Day 41: Machinist bores motorcycle engine

The bolt sheered inside the engine, making it impossible to simply tighten back up. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

THE woman at Bike Saloon who told me that “any shop” would be able to fix the engine guard misunderstood. When I bought the engine guard, she explained that the Chinese replica would very likely shake loose and need to be screwed back in.

This is not what happened. The bolt sheered, leaving a large piece of it stuck my engine.

Today is a work day, with a to-do list and a battle plan, which involves getting zippers for the tank bag, as well as getting the bolt drilled out and replaced.

Outside the Pirrelli dealer shop, I park the muddy CB500X next to a glistening BMW GS12000. The Austrian owner of the bike, a lanky man in his late 50s wearing suspenders to keep his pants up, looks at my bike.

“You should wash that,” he says, though seeming to approve of the fact that I managed to get it so muddy in the first place.

The bike is painted with light brown streaks from its washing and there are still dry chunks of mud that managed to escape the hose down the previous night.

“This is washed,” I say with a smile.

I explain my issue to the Pirrelli dealer, to whom I have to guiltily admit that the Honda shop in town put my Pirrelli tires.

“You need a machine shop,” the Thai man says in perfect English. He then marks two machine shops on my tourist map. (I failed to charge my phone or anything else last night, so no Google Maps for me today.)

As I'm driving along, it occurs to me that I don't know exactly what a machine shop looks like. I have pictures in my head, which must be from the movies, but I've never needed one before, so I can't be sure how accurate the images in my mind are.

Putting down the road, I spot the shop. A number of mechanics are working on scooters and motorbikes, while others are operating drill presses and other large pieces of machinery I couldn't name if a gun was held to my head. The machines look as if they were designed for the army to use in the 1920s. The bulky metal pieces are painted a light, army green and appear to be bolted in place.

I park the bike. Standing awkwardly around the shop, I wait to catch someone's eye to have them look at the bike. A couple minutes slip by before one of the mechanics accidentally looks at me. He points behind me to his boss.

“Don't have,” the man says in Thai after cursory look at the bike. It seems that I need to go somewhere else. He provides a rough direction to this elusive somewhere else in broken English.

He didn't say “can not”, which would have meant they weren't able to do it, something I've become very accustomed to hearing when needing to get my tank bag fixed, or pretty much anything done out of the ordinarily.

He said, “don't have.”

A bit skeptical of the situation, I do my best to follow his directions, looking for the place he sent me off to without really knowing what that place is, exponentially more difficult is than my hunt for the machine shop.

Perhaps I should have had him mark the place on my map.

Driving slowly, I cross a bridge and slowly scoot along. Somewhere in the next 300 meters I'm to find this shop.

Exactly where he said the shop would be there is a shop – of course there would be a shop there even if I was on the wrong road, but it would have be the wrong shop. This was a nut and bolt shop. An open-faced shop with thousands of drawers packed black and silver bolts. If you needed something to screw and didn't want to go to a dodgy massage parlor or a girly bar, this place would have the screw for which you were looking.

I park the bike and get in line. The woman helping me looks at the bolt dangling from the crash guard. I wiggle the broken bolt free with my hands and do my best to explain that the bolt I need should be longer.

With three bolts and matching washers in my pocket, I head back to the machine shop. I doubt they expect to see my hairy face again.

I sit down on a plastic stool outside of the shop and wait for someone to give me the time of day. This strategy – known as the Stationary Farang – is perhaps the best way to get real help in Thailand's service industry.

One of the mechanics wanders out of the machine shop and takes a look at the issue, I do my best to explain that the bolt snapped off. It seems there is nothing he can do, or maybe it won't be done today, or fuck if I know what's going on.

He wanders off afters some confusion, so I resume my position on the stool. A second man, the one who sent me out for the bolts, sees me. I show him the bolts, which he then takes for a ride on his scooter, telling me to wait where I am.

I wander into a motorcycle shop down the road. By the time I return, the bolts are sitting on the stool, but no sign of what's to happen next.

