. A real-life Tyler Durden, if ever I had one.
I’m in a joyful mood, having just got off the face phone with the Cuz and his blue-eyed bambino. I drop into Boots for a can of deodorant and share a joke with the girl behind the counter. She tells me her name means starlight. I ask if she’s heard the Muse track but alas. I’m ten steps out the door when Jango unleashes the serendipity: “Far away, this ship is taking me far away…” I pause mid-step and consider going back, but I’m late enough as it is.
Legendary chap that he is, Mike lets me spin his motorbike around the block. I figured a refresher was in order since I haven’t been in the saddle since Nepal and tomorrow I’ll be trying for a rental. Ride survived, we walk from the condo around to the nearby train tracks. Mike snaps a few pics of me powerkicking thin air with a backdrop of railside shacks and billboards in the sky.
I meet Franck, the owner. A Frenchman, married to a Thai. Aside from running the bike business he’s also a jeweler. Easy guy to like. He suggests I take the Kawasaki D-Tracker 250. Best way to go, he tells me, is west from Bangkok and then follow the Burmese border north to Chiang Mai. More scenery that way, plenty of waterfalls and the like. I ride out of the shop an hour later and cruise neon streets back to my hotel.
Johnny left this morning, headed for Australia. Middleton and the Peach will both be gone by the time I return to Bangkok. I’ve enjoyed the three months with them. Traveling solo for so long, I’d missed having that core group of friends to hang out with regularly. And now three goodbyes in one day. I’m not very good at goodbyes, and I’m not sure I ever want to be.
“Do you ever get lonely?” My answer used always be no, and I always meant it. But lately… I’m not so sure. Thinking I would have enjoyed the recent trip to Cambodia more if it had been a shared experience. And now here I am at the famous bridge on the River Kwai, surrounded by people in groups. Friends, families, couples. Laughing, joking, snapping photos of each other. I sit on a step and eat some chicken from a stick.
— What if the motorcycle run out of gas? And there is no gas station around?
— I guess I’ll just lie down and wait for the wolves to come get me.
— They wouldn’t attack you if you just lie down.
— I’ll bring some bacon and hide it in my underwear. They should attack me then. Wolves love bacon.
It’s before eleven and I’ve checked into a nice hotel in Mae Sot. The trip is going well. Thai roads are good, traffic has been light, the bike is running smooth, and I’ve managed to steer clear of the law. I felt sure my luck had run out today at a checkpoint — I had a bribe at the ready — but the cop just smiled and waved me through. The blinking red light on my helmet cam probably helped.
Chiang Mai at last. The party is already in full swing as I roll into town. I narrowly avoid a drenching as I maneuver around the moat, but later there’s no escape as first a little girl, then an old lady, and finally five dudes dressed as Kick-Ass soak me in quick succession. I’m as yet unarmed, nare a squirt gun or a bucket on hand to return fire. But mark my words: I will have my vengeance, on this day or the next.
A few people have called me on it, and yeah, I admit, I am somewhat obsessed. And not always in a healthy way. I sometimes wish I could flip a switch, stop caring, and devote all that time and energy to other, more noble things. I find the subject relentlessly fascinating though, and on the whole I believe the obsession has been and continues to be good for me. And others. On the whole. But what keeps me going most of all, is that I just know it would eat away at me if I were to quit.
You’re soaking wet, but you still try to avoid a splashing. Locals you’ve just ambushed invite you to reload from their hose. You get squirted by a ladyboy who then asks if she can ride with you for drive-bys. You notice that pets have made themselves scarce. You’re still not sure if head shots are cool. You begin to resent your parents just a little for never bringing you here as a kid. And you have to pee far more frequently than usual.
I feel a definite shift. Thailand has been good to me, in ways unexpected. My time here hasn’t exactly been the stuff my one-time hopes and dreams were made of. Not what I wanted, but perhaps just what I needed. And yes, the shift seems obvious now, but I’m not ashamed nor regretful of the path I took to get here. The poor man already knows riches are overrated. But it’s not until he attains them that the real knowing takes hold.