Bruce, Somchai And Elvis, A Chance Encounter In Australia
Don’t get me wrong. I am the villain in this story. I love taking the piss out of people and equally love having the piss taken out on me. I love to laugh at myself and my misgivings. Living in Thailand was not one of the hands of cards I thought I would be playing with in my life. Maybe I should change for the better but I think it is too late now being a villain already. In fact I’m sure it is too late.
This is a story of how I came up with the idea of taking the piss out of someone and then laughing at myself in return. My ineptitude. A plan hatched in my mind.
Maybe I should call this story “6 Tales of Separation; A True Story”. Is it real or made up? Believe you me I did not start this story with “once upon a time”. 7,620 km travelled and 3,000 km to go…. The encounter begins.
We were two days into our drive of three to chase feral pigs and still 100km from the Queensland border outback Australia. We had managed 2,000 km already even with my Terak’s 20 ml bladder stops every 30 minutes or so. My mind, bored with the drive, was ticking over. Once a villain, always a villain. I knew she would not get my sense of humour this time, as usual, but hey she is along for the ride and at least I will get a laugh out of it. This is my country after all and she is a long way from her home.
It’s an annual sojourn to meet up with old mates. Chase pigs, shoot guns, ride bikes, eat red meat, drink heaps, go bush, talk shit, go walkabout, secret men’s business; whatever you want to call it. Just doing what good mates do for a catch up every year. Kind of like meeting up with the herd again even though there are only three in the herd. A butcher, a builder and a boat driver. Priceless mates over the years. This time an extra was in tow to see what Secret Men’s Business is all about. Nothing stops the wilder beast from the annual sojourn out west.
Before we departed I explained to my terak how thankful I was for her showing me the real Thailand; aka Isaan and that I wanted to show her the real Australia in return. It would be business class travel. I googled a photo of Elvis Pressley and told her it was my brother and he was going to pick us up at the airport. She seemed interested and even more so when I told her his wife had passed a while ago and that he was now single and looking. She had passed the picture of “Elwis” to all of her family and friends and they all agreed he is a “Hansum Man” and they all wanted to meet him. Unsurprisingly none of the family identified the person in the photo either.
With the visa sorted and being picked up by a limo for the drive to the airport much to my (temporary) “Hi-So” Terak’s delight we boarded the plane after spending much time in the Business lounge eating and drinking fine ales unlike the Vino come Paint Stripper served at the local 7 Eleven back in down-town Isaan. It was going to be an eventful trip I knew that already.
On the flight it was only a comment from her but enough to get my attention being a bit pissy once we were seated in business class. “How you pay for this”. Maybe it was the wine talking, maybe it’s me just being me. “I’m in the Mile High Flying Club… my Terak, the more points you get the more miles you fly. It’s that easy. Why don’t you ask the flight attendant what you have to do to be in the Mile-High Club and earn some points to fly!”
I got her into the Silver frequent flyer status that night. I would like to take this time to personally thank Bruce, the gay flight attendant on QF23.
Unbeknownst to me at the time the name Bruce is..well…read on.
80Km from the Queensland border, half way through listening to an old hard drive disk full of Elvis songs that my ex had forgotten when she left, my mind is still ticking over. It was a good break from listening to the top 20 Isaan Morlam music songs that my Terak had brought along. I found myself actually tapping the steering wheel to the Elvis music. The native and feral animals had been increasing notably beside the road…. Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate and you wish you were back home sitting on the lounge eating chips..mmm chips..mmm chips..zzzzz…
My mind wanders back to our arrival at the regional airport a few days ago where my supposed brother Elvis was going to pick us up. I had to explain to my Terak that “Elvis” had left the bahn a while ago as he had to go and play some music somewhere and could not meet us. I said if we were lucky we might spot him. My mate, who regularly picks me up from the airport without fault or complaint on my visits back to the homeland, listened in, looked at me blankly for a while then nodded, shook his head and smiled. He knew me well.
My driver mate has the appropriately nick-name “Grott”. It doesn’t matter if you dressed him in the finest clothes and gave him the best haircut and shave he would still look like a “Grott” no matter what. That was his nick-name that stuck since we were kids at school. His name was Grott and always will be. Introduction time and my quickest thinking of a name at the time I introduced “Grott” as Mr Bruce, umm, “Mr Bruce Lee”.
