Shooting Stars

Most of Bangkok decided at the last minute to evacuate to the darkness of the countryside. It was just close enough to the millennium to seem like a dress-rehearsal for the coming exodus of kooks, cultists and survivalists. After weeks of grudging media hype, cautioning the Kingdom that in all likelihood they might see nothing at all (or, then again, a blazing shower of melting diamonds), it took only a few grains of dust to move the modern masses back to the rice fields they'd fled barely a generation ago. Of course, these specks struck into the atmosphere so fast that they rent the blackness of space with their evaporation, scratching monks-robe-orange exclamation marks on the ink stone of heaven and flashing gaudy Patpong swizzle sticks against bleary retinas. Omens for sure. Gossip from the stars, accented by Mekong rum and headlight halos from the caravan of the luug tuung, the children of the rice fields.

Unfortunately for the rushing rabble, royalty were not immune to the lure of darkness. As we exited the short stretch of superhighway at the edge of the metropolis, the surface streets were lined with Policemen in their skin-tight, gravy-colored uniforms (Toshie and I always call them sausages). So the pitifully weak arteries leading away from the dazzling splurge of the city's heart were clogged with sausages hailing fat city families to speed up or pull over because SOMEONE was going to be driving through in mere minutes.

Mr. Spock, our trusty driver, accelerated The Van to warp speed and managed to ride the wave of walkie-talkie-waving wieners for several more kilometers, until our stellar-bent craft was ordered over by a particularly sour-looking pork link.

Suddenly the roadway was...exotically empty of traffic...transformed into a stadium sideline crammed with whispers and excitement of a bonus half-time spectacle. Hurtling, as fast as the ancient residue of dinosaurs could propel them, roman candle bursts of red sirens and the royal family's pale blue Mercedes, streaked towards the horizon leaving a breathless vacuum in their haste to exit the celestial throne temporarily eclipsed by the possibilities of heavenly grandeur in the dark loam of the farmers' sky.

That vacuum filled instantly with the flood of commoners, now truly inspired to witness the auspicious command performance that was surely to be summoned from the heavens.

I cannot tell you exactly where we ended up. Like elephants following the tail of the one in front of them, we drove left or right at the whim of the herd. Eventually, the traffic thinned, as cars pulled onto the narrow shoulder of road and unloaded their cargo of wide-eyed pilgrims. Trouble was, nobody turned off their headlamps, and the string of glow tethered kilometers back to the neon safety of Bangkok and refused to be dowsed.

Takaki urged our excited driver to turn off the main road, confident that a country boy like Spock could surely navigate the desert of dark rice fields with his eyes closed.

Dogs and grannies gave The Van the evil eye. Families in pakaoma sarong and rubber slippers gawked at our vehicle, disbelieving that any sufficiently advanced alien beings would have made such a stellar mistake in selecting a landing site. Finally The Van came to rest at a fork in two unnamed dirt roads and disgorged Takaki and Toshie's family, Amarin and me, and trusty Spock, clearly breathing easy in his familiar atmosphere.

I gasped as a silver pen underlined the big dipper with a silent streak that flooded the mind with primitive awe -- an ozone-sopped memory linked to the origins and extinction of carbon-based life.

Toshie lay open her red and white checkered picnic cloth on the bumpy dirt of this country road. Her two daughters lit mosquito coils and unpacked their binoculars. Amarin rubbed citronella oil onto his urban Thai body, a fragrant defense against the vampires of nature. Our carefully packed and prepared picnic was unfolding into our laps.

The country air was swarming with insects and creatures that eat them. I'm sure we all had our fill of accidental protein as we absent-mindedly munched savory snacks while we wide-eyed the dome of stars above us.

ZIP-SLASH-SPARKLE. Another swoosh of silver-orange fire grazed the Milky Way.

"Ooooooooh, ahhhhhhhh." Our communal fireworks response hushed the white noise of cricket cavorting.

Suddenly, the dogs of a nearby house began yelping and the occupants turned on their 2000 watt security floodlight. The property owner strolled towards us, territorial snarling at his heels.

"Watcha doin' there in ma' driveway, aliens?", he shouted.

Mr. Spock ran up to his country cousin and hee-hawed, "It's just some crazy foreigners from Bangkok, cousin. They jus' want to sit a spell and watch the falling stars."

Of course, this was the second or third night of star-gazers invading his peace and darkness and he didn't much mind crazy foreigners and dumb city slickers as long as they kept a fair distance down his driveway.

"Well, knock yerselves out. Jus' mind the snakes", he kind-heartedly cautioned as he sauntered back to watch the rest of the Miss Universe pageant on satellite TV.

1999 by John C. Goss