I’m told it was homemade apple vodka, but apples never gave me a headache like this. Drinking it steadily for the last 6 hours may not have been the best idea but one doesn’t have much choice when the bottle they bring runs dry. I began to get a little tired about half an hour ago and now it’s full dawn, hazy and cold, like most Northern European June mornings. As usual I’m having trouble convincing Marco to follow me home. He’s wasted almost to the point of incoherence again.
Every summer a friend of his throws a party at her parents farm. Her friends bring their friends, and everyone barbeques, dances while bands play, hooks up, gets high, and eventually dwindles down to a group of 15 shivering people strumming guitars around a bonfire as the sun rises.
Lovely as the evening was, one guy here is beginning to annoy the piss out of me by imitating a well known weatherman’s voice and using it for EVERYTHING. The fact that I’ve come down enough to be hungry does not help the situation. The only food available is sausage so it’s time to go. Besides, it’s 8am.
Finally Marco can’t take anymore of the obnoxious guy either and decides legs are made for walking. Having lost our guaranteed ride to sex and acid, we bravely set out on the dirt road with naught but warm Heinekens for company. Flat as the terrain is, the number of ditches running through the fields add curves to the road and give the impression of low rolling hills. By the time we reach the actual pavement I’m warm enough to hand Marco’s jacket back. The only thing awake on this road save us is a herd of 8 bored looking cows in the field to our left, so we decide to see if cows really will watch anything.
I begin my show with “Singin’ in the Rain”, and to my surprise, I’m not alone by the end of the song. Generally my singing is met with glares, requests for silence, or even money to make it stop, but these gentle bovines stare with rapt attention and moo encouragingly whenever I stop. Marco’s singing actually frightens them, making them run and herd close together, thus proving cows do have opinions and specific tastes. I coax them back with “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” and do another set of 7 before we head off for real.
By now the mist has evaporated and Marco regains his sweater, sending me back to my original hippy shirt and camouflage jacket. Yesterday getting out here by car took less than 10 minutes; this way it will be at least another half hour, and we’re unenthusiastic about that. A car passes and I try to flag it down, for once being completely out of character. Marco stops me and the car doesn’t stop anyway; I explain my theory.
“Hitchhiking is a lot more dangerous than it used to be, I know, but there are way less loose serial killers out here than Central Illinois. People out here actually seem to get to know their neighbors a bit, YOU don’t even lock your front door and neither did my other roommates, and the percentage of gun-toting psychos is much lower in these parts than anywhere in the US. Besides, there are 2 of us. You have a cellphone, I have a knife, and you look like a Viking. It’s pretty intimidating.”
He’s too tired to argue, but of course that was the only car. I content myself picking poppies along the road and stuffing them into my hairclip until we reach the outskirts of somewhere not even big enough to call a village. Church bells ring, but the streets are dead and the bus should’ve been running an hour and a half ago. We need a bus so badly; we’re tired and sore and Marco’s boss just called. He’s been up snorting coke and drinking like everyone else on a Saturday night and is too plastered to go in. Marco, the most incredibly good natured person I know, actually offers to check on the coffeeshop on our way home to make sure all is well and see if another employee made it there yet. I’m mad because I know he’s getting tricked into working, so I warn him and yell, but he’s so damn trusting he just ignores me and gets nervous about the fact we’ve been here 20 minutes and there’s no bus.
At the 45 minute mark we decide it’s time to hitchhike for real. The thought of bumming a ride all the way back to Amsterdam is a bit different than the few times I’ve done it for less than a mile, and I hear my parents disowning me in my head for even entertaining the thought. Then again 20 years ago my parents were 200 miles south of here doing the same thing, so they’re easy to block out. In my head my friends all chastise me for my stupidity, but I realize I don’t have to tell any of them and banish their voices as well. Marco passed out on the bench a few minutes ago so I begin blasting “Dear Prudence” and tell myself this will be fun.
And it is kind of exhilarating in a way. I’m not a risk taker, I don’t participate in adventure sports, try new things, dance in public, strike up conversations with strangers, or even leave the house that often. At least this is experiencing SOMETHING. The whole evening was an experience, the last year has been an experience and the whole point of being here is to behave uncharacteristically, right? Wasn’t I always pleased with acting out of character in the past? And what is life if not experience? Anything can happen at any time and I can’t hide in a corner forever.
I always feel like a watered down version of my father. Every time he entertains he tells unbelievable stories that cast a spell over the audience to the point it makes them empty their wallets in his name. Most of these stories are even true. I’ve always wanted to command that sort of attention, and though living up to his one man show even halfway would be an impossibility, it would be a step in the right direction at least, one more story to tell of one more time I didn’t spend all day rotting in bed and actually gave life a shot…..
