Chapter 27 – Stranded & Vulnerable
We boarded the plane and it soon became evident that my decision to pound Dairy Queen chili dogs and an Oreo Blizzard for breakfast had been like attempting to extinguish the fire in my belly by chugging a can of gasoline. On the flight between Cambodia and Laos, I put out some of the most toxic stinkfarts I’d ever produced. I’m talkin’ about rippin’ shit so vile the pilot was probably gagging on the other side of the tightly sealed cockpit door – that’s how bad this batch was. Paired with a brutal hangover, the overwhelming stench of my own asshole in the cramped sweaty cabin caused me to nod off in one of my unnatural, crooked-ass airplane sleeping positions. Not too much later, however, I was jarred out of my awkward yet peaceful gassed-out slumber by the aircraft’s abrupt descent.
“What the fuck?” I looked over at Kathleen through little slits, unable to open my eyes beyond the Asian standard. “Are we there already?”
She shrugged, looking just as confused as I had been. I knew Siem Reap and our destination, Vientiane, weren’t far from each other but there was no way we could’ve been there that soon. Nevertheless, our aircraft was headed for the ground.
Upon landing, as directed by the cabin crew, we and everybody else filed out of the plane and were told we were at the border between Laos and Cambodia. Instead of handling the bureaucratic business at their respective international airports, we were informed that we’d have to collect our carry-on belongings, go through customs and immigration there, then re-board the plane and continue on to our destination. We as a triumvirate decidedly agreed that their way of doing things was indeed dumb as fuck, but played along with the charade hoping to get through the ordeal as quickly as possible.
Following that ridiculous bullshit and the rest of our not-so-long flight, we touched down at Wattay International Airport and went to claim our luggage. The wood paneling walls inside the arrival area were topped by an unfinished, framing-only ceiling with all sorts of dodgy-looking wires hanging here, there and everywhere. If anything, it had more of a ’70s-basement, stoner-hangout feel than that of an international airport.
The baggage belt was no more than a long gravity-powered roller table leading from an external hole in the wall, angled down into an area where we all crowded around to retrieve our shit. While waiting for my backpack to come sliding down the noisy-ass track, I enjoyed every second of observing the locals as they sorted between their almost identically taped-up cardboard boxes distinguishable only by the names and addresses scribbled on the side of them in permanent marker. Since there weren’t many other travelers on the plane, we had little trouble spotting and grabbing our comparably luxurious knapsacks before heading out the door.
First things first, we caught a tuk-tuk and headed through the sleepy streets of the tiny Laotian capital towards our accommodation. After checking into a place called Sinnakhone Hotel, we grabbed a pretty “Laosy” lunch from some place down the street and decided to go do some sightseeing.
Right outside the restaurant had been a group of tuk-tuk drivers hangin’ out in the shade, shootin’ the shit and waitin’ for work. We approached and greeted them as politely as we could before making huge assholes of ourselves, not knowing a word of their language while trying to pronounce and gesture the places we wanted them to take us. Unable to grasp our hand signals or any of what’d come out of our mouths, one guy solved the problem by hustling over to his ride and pulling out a laminated sheet listing popular tourist destinations and the corresponding rates. Following a brief powwow, the three of us decided we’d spend the rest of the afternoon hitting up a park full of massive Buddha statues and a couple national monuments knows as Pha That Luang and Patuxai.
Once the O’Shaughnessy’s and I had gotten settled in the back of the man’s vehicle, he drove and drove to where the blacktop ended and then drove some more. The buildings and paved roads of Vientiane dissipated, giving way to a dirt path flanked by huts on stilts overlooking miles and miles of rice paddies. In the brutal heat of the afternoon sun, women with buckets and sprinkle cans worked to keep saturated the auburn-tinted thoroughfare to proactively prevent airborne dust kicked up by passing vehicles from blowing into their humble abodes.
Eventually, as we further penetrated the boundaries of bumblefuck, the dirt path became rougher and rougher and the string of huts came to an end, leaving only wide open spaces on either side of us. With each bump and/or pothole we were unfortunate enough to come in contact with, my sweat-soaked ass bounced clearly off the seat and smacked back down on the barely padded bench with a vengeance.
