IDamsterdam: The Long Walk to Freedom
The last thing I intend to do with this post is to mock Nelson Mandela’s autobiography of the same title, but forgive me, I just couldn’t come up with any words that capture the moment better. This is a little story of a night out in Amsterdam.
Now, let me preface by admitting that I’m as guilty as the next man when it comes to skirting by for free every now and then. Nothing major, but little things, like hopping the train, for instance. I mean, does anybody pay for the Metro in Rome, or the trams in Melbourne? Maybe things have changed since my last visit, but as a struggling 22-year-old, my 150 cents was going to some kind of bread or a bottle of water instead.
That said, the Netherlands is not the kind of place where I was going to test the honor system—intentionally anyway. For whatever reason, maybe through my dealings with the Dutch in the workplace, I just had a feeling that this is a very serious society whose consequences I’d want no part of. As I walked out of my hotel in Den Haag and caught Tram 9 down to Hollands Spoor station for the 45-minute trip into Amsterdam, the thought of trying to cheat Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Rail, or “NS”) out of their 8-some Euros never even crossed my mind.
Fast forward about 6 hours. After my couple of hours meandering away from Centraal Station, after my dinner at De Peper, and probably most significantly to this story, after my visit to Hunter’s Coffeeshop. Now, I’m sure you’ve been to a coffee shop before that allows smoking. And I’m sure you’ve been to one that doesn’t allow tobacco. But…both?
So, naturally in the mood for dessert after a scrumptious meal, I elected the chocolate brownie, so creatively called a “space cake”. Feeling satisfied that my hand-sized brownie was 4 Euros well spent, I ever-so-coherently continued my exploration of Amsterdam’s back alleys, until I decided to pack it in and retreat to Centraal three hours later, around midnight. Disappointed that I still didn’t feel any of that Amsterdam “charm”, I concluded that I was either: a) immune to the effects of marijuana, not being much of a smoker to begin with; b) a master of maintaining composure even under adverse chemical effects; or c) a sucker for buying a really, really weak brownie, thinking I should have realized that four Euros doesn’t go very far…and proceeded to buy my ticket back to Den Haag.
Or so I thought.
About halfway through the 45-minute journey home, somewhere amidst the distant, rolling lights peering out of the dark night, I was awoken by an NS conductor, asking to see my ticket. Startled, I wiped the grog out of my eyes and began searching every pocket on me…only to find my wallet (which I craftily avoided revealing) and some lint. After watching me struggle for a good 45 seconds, and me signaling to him that I ‘surely’ have it…he continued down the car inspecting tickets and said he’d return shortly. At the exact moment I realized that I didn’t have the ticket I had sworn I purchased anywhere on me, I was able to decipher two solid facts out of the otherwise blurry world Hunter had introduced me to: 1) the stoic conductor was making his way back towards my section of the car, and 2) we were just reaching a complete stop at Den Haag HS (station). Somehow thinking quickly, I lowered my knit cap over my head, looked straight at the ground, stood up, and took the most direct route possible to the exit—of course the opposite exit from which he was coming. Straining with everything in me to walk fast and straight, I stepped onto the platform, snuck down the first bank of stairs, hung a right and continued my brisk walk straight out of the station’s main gate and onto the awaiting Tram 9 (which I ironically enough didn’t pay for this time).
I still don’t know if that conductor even noticed me sneak out or tried to stop me, and I don’t care. I just remember time slowing down as I made my way out of HS Station, hearing crowds coming from the clouds cheering me on like it was a slow motion replay of the 15th round of Rocky vs. Apollo Creed. I walked briskly and purposefully into the first tram waiting, and when I saw that it was No. 9, I probably would have thrown my arms up in jubilation as the doors closed with me inside had it not been for discerning glare of a bald elderly man and the jolt of the tram’s movement shoving me down into a seat, as if to tell me to get a grip and stop looking like an idiot….