Thursday, August 12, 2004

Whatever Floats Your Boat

Friday night Minneapolis/Saturday morning Amsterdam. I caught maybe two hours of shuteye on the eight hour flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam. Back with the prols in coach this time around. The food was decent, my seatmate provided good company, but it ain't bidness class by any stretch of the legs. Spoiled I guess.

Interminable wait at the baggage carousel. We shared it with an Iran Air flight from Tehran. Odd to consider that one day soon we could be at war with the same people I was standing next to watching the belt go 'round and 'round. However, from outward appearances at least, most of them were likely not staunch backers of the mullahs. Very "Westernized" in dress and look. Most of the women wore make up and were not covering their noggins. The teenage boys sported Nike athletic apparel. Can you love the culture and yet still hate the country?

I didn't know which rental car company my reservation was with (a minor detail), but happened to make a lucky guess by hitting Avis first. Given a choice of three models, I opted for the largest and ended up with a two-door hatchback that only a sustainable-living lefty could love.

The Avis clerk gave me directions to my hotel in Amsterdam, which proved to be flawed. Coming off two hours of sleep, driving lost through a strange city in a foreign country wasn't exactly my idea of fun. But, what choice did I have?

I ended up driving all over the narrow, congested city streets doing my damndest to avoid hitting the ubiquitous cyclists and trying to keep out of the way of the trams. Whenever I came to a stoplight I attempted to consult maps of the city, but I never had a chance to get my bearings. And so I drove on, trusting that instinct and chance would lead me to my destination. Eventually they did.

By 11:40am I was checked in and settling in to my quaint and cozy room. Despite the lack of sleep, I was determined to adjust to the local time as quickly as possible, and so, after a quick freshening up, I was on the march. Coffee was my most pressing concern. After securing a dose of the precious fuel of life (quick aside--you know that you've passed another stage in life when the first thing you seek out in the early afternoon is a cup of Joe instead of a glass of beer), I strolled to one of Amsterdam's many canals to stake a claim to a spot to view the parade.

Parade? What parade? Why, the annual gay pride boat parade of course. This is a major event in Amsterdam (in 2003 over 200,000 turned out to watch) and I figured it was a perfect opportunity to get a taste of the flamboyant (never was there a more appropriate descriptor) side of the city.

And what a taste it was. I had no idea when the parade was going to kickoff, but I saw people gathering just before 1pm and figured I should grab a place and hunker down. It turned out that I was hunkered for over two hours as the parade started at 3pm. It gave me the chance to watch the disparate crowd assemble. Boats of all shapes, sizes, and seaworthiness prowled up and down the canals seeking out the perfect spot to tie up for parade viewing. Cigarette boats to dinghies and everything in between. And I mean everything.

The only people wearing life jackets were very young children (By the way, Amsterdam has more bikers per capita than any city in the world. And NONE of them wear helmets). Moreover, the concept of a maximum capacity on boats appeared quite foreign. Everyone drank and the majority smoked. Mostly they puffed on Marb Reds, but a few chose the more exotic herbs as well. Your typical Minnesota nanny-stater would have been aghast at the blatant disregard for personal health and safety. I loved it.

It was like Mardi Gras in Venice. Combine the embrace of hedonistic sexuality and complete lack of any moral restraint of the Castro District with the embrace of sloppy drunkenness and complete lack of fashion restraint that you find in Wisconsin and you have an idea what this event, nay spectacle, looked like. Needless to say, it was often not pretty.

I am having difficulties transferring images from my digital camera to my laptop. Otherwise, I would subject you to pictures of the bawdy GLBT bacchanalia that cruised down the canal.

Every gay cliché that you could image was on display. Most of the "floats" featured barely clad men dancing to God-awful, ear-thumping dance music. There were more Village People songs than you could shake a nightstick at and even an appearance by VP impersonators. Cross dressers, transvestite divas, twinkle- toed fairies, leather boyz, muscled macho men. You name it. They were there.

The fairer sex wasn't left out of the action either. Unfortunately, they weren't the long-legged lipstick lesbians that lick their way through the erotic fantasyland of 99.99% of heterosexual men. They never are, are they?

Instead, I was "treated" to floats featuring middle-aged, shorthaired mannish dykes (insert joke here about dikes in Holland) desperately trying (and usually failing miserably) to find some sense of rhythm, as they awkwardly bobbed to the same pulsing dance beat. Their floats were simple, unimaginative, and elicited little or no crowd reaction. Gay gals might want to have fun, but it's the boys who really know how to put on a show.

After an hour or so of watching the procession of water-borne rainbow rump shakers, I had more than my fill of "pride". Plus the sun was beating down, I was parched, and had become increasingly annoyed by the throng of pushy people ten deep behind me. I hate crowds. For that matter, I hate parades. Considering those facts, I consider it remarkable that I was able to last as long as I did.

It was time for a change of scenery. And beer. Hello Heineken Experience. It was a self-guided, very interactive brewery tour. One of the exhibits physically demonstratesd what it feels like to be a bottle of beer going through the bottling line. Almost like a real world Duff Gardens. The three beers that I downed there didn't hurt none either.

This set the stage for me to catch a two-hour nap back at the hotel. I capped off the day with a late night dinner at a canal-side Brazilian restaurant.

It was quite a way to get introduced to the city. Amsterdam is not for everyone.
With its decriminalization of prostitution and soft drugs and open acceptance of homosexuality, some probably consider it a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. But, if it is a city of wickedness, it is an orderly one. Moreover, it's hard not to like a city with an attitude that seems to be "What the f***?"

Just to be on the safe side though, I didn't look back as I drove out of town Sunday afternoon.

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