Nice to meet you “Bluce Wee” you are welcome to Thailand anytime in my Terak’s sweetest English.
Grott put his hand out for a hand shake and was met with a wai equal to meeting Buddha himself. An awkward moment for Grott but he managed a sort of half a salute followed by a sort of two handed prayer gesture. Grott looked at me again shaking his head and whisked our bags into the boot of his Toyota Camry just like the limo driver did back in Bangkok. This time though the boot lid was closed using a hockey strap. He even opened the back door for my Terak. Not because he is a gentleman which he is, but because the outside handle to the back seat had been broken for many years just like the boot lock and he had to reach through the driver’s door to open it from the inside.
My Terak’s phone beeped maybe 30 times with her new Internet connection and I knew she was back in her comfort zone with Facebook. The conversation with my driver who I had not chewed much fat with since we had last caught up, maybe a year or so ago was interrupted by loud shouts from my Terak to stop the car..
“UTE UTE UTE>>SaTOP..SaTOP.. STOP”.. We had not even passed the airstrip runway. My Terak is busy looking out the back window at something. Grott manoeuvres his car off the highway trying not to cause an accident and set off the air bags at the same time. The ABS brakes chattering as he pulled into the loose gravel.
In my thirty years of training as a captain of a ship, yes I’m the boat driver. I learnt not to respond to an incident straight away with adrenaline running through your body. Count to 5 slowly and as the adrenaline wears off then assess the situation you are faced with and deal with it decisively.
By this time my Terak has her head out of the rear window and is pointing her phone at something. The realisation kicked in that what she was looking at was her first ever sight of an Aussie kangaroo, a good size grey at that, and all she wanted was a photo for her Facebook. A fair call on her behalf. My driver and I pissed ourselves laughing at what had just happened and Grott even backed the car up so she could get some closer photos.
On nearer inspection she asked why it was sleeping on the side of the road. By this time there were visible signs of fluid emanating from both Grott’s eyes and nose in uncontrolled laughter. It was impossible to answer the question in our fits of laughter. Grott drove off slowly and as the laughter died down only to come across another Grey “sleeping” on the side of the road a couple of hundred meters along. It was back on with the convulsions of laughter. This grey had been asleep for a bit longer than the last one and the stench of death slowly wafted through the car. I’m looking at my terak red faced with teary eyes and nose running. Slowly she looks at me seriously and says. “They’re not sleeping, are they?”
50 km to the Queensland border and familiar with the much needed pit stop for fuel and the usual 30 ml bladder relief my villain plan is etching in my head. The road was monotonously straight with the occasional traffic being the passing of a grey nomad towing their Bahn behind them or the occasional road train with 4 trailers or quads full of cattle. Passing traffic was now drawing out to being around 50 minutes apart. I explained to my Terak how in the real Australia you must wave at the oncoming traffic with your fingers as a sign of goodwill and luck. The further west you head the more fingers you use to wave from the steering wheel. There’s the one finger salute, the two finger salute, the three finger salute and then the four finger. I also explained that once you get to the four finger salute the passenger must wave also. I explained how rude it would be for her not to wave being in the real outback with real Australian people.
We were up to the three finger salute on our sojourn. It was an automatic thing for me to do in Isaan also on the quiet dirt road back to our Bahn. She commented that now she understood why I gave the two-finger salute with passing bikes and tuk-tuks on the way home in the pickup truck. Unbeknown to her I also had another salute which I used back in the village. A secret one at that. Explaining the finger salute gave me an out if I ever I was caught out using my secret one back in Isaan. I could just simply explain that I was just wishing goodwill. The secret wave was little pinky finger plus pointer finger and thumb up with the palm of hand facing forward. It was often met with more than smiles in return. There is one thing better than farm fresh fruit from Isaan and that’s the ones that are handpicked from the vine before they get to the market. My secret Isaan salute of “I love you” worked many times in my favour whenever I was hungry for fresh fruit or vegetables.
