Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Amsterdam Day 1

I first visited Amsterdam almost a decade ago with Senor. One of the first things I scribbled into my notebook was, "Amsterdam is like another planet."

I rank Amsterdam up there with other carefree cities like Las Vegas, Old New Orleans, San Francisco and even New York City to some extent. In these places, there's a high tolerance factor for freaks and the freaks know this. They come out of the woodwork from all over the world it seems, waving their flags high and proud. I guess that's why there are so many hookers and hash bars and weirdos roaming the streets of Amsterdam. Indeed, the Dutch and specifically Amsterdam is one of the most tolerant cities you can ever visit. Amsterdam is diverse with people from all over the world, not just Europe. Thank God that summer is over and the hordes of backpackers have trickled off.

My flight from JFK to Amsterdam was nothing special except that the flight attendants on KLM wear these turquoise uniforms. They are super polite. I sat next to two Dutch sisters. One was incredibly smoking while the other was not. KLM has TVs embedded into the seats, so you can watch from a huge selection of new and old movies. I watched Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy and Ocean's 11. I started watching The Godfather, but fell asleep. I wish I slept more, but I only passed out the last hour of my six and a half hour flight.

I arrived early just after Noon and hopped on a train to Central Station for $4 Euros. Briana booked a room at the Victoria Hotel. Talk about the complete opposite of the Flying Pig hostel. The swanky Victoria is the nicest hotel in Amsterdam and is located a few steps outside of Central Station. You can't miss it. Briana was standing out front waiting for me and my eyes nearly melted because I had not seen her in so long. She arrived the night before via Paris. She looked stunning. The two biggest changes... her hair is much shorter and she chain smokes like a champ.

We hadn't seen each other in a few months and aside from a few phonecalls (and one lengthy letter from Briana), we gave each other space and distance and freedom to do what we both had to do this summer. Over the next 24 hours we'd take turns visiting different cafes and hash bars. We'd alternate telling stories about this summer. I told Briana all about the Redneck Riviera, working with the Poker Prof, Flipchip's Vietnam stories, drinking during dinners at the Hooker Bar at the Rio with Otis and Amy Calistri, and playing poker in Las Vegas with Grubby. Briana's summer was relatively boring compared to mine. She smoked and read constantly and managed to finish a decent sized manuscript. Our favorite malcontent elevator button heiress penned a novel. She said that I inspired her. I read a few pages on the shitter this morning. It's interesting, kind of like The Bell Jar meets The Devil Wears Prada. The girl has potential.

She's been living in France since May and told me that the French found someone they hate more than George Bush.... and that's Lance Armstrong.

Yesterday we rented bikes and rode all over the city. Amsterdam is bicycle crazy. Nothing is hotter than seeing a smoking hot chick riding a bicycle. And they are everywhere. Everyone rides bikes. Businessmen, kids, old ladies, and hot chicks. Late at night, people still ride bicycles with cool head lights. Occasionally, you'll see one very drunk guy peddling home after too many beers at the pub. Late night, every few minutes or so, someone drunk cycles by screaming.

We spent some time in Vondel Park. I was content to be able to sit and enjoy life in a park. It's one of those moments when you feel the luck rushing through your veins. I listened to one of the best pieces of live music ever... the Grateful Dead's 5.8.77. (The few of you Deadheads know how sensational that show is!) Yeah I fired up 5.8.77 and watched Briana take a nap on the grass in the warm Netherlands afternoon sun.

Here's an actual conversation that happened around 3 o'clock yesterday:
Briana: Take me to go see the hookers.
Pauly: It's in the middle of the day. Only old hookers work the day shift.
Briana: Then let's go see the old hookers. I'm sure they have great stories to tell.
No one weaves a better tale than an old hooker. To hell with Hemingway. If he chugged 50,000 cocks in his day, I'm sure his writing would have a slight edge to it. If anything, it could become a new book idea... Existentialist Conversations with Hookers.

Briana walked away from the Red Light district a little depressed. Like many people she had a romanticized image of the world's oldest profession. She felt sorry for the old whores. In the highest trafficked area, you will see old and ugly hookers. They have been turning tricks since the Carter administration. The better looking ones are on the side streets and you have to navigate the narrow alleys and follwing the aroma of cheap sex in the air to find the doorways with the girls. And for $50 Euros, they can be yours for 15 minutes. It's weird to see a group of Japanese old ladies walk through soaking in the scene. You see scummy looking guys walking around the same block several times, circling for an available hooker.

The girls stand inside these rooms with glass doors. Most of them are wearing their underwear or other lingerie. Some of them try to get your attention and they knock on the window. Other's will wink at you or blow kisses. Some will actually touch themselves. On the day shift, I spotted several girls yapping on their cellphones. One was reading the paper. Another was watching TV. No matter what, do not take pictures of them.

Briana and I estimated that a prostitute there averages 2,500 Johns a year. That's $125K Euros a year after taxes and fees to rent the space. But even if they are clearing $60K a year, that's almost twice as much as teachers in NYC make. What does this say about us? Seriously, 2,500 tricks a year? That's gotta start to hurt after a while?

We spent the late night sitting in a few cafes drinking beers near Dam Square. I found one bar that I've been to in the past with Senor. They had drafts for $1.90. We'd sit around and play "Guess what country I'm from?" For $20 a pop, we'd pick out a person or group and try to guess their country of origin. Americans are the easiest to spot. I got killed. I dropped about $200 Euros in that -EV game for me. Briana's been living in Europe for almost four months so she has home field advantage. I'm already down bigtime gambling in Europe and I haven't even set foot into a casino.

Anyway, I don't have too much time. We're fixing to see a few museums today and take photos. I leave for Barcelona tomorrow.


By the way, congrats on my brother Derek, who finished in 5th place (not 4th as I previously reported) in the Poker Stars Hurricane Katrina charity tourney! I also heard Wil took 10th and Helix finsihed in 14th. Congrats guys.

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