Captain Hindsight – yesterday’s hero, tomorrow.
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Date: November 2011
Backpacking was fun, he told himself as the weight of his backpack threatened to drag him to the floor. Bambi legs wobbled through the airport as he questioned why on earth they had taken so much to Thailand where clothes where reputably so cheap.
The queues at arrivals done their utmost to crush the last morsels of motivation from their souls and as he looked at his brother he knew their minds were on the same wired wavelength; a bed was much needed. The journey was arduous, the plane uncomfortable, the food mediocre. The party would wait. Seven weeks of backpacking lay ahead as South East Asia welcomed them through the insanely crowded gates of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport.
“What was that you were watching on the plane? Was it about Bangkok?”
He turned to the brother and shrugged, conserving his energy to speak to the officials whose questions may need some real answers. The brother looked displeased and so, unwilling to invite discord into the fray, he mumbled some information to pacify the cranky vibes.
“Ahh, something about the airport taxis”
The brother nodded something between disinterest and satisfaction as they plodded forward, finally battling through to the oppressive air and twilight sky. The road outside the airport was alive with energy and it only took a moment for a vulture to swoop on the two white rabbits staggering in the headlights.
A happy camper indeed had shook both their hands twice before they knew what was happening and continued to mesmerize them with his command of the English language as he guided them to the queue of taxis on the roadside. Several competitors tried to intercept but Mr. Happy chased them as the two lost souls hovered between options.
Catching his younger brother’s cautious glance, he nodded and then moved on, climbing inside the pink taxi at their chauffeur’s request.
Closing his door in the front seat, he turned to look in the back as the brother was joined by Mr.Happy. First red flag.
Confused, he decided to move on and so after a quick deliverance of the hostel address, they were on their way.
The first few miles went without incident and he bobbed his head in mild acknowledgement as Mr.Happy chattered in the background, wasting little time in forging a fast friendship with the two Irishmen.
His silence was welcome but tellingly came as the taxi pulled off the highway and turned into a used car lot, circling round the back, out of sight from the main road. Second red flag.
The brother shuffled in the back and as he sat in the passenger seat in front, he could feel the tension himself as the questions simmered in his mind.
The taxi rolled to a stop behind a wall of cars stacked high on a transporter truck. To the left was another taxi, parked with no driver. To the right, a wooden table, behind it two chairs. One man sat, four men stood. All of them Thai, none of them smiled. That scene alone was worth another three red flags.
The sun had vanished now and was dragging the dark curtain of night over the sky as Mr. Happy did a similar disappearing act out the back of the garden. The brother’s panicked tone did nothing to elicit answers from our mute wheel-man.
After a moment, the star of the show reappeared at the passenger window.
“What’s going on?” growled the brother.
Holding up a hand for calm from the brother, he lowered the window. A clipboard was passed in and after a little back and forth, it seemed a signature was required. The pink taxi could go no further and needed paid and the waiting taxi could finish the job. It would also need paid.
Frustration bubbled inside him and Mr. Happy’s smiles and jokes proved little more than a catalyst to their exasperation. The sky grew dark as the men circled around the pink taxi. The trepidation in his mind was mirrored by the brothers face.
“Why can’t this taxi just take us? Why do we need that one? Just take us in this taxi now!”
He was struggling to keep a lid on things but had no desire to invite an ambush. The laughter around the car grew loud as Mr.Happy repeated his default line.
“Not possible, you must take this taxi”
This game had went on long enough and his throat was hoarse from frustration and burning with the will to scream. Mr. Happy leant in the window again, shaking the clipboard under his nose.
The impasse had been reached and the mute driver was apparently deaf too, at least to their attempts at a private negotiation. Mr. Happy stood at the door and he looked out at him, casting his eyes beyond to the transporter truck and further through the gaps where he could see the traffic flowing down the main highway. Time to call bluff. He turned to the brother.
“Grab your bag Paddy”
Sliding his fingers to the handle, he pulled and motioned to get out.
His efforts met resistance and the door slammed shut.
He looked up to meet Mr. Happy’s face grinning back at him.
“Okay, okay, this car will take you now!”
“Oh, so it does work? I thought it wasn’t possible?”
“No, it’s okay, it will take you”
The mute received some orders and started the engine and with a collective sigh of relief, he and the brother cast a wary eye at the mute as the taxi reversed out of the yard, leaving Mr.Happy with his gang.
Two hours of traffic and one motorbike crash followed but as midnight came and passed, they found their hostel in the narrow, shady back streets of a quiet neighborhood in Silom without further drama. The taxi pulled to a stop and they grabbed their bags.
“700 baht” wheezed the driver. Mute no more he was able to speak when it came to charging twice the going rate.
“Ah, so you do speak”
In no mood for further trouble, he threw cash on the seat and walked from the taxi to join his smoking brother on the steps of the hostel.
“I remembered what I was watching on the airplane now”
The brother looked at him, “About the taxis?”
“Yeah, it said don’t get the pink ones”