This is probably one of the few times in my life that I know exactly what needs to be done to fix a piece of machinery, but I'm unable to communicate it. Back in the States, I was the kind of guy who drove his car to the mechanic pointing out that there were flames coming from the engine, so maybe he should look at it.

The original mechanic decides to take notice of me again, and waves a younger guy my way to screw in the bolt for me.

Though I am mechanically-challenged, I do not need help screwing in bolts. I waylay the young man in possession of a little less scruffy facial hair than myself and point out that the bolt is broken.

He gets it.

On the street, he takes off the left guard to take a better look at the situation, I help by holding the nut on the other side for the back bolt, perhaps a bit too proud of being slightly helpful.

With the problem clearly established and a man assigned to the issue, we are making progress.

I roll the bike up to the far side of the open-air corner shop, which has managed to commandeer a section of sidewalk that is now black and shiny from years of grease, oil and metal shavings.

With a ballpoint hammer and chisel, the man taps a divot into the broken end of the bolt. He pulls the chisel back, checks the spot, then taps on it a few more times before getting out the electric hand drill.

Bit by bit the man bores a hole through the bolt, increasing the diameter as he goes. Thin silver steel shavings peel off and land on the black ground. I remain crouched down next to him, watching him work.

A couple girls sitting at a table behind us call out to the mechanic teasing him about something. He's then interrupted by an enormous, fleshy young man working on the scooter next to us. The man's shirt is folded up just under is man boobs, leaving two floppy layers of heavily tattooed flesh exposed. Through his short hair, his tattooed scalp is also visible. He laughs and gives a childish, fat boy grin.

The man working on my bike, has avoid my eyes since he started the drilling process. He spins toward me eyes down, looking for the bolts.

I hand them to him. He measures their diameter and then checks which drill bit to use next.

With the drilling done, he carefully chips away at what's left of the bolt until it falls free.

Once the the hole is re-threaded, the man puts the guard back on, adding a few extra washers, as necessary.

“How much?” I ask.

This is the sort of thing I should ask ahead of time, but grateful that the guy was willing to take the time to sort me out made me uncomfortable about haggling over the price before things got started. I didn't want to see ungrateful.

He, like many of the mechanics, has a few tattoos and plug earrings. I wonder if the shop is associated with some Thai motorbike gang. Motorbike gangs, which should really be called scooter gangs in Thailand, are prevalent and often involved in selling meth and illegal firearms, as well as other criminal activity.

I wander if they plan on skinning me alive, briefly consider making a run for it if they massively over charge me, then reconsidering, given the possible consequences.

My mechanic asks the guy in charge how much to charge. He wanders over to ask a few questions and look at the bike.

“100 baht,” he concludes. That's about three dollars for nearly 45 minutes of working on the bike.

I pay the boss 100 baht, then slip 100 more baht to my mechanic.

He takes me to the back of the shop, where there is a sink to scrub the grease off my hands.

High on the resounding success of getting my motorbike fixed, I figure I'll just drop my tank bag off at one of the shops Nora confirmed would be willing to hand stitch all new zippers on it.

With the heavy-duty zippers I bought at the bustling Warotot Market this morning, I present the bag to the shop, which quickly shoots down the idea. I have a sneaking suspicion that if Nora was with me she'd manage to make them do it. However, on my own, I admit defeat. They point me to another area to try.

The woman working the front counter at the hostel, also suggests a place within walking distance. Unfortunately, when I arrive it's closed.

Okay, we'll try resolve the tank bag issue tomorrow.

It's nearly 1pm by the time I make it back to the hostel. This was supposed to be a writing day, to make up for all the fun I was having with Nora in town.

I settle into Cup D restaurant, just down the road, which is a makeshift place in a great location. Run by some young Thais, it seems to be a work in process. The pretty young woman who brings me a menu, helps me rearrange some seats and power cords so I can plug in my computer and get to work.

I order an open-faced salmon sandwich for 79 baht, then have a muesli with fruit and yogurt. However, neither curb my hunger.

