There are some days when life provides me with a clue that what I’m up to is a waste of time and a new direction is needed. When these moments happen I have a choice to stay the course come what may or modify my plans. One choice leads to pain and misery, the other to happiness and peace. Two weeks ago I was confronted with that exact scenario. While I don’t want to ruin the story, I’ll give you a hint which option I took: pain and misery.
It all started when Chelsea was offered a free rental car for seven days. All we had to do was get to Chiang Mai and the car was ours for the week. There is something about the word “free” that makes me abandon my common sense like it was the plague.
For example, Chiang Mai is about four hours from Pai. The road between is curvy and over mountainous jungles. A few weeks ago we did it by motorbike, but I couldn’t leave my rented motorbike in Chiang Mai for a week. So this time I would have to take the minibus. I had done this journey before. If you don’t have a car or motorbike, it is the only way to get to Pai.
The minibus wouldn’t be so bad except for one person. He is so evil he makes me think of William Shakespeare’s famous quote from the Tempest that reads, “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.” Who are these creatures from Hell that make what should be scenic journey of joy into a tumultuous trip of sorrow? The mini-bus drivers.
These men make a trip that should take four hours and make it happen in two. How do they do it you ask? Well it’s simple. They drive at insanely high speeds utilizing both lanes of traffic and turn at such speeds that even if the bus company provided a vomit bag, which they don’t, you wouldn’t be able to hit it because you are tossed and turned so ferociously that your only choice is to close your eyes, find a happy place, and try not to think about puking.
So without hesitation, I purchased minibus tickets to Chiang Mai. Or rather Chelsea did, I was home working on re-writes for Following After Trek. I didn’t think about any of the horrors of my first trip, it didn’t even cross my mind. The only thing I thought about was the magical word “free” and the rental car that awaited me just over the mountain. She purchased two tickets, one for me and one for Peyton. I don’t know if you remember the blackberry picking in Texas, but I promised Peyton that day that he could always come if he wanted to and well he wanted to. Not that I minded, any day spent with Peyton is a good day.
When she came home she announced that she had purchased the tickets. I asked what time she bought them for. Her answer shook me to my core and nearly made me fall out of my chair. 8:00 A.M. There is a device that is forbidden in the Ingram house. It is so maniacal and foul that the mere mention of its name will cause any one of us to shudder. It is an alarm clock. Her decision to buy tickets for an 8:00 AM departure meant that we would have to set the alarm for 7:00 A.M. and leave by 7:30 A.M. Under normal circumstances this is something that she would NEVER do, but she and I were both under a spell of the darkest magic (the word free) and as such many things that usually seemed like a bad idea all of a sudden seemed like a good one.
In the morning the alarm clock sounded and all of us worked our way out of bed. Only in extremely rare circumstances do we wake the children up. Usually the children go to sleep when they want and wake up when they want (just like we do). But not today, there was a free rental car in Chiang Mai and no matter how much we had to deviate from our lifestyle and whatever the cost, it was worth it. Both of the children will probably look back at this moment of their lives and require counseling for the emotional trauma of being awakened in an unnatural way.
All four of us made our way downstairs and mounted up on Chelsea’s moped. In case you are wondering, it is not a supersized moped nor is it designed for four people, but it was the only way to get to town. We had already turned in my motorbike the night before. I’m not sure what all of us look like when we pile on there, but it must be funny because we have done it several times and every time we roll into town we catch double takes from people we pass by. Not the Thai’s of course, to them you aren’t utilizing your space properly until you have six or seven piled onto a moped. On this day though, we didn’t make it into Pai.
In case you are curious we don’t really live in Pai. We live in the middle of nowhere. If I were to describe how to get there it would go like this. Start in Pai, pass two villages, take a right up a mountain for a few kilometers, and we live in the last rice paddy on the right. You can imagine why when we describe where we live we just say Pai. That being said though, it takes about fifteen minutes to get into town. About halfway there, one village away from Pai, we had a blowout on the back tire.
Some, who are smarter that I, might have seen such an event as a sign to turn around or at the least re-evaluate the plans for the day. This is the choice I mentioned earlier where I could stay the course or modify my plans. At the time, I was unaware of the choice. In hindsight, I now know that it was because I had been bewitched by the “free” word, but in the moment, my only choice was to press on.
