Awaking in Bangkok
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It was a sleepless ten hour flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo, then after an hour on the ground, seven more to Bangkok. Since it was quarter to midnight when I settled into a room, waking fully rested at 7:30 in the morning seemed odd. It took several minutes for my brain to register that I was back in Thailand.
After a hearty 80 cent breakfast, I hailed a tuk tuk; one of those ubiquitous, brightly colored, three-wheeled taxis prowling Bangkok. The driver crouched behind scooter-type handle-bars and a plastic windscreen while up to four passengers could sit on plastic-covered, padded bench-seats in the open-sided back. Its blue fabric roof rarely hit speeds fast enough to flutter. Tuk tuks were cheaper than regular taxis and better suited for short distances. "How much to Sukumwit?" I asked, not ready to walk the mile-and-a-half in the mid-morning heat and humidity; it would take a month or more to acclimatize.
"Feeetty Bhaaat." the would-be thief tested.
"Ohhhh, I walk, ... ten Bhat," I offered, trying to sound insulted by a trusted friend.
"Okaaay, fo' yooou... yooou my friend... foaty Bhaaat." he countered.
"I no American ... I Canadaaah ... twenty Bhat, eh, let's go!" I said, experimenting a creative blend of Thai and Canadian accents as I boarded, pointing to the maple leaf flag pin on my shoulder bag.
"Okaaay, twenty-fi Bhaaat." the man persisted, starting the engine. Relenting to the 25 Bhat fare, which equaled one U.S. dollar, I was pleased with the haggle, half the original asking price, though he probably would have taken twenty...
On Sukumwit Road, I looked for Lucy's Tiger Den. That bar was frequented by ex-pats living in, or passing through, the area and was the haunt to visit to see who was in town. Years earlier, I had encountered old friends there who I had worked with in South America and the Middle East. It was disheartening to find the place shut down, but a note taped to the glass door gave a new location and I quickly found it on nearby Surawong Road.
During the Vietnam War, Tiger Rydberg came to Bangkok and went on a fifty-four day drunk. Upon sobering up, he learned that he was married to Lucy and owned a bar. The place thrived and Tiger stayed. Now in his sixties, he maintained the rugged appearance that he brandished years earlier as a globe trotting, hell-raising, construction worker. A struggle with diabetes had left him walking with a slight limp and his sandy colored, wavy hair was graying, but the brawny man had a heart of gold and still entertained customers, old and new, with stories of his own escapades as well as those of other colorful characters who frequented the bar. I was elated to chat with him over a cold Singha beer while his favored truck drivin' music played in the background.
Tiger told me that one, possibly two, of our mutual acquaintances, both helicopter pilots, might be in town for an upcoming China Post One reunion. That unique American Legion Post, chartered in 1919, continued to operate in exile since evacuating the American Club in Shangai after the communists took over in 1948. Like the Post name-sakes, Generals Frederick Townsend and Claire Chennault, its members were veterans who later worked overseas, and numbered nearly three thousand. I was a fledgling member of the Post since just that summer when 'Tex', a former Air America helicopter pilot, sponsored me in while we worked the season in Alaska. One of their mottos was: 'Meetings held when two members get together.' That happened often at Lucy’s Tiger Den.