Friday night. The week of business meetings in Belgium is over and so five of my colleagues and I have decided to wander the streets of Amsterdam, looking to see if we can get into trouble.
Actually I, being the complete weenie that I am, nearly missed out on this particular evening’s activities, having had about as much energy as my primary laptop battery (see last week), but less apt to power anything like intelligence. Cajoling by my coworkers didn’t do the trick, hunger for something healthier than the McDonald’s across the street didn’t do it, in the end I was done in by my own auto-pilot.
I’d decided to accompany my companions only as far as the airport, taking the hotel shuttle, they to pick up the train in the basement and I to find something a little bit more to my liking (and at the sort of bargain prices only the frequent business traveler can truly understand). So as we walked into the airport, just in front of us was the bank of automated machines for buying train tickets. Each of my co-workers (Alan, Laurie, Roark, Jerome and Troy) chose one and filed up to it. Half asleep and with insufficient conscious thought to direct my own activities, I simply followed their lead and it wasn’t until I was standing with one foot on the railroad platform, the other on the first step of the train and a ticket in my hand that I remembered that I wasn’t planning on going to Amsterdam.
But, the users of public transportation being the same in every city in the world, I could no more have swum up the stream of my fellow travelers than I could have won the Iditarod without dogs, and so resignedly I boarded the train and found a seat.
The seats on the trains in the Netherlands (or at least the trains I’ve been on) are arranged with each pair facing each other, so that on either side of the car there will be a two-seat bench facing forwards and directly in front of it a two seat bench facing backwards, because there’s no joy quite so sweet as playing “footsy” with some random person you’ve never met, who is clearly thinking “We Europeans may not bathe as frequently as our American counterparts, and we may turn up our noses at perfectly good food (such as “Cheez-Its” (*)), but at least we have the good sense not to go out in public with our long Sunday legs on.”
We found two adjacent such spaces in which one was empty and the other contained a single occupant, so four of us sat down on one side, two on the other, and (this is true) the gentleman who had previously been sitting there got up and left the area. Not merely the seat or the section in question, but actually departed the car entirely, as though Americans are so loud and obnoxious there was no way he’d have been able to think in the same car. It’s this sort of biased anti-American sentiment that really annoys me. To think we’re so loud that another car was necessary. He should have waited for another train, did he REALLY think we couldn’t be heard a couple of cars back?
So, anyway, we finally reached Amsterdam and departed the train. My first impression was that this was pretty much like any other city I’d ever been in but with a higher percentage of marijuana smoke in the air. I’m not saying it was pervasive, but I really hope there are no random drug tests at my office in the next few months. Here it is almost 24 hours later and I’ve still got the munchies. Then again, having fully covered my weight issues in previous columns, regular readers may be thinking this is entirely unrelated.
Our goal on this evening (as I believe I mentioned before, although for some reason my short term memory isn’t working terribly well) was to find dinner, and so we began wandering the streets in no particular direction. We passed numerous little shops from which the bulk of the sickly sweet smoke was emanating. We passed a number of bars selling Guinness on tap, and while I probably won’t go into it, later in the evening I tried one and can now clearly understand the difference between the imported American Guinness and the native variety. How many in my audience are old enough to remember those ads for Hunt’s tomato sauce in which a model playing a housewife (but smiling so much that she’d clearly either been lobotomized or had freshly returned from Amsterdam) tested Hunt’s against the Other Leading Brand with the “Hunt’s Spoon Test”? Well, trust me, European Guinness beats Hunts. Hands down. I’ve seen thinner molasses.
We passed a lot of interesting places hawking interesting items and services and eventually found a building with several bright red lights, which as seasoned travelers will know, is the international symbol for “Indian Restaurant”, and so in we went and had a seat.
For the benefit of readers who happen to be technically married to any of the six of us, let me stress that this is a joke. We did not go into the building with the red lights on it. Technically, we entered the one building on the whole block which did NOT have red lights and various displays of nudity in the windows. And by the way, I am assured by others that this was not the “bad” part of town, nor the “red light” district. I’m sure the young ladies whose barely clad assets were on display in the window were simply trying to tempt unwary tourists in so that they (the women) could sell them (the tourists) large amounts of Amway products. Or timeshares. Or perhaps even (I shudder just to think it) life insurance.
Nevertheless, I should say the Indian restaurant was quite good, possibly the best meal I’ve had during my entire week in Europe, and that’s saying something. The nice Indian gentleman who served us warned me when I ordered the Chicken Vindaloo that it was quite spicy, using the term “very” significantly more times in that one sentence than in the first line of “Our House” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. When I assured him that I was familiar with Vindaloo and would still like to order it, he looked at me with a look of barely contained amusement, clearly thinking I was going to be an entertaining highlight of the evening. Sadly, I disappointed him.
It’s not that the Vindaloo wasn’t hot, per se, it just wasn’t any hotter than I was prepared to take, nor any hotter than I’d been expecting, and I will continue to swear to that even as one of the other five people present points out that I bought and consumed an entire liter-and-a-half bottle of water during the meal. I was dehydrated, that’s all.
That pretty much concludes my adventures in Amsterdam. We did stop for the aforementioned beer on the way back to the train station, and three of our number (who shall remain nameless on the grounds that I’d like to imply that their activities were a whole lot more prurient than they probably were, and I don’t want their divorces on my conscience) chose to remain behind and tour the city some more as Alan and Laurie and I got back on the train and headed back to the hotel.
The morning is only worth mentioning because I’d like to point out, delicately and without specificity, that this morning was when I learned just how hot the vindaloo had actually been.
(* This reminds me of a joke written by two of my professional songwriter friends, Paul & Storm of http://www.paulandstorm.com, who sometimes write fake jingles for various products. They did one for “Cheetos” which has to be heard to be believed. You can find it on their songs page here. Check them out sometime.)
Copyright © January 13, 2007 by Liam Johnson. http://liam-humor.blogspot.com