About a year ago in Colombia, our transmission failed. We had been driving up a dirt road in the middle of the faraway mountains when Nacho voided his bowels, we were towed to a tiny mountain village where a deranged mechanic had his way with our poor Nacho, but then we lurked in and stole Nacho away and deposited him on a farm, cracking my side view mirror in the process, you may recall. You may also recall that we found no favorable, much less legal, options for getting our transmission working, so we flew home, bought a used transmission, cleaned it up so it looked new, packed it into a suitcase and checked it onto a plane, where upon our arrival we were detained by the evil Colombian customs office for three days before being released upon the payment of a hefty tax. After porting the transmission to the farm in the back of a Subaru I spent two weeks fixing Nacho, which involved installing the new transmission with aid of a new jack. Twice. You may recall. And, as you may recall, after all of that pain and suffering and hardship and money, our new transmission leaked. My lips formed into the shape of a sad rainbow, my eyes pinched shut, drool seeped from the corner of my mouth, and I fell to my knees while feebly punching the air before crumpling into the fetal position and sobbing like a pants-wetting kindergartener. The leak persisted for the next ten months through South America, across the Pacific to Malaysia, and into Thailand.
You may also recall that in Argentina Nacho was burglarized by a bad man with a crowbar, and many important things were stolen. He also broke Sheena’s treasured walking stick, recently collected from the shores of Lago Tromen, a lake which will only live on in our minds because the bad man also stole the camera that contained all of the pictures of Lago Tromen. I would be reminded of the bad man every day thereafter, especially the really hot days, because it has been impossible to replace my broken window with the correct window glass, rendering it impossible to roll down my window. This has been especially unappreciated since arriving in southeast Asia, because we don’t have an air conditioner and not being able to roll down my window in the stifling heat and humidity has caused my brain to begin to disintegrate from jungle rot.
When we arrived in Bangkok I declared to Sheena, “All right, I’m putting my foot down!” Sheena knows me well as a maker of frivolous demands and declarations, so she paid no immediate attention. However, my seriousness was hard to ignore when she found herself sitting in the waiting room of a garage in a Bangkok suburb surrounded by water cooled Volkswagen vans, including Nacho. Our VW Club friends in Kuala Lumpur had put us in touch with new VW Club friends in Bangkok, who had put us in touch with the best garage in the country for water cooled Volkswagen vans. Now Sheena knew I was serious. Our Thai friend Gak, who had accompanied us to the garage, also knew I was serious. My foot was down, and it would stay down until I had a non-leaky transmission, a window capable of one dimensional translation, and a usable side view mirror.
Given my deep mistrust of local mechanics, my immediate feeling when turning Nacho over to the hands of others was one of deep nervousness and stomach discomfort. The mechanics were an intrepid team of young Thai men, and they displayed their worthiness by immediately locating a new window and side mirror, and successfully replacing them. Next, Nacho was placed on a lift and made airborne. The intrepid Thai mechanics dispersed and quickly returned with, get this, all of the correct tools. I know, right? They had a triple square bit for my beloved CV bolts, circlip pliers, and even the big cylindrical tool used to remove the drive axle flanges, or whatever they’re called. They deftly removed my axle, noting that both of my CV boots were ripped, which they later replaced, and then removed my drive flange, or whatever it’s called, only to find that the main sealing o-ring was cut in half. And seeing as how the leak began on day one, I surmised that it was cut in half when I bought it, which made me quite angry indeed. But they had the right o-ring on hand to replace it, so my anger was forgotten, and I left for the evening to let the guys finish up.
It was about time. After only sixteen months on the road, we had finally managed to find a shop that used the right tools and knew what the hell they were doing. I also asked them to replace one of Nacho’s upper control arm bushings, which had disintegrated in Ecuador, and had been clanking around ever since. Driving away from the shop was like being born again.
With Nacho in tip top shape, and I use that term loosely, we were free to sit around in Bangkok traffic, meet with our new friends for lunch, sit in Bangkok traffic, hang out with our new friends over long and delicious dinners, sit in Bangkok traffic, and drive to the King Rama V monument to meet all the rest of the water cooled VW vans in Bangkok for an epic photograph depicting all of the vans in a row. Before and after the photo-op we gave tours to the curious of Nacho’s water purification system, hot water generation, interior remodel, and I gave a barely legal demonstration of Nacho’s onboard shower.
On one of our very last days in Bangkok I found myself sitting in Bangkok traffic. It was another marathon jam, and I hadn’t moved more than a few feet in the last 45 minutes, when who should I see but a traffic cop approaching on foot. The cop approached my window, which I had proudly rolled down, and I attempted small talk before realizing that he spoke no English. After some polite smiles and hand waving, he began to insist that I had made some kind of traffic violation. He seemed to be saying that I had run a red light.
“But I’ve been sitting here for 45 minutes,” I said, which didn’t matter since he spoke no English.
“Kai jai tai doo mai wai kai!” he insisted.
He pointed to a picture of a driver’s license, so I reached for the ash tray where I keep one of my many “extra” drivers licenses, but to my shock and horror it was missing. I made a mental note to reprimand Sheena for moving my unlawful decoy license, and I regretfully pulled my real international driving permit out from under the dash mat. He placed it in his ticket book and pointed to his clipboard, which contained several lines of cryptic Thai script. He read it to me, slowly and loudly.
“RAI MAI JAI…KWAI MOO GAI…” he went on for an eternity, and finally pointed to where it said “1,000”. I deduced that he was going to write me a ticket for 1,000 Baht, or around $35.
“But sir,” I said, uselessly, “I haven’t done anything wrong. I literally haven’t moved in 45 minutes!” It went back and forth like this for at least fifteen or twenty minutes, and at every opportunity I attempted to convince him to give me my license. Finally, through much frustration, charades, and incomprehensible jibber jabber, I convinced him to trade my license for a 1,000 Baht bill, which I was pretty sure he promised to hold onto while I followed him to the police station. He walked to his motorcycle and made a tunnel through the traffic, through which I followed him.
Several minutes later, after a number of close calls and nearly losing him in traffic, he stopped at a main intersection and got off his bike to stop traffic so that I could pull out. As I pulled into traffic, he signaled that he’d catch up. It should have come as no surprise that I never saw him or my 1,000 Baht ever again.
It is true that I was duped by a Bangkok motorcycle cop, and in doing so I have shamed my family and lost my reputation for being a stone cold cop tricker. But at the end of the day Nacho’s transmission doesn’t leak, I can see out of my side mirror, I can hang my arm out the window, and our front suspension probably won’t fall off. In the grand scheme of things we’d won. And besides, I had a really long and really delicious dinner with our new friends to attend to.