Down and Out In Amsterdam
(With apologies to George Orwell)
This was my sixth time back. I thought I knew what to expect, but things have not worked out as planned. It’s dark and raining as I exit Central Station. The hotel where I was booked had problems and took the liberty of re-booking me into the hotel Zoopermdoolen.
There’s a young girl at the check in counter, early twenties, maybe less. I sign in and am assigned room 12.
“Please leave your key card at the desk when you go out,” she says. “There’s always someone here.”
I drag my suitcase and a backpack up a flight of narrow, corkscrew stairs and shove the key card in a slot beside a doorway that opens to a humid, seven foot square room: one window — no place to hang clothes, no chest of drawers. Just a small table, bed and sink.
I put a dry shirt on and worry about someplace I can hide my money? There is no place but my suit case and this room does not feel safe. I don’t like to carry more cash than I can afford to lose. I have a money belt, but the hell with it. I’m sweaty, tired and pissed off as I get into my dampened sport coat and strap on a fanny pack to hold my reading glasses, two pens and notebook. Nothing else I need. I slide the suitcase underneath the bed and hand check-in girl my key card before going out with hopes of finding my friend Terry who should at work at Hunters coffee shop this time at night. The place is a good twenty minute walk from where I am, without an umbrella, but now the rain is slacking off, just misting.
I’ll buy a joint at the Baba’s, I am thinking as I walk down Warmoesstraat. Alas, the Baba’s closed down, gutted, boarded up— a barricade outside. I never thought I’d see that happen. Wow. Baba was one of the best coffeehouses in the Red Light and did a huge business. People loved hanging out there, there were booths and tables, good music. Gone forever. It’s depressing.
I cross over to the next canal, and walk a few blocks until I see The Bulldog. Bulldog’s been here since forever. There are more than one of them I in other neighborhoods. This one’s a shabby sort of place, dim lit with a small bar that’s occupied with people drinking coffee. Some have soft drinks. Booze is never sold in coffee houses. There’s two dealers side by side behind a pair of windows, sort of like the cashiers at a 1950’s bank. Two small groups wait in line beside each window. Would be buyers take forever reading menus. There’s a lot of choices, sativa and indicas—hashish. More that a dozen colorful, exotic names like Purple Haze, Amnesia and Sour Diesel . . . King Hassan. Who comes up with these names? The list goes on and on. I doubt if average buyers can discern the difference between one brand and another, other than the basic strains. Sativa helps you think and Indica relaxes . . . peaceful. Finally I make it to a window where I ask the dealer for a ready rolled.
“There’s just two choices,” says the dealer. “With tobacco, or without.”
“Without,” I tell him before counting out six euros for the joint. Outrageously expensive, but I am not into shopping. It’s a nice size blunt— comes inside a little plastic tube. I put it in my fanny pack and go outside again. It starts to rain a little harder now. I’m getting wet. It won’t be easy to find the new Hunter’s in the dark. There an old Hunter’s Coffee Shop a block from my unwanted hotel. It’s just a bar now, and a twenty minute walk to the new Hunter’s. I always get lost on the way there. A ring work of canals spread out from Central Station, through the Red Light district, much like ripples from a stone dropped in still water. The streets go all over the place, very confusing, and I’m tired. I want to lay down, or at least get comfortable and have a smoke. I walk for three blocks, then I spot a cab, a black Mercedes. Fifteen euros for the trip to Rembrandt Plein, where Terry is.
I find Hunters and see Terry right way. So glad to find a friend, and he has time to talk. Not many people here this rainy night, a few guys looking at the menu at the drug bar.
“Bruce, it’s good to see ya, man. You want a drink?”
“Sounds good.” I pull a chair out as he goes inside to get a Coke then comes back out and joins me at a sidewalk table, one of several underneath an awning.
Oy! The Coke tastes wonderful. I haven’t had a drink since a small orange juice on the plane. I should eat something, must be places, even though it’s now 11:30. I tell Terry what’s been going on with the room switch, and describe the room.
“Ya need ta get yer money back,” he tells me. “They do stuff like that all the time here. Get a refund. That’s not right, man.”
“I don’t know. I need a place to sleep,” I tell him as trio of new customers arrive.
“I’ll be right back,” he says.