As all this runs through my mind, I stand with thumb out, being ignored by car, after car, after car, after car. Do I not look skanky enough to get a ride? Does my raver garb and poppies in my hair scare off the Sunday yocals? I begin to lose hope. If only we had more than 3 euros to our name we could at least get a taxi to the train station, but this is not the case. I guess when Marco gets tricked into working he can keep the tips and we can eat tonight…..
I spaced out somewhere and am brought back to earth by “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and a small grey car pulling over. I hope it’s not an undercover cop. Or maybe he’ll speed off when in my American voice I say the Viking sleeping on the bench with flowers in his hair and dust in his beard is my boyfriend. Miraculously he accepts and waits for me to wake Marco. I’m so grateful somebody stops that I get in the front before realizing how retarded that is, looking like I’m about to exchange service for a ride. Luckily the driver seems normal enough, speaking with ease and a warm friendly smile, so if anything he’s a murderer and not a drooling pervert. He’s about 40 but still sporting the youthful look, almost acceptable sans the bad dye job and skin tight jeans that went out with Iggy Pop’s relevancy. I smile at him, wondering if he’s going to skin me and mount my head above the fireplace, but say nothing and let Marco do the talking.
Now that I’m sitting down, waves of exhaustion wash over me and I’m glad Marco is awake so I don’t have to stay too alert. I can understand bits and pieces of their conversation-Marco tells the driver what a nice guy he is for picking us up because nobody does anymore, the driver says he felt bad because he knew the bus wasn’t due for another hour and he used to bum rides all the time when he was young. He happens to be going our direction and can even drop us off at The Bulldog, so I can spend our last change on tea at Rokerij instead of the bus. They’re talking about work; Marco talks about being a bartender and the party we were at……I wish I could join in but Dutch is too unpronounceable and their fluency in English makes me lazy. So, I rest my head on the window and watch farmland blur past giving way to water.
It’s really amazing how much being here has changed me. If you’d pulled me aside when I was 16 and announced 3 years later I’d be hitchhiking back to Amsterdam from a farm party, I would’ve distracted you with something shiny and backed away slowly. I’m not really sure what brought all this out in me. Back home the most I ever did on weekends was wander my neighborhood aimlessly at 4 am with the dog….you don’t look crazy if you’re just walking the dog. Sometimes I felt adventurous and would hang out in the sort of crappy diner that plays nothing but Garth Brooks and employs burnout waitresses who all have tales to tell of their glory days partying with Johnny Cash. Maybe it was just inhibiting to be around so many people who knew me, or the childish fear of my parents finding things out and punishing me. People around here are strangers, they have no expectations of me, freeing me like never before. I can jump blasted into a random car at 10am on a Sunday morning, and there’s not a thing anyone can do about it. Marco’s a pretty non-judgemental person. He seldom criticizes me or my impulses, and having known me about a year, said attitudes and impulses still intrigue him. It’s like finally being able to breathe.
Back in the actual city now, Marco is directing our driver to The Bulldog. It’s grown warm, and all the daywalkers are out and about. Daywalkers here are the polar opposites of night creatures. The only time they spot my kind this early is returning from a party or getting off an early train. Daywalkers are the old couples strolling from church to the bakery, wrinkled hand clasped in wrinkled hand, young blonde mothers with baby carriages full of blonde babies, families of backpackers with heads stuck in maps in search of this hotel, that museum, that café we frequented last time we came………I pity Marco for letting himself get tricked into coming here, he’ll end up having to work and deal with these people. His master plan is kicking everyone out until another bartender arrives. I would go home myself, but if I do there’s no doubt he’ll begin drinking and I won’t see him until tomorrow morning.
This is amazing, we’ve been safely dropped a block away by a man who didn’t try to molest us or collect our eyes as souvenirs. We have nothing to give him in thanks so I remove the wilting poppies from my hair and leave them on his car seat. As he speeds off, I laugh at anything I’ve ever been warned about. Of course people shouldn’t take unnecessary risks and things should all be done in moderation, but myths are false and people must stop being scared into submission. I should relax and stop letting life beat me into a corner. Getting drunk does not make you an alcoholic, smoking a joint does not make you a junkie, sloppy dress does not make you worthless company, running away from home does not mean complete loneliness, you will not be violated or robbed by every man who says hello, every man who says hello is not a perverted maniac, every driver who picks you up is no deranged assassin, and poverty does not equal dissatisfaction.
3 years ago I’d be stressing about what everyone would think or dangers involved. Today I smile as the sun shines on my face and reflects off the canals below, not worried about anyone’s opinion but my own. I’ll curl into a corner at Rokerij with one more story to tell, drink as much tea as I can afford, and all will be right with the world.