Monthly Archives: December 2012

An excerpt from “Straight Guy goes to Amsterdam”

imagesI’m currently working on a couple of short stories, maybe around 75 pages each. They are about trips to Amsterdam and Australia. For the most part it’s straight out of my diary, but I’ve had to change some things here and there in order for my friends to continue being my friends. I hope to do a series of these books which will be just as much traveling guidebooks as journal entries.

The Australia one is almost ready to go, but the Amsterdam one is in its early stages. I’ve been going over hundreds of pages of journals from my six visits to Holland in the last thirteen years. I’m cutting and pasting the interesting parts and trying to put it into a single story. Yeah, it’ll probably seem a bit unrealistic that all of these things happened in one trip but hey, the events really happened for the most part.

Unknown-4Here is an excerpt from one of the best days of my life that started off incredibly shitty. I was in Amsterdam for my old college roommate’s wedding. I woke up at my hostel, hungover after the reception the night before at the famous Hotel Pulitzer…

images-7“Word at the Pulitzer Hotel reception desk was that the Ajax soccer game started at 1pm on Sunday.  Word from the concierge was 2:30pm. No one seemed to know anything. If you ask anyone in Texas when the Cowboys are kicking off they can tell you before you finish asking the question and will judge you for not knowing, even if they hate the Cowboys. And I say that making fun of the Dutch, not Texans. There’s a reason why the most popular churches in Texas are the ones where the pastor/reverend/bishop/whatever lets the congregation out ten minutes early in order to make it home for kick off.

As I have every morning on this Holland adventure, I woke up early and walked around for a couple of hours, and again, you couldn’t ask for better weather.  I was half looking for that perfect photo and half looking for an ATM that will take my card.  One out of ten will take my Capital One credit card, but that’s maxed out now anyways.

Unknown-6My card from the airline credit union is what I need to work immediately if not sooner.  It’s frustrating because I have the funds in my account, I just can’t access them. I need to pay nearly 150 Euros for the hostel by the time I check out tomorrow morning (Sunday) and I simply don’t have it and can’t get it until I call them on Monday morning and have them remove the bar from my card. For some reason they think my debit card is stolen because I tried to use it in Holland. Airline credit union cards should NEVER have international bars on their cards. We’re flight attendants!! Of course we’re going to have charges in Brazil one day and Amsterdam four days later!

I’m down to 32 Euros in cash and the Ajax game will take up at least 20 not to mention 3 for the train to get there and back.

images-8I haven’t been able to call my credit union since it’s the weekend and it still won’t be open when I check out from the hostel tomorrow morning at 7am (midnight New York time).  Since it’s my last day here I need to smoke as much of the weed as possible and I have been.  That’s probably why I’m not taking this out-of-money situation as seriously as I should.

I get in from my morning walk and get the last scraps of the free breakfast before going upstairs and falling asleep until noon, the meeting time with Jim, Molly, and Becks, childhood friends of the groom from back in Dallas. We meet up and find out the game is indeed at 2:30pm so we decide to re-meet up in an hour at 1:30pm.

Unknown-8The last four days I’ve just blindly hoped I’d find a way to get money, but now I have to be realistic.  Perhaps the credit union has an emergency number, if not maybe Capital One can just raise my limit in these special circumstances.  They seem so helpful in their commercials, “when other credit card companies say ‘no’, Capital One says ‘Yes!’” I’m going to put that to the test if I can figure out how to call America.

Unknown-2I walk over to Leidseplein to a financial service center I spotted earlier. They looked eager to please. I go up to the lady and explain my situation.  She thinks and then says I can get a cash advance on any Visa.  Sweet.  I say Yes and then she says I need to give her my passport and we’ll be in business.  This is when the chaos starts. The next two hours should be my video application to Amazing Race.

