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New England winters will drill into the brain the unmistakable jerky feeling that comes with a flat tire, and the distinct bumpiness is no different on a motorbike than it is in a car.
It was nearly 9 p.m. at night when this became clear to me. I was driving down the Ngurah Rai Bypass, a 23-kilometer highway loop that connects the major cities in Bali, when I felt a sudden drop and then the click-click-click that I knew could only mean one thing. Flat tire. I pulled my bike over to the side of the road. I was not in one of the busy areas on the bypass with bright lights, buzzing storefronts, and businesses open late into the night. But there was one place open, a small warung with two locals sitting at a picnic table.
“Excuse me,” I said. I pointed to tire. “Flat tire – do you know where the closest mechanic is?”
They gave me a puzzled look. Using hand gestures and broken Indonesian, I finally conveyed my predicament. One of their faces lit up.
“Right down the road! By that green awning. Mechanic.”
“Terima kasih banyak,” I said. Thank you so much.
I looked to the green pet store awning, which was maybe 10 yards away, and wheeled my bike along the sidewalk until I reached a group of three guys sitting in front of a closed garage. They were huddled on a wooden lounge chair, chatting over their cigarettes, the nearby street lamps providing dim light.
“Can you please help?” I said. “I have a flat tire.”
“What’s wrong?” one of them said. “The brakes?”
I pointed to the tire.
“Tyre! Yes, yes, yes!” one of them said. He stood up and immediately walked over to my bike.
One of the other two pointed to his vacant seat. “Please, sit down.” I took a seat on the stool, so relieved to have found these men.
“You lucky we still here,” one of them said.
“We drinking. You drink?”
He held up a plastic water bottle between them.
“Balinese vodka,” he said. I already could tell by the receptacle that it was Arak, the local moonshine. He finished the shot he poured for himself, then poured one for me.
I took a sip and was happy to learn they mixed the bitter spirit with sugar or honey. It tasted sweet and refreshing.
“My name Eram.”
“Like this?” He typed my name on his phone. J-E-N-Y.
The mechanic came over and handed Eram my old tire. It was shredded, with a giant nail sticking out of it. I knew I hit a nail. He asked if I wanted a new or used tire as a replacement.
“What is the price?”
“125,000 for used, 150,000 for new.”
Eram started telling me about his job as a driver.
“So maybe if you or your friends ever need a ride, I could drive you.”
“I have a bike.”
Eram’s friend, who remained quiet throughout most of the exchange, laughed. Eram pressed on.
“Where you live?”
“Well maybe sometime when I drive in Legian, we drink again.”
The mechanic finished working on my bike and I headed back home feeling most lucky to have stumbled on this group. The next day a friend told me I overpaid for the tire. 150,000 rupiah is the equivalent of about $11 USD.
“It was late at night and I was stranded on the highway. I don’t care.”