Clinking and clanking its way along the tough trail supposedly leading to the Buddha Park, I couldn’t understand how “The Little Tuk-tuk That Could” was able to take such a beating without the axel cracking or the whole fuckin’ carriage just snapping off the back. I mean, judging by the way it handled the tough conditions, it seemed like a badass little bike that’d been through the worst of it but, as I’d once found out the hard way, every machine has its limits.
Throughout the course of a lifetime spent in America’s Midwest, I’ve encountered plenty of people stranded on the side of the road with disabled vehicles and I always took for granted it wasn’t me in their position as I drove past, not offering any help and not thinking twice about it. It never crossed my mind if and how they got helped, who helped them, if they didn’t get helped, if they got Tammy Zywicki’d, so on and so forth. It just never mattered to me – that is, until the tables turned one day and I became that guy on the side of the road.
Of course, in a seemingly likely tuk-tuk breakdown on that shitty pathway in Laos with a local, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a big deal. I’m sure our driver had all sorts of contacts he could’ve called to come bail us out – after all, we weren’t that far out of the city. That said, however, because of having experienced the susceptibility to any freak and psycho asshole that comes along while playing the role of roadside sitting duck, it’s wholly preferential that I never break down ever again no matter where I happen to be in the world.
My stint on the side of the highway occurred sometime during the summer of 2010. On that fateful day, a few Marquette bros and I had been making our way back to Chicago following a visit to the O’Shaughnessy family cottage in Lake Chautauqua, New York, where we’d spent the previous three days getting pants-pissingly hammered on a motherfuckin’ boat. Although I started the drive sometime in the late morning feelin’ fresh and still rockin’ a bit of a buzz from the night before, by mid-afternoon I sobered up, became worse for wear and struggled to keep my eyes open at the wheel.
“Yo, I can’t do this shit right now,” I informed my three buddies in the car as I turned down the radio and started to pull to the shoulder. “One of you has gotta take over. I need to pass the fuck out.”
Following the roadside Chinese Fire Drill, my buddy Clough ended up manning the whip with me in the passenger seat and my two other bros Biasco and Morrissey holding down the rear of my beloved ‘95 Pontiac Bonneville. As needed, I immediately drifted to sleep. In my dreams, I often find myself in some pretty outlandish situations – especially when hungover – but none of the imaginative images in my head that day could’ve compared to the stranger-than-fiction events that would soon follow.
“Dude! Dude! Wake up!” Clough ripped me away from my snooze with a solid shove from the driver’s seat as “The Bonnie” shook, rattled and rolled down Interstate 90 at eighty miles per hour. “The car dude! The car! What should I do!?”
“What the fuck’s goin’ on here!?” I grumbled.
“I dunno man, it just started shaking and smoking!”
“Aw fuck! Look at the dash. It’s way the fuck overheated. Pull over. We’re fucked.”
As my midnight blue beauty lay there on the shoulder coughing up clouds of smoke in some buttfuck hillrod town of fuck-me-in-the-ass Ohio, I put in a call to Allstate while we four mechanically inept recent college grads popped the hood then stood idly by in the tall grass watching our ride home wither and die.
Not long after sending my SOS, a station wagon that’d just barely passed us came to a screeching halt. With no towing implements or any sign of it being a work truck, I could tell the rusty old clunker had definitely not arrived in response to my call for help.
After reversing a bit along the shoulder, lining their vehicle up a good fifty feet in front of mine and then throwing it in park, none of the occupants were quick to emerge from the busted-ass slab sporting West Virginia plates. Following several minutes of anticipation, the driver and passenger doors opened at the same time and a twenty-something-year-old pair of lanky long-haired losers started marching in our direction.
“Hey guys, what’s up?” I greeted from afar.
They said nothing, just kept coming and didn’t even acknowledge our presence until they were at arm’s length.
“Car trouble?” asked the guy on the right with a big goofy grin and a distant stare.
“Uh yeah,” I replied, “how’d ya guess?”
“Aw, ya know,” shrugged the dude on the left.
“Yeah, ya know,” reiterated Guy #1. “So, what’re y’all doin’ out here?”
“Well, we’re tryna get back to Chicago and the car died out,” I imparted. “Right now we’re waitin’ to be towed.”
“Okay. Well, lemme have a look at it. Maybe we can get ‘er fixed up for ya,” he said as they started walking towards The Bonnie.
“Yeah,” his buddy added, “let’s have a look at it.”