Unknown-7I have just 35 minutes before I meet the gang at the hotel so I take off toward the hotel clear across town to get the passport.  I run up to my room and while I’m digging through my bags the cleaning lady comes in.  I tell her I don’t need anything and keep throwing all the contents of my backpack around the small room.  She says she’ll just take out my rubbish and I nod while I recheck my jeans pockets.  As she’s grabbing the clear plastic sack I realize with embarrassment the only items in there are two condom wrappers, two used condoms, and Ingrid’s ripped pantyhose.  Fuck it, she’s seen worse.

images-2I realize the front desk has my passport so I run down, grab that, and sprint back over to Leidseplein, pausing every other block to rest.  Somewhere along the way I sprain my ankle so I start to run gimpy, like a hunchback really.

When I get there I go back to the same girl and give her my cards and passport.  She asks how much I need and I figure 400 will easily get me through one more day in Holland plus five in Graz, Austria.  She tries the first card and says she’s not getting authorization. That’s the problem I was having. That’s what I wanted her to fix. I thought she was supposed to be able to side step that or at least get into contact with my credit union. Damn.

images-6It’s not going to happen.  I sigh and slide the maxed out Visa over to her, knowing what the outcome will be.  After she tells me what I already know, I quickly hobble back over to the hotel to meet the gang.  I’m late getting there but they’re even later because Jim and Molly are in some comic book/gaming store for half an hour.

images-1In the meantime I managed to exchange my last few American dollars and every other type of currency I could find in my suitcase. I had Pesos, Reais, Kroner, and things that are no longer used. I took the four coins I received and bought a calling card.  If I could have found a phone I would have been in business, but no such luck.  All of a sudden all the pay phones have disappeared. No calling the credit union and no calling Capital One. Damn.

Our walk to Central Station is quick and silent.  I continually scan for phones but don’t see a single one. The April sun is out and there is hardly a cloud in the sky.  If it weren’t for these money concerns, I’d be the happiest person in the world right now.

It’s 2pm when we get to the ticket counter at the train station so we should get there just in time for kick off.  The lady tells us track 7B in three minutes so off we go to 7B.  We get to the train and Molly double checks with a passenger on where the train is heading.  She nods and we jump on.

Twenty-five minutes later we jump off and get on a train going the other way.

Twenty-five more minutes and we’re back at Central Station getting on the correct train.

UnknownWe get to the stadium at half time and find out the game is sold out.  We ask about the scalper situation and the ticket-taker looks offended. He indignantly says they don’t have those in Holland. We roll our eyes and tell him to cut the charade and just tell us where the seedy types hang out with extra tickets for an exorbitant price. He again insists there is no such thing in Holland. After Molly gets tough with him, he admits that the criminal element known as “scalpers” do exist but we’re too late, they’ve all gone home. He practically broke down in tears when he admitted the truth. So weird. And such an easy man to break!

Unknown-9We’re not yet defeated though.  Americans know there’s always a way in, you just might have to pay a lot or risk getting arrested.  That’s what makes America a world power. We don’t give up, even when everyone is begging us to just leave it alone.

We walk around the entire stadium and there isn’t a single scalper in sight, which isn’t surprising since it’s already halftime.  We ask a couple of the younger ushers if they can sneak us in, but no. I think I offered them the rest of my pot and the promise of American stewardesses. They blushed, but we remained unsatisfied.

We think about asking some of these families with small children leaving the venue if we can have their tickets, but don’t act on it. For some reason that seemed like crossing the line. Even eternally-hopeful Jim is losing hope at this point.  We’ve resigned to the fact that we may have to settle for a cheap souvenir from the club store. That would be the most hated souvenir ever purchased and I knew that immediately. It’d be a sign of failure to the highest degree.

images-9We’re on the far, remote, side of the stadium, furthest away from the main street and train station.  Nobody is around us except for a young couple making out in the employee parking lot.  They stop kissing when we pass and I ask them if they have tickets to spare. They were very polite in saying No.

The exact recount on what happened next is already debatable and I suppose it always will be.  From what I remember it was Molly who noticed this single metal door slowly closing about fifteen meters from us.  She’s the one I heard yell, “Get it!”  Becks, I believe, is the one that ran over and caught the heavy door, smashing her fingers in the process.  Whatever the sequence and whoever did what, I don’t care; we had a chance!

images-3It looked like an ordinary parking garage stairwell and I figured it’d take us to all the cars parked right above us.  Nevertheless we all crept in and started heading up.  We could hear voices above us but it sounded like they were heading up as well.  I was shaking, I didn’t know what level of trespassing this entailed or what the penalty would be. If you can get stoned from spitting out your gum in some parts of the world, surely the death penalty was a viable punishment for trespassing in the sacred Ajax stadium.

