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.

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2 responses to “An excerpt from “Straight Guy goes to Amsterdam”

  1. Ah yes, that was a fun weekend. It was good to have you at our wedding! Hoping to see you again soon in Amsterdam, so we can experience more fun times for your blog.
    Happy new year,
    Saskia

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