My first big sale at the diamond exchange was a 5-carat round brilliant. F color. SI in clarity. The year was 1991. The profit margin was 20%. My commish was $1500. The NY Times travel section advertised a round-the-world ticket for $1399. I had 5 Gs in the the bank. I told Manny and his son Richie Boy that I was leaving the the summer. It was slow that time of the year and they wished me good luck.
After a life-threatening 'bon voyage' party I flew west with the sun. My friend Demmi sang BORN TO BE WILD at JFK. The Russian was into motorcycle and long trips.
"Keep your eye on where you're going and not where you are." Demmi had had several crashes over his lifetime on Triumphs and Nortons.
"Thanks for the advice." I had read about dirt-riding through Northern Thailand. Dirt roads, opium fields, and tribes stuck in the 14th Century. The hills were mountains on the East Coast. The Himalayas were a week's ride if a biker's papers were in order.
I was free of america the second the Garuda 747 lifted off from LAX. The next stop was Biak, a large tropical island north of Irian Jaya. Naked men were waiting on the tarmac. They wore gourds on their penis. Only two passengers from the 747 stayed on the island. A missionary and me.
My trip had just begun; I free-dove amongst sunken Japanese destroyers under the surface of a mirror-blue sea, danced in the rice paddies of Bali, rode ponies across the sand plains of Mount Bromo, ate pig with the headhunters of Lake Toba, tripped on mushrooms at a full-moon party of Koh Phagnanh, and frequented the go-go bars of Patpong. Various ex-pats recommended my heading to Burma, Vietnam, or the Nana Plaza for another ogle at naked girls of the Firepole Ballet.
None of it had anything to do with motorcycles and I couldn't get BORN TO BE WILD out of the head. An Australian motor trekker at the Malaysia Hotel suggested, “This time of year the dope fields of Northern Thailand are bone-dry as left-over turkey and dust ankle-deep. Very few people have driven through the tribal villages; Akhas, Yai, Karens, Hmong, KMT refugees growing opium for outlaw warlords.”
The next night I rode the sleeper train to the northern capitol, Chiang Mai. I rented a beat-up 125cc Honda XT and set out for the mountains. The paved road ended at a bridge crossing a tea-colored river. A lazy police guard waved me through the checkpoint and I throttled the gas. The dirt bike’s knobby tires churned a thick cloud of red dust in my wake.
The rutted track was trafficked by the occasional pick-up truck loaded with poppy plants. The scowls on the drivers’ faces warned the drug lords considered trespassing a mortal sin in the Golden Triangle. I didn’t care. I was on a motorcycle. The sky was cloudless. The hills stretched in all directions. This was the freedom of the road and I was going to live forever.
I should have remembered Demmi's advice, for my immortality vanished when a pick-up truck rounded a blind turn in my lane. I had been paying too munch attention to the scenery. 50 kph was way too fast to avoid the accident. This was how bikers died and I said, “Shit, I’m dead.”
The impact catapulted my body headfirst into his windshield and I somersaulted onto the flatbed. The entire accident had taken less time than the Big Bang and I was shocked to have survived the head-on collision, although my left wrist was out of the socket and blood streamed from the lacerations on my face.
An old lady atop a bag of rice stared into the sky, as if I had fallen from an airplane. I climbed from the flatbed and surveyed the bike. The front tire was bent as a taco and the handlebars peeled onto the gas tank. It wasn’t going anywhere.
“Farang ki. Farang kwaai,” the rat-faced driver raged in rapid Thai.
The truck’s grill was only slightly dented from the collision, yet in his mind the accident was my fault. Westerners had no business in these hills. His screams grew more high-pitched and he kicked dust at my feet.
Grateful to be alive I was slow in losing my temper.
He grabbed my shirt.
I told him to calm down.
He was beyond understanding my request and spat in my face.
I yanked his hand off my shirt and he stumbled off the road down the hillside. The old lady ambushed me with a cane. It struck my injured wrist, as the driver scrambled from the slope with murder in his eyes.
Luckily a police truck appeared to stop anyone from getting hurt. The driver explained the accident and my assault. I tried to counter his lie. The policeman lifted his hand to silence us. He inspected our tire tracks.
“Falang, right. Thai man pay motorsai. Pay doctor. He sell pig, come give you money. Okay?”
His summary judgment was more than satisfactory, since normally the farang was at fault for any accidents. The driver had to haul my motorcycle to Chiang Mai and I have a photo of him lifting the bike out of the pick-up, his face seething with hatred, while his mouth is warped by a rigid smile. He wanted me dead,
The hospital set my wrist. I downed several painkillers. That night my arm throbbed with increasing pain. To this day I can predict wet weather by its dull twinge. Snow brings on a sharper ache.
Upon my return from Asia, I recounted my accident in the Golden Triangle to Demmi at the Sidewalk Café. He laughed at all the right spots. Someone told me that he had been straight six months.
“Any motorcycle accident you can walk away from is a good one.” He looked better than he had in years. “Any time I have one, I jump on the bike as soon as I can.”
“In some ways I imagined I had died and gone through to the after-life, only the after-life wasn’t much different from my previous existence.” I had no intention on challenging this time-space dimension by getting on a motorcycle to recreate the crash, but Demmi was right. I was alive and that was all that matter in this life. The other dimensions belonged the the driver's Thai smile.