Up and up we tiptoed, all heads staring up the stairs as they curved around.  We went up about five stories, always hearing the voices ahead of us, but never seeing whom they belonged to.  Finally we hear a door shut and the voices stop. I can see the next level is the top one so whatever is going to happen to us is going to happen right now.

The time for creeping is over; we now need to look like we know what we’re doing.  Once at the top we come to two metal doors.  We put our ears up to them and hear a lot of noise.  That’s a good sign.  I tell everyone that we’re going to open the door and walk in quickly and quietly and nobody act like we’re doing anything wrong.  If someone sees us come in they may let us go if we’re nonchalant about it.  None of this cracking the door and peering in bullshit.

images-4We take a deep breath and calmly push open the doors like four little Fonzies.  They open up to a roar of sound and many concession stands.  Without hesitation we get into a line and reassess our situation.  It looks like we made it in but there’s still the matter of getting past the ushers and into some seats.

I make a recon mission and decide we should try to enter near the corner of the field where there’d more likely be empty seats.  I’m not sure why I think that, but I do and no one disagrees.  To get past the ushers we need to just have our hands full of food and drink so they won’t ask to see our tickets.  At this stage of the game they are less likely to check stubs, but its better to be safe than sorry.  We should just breeze by the ushers and pick a direction right or left to go and then head up into the stands.

Left feels lucky so we head up before we even have time to think about it.  We walk right past the ushers who don’t even give us a look and then I turn to face the stands.  At first I look at the back row but that’s full.  The last few rows are all completely packed.  Without even stuttering I keep slowly heading up and then I see the row right in front of me has four open seats, but one has a jacket on it.  Chances are slim that they’re vacant but we have to try. I can easily see this turning into an international incident.

images-5As we scoot by everyone I check for looks of disapproval or confusion from anyone on either side of the vacant seats.  No one bats an eye.  Even the fourth seat with the jacket on it wasn’t a problem.  The owner grabbed it before we even asked him if the seat was open.  We took “our seats”, looked around, waited for harsh words in Dutch, and finally exhaled when none came.

Then we just kicked back, had a toast, and watched the second half of the game, which was still scoreless when we got in.  Everyone around us knew that we didn’t belong in those seats but nobody said a word.

Unknown-1We purposely went for a section right by a goal and luckily we selected the one Ajax was attacking.  We saw two goals go in but both were ruled offsides and rightfully so, despite what the home crowd thought.

In the 86th minute the sub Anastasiou had a beautiful header go into the corner of the goal to win it for mighty Ajax.  It was the perfect blag, though we never actually had to blag, we just snuck in.  Though the fries and beer set me back 5 Euros, I still had 24 left. We did the Dutch equivalent of sneaking into Yankee Stadium or the Staples Center for a big game.

Unknown-5We argued who would get to the honor of telling the story to Samuel The Groom. He’ll be so jealous. I bet he would’ve rather been with us on this adventure than alone in a fancy hotel room with his beautiful bride.

The perfect day ended with a kick ass Mexican meal, the use of a phone to call the States, $300 worth of emergency money from Capital One, and drinks at the Pulitzer bar with our soccer crew, the bride, and the groom.  We even got in a pretty good game of hacky sack in front of the Anne Frank house, out of respect of course.

Unknown-3I will never make fun of a Capital One commercial again, they really saved my ass and kept me from asking the Groom for money the day he was set to leave for his honeymoon. Thank Christ it didn’t come to that.

Road Trip- The Retrospective

imagesI landed in Los Angeles Sunday morning. I’m glad I sprung for First Class because I’d just landed in New York at 6am from the Rio trip I was working. The flight to LA left at 7:30am. I slept all the way to LA and got in before noon. Amanda had started the drive without me. She made it from San Francisco to Los Angeles the day before and was staying with her friend in Culver City. I missed out on Day 1, which apparently included alot of rainbows.

