That’s Just The Way It Is

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Gawd, listening to that brought back some memories... it used to be one of my "road songs". Back in the day, when I was still living in Hong Kong, I'd buy a Thai business class seat and wing my way down to Thailand every chance I could get. It was 1987 and I'd fly into Don Muang, head to a little hotel I knew in Sukhumvit Soi 38, Sompong's gold 1965 Mustang parked in the forecourt (Sompong was the owner). By evening I had scored everything a fella could want for a nice laid-back time and I'd head out to Patpong. No night market back then, just a street packed with bars on either side filled with delights for a young man of 25 which I was at the time. Damn those nights were crazy; fun, but crazy.

The next morning, usually kind of late and hungover, I'd do room service and then after several cups of Sompong's shitty coffee, check out and head out to rent a car. Back then you could rent a Toyota Corrolla for between 800-1,000 baht a day, depending on how many scratches they filled in on the form before you took the car out. You had to be eagle-eyed on the scratches and catch everyone, otherwise, you were buying that scratch when you brought the car back. Most of the places I rented cars from are still there amazingly enough - I wonder if they'd recognize me after all these years - hope not, but then I've walked into a bar after fifteen years and had the mamasan ask me if I want 'the usual', so I think I'll give them a miss.

I never had a destination in mind, just a route, and I'd have my traveling tunes. First thing I checked in those cars was the tape cassette. Here's a list off the top of my head:

  • Bruce Hornsby and the Range - Just the way it is
  • Complete Traveling Wilbury's
  • Jackson Browne - Running On Empty
  • Howlin' Wolf - His Greatest Sides
  • Miami Vice (Music From The Television Series)
  • Robert Cray - Strong Persuader and others
  • Bob Marley and the Wailers - I think all the albums up to then
  • ZZ Top - Eliminator

Like I said, just off the top of my head, but I used a small backpack to carry them all in and used to arrange them on the passenger seat, so too many to list here.

My other accomplices were a few pre-rolled, a couple of cartons of Marlboro Red (you couldn't get them easily upcountry), a bottle of Johnny Walker Black, a tin cup and matching ice bucket, and a wallet full of cash. Oh yeah, I also had two dictionaries; Thai-English and English-Thai - it was my way of dealing with the language issue, coz back then I couldn't say but three or four words in Thai, and those I'd mispronounce.

I'd head east and then up, around, and back down again. Each trip was usually around three thousand kilometers of driving. I took a lot of photographs, met a lot of people; I'd run out of the duty-free somewhere around day 3 or 4 depending on how many people I'd met, but trust me if you need a way to start a conversation with someone, then walking up to them with a bottle of JWB is a good start. I got busted once (well lots of times) for speeding, but after a short conversation ended up squatting down with the cop by the passenger door swapping the tin cup back and forth. He drank way more than what would have been a two hundred baht fine, but I got some good stories out of him.

I'd sleep wherever I found myself after I'd eaten dinner and had a drink or five; usually, short-time motels were the cheapest and most convenient places, but sometimes I'd trade up and stay in a hotel. I'd made a fake Press Pass using all the tools available to me in my advertising business in Hong Kong and that thing got me into all kinds of places talking with Generals, chiefs of Police, Mayors, gangsters all :). I'd just roll up to some army base and ask to interview the general. Why? I really don't know. It was more interesting than going to look at waterfalls, of which I also saw plenty. But I've thought on it and I still don't know why I did all that crazy shit.

I learned a lot about Thailand in a short space of time and when I started writing, ten years later, it all came in handy. Actually, I'm sure it all came in handy just living here since June 1989. Like what do you do when a couple of senior cops show up at your front door asking for a donation? You smile, sit em down, give em a scotch and soda, and then sit next to a photo of yourself with a mafia godfather at his daughter's wedding. Thai cops aren't dumb, well, most senior ones aren't.

New Year, fell into the reminiscing trap, thought I'd share.

I'll update you soon on the progress with the writing.

In the meantime, Happy New Year; stay safe, stay healthy, stay positive, stay happy.

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