Day 254: Cop busts Dice Man without insurance to roll
Well, that didn't go as expected. Photo: Dicklebers
Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses changes faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.
WITH the kickstand down on the unnamed little beast, my new Yamaha DT 175, it takes a few seconds of pondering the wet spot developing below the bike for me to realize she's pissing herself about something. Kneeling down, any ape, greater or lesser, could spot the issue. The bike isn't leaking gas, she's gushing gas from the bare carburetor overflow valve.
Gas spewing out of your carburetor is never a good sign.
I've had the bike for less than a week; it's a nightmare. Not the sort of nightmare you wake up tangled in sweat-soaked sheets from, but certainly not the most pleasurable experience.
The bike's parked outside the dumpy, glass-sided Kencom Building off Mombasa Road. It's a Nairobi miracle that the building is next to the Yamaha dealership, where I planned to pick up spare parts for the road: extra tubes, brake cable, clutch cable and spark plugs. It's unheard of that any two places of significance in Nairobi are within walking distance of each other. In fact, nearly any other two places are separated by about an hour of mind-numbing, soul-sucking, bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Yet, here, on this glorious Tuesday, that's not the case. Perhaps, just perhaps, I would get more then two errands accomplished in an entire day – I admit, I dared to have such a dream before the Yamaha started spewing gas.
I illegally drove to the Kencom Building; the bike needs insurance before it can be road legal, which I was sternly reminded of when I arrested by a traffic officer in afternoon rush-hour deadlock yesterday.
It had already been a long day. Instead of getting insurance, I'd taken the bike to Mike the Mechanic in his shop opposite the Muslim Academy on Park Road on the edge of Eastleigh.
A road caked with parked matatu and people runs parallel to the main road, where enormous speed bumps keep traffic moving at a crawl. A cement drainage ditch, deep enough to swallow an entire motorcycle, and it's rider, runs between the two strips of pavement. On the far side of the parking street is a wall of dilapidated shops. Though rundown and worn out by years of dust and dirt, there is a bustle in the shops and local restaurants. A red sign reading “Yamaha” stretches across a place next to a roofless metal wall. Behind the wall towers a high-rise that might have been elegant at one point in its life.
I hesitate, then find a tiny bridge to cross over the drainage ditch, pulling up in front of the Yamaha shop. The remnants of wood working cover the stoop outside the shop. It's impossible to walk inside, as the small single room is stuffed with a few rusty, broken down motorcycles and piles of parts.
The corrugated metal door in the wall made of of the same gray metal swings open to reveal Mike's workshop. Inside, four bikes are up on stands as a couple young men, fingers stained with grease, take them apart.
Mike is wearing a dark blue jumper painted with black grease and dirt from years of use. He gives a soft smile as we shake hands, a flat cap pulled down over his head, rectangular glasses perched on his nose. It's easy to imagine him slowly riffling through the Quran in the dim light of a naked light bulb after hours of tinkering on machines in the shop.
Mike gets to work on a bike. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Sam sworn by Mike's abilities. It turns out that Mike, despite the location and the rundown atmosphere of the open-air shop, is the go-to-man for all police motorcycle repairs. He emits a calm patience that can only come with decades of experience in any field.
Immediately, I trust him and I trust his judgment.
I don't ask how much it's going to cost to have him switch out the sprocket set.
I crouching down next to one of the younger mechanics to watch what he's working on. Despite not doing a lot of my own work on the motorcycles on this trip so far, I'm trying to seize every opportunity to learn. Who would have thought it was so often necessary to man-handle a bike while pulling it apart or bolting it back together. In my mind everything should simply slip in to place.
It comes to light that I'm taking this bike throughout East Africa.
“This bike?” the young guy, Alfi, asks in disbelief – the DT75 isn't known for being a touring bike.
“Yeah, I'm doing a world tour. I spent the last six months on a couple different bikes in Asia, so now I'm trying to get this one sorted out for the African leg.”
“I want to do a trip like that, but I need to save more.”
“Yeah, but at least you have the skills to fix your own bike. If you're smart, you can do it cheaply I think. You don't need some big BMW GS to do a trip like this. Just get out there and go.”
“What's the name of your Facebook again?”
“Dice Travels,” I say. “Here, I'll add you as a friend.”
“I'll make sure Mike knows what you're doing,” he says, bolstering my confidence that the bike is going to be taken especially good care of. “He'll get it ready for you.”
Everyone is still busy taking care of other bikes. I wait for a bit longer, then let Mike now that I'm going to slip out for lunch. Does he want me to bring him back a soda or something?
I return with a glas bottle of Coke and a straw after gobbling down a big dish of ugali with greens and Kenyan beef stew for a couple bucks – apparently not everywhere in Nairobi is outrageously priced.
“Is there anything else?” Mike asks, wiping his hands off on his jumper as he stands up. The new sprocket set and chain glistening in the late afternoon sun.
“Yeah, it doesn't really seem to have enough power and it's blowing a lot of smoke,” I say.
