I suppose my first mistake was not speaking up when the woman at Mr. Mechanic said, “Do you know how to ride the bike?”
Megan and Jared’s nodding heads were all she saw, despite me vigorously shaking my head ‘no.’ An emphatic no. I had (and still have) absolutely no idea how to ride a motor scooter.
My second mistake was asking Megan how to do it. Both of us were mounted on our bikes, about to pull out onto a busy one-way street in the center of Chiang Mai, just along the edge of the walled old city.
“Hey Megan,” I said. “I don’t know how to do this. At all.”
“You’ve never ridden a motorbike?” She asks, as if we had been riding them all through our mutual childhood.
“OK, it’s easy. This is the gas,” she demonstrated by revving the motor with the right handle of her bike. “And these are the brakes.” She squeezed the levers on each handle to really drive the point home. “I’m going to pull out now.”
Her motor roared to life and the last thing she said was carefree, thrown over her shoulder as she zoomed away, weaving between scooters and buses like she was born in Asia.
“It’s easy. You’ll be fine!”
As Megan’s bright yellow helmet became a speck in the distance, I made a horrible snap decision and decided to just go for it. I can’t emphasize enough the stupidity of this decision. I thought that if I didn’t really think about it, I wouldn’t be nervous, and I would be fine. Like skiing.
But riding a motorbike is not like skiing. I would never have jumped in a car in a foreign country and hoped for the best. Why did I do this with a motorbike?
I revved the engine and squeezed the front brakes simultaneously. With this imbecilic move, my bike leapt forward into a gap in the traffic, wobbled furiously, and immediately tipped over, taking me with it. Hard. Into the path of an oncoming red minibus.
I heard the cries of Jared and the bike lady, registered that I was about to become a wet patch on the road, and jumped back up.
“I’m okay!” I cried. I don’t remember if I pulled the bike off the road or if someone else did.
One of the beautiful Thai women, who probably rode motorbikes with her eyes closed, teetered over to me in her heels and suggested that I ride on the back of Jared’s Scoopy and leave mine at the shop. I was only too happy to oblige.
I jumped onto Jared’s bike. “Let’s go, I’m ready,” I said.
“Lauren, get off the bike,” Jared said. “Come over here, sit down for a minute. You’re bleeding.”
It reminded me of how our family cat, Mittens, used to fall off the bed then hop back on, purring, acting nonchalant as if she had never fallen off in the first place. I was trying to pull a Mittens.
Jared and the Thai ladies led me over to a chair in front of the bike shop, which was essentially open to the sidewalk, two large desks covered by a roof. I slumped over in the chair as the ladies tended to my wounds with benedene and Jared rubbed my back, asking over and over again if I was OK and berating himself for not intervening earlier. (Note: Not his fault at ALL)
The image of the red minibus bearing down on me floated into my vision, and the stupidity of my actions overwhelmed me. I actually could have gotten myself killed. The familiar symptoms of fainting came on: feeling cold, blurriness on the edge of my vision, and muffled hearing. I started to pass out. To counteract this, I laid down on the concrete and stared blankly into space, willing the feelings to pass.
As you can imagine, the shop was bereft of all customers during my shenanigans. Except for an irritating American guy who kept telling Jared that I needed a tetanus shot. Which I didn’t anyway, having had one a few years back after my dad accidentally dropped a speaker on my head. But that is another story.
A genial-looking Indian man approached and started asking some questions.
“Just back away and give her some space,” Jared said, positioning himself between me and the man.
“I’m a doctor,” he said. “From next door.”
It didn’t dawn on me until later: doctor’s surgery right next to a motorbike hire shop. Coincidence?
Jared relaxed and let the doctor take my pulse. I continued staring blankly into space and occasionally whispering, “I’m ok,” because I knew I would be. Jared held my hand and rubbed my head while the Thai lady rubbed my back, anxiously wanting to help.
“She will be fine,” the doctor said. “Keep putting benedene on the wounds, every day.”
This whole time, Megan was zooming around the square, oblivious to what was going on. Jared kept catching glimpses of her yellow helmet as she bypassed Mr. Mechanic repeatedly in her quest to find us.
Eventually, I made it back to the chair and back to feeling normal, Jared managed to flag Megan down, and we set off on our quest to Doi Suthep temple.
Which was amazing, especially when freed of the responsibility of driving. More about that later.
Two bikes, three people. Definitely the way forward.