After a long morning reclaiming a newly-damaged suitcase that arrived at Bangkok Airport five days after I did, I splurge on a cab home. My driver, Chakan, has what I can only assume is a heroic hangover. He keeps asking me the destination in a whispered moan every half mile.
“Sukhumvit, Soi 12.”
Driving in Bangkok, it’s like surfing a glacier. The panoramic lines move almost imperceptibly. This is good news for Chakan as he can open his door every now and then to wretch chaotically onto the blistering tarmac. It’s a real greatest hits, a tour de force of expulsion - dry heaves, angry bile, full-throated vomit. I double mask, discreetly. If it’s not a hangover, I don’t want his norovirus, having exuberantly redecorated the bathroom of a very exclusive restaurant the last time I was in town. I’d get out, but we’re on a highway and I’m neither linguistically skilled nor geographically confident enough to know how to negotiate that situation.
“Sukhumvit, Soi 12.”
Bangkok built toll roads from the new airport to try and alleviate the vehicular pressure. It worked for a few years, but slowly people just bit the bullet and everyone started using them. These arterial roads are now awash with automobile cholesterol (carlesterol?).
The toll roads are brimming with lurching steel, drivers just using hard shoulders and the median strips as extra lanes. Their utility is gone, but you still have to pay to use them. It's a neat trick. The roads are now taking their toll on the drivers. Especially Chakan, who has taken to manically turning the radio on and off for a sliver of a song every twenty seconds. In his license photo, he looks like Colin Firth. In the glare of the front seat, swaddled in booze sweat and perma-fumes, he looks like Colin Firth wearing prosthetic makeup to play the main role in a biopic of Keith Richards.
Two hours later, I clamber out of his cab several blocks from my place, just to give him space to suffer. In any case, I can walk faster than he can drive, even with my junked suitcase. Back home, I look up Chakan's name. It means ‘healthy body’.