Michael, my friend in Nairobi, gave the bike a test ride last night and came to the same conclusion – it doesn't have enough power. It could be something as simple as needing to change the gear ratios, but neither of us was sure. We also agreed that she's blowing too much smoke. A little smoke is what you want, but she's coughing up entire cigarette carton's worth of smoke when she gets going.
Mike unbolts the cover to the auto-mixer and starts making some adjustments. Only since getting the bike did I learn that in order for a two-stroke engine not to seize up and break apart, it's necessary to mix a certain amount of oil with the gas. The Yamaha DT175s, however, has an internal mixer. So as long as you keep the 2T oil tank filled, the bike should be putting enough oil into the tank to keep run smoothly. In some cases, bikers will disconnect the entire system and do it all manually, which seems like a lot of extra work to me. In this case, the bike's running rich, which means too much oil.
After Mike makes some adjustments, he rolls the bike out front and takes it for a spin.
“You're sure it isn't blowing too much smoke?” I ask when he gets back.
“It's good. Blowing no smoke would be a problem.”
“So what about the power?”
The solution: poking holes in the spongy air filter with a piece of scrap metal.
“That should do it,” Mike says.
“Okay, excellent. Thank you so much Mike. So what do I owe you?”
“Sam sent the parts, so just labor. Let's say 500.”
That's about five dollars for about an hour or so of tinkering on various bits and pieces. I happily fork over the cash.
If Mechanic Mike says the bike is good to go, she's good to go. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Michael, Abby and I are meeting for a movie at Westgate, the mall that was attacked by terrorist in 2013. When it became clear that it would be some time before Mike got to my bike, I dropped Michael a line to let him know that I might not make it. But, as it is, if I head straight to the mall, I should make it in time for the running of Assassin's Creed.
The bike eats up gas, putting more torque into the tires as we head down the road, snaking our way toward cinema.
With a bit more air coming in through the system she's got punch. The bike paints a stupid smile on my face, but it's quickly wiped off after several wrong turns.
Where the hell am I?
We skirt an enormous sprawling slum, the rusted roofs spread out below the road in a sea of poverty. Shops on the outskirts are packed with secondhand appliances, clothing, cheap toys and old shoes. Eyes follow me: the muzungo with orange fox ears on his helmet.
Someone gives me a thumbs up, others look at me more hungrily.
We slice up one street, slowing at a tight turn to loop through a Y intersection, then coming to near stops crossing speed bumps stretched across the road like the dead. A drainage system that runs alongside the road brims with trash and black sludge, wooden planks stretch across the thick, odorous mess to butchers with pieces of dead animals hanging off big hooks in the windows.
The traffic thickens around me as I'm spit out onto Waiyaki Way. The sky darkens, break lights taking on a red glow in the early, dusky blue of the evening. A few meters beyond where the Meru-Nairobi Highway loops into Waiyaki Way, we're brought to a near standstill.
Splitting lanes, I start wiggling forward.
At this rate, I'll still make the movie. I wanted to treat Michael and Abby to the evening since they've been putting food in my stomach and a roof over my head for several weeks now.
In the sluggish traffic, the bike runs rich, sending plumes of oily blue smoke into the air. Halfway through the jam stands a thick police officer directing traffic.
She spots me, a muzungo. Her eyes glint. With a black baton, she waves me over.
“Why is your bike smoking so much?” she asks.
It's a bullshit question. So many vehicles belch black clouds of smoke in Nairobi that my little two-stroke's blue-white cloud isn't an issue. But I'm white, so that's something different.
“It's because it's a two-stroke and running really rich, which means that there's a little too much oil in the system,” I chirp with a smile, excited to share my recent understanding of a two-stroke motorcycle.
She's not listening. She's a hippopotamus-sized woman, the white shirt of her crisp uniform balloons around her body, her pants tightly hug wide hips.
“Do you have a driver's licenses?”
“Yes, of course,” I say, pulling out my wallet. “I have my international one and my Thai driver's license.”
Her eyes, below sharp, short eyebrows, scan the cards.
“Where's your insurance?” she asks. “Do you have insurance?”
“I assume so, I just bought the bike yesterday. I can't imagine it doesn't have insurance,” I lie with a confused smile.
“I don't see the card.”
There should be a square insurance card hanging from the keys of the bike – proof that it's allowed to be driven on the road. There isn't. The bike, isn't insured. The plan was to get it fixed and pick up insurance today, but it took Mike awhile to get to the bike and even longer for him to clear it.
“I don't know. It's got to be insured. I really did just buy it yesterday,” I say.
“Well, where's the insurance?” She asks, knowing full-well there is no insurance.
“I don't know. Let me call the guy who sold it to me and ask him what the deal is.”
I call Sam with her looming next to me.
“Hey Sam, I just got pulled over by the police. They want to see the insurance for the bike, but I can't find it. Can you talk to them please?” I ask, hoping that he'll take the hint and run with it.
Sam throws me under the bus. As a motorcycle driver, there is no situation in which you want to find yourself beneath the bus, especially in Kenya.