40 km to go and it was now or never for my villain plan. I had to put it into effect before her phone started beeping again knowing her Facebook would be re-connected soon. Internet connection out here only happens close to town. Once that happened it would be like trying to talk to me while I’m sitting on the couch at home eating chips. Mmm chips…
The villain plan begins “So my Terak not far to the Queensland border now. You better get your passport ready to show Immigration when we get to the Queensland border check point”.
A look then a stare from her “I no hab passport you say so” she looks at me like she has let me down but I can see thoughts ticking through her head. I’m thinking of saying it’s just a joke 555 but she puts the ball right back in my court “You tell me no hab bring passport in car, you say so, YOU SAY SO” just as I was expecting it was going to be my fault all along because she not hab passport.
No I tell you no need bring passbook not passport there is no Kasikorn bank out here”. She’s really showing signs of loss of face now and I’m thinking of calling the whole thing off again as a joke. But I won’t. The moments tick away and I’m sort of feeling sorry for her with what I am doing. But those thoughts don’t last long. My villain plan continues as I explain that the Queensland border crossing Immigration officials are not that bad and all they are looking for is Illegal Tasmanian cotton and wheat pickers just like the illegal Khmer workers back in Isaan. The cotton won’t be ready to pick for another month and the wheat has been picked a month ago so it will be easy to get over the border. I explained how we can pass through the border without her being detected. All she had to do was squeeze her petite body down on the front floor and I would cover her up with my sleeping bag and pillow.
Either that or we have a two day drive back to pick up her passport and then drive another two days back here. With not much alternative she agrees and tucks herself under the dash. Her Facebook pings with maybe 40 messages. I tell her she can do Facebook once we cross the border so turn it off now we are close. I’m wondering what it would be like to give a heroin addict a fix only to tell them you can’t use it yet. I started the villain plan and it was too late to stop it now. She tucked down on the floor and I threw the sleeping bag and pillow over her.
5 km to go. The tsunami wave as I call it when coming into my yearly fuel stop was coming into view. On the bitumen road ahead rising from the road mirage was a great wave coming at you. I forgot about seeing this and again was wondering about calling a joke a joke just so my Terak could see this phenomenon. It wasn’t a wave but a man-made dyke or levy built all the way around the town to protect it and keep the flood waters out when and if it ever rained heavy enough. For some reason the mirage looks so real. The Defence force would conduct an exercise every few years evacuating the locals free of charge to the big smoke in readiness for a possible breach of the dirt wall by water. The thought was lost knowing she was working in Phuket when the real one hit. I let it ride.
2 km to go. We had passed the customary tidy town award sign followed by the APEX, Rotary, Indigenous and population sign etc. On the crest of the dirt tsunami wall my plan went to shit and I mean real shit. I don’t swear much but this was shit..shit shit and more shit.. What have I done! This is not happening. I didn’t have time to count to five to get my head around it. I didn’t have time to count at all. Take me back to the couch eating chips is all I want.
Ahead were six cops leaning on a Toyota cruiser 4WD and a pursuit car waiting to do an RBT. I’m the only customer and six heads turn at me in unison as I come over the dam wall. Shit I’m sober as a judge no worries but how in the hell am I going to explain an Asian chick tucked under my sleeping bag and pillow. My adrenalin is running. With no time to think I shout at my Terak lay down, quiet, just shut up. I even managed to yell NARLLONG..NARLLONG…NEEUP…NEEUP… in Thai.. I knew she would understand my lousy Thai hiding under the sleeping bag but I also yelled… ”SOW WOW …SOW WOW.” She would know I was serious when I told her to SHUT UP in Isaan speak.
0 km to go. There’s nowhere to go and I pull up as instructed by the officer beside a row of orange witch’s hats. I’m used to being the judge, juror and executioner in my career as captain of a ship but this time it was way different, way, way different. I was out of my league, I was in their court room now. I wind the window down and six or something big flies enter the car. Two head straight for my nose and the others head straight for my sleeping bag and pillow on the floor. The cop looks at me and I look at him. He is obviously fresh out of school and I’m thinking he has not caught too many bank robbers. My Terak has not moved under the bedding. Thank you Buddha.