Even though I was well rested and we could’ve hit the ground running, we decided to spend the day in rainy LA eating the Shakey’s buffet among three different Latino birthday parties.

images-2Amanda went to sleep early, mostly because of her heavy-duty cold medicine, maybe because of the wine too. We found her lying suspiciously on our hostess’s bedroom floor and put her straight to bed. Later we found out that she hadn’t really passed out, she was lying there playing with the cats and then just sort of dozed off.

images-6We both slept on the floor by accident that night. I woke up on the floor because the air mattress I was on had slowly deflated through the night. I woke up with my backbone on the ground and the sides of the air mattress up in the air like a taco.

Unknown-3We had a kick ass breakfast at Green Peas and then hit the road for Day 2 in a very un-socal drizzle. We set the Tom Tom on a soothing Aussie voice and instructed him (Tozza) to direct Amanda’s Cabrio to Las Vegas. The drive from LA to Vegas is pretty boring, but it was fun to think about all the legendary trips people have taken over the years on these roads- both real and on-screen. We made several Swingers and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas references, especially near Barstow when I started texting the opening lines of Fear and Loathing to everyone I’ve ever seen the movie with. After a half hour of that I just posted it on my Facebook wall.

1The little silver German car was stuffed with Amanda’s final belongings and my suitcase as well as a cooler full of random snacks and drinks (none of the radiator cheese sandwich elements.) We had everything where it needed to be. We always had direct access to the food, a camera, our phones, and our jackets. Everything else was a chore to get to. My lap was nicknamed Best Buy because of all the electronics on it at any given time.

3This was our shortest day on the road so we had plenty of time to stop and smell the roses. There just wasn’t much to smell. Plus it was still overcast and nasty outside. It was right about Barstow when the skies finally began to clear up. By the time we saw the sign for Calico, the silver mining ghost town, it was downright pretty outside.

4I’ve always wanted to see a ghost town so I was stoked. We pulled off without even discussing it. We paid a shit load of money to see something that wasn’t there, which seemed weird. The abandoned town had been rebuilt to how it had been back in the day, but that isn’t what I wanted to see at all. I wanted the buildings to be old and neglected. I didn’t want the fire house to be new, sturdy, and decorated with Christmas lights. I didn’t want the jail to be a Starbucks. It just figures that in a town that hasn’t had a resident in 50 years, Starbucks is still thriving.

5Even though there was plenty of disappointment in Calico, it was still a good stop. It was cool to get a glimpse of how the mining town operated when it was fully functional. I was just hoping for better photographs of neglect and desolation, not new buildings with bus loads of Chinese tourists standing around.

6We grabbed a cold fountain soda from the young girl dressed in time-appropriate clothes who had just started studying Psych in college. While we sipped on our $3 drinks we checked out the hotels in Vegas. I didn’t care where we stayed but Amanda wanted something slightly nice. At some point I wanted us to stay at a proper interstate motel because that’s a huge part of the road trip experience but it was definitely a good idea to take advantage of the low season in Las Vegas. Early December is a great time to find a bargain. We opted for the MGM Grand, made the booking, and then got back on the road.

Before we knew it we were in Las Vegas and minutes after we had checked in and jumped on the bed, we were being invited to the Mystere Cirque du Soleil show by my friend Kitty who works for the show. She told us to show up ten minutes before showtime and she’d get us in and give us a tour of the stage afterwards. That was fantastic news, we were definitely excited. Amanda had never even seen a Cirque show before.

We had just enough time for a buffet so we did an internet search for the best ones in Vegas. Of course every website said something different but most were consistently raving about The Cosmopolitan. It was on the way to Treasure Island so that worked out perfectly. After tomato basil soup, creamy garlic soup, pickles, custom-made mac-n-cheese, thai rice, green beans, espresso dusted cheese, french onion pizza, margarita pizza, molton chocolate cake with caramel sauce, blood orange sorbet, and a ginger cake, we were ready to waddle over to the show. That was just what I had mind you, Amanda had an equally shameful/wonderful feeding.

8We’re slowed by the Bellagio water show but got to Treasure Island just in time for the performance. The show was amazing and of course Kitty had it so that we were two of the people that got fucked with by the MC during the pre-show. I should’ve been suspicious of that damn spotlight on us!