She hands me the phone back with a charming smile.
“He says there's no insurance.”
“What? I don't believe it.”
I take the phone back.
“Man, what do you mean? It's got to have insurance. How could you sell it to me and let me drive it away?” I ask. “You said it had insurance.”
“I told you it doesn't have insurance,” Sam says, unaware that my side of the conversation is all for show – a painting of a victim of circumstances.
My face contorts as if receiving surprise birthday after a long day in the office when all you want is to kick off your shoes and pass out in bed.
The officer waddles off as I rail against poor Sam for not telling me the bike was uninsured, which, of course, he did.
I give her a big smile when she comes back.
“Well, what do you want to do?”
“What can I do? All I want is to get back to the house,” I plead. “I'm almost there. I'll get insurance tomorrow, I promise. I can't believe he didn't have insurance on it.”
“I can't let you go. You broke the law. You're under arrest,” she says in a conversational tone, as if commenting on the weather. “We will have to impound the bike and take you to the police station.”
“Can I at least have my IDs back please?”
“Give me your keys,” she says, reaching for the ignition.
I block her from snatching the keys. I'm completely vulnerable once the keys are in her hands.
Traffic continues to crawl past us. Another officer, on a connecting road only twenty meters away, is keenly aware of what is going.
“You already have my license,” I say, the smile never slipping from my face.
She smiles back, her thick lips revealing pearly white teeth. It's starting to feel like we're flirting, the words aren't flirtatious, but under currents are at work.
I pull my wallet back out.
“What are you doing with that wallet?” she accusingly asks. “There are cameras here.”
“Oh, I was just checking on something,” I say. “I'm sure there's a way we can take care of this situation right now.”
She subtly slips my driver's license to me, then wanders off.
Is that it? Am I free to go? I sit there, unsure. More likely, it's a trap. She said I'm under arrest, if I drive off now, I'm fleeing an officer. There's no way I can get enough speed in this traffic someone wouldn't catch me if they tried.
In fact, she'd already threatened to run me down if I tried to race off.
She ignores me for five long minutes. I remain happily perched on the bike – what else can I do?
When she decided that I'm not going to flee the scene, she returns.
“You're not afraid?” she asks.
“I've been traveling for almost a year on a motorcycle. Plus, I trust you,” I say with all the charm I can muster for the situation.
She tells me to pull up on the curb a little further down the road where a few piki piki drivers, motorcycle taxis, are loitering.
The driver she indicates that I should speak to gives me a big, shit-eating grin.
The driver and I chit chat for a few moments, the officer no longer paying any attention.
“Do you think I can go now?” I ask.
“Maybe if you give her a little something, she can let you go.”
“Yes, I tried that.”
“But there are cameras everywhere here,” notes. “You can give it to me and I can give it to her. How much do you have?”
“Only a thousand or so.”
“That's not enough.”
“But that's what I have, I think.”
I have more money, but I'm not about to cough up more than 20 dollars to get this sorted. She's given me back my driver's license, what leverage does she have? Maybe she really did want me to drive off.
She's basically let me go, right? She just hasn't said so.
There's more small talk.
I slip 2,000 Shilling into the helmet sitting on the gas tank.
“Yeah, if you want to try it on, go for it I say,” handing the driver the fox-eared helmet.
Oblivious to the situation, the driver dumps the cash onto the ground, then scrambles to pick it up.
“It's not enough,” he says again.
“It's what I have. Just give her the money and tell her that's all I can do please.”
He walks toward the thick, bloated officer.
I put the bike in gear and jump back on the road, figuring she's got her bribe money. I've got my license – there's no problem here; I'm not about to start renegotiating the price.
The darkness of the cinema wraps the crowd up, pressing in with a warm familiarity as the screen flickers at the front of the room. It's a Monday, which means the combo set is a soda, popcorn and a hot dog to go with the movie.
I lick the mustard off my fingers, feeling like a champion.
I gave Michael, Abby and their two friends, who are also connected to the embassy, a rundown of exactly what happened.
“It's crazy, it felt like we were flirting. Then, she gave me back my license, so it was kind of like she was letting me go, but not saying so. It was so strange. I wasn't sure exactly what to do,” I told them. “Why she slipped the license back to me like that, I don't really get it.”
Fingers still wet from where mustard was a second ago, I pluck out some soft kernels of popcorn, take a sip of the coke. Then, it hits me.
I'm a fucking idiot. A total fucking idiot.
Using the light of the screen, I check my wallet.
There's no international driver's license.
There's a Thai driver's license, but not the international one.
Air rushes in to fill my lungs as I attempt to remain calm. Of course, she gave me back the Thai one, but kept the international.
Head spinning, I manage to sit through the entirety of Assassin's Creed, which marks 140 minutes of my life that I'll never get back.
And to think, that I thought I was some smooth cat who understood the system. Someone with enough calm charm to wiggle my way out any situation with a little tea money.
When, the reality is something we all have known all along: I'm a fucking idiot.
And all of this before the bike started pissing herself.