17 - Phantom of the Honda (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia)
“You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.”
- Colette, French novelist (1873 - 1954)
Got a hog. Had no clue. What to do? What to do? Preparation was key and ACE Hardware was the place for me. Didn’t panic. Found a mechanic.
by Mr. Nos T. O’maniac
I WANTED A HOG. I GOTTA HOG. A 2005 Honda Phantom. All that ambulatory independence for a cool twenty-two million rupiahs (around $1900). This was the upper limit of what I was willing to spend and what I was willing to squander. If I found myself in a compromised position (e.g. stranded in the jungle), I’d cut my losses and move out. My version of Robert De Niro’s bank heist ethos. Feel the heat, walk away.
Though only a 200cc engine, this was bigger than average and more than sufficient. No need for speed on Indo’s roads. My new motto? See The World. Drive Like A Pussy. (A careful, mindful pussy, of course.) I bought freedom from a young Indonesian businesswoman with a “forthright and honest” vibe. What's not to trust about an Indonesian female hog owner, right? Also, she was attractive. I’d like to think this had no bearing on my decision. I’d like to think that.
There’s fantasy in the abstract, and then there’s concrete delusion. Limited motorcycle experience, little to no mechanical knowledge, a poor grasp of the language, and a plan only slightly less vague than the one that brought me there in the first place. Very nice, high five! Then again…High risk, high reward, kemosabe.
Yet, the idea of this ill-conceived scheme made me giddy as a school girl. Too cliché? How about giddy as a fairy with a fist full of pixie sticks on a gumdrop bridge under a cotton candy sky on his/her birthday? Are there male fairies?
On D-day Plus One, I thought, Now what? You gots yourself into this, douche. It’s supposed to fun and you’re not supposed to die…Go. I was afraid, having second thoughts. Second thoughts scared me. I was ready for third and fourth thoughts…fast. Part of me wanted to throw in the towel, put the Phantom up for sale, and join the conventional tourist hordes. “What the fudge am I doing?” I asked again. The reservations were justified but retreat would’ve been premature. I required an acclimatization period to avoid rash decisions.
So, I drove around, acclimatized and shit. And prepared. I had the bike, but I needed to accessorize…girlfriend. I needed stuff—a cover, front wheel lock, oodles of tools, rain jacket and pants, chain oil, tire pressure gauge, flux capacitor (it’s what makes time travel possible), two phasers, booster rockets, a rear-mounted machine gun, martini mixer, and an exceedingly hot female double agent in padded leather. (Ya know, sidekick?)
This morphed into an enormous hassle, a welcome one at that. Why? Well, I spent so much time treasure hunting, thoughts of violent traffic death drifted away. There are Honda dealerships and shops all over the island but Phantoms are manufactured in Thailand, ergo parts were harder to come by. Oddly, dealers don’t sell accessories. Why would they? That’d be downright stupid. Bikes and service. That’s their bag, baby. You’d think, at the very least, they’d know where to find accessories. Nuh-uh. It was like trying to find spare parts for the Cassini spacecraft.
After scouring Ubud and the surrounding countryside for motorbike paraphernalia, I reluctantly continued my quest in Denpasar. Every visit a pleasure, one traffic gauntlet after another.
Try finding a tire pressure gauge in Bali. I dare you. Obviously, they exist, but folks recognized neither my English pronunciation nor the Indonesian translation I stitched together with dictionary assistance. Or they didn’t like the cut of my jib. Unfortunately, I have zero video footage of my tire gauge pantomime. It was exquisite. How about a motorcycle cover? Nope. On an island with 1.3 bazillion motorbikes, I couldn’t find a cover. Who needs ‘em?
Eventually, I found Xanadu, otherwise known as ACE Hardware. It’s true what they say, ACE really is the place for your helpful hardware (wo)man. Huh. I was dazzled. Besides motorcycle accessories, they had everything you need to complete that home improvement project you've been putting off. I had a compulsive urge to build shit. The employees were ridiculously helpful. I've mentioned how nice the people in Bali are in general. Well, multiply that by six and slap an ACE Hardware uniform on them.
The standard toolkit that comes with every Phantom was missing. When it comes to tools, I don't know my ass from asphalt. My mechanical disinclination is almost perverse. Thankfully, Budha (my personal ACE hardware assistant’s real name) gave me a helping one-handed clap. He even brought tools outside to make sure they were correct. I had questions. He had answers. I wanted to buy things I didn't need just to spend time with the staff.
A word on the tools. I am one. Also, I bought them because I thought they might come in handy even though the notion of me fixing anything in a pinch was more aspirational than anything else. A motorcycle engine might as well be a superconductor, but a girl can dream. And she did. I found the Phantom owner's manual online thus feeding the illusion. I spent hours familiarizing myself with the fundamentals and working through the manual checklist.
Nothing aids neuroticism like fear of the unknown. Pretend time was fun, but I was no mechanic. I figured I should have a real one do a service check (Honda dealership in Denpasar). And then I had another service check (small Ubud shop) to check out the first service check. Check? The dealership missed brake pads worn to the metal and an aged master cylinder. This is odd. Did they not miss an opportunity to bilk a gringo? Or did they switch out newer parts for bad? Paranoid? Maybe, but I discovered later this is a thing, especially with alien ignoramuses.
That’s one theory. Another? Maybe the second check didn’t check out. For all I know, the pads were fine and my master cylinder was top notch, but I don’t think so. The bike never left my sight (as opposed to the fancy-smancy dealership), and the Ubud mechanic showed me the faulty parts. I feigned recognition and mechanical gravitas. I also smiled a lot and forced him to pose for a photo. Harder to screw someone face to face with a smile? Maybe. Hopefully.
The goal of every meditator is to transform the mundane to the spiritual (whatever that means), to make the everyday compelling. It would be years before meditation would enter my life in force, but the lessons were always there. A trip to Ace Hardware store became a collaborative adventure, five hours at the repair shop a chance to bond over motor oil and engine grease. I was forced to engage strangers in a foreign culture and, in the process, brought deliberate consciousness to commonplace aspects of daily life. The “in between”. That’s where it all lies. Our moments. All those “throw away” moments. The “highlights”, so to speak, are few and far between. If we live solely for the summits, we miss all the landmarks along the way. This trip brought plenty of high points, but it’s the “in between” that made the shitshow worth my time.
Indonesia has no licensing requirement for motorcycle operation. Here’s my suggestion for the driving portion of the exam if they ever get around to it:
1) Drive two hundred meters to orange cone. Execute left turn. Return to starting position.
2) Drive a hundred meters while negotiating multiple orange cones. Maintain balance throughout. Upon return, execute quick stop using appropriate braking method.
3) Drive forty-five kilometers with entire family (minimum one additional adult and two small children) on motorcycle. Do this without use of signal light or any basic common sense.
4) Drive five kilometers the wrong way down a one-way street with four rolled mattresses strapped to back while maintaining constant unsafe speed. Helmets prohibited.
5) Drive as surreptitiously close to fellow motorcyclist as possible without making contact. Be a ninja.
6) Make repeated turns (five minimum) into oncoming traffic blindfolded without reducing speed.
7) Drive alongside tourist-mounted motorcycle while maintaining minimum velocity of 35 mph and ask said tourist if he or she: a) needs a hotel room; b) needs to rent a car or motorbike; c) would like to purchase a woodcarving.