Holland, oh beautiful Holland with your windmills and canals.
Well this ain't about that.
Long ago on a continent far away, in the country of Holland, and the city of Amsterdam an innocent young man was shown the wonders of the world in all of its unbridled glory. The place, the time and the setting.
August 1988 some friends and I went for a trip to Amsterdam. We all were living in Europe and one of my friends had just purchased a brand spanking new Saab turbo. We decided to drive up to Amsterdam and camp at one of the numerous parks around the city. Being the naïve sheltered person I am, I thought we were going to look at the museums and art. Little did I know that my friends had complete different plans, which would forever sweep away my innocence and lay bare the wild-eyed excitement only the pure of heart can have. Are you buying any of this so far?
Ok, ok, ok (Joe Pesci) so I didn’t go into Amsterdam the complete bumpkin. I knew they had a red light district and most soft drugs could be purchased at a bar. But I didn’t expect to see 90% of what I did see.
So from where I lived it was about an eight - hour drive to Amsterdam. We drive all day and finally get there in the late evening. By the time we found a place to camp, it was already dark. We ended up putting up our tent with only car lights to aid in the assembling of the tent. Once all that was set we caught a bus and headed straight to the red light district. Now for some Americans it hard to understand that in a lot of European nations prostitution is legal, no more so than in the city of Amsterdam. I had heard the term window shopping before, but not as it was used there. There are large plate glass windows through out the district and as you walked by, there would be women sitting in a room behind the plate glass window. Some would be doing their nail, others reading or watching TV, and still others actively trying to bring in the customers. Trust me window shopping were all my buddies and I did. This was during the full-blown AIDS epidemic nightmare. Not saying it isn’t a nightmare now, but back then there was so much that wasn’t known. Toilet seats, kissing and even shaking hands were considered possible ways of catching AIDS. There was never any doubt in my mind and I’m sure it was the same for my friends that window browsing was the most I would ever do. Now before all the women get in an uproar, there were plenty of places for you also. Sort of an equal opportunity red light district.
We started hitting bars and went into one that had two big blackboards behind the bar. The one the left was the price of beer and drinks. On the right was the price of soft drugs being sold out of the bar. This is perfectly legal in Amsterdam. A friend and I order a beer and while consuming liquid libation a guy comes in and sits at the bar. He orders something and lights up. My friend is punching me in the ribs saying, “Can you believe he’s doing that in here.” We finish our beers and leave. My friend is going on most of the night about that.
There are so many other things I saw in that red-light district and I won’t go into those. It’s enough to say I was glad there were four of us together that night. I used to think the wildest town I had ever been to was New Orleans, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Amsterdam. Even though Amsterdam is an old established European city, I felt like I was in an old west town where anything goes and you could get anything you wanted.
The next morning we go back to the district because one of my friends wanted to get a tee shirt from a certain bar. What really bought home to me the wildness of the district was while walking down through an alley, seeing used syringes. I shudder now as then thinking of accidentally stepping on one and of who was using it and what they might have been willing to do for money.
We finally leave Amsterdam and head home. I never got to go to the museums and other spots of interest. It’s kind of sad too because the red light district is only a very small part of Amsterdam. I could have spent two or three weeks just wondering around the city and gawking at all there is to see. But my memories of Amsterdam are of the district. It was exciting, funny, and scary and an experience I’ll never forget.
As with many things I remember, not all is clear, but I remember that weekend with clarity because when I got back home my telephone was ringing off the hook. My family had been calling for hours and they were worried sick. They wanted to know if I was all right and where I had been. I told them and asked what was going on. They told me they had seen on the news about the Ramstein Air Show disaster. For those that don’t remember here is a wiki link, Ramstein Airshow
. I assured them I was OK, but I got to thinking I probably would have been at the Air Show if I hadn’t gone to Amsterdam. My landlady and her family had gone and luckily came out unscathed. They told me about how horrible it was. I wonder sometimes if it was luck or fate that I wasn’t there.
So ends the tale of Amsterdam and luck or fate. So you’re wondering about the Banana Psychology in the title. I’ll let you imagination figure that one out.