Ovid (publius_ovidius) wrote,

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A Typical Day In Amsterdam

This is largely for ntnrmlgirl as I promised I would send it to her, but I figured that there are enough other people who haven't read this that I should post it here.

Update: I feel more than a little stupid about this one. The post below is rather out of context, so I'll fill in some detail. Basically, I was offered a job in Amsterdam a couple of years ago. I accepted and moved over there and wound up returning to the US later after discovering that, amongst other things, I was not hired legally. The story is an email that I sent to my friends in the US after a frustrating day trying to pick up my brother from the airport.

Welcome to Volume 13 of "Ovid has a brain cramp and moves to Amsterdam". Don't bother searching through your Inbox for the previous 12 volumes; I was too lazy to write 'em.

Anyone who knows me knows that I hate to be late and I hate it when others are late. I'm not saying that it irritates me. I'm saying that it causes a distress that borders on the pathological. If I'm even two minutes late for something I feel guilty. If someone else is late meeting me, even if it's only five minutes, I start panicking, looking at my watch every 15 seconds and wondering if I should call the hospitals. I realize that this isn't rational, it's just the way I am.

That being said, perhaps you can imagine the personal level of distress that I faced when I realized I was going to be late picking my brother up at the airport. Naturally, I arrived at Centraal Station in downtown Amsterdam early enough so that I could be at the airport a full hour before he was scheduled to arrive. Why? Because, in case you missed it, I hate to be late. Of course, this is the week that train workers here decided to go on strike. I have one and a half hours to figure out what to do, but the panic is already gnawing at the edge of my brain.

Turns out that the next train for Schipol, the Amsterdam airport, leaves about 25 minutes before I'm supposed to meet my brother. Given that it takes 20 minutes to reach the airport and I'll have to run to meet him, I should arrive just as he's clearing customs (he's an E.U. citizen and customs, for him, is pretty much a conveyor belt straight past the guard while vaguely waving his passport in the guard's general direction). The timing's a little tight, but remember, I feel guilty if I'm even two minutes late. I am not a happy person at this point.

So there I am, sitting at the train station watching hordes of tourists with their bags screaming at the train workers because they're going to miss their flight. I'm trying to figure out what's up with that. They're screaming at the train workers who didn't strike. Wrong target, dummy.

So I'm looking around at the tourists hyperventilating in unison and the kids are desperately smoking the last of their marijuana because returning home is dying and they can't take it with them and the train station is becoming more and more packed. This is NOT going to be a fun train ride.

About 10 minutes before my train is due, a train to Den Haag (The Hague) arrives at the platform. Several people jump on and then jump back off once it kicks in that Den Haag does not equal Schipol.

The train leaves. I wait. I read. I smoke cigarettes. I keep checking my watch. The train to Schipol is now ten minutes late. My brother's going to land in a foreign country with no one there to meet him. This is not good.

I run back to one of the train personnel and ask if the Schipol train is going to get here soon. It already left. No, the train to Den Haag is the only train that stopped. Yes, sir. It also stops at Schipol.


My mind, meanwhile, is now slightly north of the Arctic Circle. I am looking out over the snowy plain and a baby seal wanders in front of me and looks at me with big, beautiful eyes and says "Silly American, didn't you know the train to Den Haag also stops at Schipol?"

I have a club in my hand. I now completely understand that baby seals are deserving of their fate.

My mind returns and I look back at the train station with mobs of tourists now in hysterics and I realize that I do not need to club the worker to death. Someone else will do it for me.

I break into a run and get to the front of Centraal Station where the taxis wait. I am now confronted with another problem.

The Dutch, for some curious reason, don't quite grasp the meaning of a line. I mean, they form lines reasonably enough; It's just that whenever whatever they are waiting for arrives, some bizarre mob psychology takes over. It's kind of like in Kindergarten when we were learning our letters but couldn't quite get the connection between them and words. We knew it was there, but many of us just didn't make that intuitive leap. Personally, I suspect that Dutch people do make that leap, but they just like to shove one another. I can't tell you how many times I've tried to board a bus only to have a little old lady quickly hobble up and shove me out of the way.

Which brings me back my problem. The trains are on strike, so everyone wants a taxi. From what I can see, the Dutch, in this instance, have finally realized that forming a line only to dissolve into a mob just doesn't make sense. Here, they have simply dispensed with the line. It's ugly.

People are shoving one another aside. They are yelling at each other. They push forward only to have others push them back. It's Brownian motion with people instead of molecules. Everyone's world is going to fall apart if they can't get where they are going RIGHT NOW! Naturally, I understand. I'm late. But there is no way I can force my way through that mob and get to a taxi.

Time to be creative.

The taxis form rows two taxis across and about 20 deep. I run to the back of the line and up the middle of the two rows, thus neatly using the taxis to bisect the mob. I get to the front and actually manage to get a taxi, to the irritation of everyone who shoved everyone else out of the way to get here. Meanwhile, I suspect that one of the train station employees has been stripped naked by a mob of angry tourists who are burning a map of the Netherlands into his flesh with marijuana cigarettes. "Okay, so this bleeding, burning wound represents Schipol, right? Why didn't you just say so?"

Traffic in Amsterdam is unreal. Fortunately, taxis are allowed to travel down the tram tracks and thus cut through the traffic like a hot knife through brick. Everyone else just sits there. The drive is agonizingly long, I'm incredibly late, but we finally get to the airport after I'm out about 100 guilders (roughly 40 dollars).

I run like mad through the airport and finally get to the gate. My brother's plane is late.

Tags: funny, travel, writing
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