So this turned out to be a rather surreal evening.
It starts with a beautiful day. Rarer than a male under six feet tall here in the Netherlands. Sunny, 72 degrees, slight breeze, just perfect. And it just so happens to be the first day of official ultimate practice.
For me, this means riding my bike ten minutes to the Dordrecht station. Getting on a train (with my bike) to Rotterdam. Then another to Utrecht. During this process there are many times when I have to carry the bike up and down flights of stairs, through crowds of people, and sit with it in the anteroom of the train with the folding seats. From Utrecht Centraal it’s a fifteen minute bike ride to the fields. And, of course, I have to repeat the process in reverse going home. For this pleasure, I pay the Netherlands rail service 18 Euros. 12 for me and 6 for the bike. I tried getting a senior’s discount for the bike but they would have none of it.
Practice is from 8 to 10. It’s light out until 9:30, which is great, and then the fields are lit. The only problem with the fields is that they are artificial, and if you are serious about getting a disc sometimes, that means slamming your body against a thin layer of plastic and rubber covering a large slab of concrete. I only had to learn not to dive and not to slide once. Each. And I still forget sometimes.
Practice was great. I hadn’t played ultimate since the beginning of the summer. I wasn’t as out of shape as I thought, and this pleased me. I was much pleased. I hopped on the bike as soon as practice was done to begin the hour and a half trip home, feeling one with the world and immersed in its beauty.
Now, the Netherlands is full of canals. While this is quite pretty, you have to remember that they are mostly standing water. In the summer, this translates into many random swarms of gnats. When you bike, the gnats kind of bounce off your protruding parts (ears, nose, glasses) and only occasionally get inhaled or swallowed. But even mouthfuls of gnats couldn’t dampen my mood.
The throngs of orange-clad, drunk, Dutch soccer fans waiting on the platform in Rotterdam though, could.
They must have had some game with the national team, because the platforms were packed. Gentleman that I am, I let everyone off before me (even though I’m standing there in the anteroom), the orange mob is lined up outside with a tiny pathway to let passengers off, they are all salivating over their chance to get in and get a seat.
After the last passenger gets off I move toward the door, with my bike, which has been in plain view for a few minutes now, and the people at the front of the crowd throw me dirty looks and mumble something unintelligible in their strange language where the only word I understood was “fiets” (bike).
No shit Sherlock.
One guy is so eager to get on the train he just jumps right in. Before I can get out. I should mention the doorway is only wide enough for one person at a time.
Well fuck this, I’m not standing here and letting everyone pile on. I plow forward. A little annoyed that these dumbasses aren’t making any more space, I decide that they deserve their fate, and just plow those handlebars through the masses. In a very petty way, it’s both enjoyable and annoying simultaneously.
The rubber handlebars catch on shirts, tummies, shoulders, on both sides of the ‘aisle’. I savor every bump and snag. I start saying loudly in my best American voice, “Sorry. So sorry. Coming through. Make way.” And I just plow that sucker through there. I really lean my body weight into it and I almost fall forward when I finally break through.
But it gets better. Now I get to the Dordrecht train. It’s not so packed because Dordrecht is only 15 minutes away and they’ve had more trains. But it’s still standing room only. I’m in the anteroom where you are supposed to put the bikes and there is already one leaning against the wall. A nice one.
I ask the guy standing next to it if I can put mine with his. “Okay, but here, let me do it, it’s brand new.” Okay, whatever. I don’t blame him.
This guy seriously looks like a skinny, dark skinned, curly haired, homeless guy. He’s got that sweaty and dirty clothes look to him, and he’s carrying a Heineken sack over one shoulder that looks like it was a cheap promotional gift back when it was first made in 1980. The guy disappears into the bathroom, locks the door and doesn’t come out for a long time.
The ride is normally only fifteen minutes. But for some reason explained in Dutch we stop before we get there. As we stop, the bathroom door opens and some OTHER guy in a track suit, white guy also with dirty hair asks, “Is this Dordrecht?” He’s holding a little piece of tin foil with some hash on it. When he opens the door a cloud of stinky sweet pot-smell follows him out.
“No we’re not there yet,” one of the other four people in the anteroom says (I think). The guy nods and goes back into the bathroom. He’s got a joint behind one ear I notice.
The pair don’t come out again until the train slows down approaching Dordrecht. And then the weirdest thing happens. Track Suit comes out and walks over to the bikes. He examines them for a second, then lifts mine off of his (it’s his bike I gather, since Heineken Bag is still walking around in tight black stone-washed jeans from a decade and a half ago), and he holds mine away from the shiny new bike while he leans in close and examines it.
He peers at it. Rubs at a piece of dirt I can’t see with a finger. Licks his finger and does it again (apparently not satisfied). Then he touches the gear thingees on the back wheel. Then the chain (which, unless he has one of those new magic bikes, is probably covered in grease). Then he takes out a paper towel from a pocket and starts wiping various pieces of the machinery.
What the hell? This dude is nuts. I’m seriously worried that he’s going to realize he’s still touching my dirt-caked bike and turn into Howard Hughes and start ranting about the germs and repeating the same phrase over and over and over. Even though this is a possibility, I can’t help but saying, “Nice bike. You going to carry it home?” He ignores me. I don’t blame him.
After a twenty minute delay, the train finally pulls into the station. Track Suit wastes no time getting his bike off the dirty dirty train and into the clean Dordrecht air. But then he has problems getting on it. Which is probably understandable since I think he’s higher than the International Space Station. Plus, he remembers after a minute that he’s still on the platform and can’t actually go anywhere.
But by now, even though I got the early train back, it is again almost midnight, and it is time for me to get home, grab my shower, and enlighten all the fine citizens of the Internet about the fucked-up people you meet on the Dutch train system.
Come on over and see us why dontcha.