Chelsea drove the moped with the flat tire while a kind Thai woman and her male friend gave us a ride into town. Both boys road on the bike with the lady and I moved to ride on the other. Not until the moment I walked up to the bike did a thought occur to me. For me to accept this ride into town it would require something of me that I have never considered doing before and until that moment seemed unthinkable to me. I was going to have to ride bitch.
While I was grateful for the ride, I wasn’t fond of the idea and more than that, I wasn’t even sure how to mount the back of a motorbike. Awkwardly I climbed onto the back of the bike. There is nothing to hold onto back there. The driver of my motorbike was a young dude and I realized that my only option for leverage would be to wrap my arms around him. In my mind a scene unfolded of me wrapping my arms around the young man as we rolled into town. The very thought made me shudder, no thanks. So I road on the back, touched nothing and concentrated on not falling.
After a few minutes we made it into town and, to my relief, the maniacal minibus driver hadn’t left yet even though it was now 8:15. Peyton and I were able to make it onto the minibus. It was at this moment that I recalled the horrors of my first trip and the pain that awaited me. It was all worth it, I told myself. There was a free rental car in Chiang Mai waiting for me.
After 3 hours of pain and misery, Peyton and I arrived in Chiang Mai. I hailed a tuk tuk and we made our way from the bus station to the Royal Princess Hotel where Avis Rent-A-Car operates. As we entered there was no one at the desk. The way it works is that you have to call someone when you arrive and thirty minutes later someone arrives to help you. Isn’t that convenient? I was very excited about it.
To kill time, Peyton and I played in the lobby. About thirty minutes later the Avis man showed up. I began filing out the paper work and then handed my MasterCard from First Hawaiian Bank for the deposit. He swiped it and it was declined. This vexed me greatly as I should have had enough to cover the deposit. I explained as much to him and he tried again. I should also say that the man hardly spoke any English. I am in Thailand after all. The amount of information lost in translation between myself and the Avis man was immense. After several more tries he instructed me to call my bank. And I did.
The first person I spoke to informed me that they didn’t know what the problem was that there was enough money for the deposit, but they couldn’t see why it was getting declined. Apparently that system was down for maintenance. It’s amazing how often I am on the phone with my bank and the exact system that they could use to help me is down. Anyway, they told me they would forward it to the correct department and that I could expect a call in one to two hours. I explained that I was in Thailand and I would gladly hold to be connected to the department, but apparently they can only make phone calls, they can’t receive them.
For the next two hours Peyton and I sat in McDonalds watching The Karate Kid on a Kindle Fire. Two hours later, no phone call. Once again I dialed up my BFF’s at the bank. This time I spoke to a new person who gave me the same song and dance as before. Only this time, when I asked to be transferred, he explained that the department that was supposed to be giving me a call back was closed for the day and wouldn’t be back until Monday. This made me question the one to two hours statement the first customer representative told me. I asked if there was an emergency line I could call as I was in Thailand. His answer: no. He did finish the conversation recommending that I try with Avis again, that there should be no problems on their end.
By means of review, at this point I have been gone for about seven hours and all I had to show for it were two happy meal toys (I had to get one for Conner) and the experience of watching the Karate Kid. Peyton and I made our way back over to the hotel where, once again, the Avis desk sat empty. I again called the man who this time took 45 minutes to arrive. When he did, the same thing happened. Only this time he looked at me with his eye opened wide and asked if the card was a debit card. I replied that it was and he said that their system always declined debit cards. Why he didn’t mention this before is beyond me, but the mystery of the declined master card was solved.
I attempted to bargain with the man and work out an arrangement. But at this moment the most curious thing happened. All of a sudden his English speaking ability regressed to the point were he spoke no English at all beyond “I’m sorry”. With his regressed English comprehension and my lack of a credit card I was forced to leave empty handed.
We returned to the bus station and purchased tickets to, once again, take a minibus back to Pai. Did I mention how fun that ride was? Peyton and I took our seats in the minibus and started our journey home. At this point I remembered the flat tire from earlier that day and the demon alarm clock, $20 in minibus tickets, and my $10 happy meal bill and I began to see it in a different light.
The next time I am offered something free I will ask “how much does it cost?”