10After the show she took us behind the scenes and below the stage and showed us every single piece of costume and equipment used in the production. That was remarkable. The space was confined but they sure made the most of it. We even got to see the secret entrance for the celebs. We also got round red nerf noses.

9We had talked about going to Frankie’s Tiki Room but we needed to get up early so we just had one quick drink at one of the casino bars and then called it a night. We were out of the room by 10:30am, losing money in the casino by 10:45am, on the road by 11am, and eating a horrible Taco Bell breakfast by 11:30am.

12Amanda had driven us all the way to Las Vegas but I got the wheel on Day 3. We were going to go down to Arizona where we’d catch I-40 and then take that all the way to Oklahoma City or at least as far as Amarillo if we decided to go to Dallas instead of OKC. The weather was perfect and the scenery was rustic to say the least. I was a bit more used to the landscape than Amanda. It must have looked like the surface of the moon to the Jersey girl. She kept asking how people could live out here with nothing to do. I understood much more than I let on. You develop an amazing imagination.

14There wasn’t much to see between Vegas and Albuquerque as far as interesting stops, at least not while the sun was out. We got to the meteor crater near Winslow AZ right at 5pm, just in time for every employee to tell us that they’d be closing at 5:30pm sharp and that the bathrooms would be closed at 5:20pm. Even with that drilled into our heads we still ended up getting scolded for trying to pee too late. Again, we paid alot of money to see nothing, but we still enjoyed it.

15The sun was setting in gorgeous colors by the time we headed back to the interstate, yet we still had five hours of driving to go. The car’s Low Fuel light had been blinking which freaked Amanda out like I’ve never seen her freaked. It looked like it came on with ⅛  of the tank left which I thought was plenty to get to the next town but I could tell she wasn’t comfortable at all. To keep the peace I pulled into space station-gas station right at the interstate. We grabbed some caffeine and started with the most boring part of our journey. There was nothing to look at except for 18 wheelers and stars, and we got millions of both. There were also a million billboards advertising all sorts of jerky.

Unknown-4Amanda found an app that told about roadside attractions and trivial facts about the path we were taking. Because our route ran almost on top of Route 66, there were lots of interesting and random things to see and learn. We both had our iPods so we were never short on good music to listen to, though the noise of a rag top convertible going 85 mph makes a lot of noise.

A very kind Arizona highway patrolman pulled us over but let us off with a warning, it’s amazing how having a pretty girl in the car makes those encounters go so much smoother. She didn’t even have to mention that her dad is a retired policeman. That would be the first time we got away with breaking the law on this trip.

UnknownWe needed gas again when we got to Milan, NM and we were both starving. We tried very hard to satisfy two needs at every stop. As luck would have it we were right next to one of those classic truckstop diners called the WOW diner. We feasted much like we did at the Cosmo buffet but for a fourth of the cost as the employees and locals watched the Victoria Secrets fashion show on TV.

It was still two hours to ABQ but we pressed on. Amanda booked us a room at the Radisson even though we really should’ve waited until we stumbled upon a bizarre motel right off the highway, something that you’d see in a horror movie. That may be my one regret with this trip.

I kept the speed down and cursed that the cruise control didn’t work. We get into ABQ and find the hotel with little problem. After some attitude from the front desk lady we get our room. Twelve hours later we’re waking up in a panic because we overslept.

images-4We’d already decided to skip OKC and instead go to Ft. Worth to visit some friends but now we’d be rolling into town after 10pm. So much for that. We grab a Sonic brunch and get back on the road. I’m driving again because Amanda is groggy from her cold medicine, which is the main reason we overslept in the first place. She turned off the alarm and went back to sleep whereas I didn’t even hear the alarm to begin with. I knew she shouldn’t be driving when she offered me her toothpaste whilst asking, “Do you need this toilet paper?”

17Day 4 was supposed to be slightly longer than day 3, but now most of the drive would be at night. It looked like we’d be getting to Cadillac Ranch outside of Amarillo just as the sun would be setting. We get on the road and finally get to see what New Mexico looks like. It was already pitch black when we entered it the night before so this was our first glimpse. It was barren but more mountainous than desert. It was a whole bunch of nothing but I didn’t mind. I like how easy it is to get lost in your thoughts while driving out west. It reminds me of growing up in West Texas.