I pass my licence through the window with a smile trying to hurry things up saying “have I done something wrong officer?”
“My name is Acting Senior Constable Bruce something or other with the Queensland Police force. You have been stopped for a Random Breath Test. When did you have your last alcoholic drink?” He’s not even looking at me while he is talking to me but surveying the contents in the back of the ute and trailer with one eye and also looking up at the tsunami with his other eye waiting for his next catch. A young cop doing his time in the bush. Bruce, was it acting senior sergeant or acting senior constable, I had forgotten already. “You have probably heard it before senior, rather than call him constable or sergeant so as not to offend him, but to answer your question correctly and honestly, I don’t know when I had my last drink? I haven’t had it yet”.
He’s still unwrapping the straw to fit the bretho. Still looking in the back of the Ute. “Yep heard that one before.. It’s an old one but a good one. Blow through the tube until I say stop.” I’m blowing and blowing and blowing not that I’m worried about the reading but he starts a conversation up as I am about to pass out with no breath.
“Nice bike in the back I have the same 2020 model… You can stop blowing now.” A deep breath and I don’t have an answer just a smile. He nods, still looking at the tsunami with one eye and holding the reading of my breath test at the same time. “Your reading is zero but before you go I notice you have a gun case in the back of the seat.” I might as well surrender now and give him an extra stripe on his shoulder for his good work catching a crazy bloke hiding a Thai lady under the dash with guns in my possession. How did he see that?
He leans down into the window and whispers in a voice of authority. “I’m not really worried about your guns just keep them out of sight when you are in town. Throw your sleeping bag and pillow over the case and keep it out of sight and don’t have a shot at a pig within 2 km of town they start to smell after a few days. Keep the speed down under 120 towing a trailer and make sure you blow under .5 next time we meet.” Thank you my Buddha.
Senior Bruce stood back up and said you are free to go now “safe driving”. “By the way if you are back in town in two weeks the local show is on and this year it should be a good one. Some really good country cooking and Elvis is playing Saturday night.” The flies lifted off the sleeping bag and pillow simultaneously and landed on my nose. That’s four something flies fighting for a space on my nose along with the other two. Time to go I nodded and drove off speechless again.
0 km to go minus 600 meters. “My Terak it’s ok you can come out now, it’s safe.” We have passed through Immigration checkpoint already. All’s good. We will stop now. I have to go to the toilet ok.” She climbs back up on the seat with ease and says thank you my Samee “can I Facebook now I have to go toilet too and I’m hungry.”
Fuel can wait, the toilet is first as I idle in haste between a row of trucks. We were like a Cessna plane lined up with FA18’s on the tarmac. My seatbelt unlocked before we had even stopped. I really had to visit the closest ablution block, not that I needed it 5 minutes ago. A trucker bloke comes around the corner with a metal pipe banging on his tyres. Being a country guy he says “G’day mate didn’t expect to see you here. Your radios cactus. I called you up back at Bruce’s property after I overtook you a couple of hundred clicks back down the road. Sounded like you were about to do a wheel bearing in.” I remembered the truck overtaking and it hit me that what he had heard was the loud Morlam music and I wouldn’t have heard the call on the radio amongst all the noise anyway. It would have been the squeal of the Isaan Morlam music he had heard, not a wheel bearing. “Thanks mate yeah…yeah…yeah I did a bearing shortly after that. I always carry a spare.” He nodded and kept on banging his tyres. All through this conversation he is watching my terak’s backside wander to the “ladies” while banging on his tyres and not even looking at me. I can’t blame him for looking I would have done the same thing also. It would probably be the best sight he had seen all day. My V line temporarily interrupted I double skipped to the toilet.
I’m sitting on the throne feeling much more relaxed and started reading the graffiti. I always wonder why they put paint over the graffiti in toilets but never put enough paint to cover the actual message. The one that stood out was “For a good time call Bruce anytime day or night” followed by a mobile number. Enough was enough and it’s time to move on.
