In my last entry, I celebrated my 8-year anniversary of moving the UK from Los Angeles. It wasn’t a direct flight. I had 3 weeks to travel on my own before I could enter the UK on my student visa, so I took the opportunity to visit some people and places before I settled in for a year of academic stress. First, I visited my family in the far reaches of northern New York. Then, I flew to Amsterdam. I had never been there before.
I arrived under a cloud of ennui. I had just separated from a long-term partner under mid-life crisis circumstances and felt adrift at sea. Determined to steer my psychological raft somewhere fun, I put on my Doc Martens and ventured forth. I spent my first day wandering around in museums and art galleries. After grabbing a bite to eat, I explored the night life. I visited a few pubs, tasted a few different beers and spent some time in the coffee shops. Now “relaxed,” I visited the Sex Museum, which was actually a lot more educational than predicted. I particularly enjoyed the South American and Japanese fertility symbol installations. I ventured south until I heard good music coming from an alternative and metal nightclub. I went inside where a DJ spun ‘90s-era grunge. On the restroom door someone had painted the phrase “Up All Night. Got Demons to Fight.” I took comfort in knowing there was least there was one other person in Amsterdam who felt like I did in that moment. After about an hour and a few more drinks, a large group of twenty-somethings invaded the place and lost their collective mind at the first chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It was time to leave. Tired and inebriated, I hailed a cab back to my B and B, a tall, skinny house in a quiet residential neighbourhood next to one of the city’s many canals.
As we drove through the narrow streets, the street lamps left light trails. I looked to the right and noticed a young lady on a bicycle attempting to merge into our lane. Someone needed to give way. Everything slowed down. Even more than they already were. I reached my arm out and pointed but before I could yell “Stop” the car collided with the cyclist’s body. The woman and her bike rolled up the windshield and back down onto the street with a great thud. The driver screeched to a halt. Without pause, I leapt from the vehicle and kneeled down to see if the woman was okay. She was flat on her back wailing. She craned her neck forward. I placed my hand over her chest to keep her still. If she moved, she might injure herself further. She began crying and yelling in Dutch. I looked around for help. “Oh, fuck. I don’t speak Dutch.” A local man knelt down beside me, took the young woman’s hand and began speaking softly to her in their mother tongue. I felt bad I couldn’t help more. She cried harder. I stood up and looked at the bike. The collision had destroyed it.
A crowd was gathering and several people were calling for an ambulance. I turned and saw my cab driver still sitting in the car, his eyes wide with fear. I don’t know how he didn’t see her. Here I was, far from sober and I saw her clearly. Then it occurred to me. He had his phone in his lap when he picked me up. He was most likely texting while driving. He couldn’t have been older than 19. He was short and middle-eastern. This surely wouldn’t end well for him.
The police and ambulance arrived. While the EMTs treated the woman, a 6’4 blonde policeman began interrogating witnesses. Finally, he approached the cab driver. The policeman towered over him. Being from Los Angeles, I fully expected the officer to arrest the driver but to slam him down on the hood of the car and cuff him. Instead, he approached the terrified driver calmly, extended his hand and introduced himself. I was most definitely not in America anymore. The cop questioned the kid, checked his credentials and let him go. Meanwhile, the young woman’s spine was x-rayed with a portable x-ray machine, and she was given ice and bandages for her scratches. No one asked her for insurance details and she never asked for the driver’s information so she could sue him later for her injuries or the cost of a new bicycle. Everyone was civil and apologetic. There was no drama or violence. It was my first lesson in how truly messed up the United States law enforcement, health care and legal systems are. America is a raw Darwinist capitalist system where everyone is out for themselves by necessity.
A second officer approached to get my statement and assured me that the woman would be okay. She was lucky the driver wasn’t going faster. Her bike was not so lucky. The front wheel looked like something in one of the Picasso drawings I had seen earlier that day in the Van Gogh Museum.
I went back to my Bed and Breakfast and fell asleep immediately. When I woke up the next morning, my head was fuzzy. I made myself a cup of tea and sat on the end of the bed. I stared at the pattern of sunlight rippling the reflection of the canal water onto the wooden floor and asked myself “Did that really happen last night?” If someone had a photo of me in that moment, it would probably look like the female version of Jeff Lebowski. For a single moment I pondered that the event was a bad omen for the year to come. Almost as instantly as the thought formed, I pushed it away, refusing to indulge the monster of doubt that lurks constantly just beyond my consciousness. I gulped my tea, stood up, headed for the shower and grumbled as I shook my head, “Oh. Whatever, man. Today is another day.”