Every now and then Amanda would ask me random questions like What would I buy if I won the lottery or What would I name a boat if I had one? Those always made for some interesting conversations. We also made way too many bad puns and jokes along the way, like wanting to ask the residents of Gallup how they felt about a variety of issues.

16When we got to Texas we got out of the car and took a photo of Amanda with the the Welcome to Texas sign. Actually I stayed in the car with the engine running because we were running late.

18We make our way to Cadillac Ranch and have a quick photo shoot amongst the kids spray painting the cars. There were empty cans everywhere but we found a couple that had a little left in the tank so we left our mark as well. The second time we broke the law on this road trip and got away with it!

20I love the smell of aerosol paint cans and it shocked me that Amanda doesn’t. She loves the smell of jet fuel but not spray paint. Strange. Funny what you learn about people when you spend so much time together in close proximity.

21After contemplating the 72 ounce steak in Amarillo we get off of the interstate and onto state highway 287 all the way to Ft. Worth. Since we were getting in too late to see our friends we called off the meeting and decided to just power on through and make it to Austin without stopping. We quickly checked with Tozza and he said that even though we didn’t need to go through Ft. Worth anymore, it was still the fastest way to get to Austin. That was about the time I saw the one and only shooting star of the trip. I made a wish.

It was getting to that point where we needed to think about food since places would be closing soon. We didn’t worry since Wichita Falls was less than an hour away. At the very least we’d hit a Denny’s or IHOP if the normal places were closed.

24Wichita Falls came and went and we didn’t see anywhere to eat. All the normal places closed at 9pm and we just never saw an all-night place. We may have been distracted by me taking long-exposure photos while driving and Amanda talking to her mom on the phone. Before we knew it we were out of the city and in the middle of nowhere again.

Our Low Fuel indicator light came on around Bowie. As soon as it came on she wanted to stop but I saw that Bowie was only 12 miles ahead and had better food options than the no name town we were passing. That was the closest thing we had to a fight. She just didn’t trust that we’d make it. I promised that I’d be the one to walk to the gas station if we ran out of gas, but leaving her alone in the car on a lonely country road wasn’t exactly a better situation. It was a tense and silent ten minutes.

images-5To be honest we were further into the danger zone after the meteor crater, I guess she just didn’t realize it at the time. We make it to Bowie and we both let out a sigh of relief. We fill up with gas and head next door to the Armadillo cafe just to find out that they’re closing. Amanda took over driving again so I caught up on all of my Words with Friends games.

Ft. Worth was just up ahead, there would for sure be somewhere to eat there. By the time we get to Ft. Worth and get back on the interstate, we realize we’re on the home stretch. Food didn’t really seem that important anymore. It was less than three hours to home.

Unknown-1The drive from Ft. Worth to Hillsboro to Waco to Temple to Georgetown is a very boring one but at night it isn’t as bad. At least when it’s dark you can’t see the ugly scenery. We rolled into my/our driveway at 1am. We hadn’t planned on driving for 13 hours the last day but it really wasn’t that bad, especially considering the only meal we had was Sonic in Albuquerque. I made a feast when we got inside.

Unknown-2I had trimmed the under-brush of my two trees in the front yard a few weeks ago and never got around to throwing all the branches away. I had the carnage in two huge garbage cans. We took full advantage of Amanda’s convertible to dispose of the dead limbs. We took the top down, crammed the garbage cans into the back seat and drove to a secluded part of the subdivision where we dumped the branches as if we were disposing of a dead body. The third and final time we broke the law and got away with it. And with that, the trip was officially over and we could go to sleep.

All in all the road trip was a phenomenal success. It was good to know that we could stand being around each other for nearly five days straight. The furthest apart we were physically was when I was standing at the gas pump and she was inside in the restroom writing on the wall (they encouraged that, not the fourth time breaking the law.) Other than that, we were always within touching distance and that didn’t seem to get old, so that’s a good sign since now we officially live together.