$3.50 changed (and risked) my life
I was in trouble. Both immediate and longer-reaching. A major part of my life had just shifted, bringing a serious challenge to the way I’d been doing things. Travel, this deep love and part of my life, might never be the same. For about $3.50
How many long bus rides, watching the undiscovered world out the window, seeing these unlabeled moments of interest blur past, nothing I can do, the driver’s in charge? But now, with the rubbery grip of a rented motorbike twisting its satisfying pull of kinetic energy beneath me, I was the decider. This day in Viet Nam might have changed everything. Would I be able to travel as I used to? Or would every trip have to be evaluated for its accessibility to motorbikes? And I’d need to learn about maintenance, quick.
But anchored in the present moment I had mist on my cheeks as they grinned out wide in a breeze of rice paddies and buffalo patties, the typhoon tingle of land washed for weeks, and I was moving in the world, not past it. The bajillion unknown niches of the nation all available to me, and life was good. I gave it a solid twist, opened her up, pushed that needle higher.
You already know this, but traffic laws in most of the world? Nah. In Southeast Asia? Hahaha Yeah, no. You just go. More of a vibe than a formal system, do nothing hasty, no sudden changes of velocity. And I was feeling the flow. Had been for weeks, and now with my own wheels. So I merged onto that road with just a glance at what was coming and what was ahead, cars and people, all manageable. No need for brakes.
But my stubborn American eyes just had to look one more time as I pulled onto the Ho Chi Minh Highway. To see the truck come around the corner in exactly the wrong spot, hidden from my first look but a bit too close now. I gave it more gas, accelerating to get ahead, turning back around, feeling the bike pull faster. That’s when the water buffalo stepped onto the road in front of me.
No sudden changes of velocity! Physics backed up the native system as my brakes slowed this wheel while combustion accelerated the other, or somesuch kinetic dilemma, and the bike went down, sliding across the pavement, taking me with it among the pretty tinkling shards of my side mirror glass.
You remember that jarred feeling. When you realize something happened? The abstract awareness that the quiet is louder because you were just listening to the crunch of collision? The idle curiosity as you assess your body for bones sticking out, glass sticking in.
I had none of those. Just another bike lying on its side in the maelstrom of Vietnamese motorways, palm a little scraped, mirror shattered. And a very large water buffalo showing me no interest whatsoever as the truck drove past.
I still feel that deep shift, the pull of a motorbike beneath me, tugging me into a different sort of adventure. But maybe I can take it a little slower.