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Rickshaw Run

January 10, 2011

It’s been an amazing year so far, a little saucy, but I am starting to simmer it. Sorry for the delay in adding a new post, I had to fix my computer! Here’s a little something, I wrote late last year on the Rickshaw Run.

“Ok everyone, t minus 10 minutes!” said an English voice in which I could not put a face to. It was sunny and scalding hot. It was 9:30 AM and my shirt was already soaked with sweat. I looked around; everyone was running around, it was chaos in an unfamiliar and strange land. Rock music was blaring; people were screaming in excitement. Motorized rickshaws were lined up in columns of three and they extended back another twenty rows. The multiple sounds of the rickshaws’ engines started.

I anxiously inhaled and exhaled deeply, turned the key, and tried to start the engine. The first attempt to pull the lever to start it did not work. I tried again and this time it started to rumble softly, then it started to purr, although it still sounded like a ten year old lawnmower. I looked around and saw groups of people that were having the same difficulty in starting their engines. I thought to myself nervously, “Phew, at least, I’m not the only person with engine trouble.”

There were butterflies in my stomach. I didn’t know if it was from the nervousness of the start of the race, the paneer masala, the chicken tandoori, the drinking water, the massive amount of beer or liquor I drank last night as we celebrated the start of the race, or the other hundred things that could have affected me. I thought to myself, “What the hell did I get myself into this time?”

I was about to start a 3000-kilometer charity race that began in Goa, India, and concluded in Pokhara, Nepal. The kicker? The big wrench? I was in a motorized rickshaw that could break any minute. Hell, as I was test-driving the sucker yesterday, 15 minutes into it, the gas hose broke and everything leaked out. I had to push the rickshaw for 30 minutes before I found a mechanic who helped me out with the issue. The organization did not give me instructions or maps of India or Nepal. They just gave me a piece of paper that said, “Thank you and congratulations for joining the charity race. We look forward to seeing you in Nepal.” The other 59 rickshaw drivers must be thinking how insane this race was going to be.

I was momentarily pulled out of my daydream when a gruff looking Indian guy with a full beard and moustache started screaming at me about something in Hindi. I looked intently at him with a blank stare and after he was done, I responded politely, “Sorry, I do not speak Hindi.” He started talking in a louder decibel in Hindi and concluded in English, “Funnel hose. Where is funnel hose?”

I was slightly confused; I didn’t take a funnel or a hose from anyone. I replied, “Sorry, you must have the wrong person. I do not have a funnel or a hose.” The already agitated Indian fellow became a little louder and this time only said, “Funnel! Hose!” A mixed crowd of Indians and other rickshaw runners started to form around our situation. I thought about it harder as the gentleman clearly was getting inflamed by the minute; then it hit me like lightning. It must be the only other Asian fellow that was driving another rickshaw. I responded semi-sarcastically, “I think this is a simple case of misidentity, there is another person that looks almost exactly like me about five rickshaws back,” pointing behind me.

The man must have been as confused as me and repeated his last two words. I responded, “Please look back ponche rickshaws,” hoping that the small bit of Hindi I picked up could communicate correctly. I raised my hand with five fingers and pointed backwards. As I did this, I released the clutch by accident and the engine stalled. I annoyingly thought, “Great. I hope this guy gets off my back.” Fortunately, he somehow understood what I meant and headed to find the other guy.

I looked at one of the charity racers next to me and said, “The guy must have mistaken me with the other Asian guy because of the colors of our t-shirts.” The Australian couple laughed, but before they could say anything, they were pushed ahead a couple of feet; a rickshaw behind them mistakenly rammed into them.

Suddenly, the speakers were back on; the same faceless English accent started, “Ok everyone, and get ready. 3!” I wasn’t ready; my engine was not even turned on. I pulled the lever however the engine did not start. I tried again, nothing.

The Englishman continued, “2!” Why isn’t my engine starting? I was sweating bullets, almost at a near pre-panic mode. I looked around and it dawned on me, the keys aren’t even in the ignition. I’m an idiot.

“1!” I inserted the key into the ignition, turned it, and pulled the lever. Nothing. I pulled it again, the engine slowly started. I gave a slight push on the accelerator and it started working perfectly.

A very loud cap gun went off, the crowd started to cheer louder. “GO! GO! GO! See you in Nepal!” the Englishman said in a cheery, semi-annoying, voice. I went into first gear, released my clutch and accelerated; the rickshaw started moving forwards. Ahead of me was a rickshaw that was painted similar to the car from the Dukes of Hazard; however ironically, a pair of British folks was driving it. The rickshaw started moving, I started to follow, but suddenly the orange rickshaw stalled and came to a full stop. I had a split second and with some sort of luck, I turned my handlebar to the left.

Time stopped as I dodged the stalled rickshaw, cut off the rickshaw behind me and my rickshaw went on two of three of its wheel. I looked ahead and saw that I was headed right toward a cart with some sort of street food. I looked to my left and saw myself falling into a bunch of old Indian men sitting on a bench. I was about to knock over my rickshaw into a bench full of people and slide it into a street cart in the first thirty seconds of the race.

Somehow, my luck didn’t run out; the men put their hands out in unison in order to stabilize the rickshaw. I pushed my weight to the right side of the rickshaw and it went back on all three wheels. I screamed in victorious joy and thanked the men.

This was truly chaos. It was everything and nothing I expected. After taking a quick second to recover from my near collision experience, I did the only thing I could do, I immediately accelerated and followed the rest of the rickshaws towards the bumpy, cow ridden roads of India, not knowing what was to come in the next week, day, hour, or minute.

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