As the hood had already been popped, without my agreeing to their assistance, these two clowns started tinkering with whatever they saw fit. Experts in their own minds, they fidgeted and fiddled around with every knob and wire they could get their grubby fuckin’ mitts on. I allowed this to continue until one of the shitheads unscrewed the cap on the container housing the windshield wiper fluid, looked down into it and said, “Hmm, looks to me like you’re almost out of oil!”
“Hey, alright,” I said, wrenching the cap out his hand and putting it back where it belongs. “Thanks guys, I really appreciate your help but we’re just gonna wait for the mechanics to handle all this shit.”
I started walking back towards the tall grass we’d been in when they found us. They followed right behind.
“So,” I reciprocally began asking, “what’re you guys doin’ out here? I see by your plates you’re from West Virginia, huh?”
“Yeah, we’re goin’ on a cross-country tour selling our music.”
“Yeah! Yeah!” the other guy started laughing. “Selling our music!”
“The only problem is…”
They were struggling to contain themselves.
“…that we forgot all our CD’s…”
“…AND our instruments!”
They both burst with laughter, falling to the ground and rolling around in the grass like what they’d just said had been the funniest shit they’d ever heard.
“Really? Without your CD’s and your instruments? Hmm…” I couldn’t believe who I was dealing with. “I don’t think that’s gonna be too good for building a fan base…So, without the essentials, what’s your plan now as far as the cross-country tour goes?”
“Well,” the one dude began as he wiped the tears of laughter from his cold dead eyes, “we thought we’d head up to North Dakota for three weeks and kick it with the Native Americans.”
“Yeah,” the other guy chimed in, “the Native Americans.”
“Oh,” I said, “that’s pretty cool, I guess.”
“Yeah, it is,” one of the creeps replied as he sat Indian style, ripping up a blade of grass in his hands. “But, so, like, um…are any of you late for anything?”
“Huh?” one of my buddies asked. “Sorry, what was that?”
“Are any of you late for anything?”
“Uh, no. Not that I can think of. Why do you ask?”
“Well, we figured if one of you were late for anything, we could give you a ride.”
“We only have room for one of you, though,” the other guy clarified.
“Yeah, we only have room for one.”
“So, yeah, which one of you needs a ride?”
We all just shook our heads in the negatory.
“Uh, ya know,” I fumbled for words, “we’re actually pretty good right here guys. The tow truck will be here any minute now. But uh, thank you. Thanks for everything. Thanks for all your help, but we really don’t wanna take up any more of your time.”
Following my kindly suggested invitation to piss off, they looked at each other with stupefied 1980s Keanu Reeves facial expressions as if they were telepathically discussing their next move. They eventually shrugged at one another and started walking the thirty or so yards back to their car without even giving us any sort of “goodbye.”
“What the fuck was that about!?” we all started talking as soon as they were out of earshot. “‘Any of you late for anything?’ What’s that supposed to mean? ‘Is anyone gonna come looking for you if we were to, you know, torture and kill you guys out here in the field?’”
“Yeah dude, what a bunch o’ freaks. Good riddance. Get the fuck outta here.”
“Wait, quick,” one of my buddies pointed towards the duo as the passenger took a headfirst dive into the tall grass, “look at that one!”
“Whoa, hey, you got a mouse there!?” the driver asked from the side of the road.
The hunter ignored his buddy and came up with the catch clamped carefully between his hands. Climbing up the embankment, he ran up next to my still-smoking car and crouched down behind it. After closer inspection, I could see that in his right hand had been a big ol’ fat-ass frog which maybe I thought he was gonna try to hide under my seat or something as some sort of hillbilly-ass joke. That, however, turned out not to be the case at all.
Still crouching down behind my car but occasionally glancing up and over it like a WWI soldier from a trench, this degenerate piece of shit sprang up from behind The Bonnie and ran towards the road just as a speeding semi-truck came rumbling down I-90.
“Ahhhhhhh!” he shouted as he fired the frog at the windshield from no more than fifteen feet away, resulting in a direct hit. Following impact, hunks of frog rained down on our sidelined cars as the semi barreled along like nothing had happened. With a look of pure evil in his eye, the frog-chucker turned back towards us, dropped to his knees, looked up to the sky with his arms spread like a sea-parting Moses and let out a menacing laugh. Following the frightening display of self-satisfaction, the guy got up and climbed into the car, whereupon his buddy revved up the engine and floored it in the direction of North Dakota.
Photos from Vientiane…