With Flying Colors



Up, and down. That’s the trip I take from Rotterdam to Amsterdam; it’s almost a straight shot. Yesterday, things got a bit interesting.

The morning went as well as I need any morning to go. My brother even woke up 15 minutes early on his own. No racing for the metro at the last minute, no running thru halls trying to catch the train connection. My decision to let things go – let my rage go – seemed to stay with me. There was a calm over the day, something that kept me from getting upset at every turn of the journey.

The consulate visit – first up on the chop block – went better than could be imagined, despite the increase in security. Before, people had to get in line and wait to go thru metal detectors. Now people have to wait in line prior to entering. I was questioned outside, and asked to show my passport to even approach the building. Inside, the buckles on my shoes set off the metal detector. Take them off – and the belt, please, – then back thru, holding my breath as I passed beneath the modern arch of guilt even tho I had nothing on me to set off that horrid beep. Another line had formed post metal detector. I tried not to sigh as I picked up my shoes and belt, tried not to think of the hours I’d be spending inside, waiting in queue.

“Through the door, to your right, window 5.”

Really? I asked. I can just go thru? Yes, they told me. Pushed open the door, heavy as a vault, and stepped into the next room. Another waiting area. But wait! Off to the right, window 5…is it EMPTY in there?

Absolutely. I even got a smile from the people behind the bars and bullet proof glass as I approached the window. The man looked at my letter, looked at my passport, then grabbed an envelope right there and viola! Sign here, please. New passport taken care of. Fastest in and out ever.

My brother, of course, had lined up one or two things to check out in the city. Specifically, he found two comic book shops he wanted to visit. So he casually mentioned splitting up and meeting later on.

Amsterdam has always intimidated me. It’s full of winding alleyways named as proper streets, with shop windows peeking out from the overhanging gloom down those narrow corridors. It’s easy to get lost and turned around. But yesterday, it was mine. My city. The map I’ve been trying to draw in my head for the last 20 years finally got finished; never, at any time, did I worry about which direction I was going or where I was. I knew. With my angst at the lowest level ever, I took the time to NOTICE things as I walked. It was like coming back to the city for the first time ever. The sky was blue, the air warm enough yet cool enough…and thanks to the current terror threat even the tourists were few and far between, which means that you only bumped into someone dragging luggage behind them once every two minutes rather than once every 10 seconds.

Off I headed to Spui, where I noticed a store called ‘The American Book Center’ boldly advertised. Being Monday (a day so like Sunday, with such late starts for most places that you’d think it’s part of the bleeding weekend), it didn’t open before noon. I had an hour to kill, so off to the coffeeshop where I was waved thru with a smile and a kind nod rather than a demand to show my ID. The thought flicked thru my head that damn it, I should say something about that. Tell them to card old women once in a while to make them feel good. But I was too much of the city, too deep into embracing my Dutchness (if that’s possible) to want to complain. I blew a pre-rolled Haze joint, sitting near the counter so I could enjoy hearing the tourists discuss the various types of marijuana for sale. Some were American, some British, some from countries I couldn’t place. All were newbies, greenies, virgins to Amsterdam. I could smell it on them, from the clothes they wore to the way they huddled together. I watched their eyes glass over, heard their laughter get sillier and sillier.

And through it all, I exchanged looks with the workers. Looks that were a little wry, a little sarcastic – and totally inclusive.

I was accepted as a local.

Just before noon I headed back to the book store. Two dozen people stood just outside, milling around while waiting for the doors to open. No one spoke to each other. I thought, how typical. Here’s a gathering of English speaking people in a foreign country. Do we even GREET each other? No. We fiddle with our phones, look off at the horizon, ANYTHING but acknowledge each other as we wait.

But the wait was worth it. The store held an upper level devoted almost entirely to science fiction. I found two books that complete a Trilogy I began several years ago. I’ve new words to read. Words that aren’t mine. Words that I don’t have to struggle thru because they’re in my native language.

After a late lunch at Blue, a fantastic cafe high above the Kalvertoren shopping center (get the quiche and lemonade; trust me), it was back to the train station to head home. Between the steam and hum of the engines we managed to find the right train…but we failed to get off to make a needed connection.

At 4:30 I was in Nijmegen, just shy of the German border. A me who hadn’t chosen might have got upset. I laughed.

Back to Utrecht, this time to get off and find another train to take us to Gouda. From there, yet another to bring us to Rotterdam Alexander.

Home, finally, just past six in the evening.

Today I have a sense of victory. I’m not sure what tests I passed thru yesterday. But I DID pass them. With flying colors.


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