I walk back towards the Ute ready to fuel her up and get back on the road. A few miles between this place and me won’t be missed. I approach the Ute and notice the trucker now has his eyes focused on my Terak’s behind again who has now left the “ladies “on a mission for food at the cafeteria. Can’t blame him again. She has her phone pointed at her other hand with something in it. I didn’t have to look hard to know what she was doing. It would be a photo of the $100-dollar bill I gave to her to buy some food and her Facebook mates would be trying to decipher the lucky 3 numbers hidden somewhere in the note.
With everything slowing down now and back on track I catch the trucker’s eyes with a nod. I notice now in my slower pace how he is tanned, nearly black on one side of his face and arms from the sun and the other side white like an office worker. This guy had been driving trucks North in the mornings and South in the afternoon’s for a long, long time.
Wishing to be a bit more sociable than our last brief encounter when I was on my mission to the loo it’s time to be a bit more country and chat with this guy, after all, he was worried about my wheel bearing.
“Mate you said you passed me back at Bruce’s place back down the road 200 km ago is that where the local cop lives, long drive to work? I thought it would be a fair question, quick response and I’d be on my way. Not so.
“Nah mate you’ve got the wrong Bruce. Bruce back down the road is Bruce the baker. The Coppa Bruce, Bruce the bank robber lives in town here locally.” I’m thinking what! I just have to ask? “How did Bruce the local cop get his name Bruce the bank robber?” Oh, he caught a mob of local kids pinching credit cards from the retirement home and using them at the ATM. Got a good reputation around here and a quick promotion to Senior Sergeant. He’s a good bloke.” “And Bruce the baker” I just had to ask again. “How did he get his name?” “He bakes a dam good lemon cake so his nickname stuck. He wins first prize in the local show every year hands down. Nobody else enters nowadays because they know he will win.” “Does he do a bit of flying by any chance, Bruce the baker that is?” The trucker looks at me with the sudden change of conversation and all of a sudden he laughs. “The last time I saw Bruce the baker fly we were having it off in the Boxing tent at the local show. He flew nearly 3 meters and I won $200 bucks. Nah he hates flying.”
My Terak has now joined us with two cups of steaming hot Maggie noodles all for herself and eager to get back in the ute so she can Facebook while eating. I introduce my Terak to my new trucker mate and he introduces himself. I’m Lee, my mates call me “Bruce Lee” expecting a laugh from my Terak.
My Terak now meeting another Mr Bruce Lee or another Somchai says “Hello Bluce Wee welcome to Thailand anytime” Yes the wai followed with two cups of steaming noodles raised to touch the nose like she was meeting Buddha again. He managed a nod not being sure what he was nodding about. “Got that name after clobbering Bruce the baker in the ring at the show I guess the name sorta stuck since then.”
It’s time to go. I have to get out of here before I lose my mind. We need fuel and our camp is still another 300km to go before it gets dark and the roos start wanting to punch a hole in my bonnet.
I’m not even in the car when Bruce yells out again. “Hey Mate I was thinking about what you said about Bruce and flying. You must be talking about Bruce Junior. Bruce the baker’s kid. He flies over this way around 11am every second day heading over to Thailand. I watch his planes ‘contail thingy’ whatever you call it go over. He reckons he spots me driving up the road and waves all the time. The sheilas here love him for some ungodly reason. I think he’s a bit that way inclined if you know what I mean. Good kid. He made it out of here. I hear he’s back in town in a couple of weeks for the local show. Should be a good one this year his old man is cooking up some cakes and I hear Elvis is playing. If you’re back in town I’ll shout ya a beer.”
Time for a decision. I have fuel, not much but enough to clear this town behind me. I can use my emergency fuel jerry cans when the fuel light starts blinking.
I pass the bowsers and put my indicator on to head West. My terak now seriously thinks we should come and see my brother Elwis at the local show in a couple of weeks.
“DOWN MY TERAK, GET DOWN, HIDE YOUR HEAD.” I’m now physically pushing her head between her legs under the dash.
The Police had finished with the RBT for the day and were heading back to the station slowly like a funeral parade. I stop as they pass and give them the 4-finger salute from the steering wheel. They all nod in unison. I’m shaking like hell at this stage. My Terak’s head is still bent down below the dash but still looking up at me and asks.
“Do you want me to wave now?”
The author of this article cannot be contacted.