A light rain starts, and then gains some momentum. The wind brings the tiny specs of rain under the umbrella onto my computer.

I roll the die in hopes of diving into a fistful of Snicker Bars. However, the die says it's a bad idea. I'll eat a Snickers Bar later I guess. I've already decided that since today is a work day, I'm not going to add health or financial stressors to my day.

Not able to stay dry and work from where I'm, and still a bit hungry, I move on.

The cool rain feels good as I walk down the mostly empty brick street. It's a refreshing rain, not so hard that you can't enjoy it without instantly becoming soaked. However, as the drops become bigger, I'm forced to duck into Crazy Dog for a monster breakfast.

Drowsy and unmotivated, I consider napping for the rest of the dreary day. Can a dreary day be lovely in it's own way? I believe so.

I check Tinder and realize I've missed a number of messages from this woman I was chatting with. Emma, 40, has pictures on her profile of her taking an off-road bike up a steep muddy slope, so it seemed like a pretty good match. Not something I imagine would go down a romantic road, but there are all kinds of awesome reasons to engage with expats, especially because I still feel like an expat myself.

What really hooked my interest though was her devastating off-road motorcycle accident that she's still recovering from nearly a year and half later. Basically, she sounds complicated and interesting.

I throw out the idea of meeting up for a coffee break, though really just looking for coffee somewhere close. She's in Mae Rim, a different district of Chiang Mai, but willing to make the drive.

Place and time are quickly sorted: Canyon Coffee (easy to find) at 6:45.

Standing where I think Canyon Coffee is, I find myself outside of The Coffee Club, across the street from Black Canyon Coffee.

She must have meant Black Canyon Coffee.

I grab a seat inside the corner coffee shop. Outside, a woman in a blue tank taps a cigarette out of a pack and lights it. She's sitting along the outside bar that wraps around the cafe, providing two streets worth of people viewing.

I wonder if it's Emma. From her Tinder pictures, which were close ups on her face and pictures of her bike, I assumed she'd be a bigger woman. However, the woman with a few small tattoos on the other side of the glass is of an average build.

“Inside or outside?” I message Emma on Tinder. Ten years ago, I would have had to suck it up and do the awkward: “Hi, are you waiting for me?” sort of introduction.

Now, I can just sit back and see what happens on my phone.

It is Emma.

I step outside and introduce myself, pulling up a stool next to hers, ordering a hot chocolate.

It's the first hot chocolate I've had in years, but the air is cool and wet – it's like the last cold rain of fall before winter arrives.

Our conversation finds its footing quickly, only interrupted by an odd couple of Chinese tourist wearing matching dresses, followed by two Thais with matching faded purple hair and our commentary on what they are thinking, or were thinking, when they decided to go for the same look.

An arachnologist with a thesis in doping spiders with pesticides and seeing how it impacts their web building, Emma follows Petter Witts proud tradition of hooking arachnids on drugs. Dr Witt, however, gave them doses of mescalin, caffeine, LSD and other mind-altering drugs, which was at once “predictably horrifying and scientifically inconclusive”, according to The Guardian.

Like any good conversation, the topics stretch far and deep, touching on a psychotic ex-husband to the seahorse research a dear friend of mine has recently wrapped up in Thailand, as well as motorcycles, Dice Travels, the difficulties of being female expat in Thailand and a great deal more.

I finish my hot chocolate and turn down the offer to have another coffee. This is supposed to be a break from writing, not an end of the work day. However, we both openly admit that we've stirred up a healthy, entertaining banter, often a rarity in the expat community.

Emma sips her coffee, enjoying several cigarettes as the conversation continues to run its course and the sky darkens.

It's nearly nightfall by the time I grab the bill and pay for our coffees.

A friendly hug goodbye and we part ways with the hopes of catching a magic show together at Magic Land tomorrow.

That's right, Chiang Mai's 9am to 5pm magic show is one of the town's newest attractions, and I'm not about to miss out on it.

#Motorcycle #Thailand #DailyUpdate #featured #Featured

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