Oh my god the BIKES (welcome to Amsterdam)

I’ve been in Amsterdam for about a week or so, and I don’t really know that many people, so when I find myself with free time and no desire to unpack, buy practical supplies for my apartment, or clean … I bike. The weather has been absolutely perfect lately. I’m talking warm, sunny, blue skies, and cafes full of people eating outside. On Saturday, I spent several hours enjoying free wireless internet at Debaille, a cafe in Leidseplein. I left around 6pm and didn’t stop biking until about midnight. It doesn’t really even start to get dark until 9pm or so, which makes the days feel incredibly long – and when the weather is as perfect as it was on Saturday, all those daylight hours feel really great.

While I was in the center of Amsterdam today, I had my first pedestrian run-in. He stepped in front of my bike (while I was in the bike lane) and I didn’t have the time to ring my bell, so technically, I hit him. Or collided into him, if you will. I fell down and was also a bit hurt, so I said “Look before you walk next time!”, which is probably about ten times more polite than I would have been in New York (when a simple “fuck you, asshole” would have done). Everyone around me was instantly concerned about the welfare of my bike and cast disparaging looks at the sad pedestrian, who dared step foot in the bike path. It’s moments like this when I feel like I feel like all is right with the world – cyclists always win here.

I say I’m averaging about 6 hours a day on my bike. At the end of the night, I’m exhausted (which is one reason why I haven’t done nearly enough cleaning/unpacking/apartment-sorting out). Now, I’ve been riding for what feels like my entire life, and I’ve ridden in all different types of places – from the middle of nowhere to the heart of Chinatown in Manhattan. But these Amsterdam bikes are unlike anything I’ve ever ridden before. No gears and no hand brakes – to stop I push back on the pedals and also get a lot of use out of stopping myself with my feet. My hands feel like they have nothing to do! My left hand stays firmly near the bell while I’m riding through the center of the city, but once I’m outside the super-busy area… it’s so strange, but I do like it. The bikes here are simple machines. Comfortable, not built for speed or going up hills, but perfectly built for this city.

I’m leaving for Barcelona tomorrow night, just for a quick 3-day vacation to avoid the madness of Queens Day here in Amsterdam. Having never been here for Queens Day, I don’t really have any opinion of it one way or the other, but my roommate isn’t a fan and convinced me a few months ago to go out of town for the holiday. I’ve never been to Barcelona, but I have a guidebook to read from 1995, some high school Spanish skills, and a wonderful friend who will meet me at our hotel on Monday night. So I pretty much think I’m all set.

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Goodbye Los Angeles – originally published 15 April 2008

My last day of work in Los Angeles is tomorrow (technically, today), the 15th of April, and I keep getting a lot of “wow, you sure are leaving quickly, huh?” type of comments because my flight to New York is the 16th. But Los Angeles was only a temporary move, so it doesn’t seem like a quick departure to me. What else am I going to do here? Go look at movie star homes? I saved some money, enjoyed the weather and the food, and now it’s time to go. But before I leave, I have to pack.

I’d like to think that I’m a good packer, but I wonder if I’m lying to myself. When one makes a “normal” move, ie: moving to a different town, you pack up all your crap in boxes and go. Of course I’m sure you throw a lot of stuff away and donate and whatnot, but for the most part, you don’t get rid of everything. That’s the big difference when you move across an ocean, especially if you have absolutely no idea how long you’ll be away or where you might end up. So yes, I have a few boxes in my father’s attic with photo albums and comic books. I will leave another box or two at my mom’s house in LA with clothes and shoes – but my reasoning for leaving behind my beautiful shiny black shoes? They’re heavy. I love them, but they’re heavy, so they stay in the US. The goal is to get all of my worldly belongings in two suitcases, each under 50 lbs., and heavy shoes do not make the cut. I won’t be moving books, movies, or photo albums. For the most part, all I’m bringing with me to Amsterdam is clothes, about 1/4th of my shoe collection (which is really hard), and a couple thousand of dollars worth of electronics. It would be nice to think that if I do manage to settle down in Amsterdam, I could have a few boxes sent to me and reclaim some of these items. The hardest things for me to leave behind (other than the shoes) are the pictures that I keep in frames and my wonderful winter coat, which is long and warm and wonderful and completely impractical for Amsterdam in every way. I spent over four hours this past Sunday listening to the Clash very loudly and going through every item I currently own, trying to figure out if it stays or goes… and I’m not done. And have I ever mentioned that when I came to California, I only had two suitcases? I know most of the time I spent packing was really going through paperwork – years of bank statements, old passport copies, plane tickets – but still. I have no idea how that took four hours.

I know those first few weeks that I spend in Amsterdam are going to be really weird – going from a super-structured life in the US to a totally unstructured life in Europe is obviously going to take some getting used to. I have a meeting with some folks in Amsterdam on my first full day there (the 24th), and I admit, having something to do – a place to go and a time to be there – it helps, mentally.

So the first leg of the journey starts with a 6-hour plane ride east. Back to Eastern Standard Time, back to Brooklyn, back home to New York. I’ll spend four days running all over the place, picking up a few last-minute items, trying not to be late to some last-minute appointments, and of course, saying goodbye to friends and family. My time is booked up nicely with dinners and drinks and hopefully, lots and lots of sleep.