Tuesday 4 June 2019

Leaving Amsterdam

“I still think you’re crazy, Ronald. Going all that way again when you’ve only been back a couple of weeks.”

Dolores does have a point. But I’m not about to admit it. I weakly object: “It’s OK. I’m used to the travel.”

“It can’t be good for you.” Again, she probably has a point. Which, again, I’m not prepared to concede. This time, I simply remain silent.

I need to quickly nip out before leaving for the airport. To vote in the EU elections. I always try to make a point of voting when I can. This might be the last chance I get, what with everyone in the UK having gone insane. A bizarre way to kick off the trip.  As usual, the ballot paper is the size of a bedsheet.

My goodbyes said to a depressingly untearful Dolores, I toodle along to the bus stop. Normal drill this morning: 15 to Haarlemmermeerstation, then 397 to the airport. Quick (30 minutes at most), cheap (around 2 euros) and with the least walking. Taking the 15 bus then the train from Amsterdam Zuid involves lots more faffing around. When I’m luggaged up, faffing is something I try to avoid as much as possible.

I’ve a bit of a wait for the 397 bus. No biggie. Still three hours until my flight departs. Call me Mr. Paranoid, but I don’t like taking any chances. Despite having pushing-in boarding. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s boiling my blood by rushing. My life has enough stress without adding to it unnecessarily. 

When the 397 turns up, it’s tricky to get very far as some twat tourist three rows in has stuck his massive suitcase in the middle of the aisle. Thanks a lot, mate. How I hate tourists. And the way they ruin things for travellers like me.

I alight the bus to the traditional cry of “Taxi?” from the illegal touts that lurk on the fringes of the bus platforms. They just can’t seem to get the problem under control. Honestly, it’s like the third world here sometimes.

The touts all have self-made signs saying “Official taxi”. Dead unconvincing. Yet they must trap some fools, or why would they be standing here?

My airport routine is the same as always. Grab a sarnie in the Albert Heijn landside, dump my bag and get through security as quickly as possible. Heading directly to the duty free to pick up a bottle of hotel whisky. After comments from Dolores (“How can you spend that much on one bottle?”) I’ve become more frugal in my choices. Damn how expensive Islay is becoming.

I settle on a Speyside at a very reasonable 36 euros for a litre. Let’s face it: I’m not that fucking fussy. The main purpose of the whisky is to tip me over into slumber at the end of the evening. Any half-decent single malt will do.

While I’m in the duty free, I also pick up 6 miniatures of Famous Grouse. They’ll come in handy for the plane. I’m flying Delta and they’re meaner with the free booze than KLM. No nipping to the galley for extra bottles of wine with them.

I notice that in the long queueing area for the tills is lined with tubs of miniatures and shelves of half bottles. Aah, good old impulse Schnapps. Just like in German supermarkets.

My leaves from pier D. Meaning I have to walk past the Murphy’s pub. Literally, right past it. I can’t resist nipping inside. I’m not made of stone. I limit myself to a half of Stout. And a double Jameson, no ice. There’s a party of Americans nearby fuelling up for their flight. Know the feeling, mates.

Trundling on to my gate, I park my arse and fire up my laptop. I need to finish watching that episode of Taskmaster. Should fill in some time. I chomp away on my budget sarnie. Omelette and bacon, in the unlikely event you might take an interest. It’s what I always get. I’m very much a man of habits, when in Schiphol.

With my pushing-in boarding, I embark early and settle my fat arse into my seat. Carefully concealing the miniatures in the seat pocket. Only four left now. I couldn’t resist slurping a couple while I was waiting. As I said earlier, I’m not made of stone. “More like 50% whisky.” I hear Dolores telling me in my head.

A big, loud American sits next to me. I recognise him as one of the refuelling party in Murphy’s pub. One of his companions comes a long with a big bag of vodka miniatures and passes him a handful. Seems I’m not the only one concerned about on-board booze supplies.

I’m warming to my neighbour. Let’s be honest: I’m not exactly small myself. And, a few drinks in, my volume control jams at 11. We compare miniatures. Definitely my sort of guy.

The flight progresses in the usual way. Crap films, interspersed with drinks and meal services. Gently backlit by the illicit miniatures. The perfect start to a trip, really.

Immigration isn’t the nightmare it can be. I’m soon photographed and fingerprinted. They seem to have dropped those little customs cards you used to have to fill in. Good. They were dead annoying and didn’t seem to serve much purpose.

One upside of the hanging around at immigration is that there’s usually no waiting at the baggage carousel. As I got through quickly, that doesn’t apply. After a while, bags start to arrive. The circling pile waxes and wanes, then disappears altogether. Without my little grey trolley bag appearing. Bum.

This isn’t a great start. I go to the baggage counter and report my missing bag. They take my details, but have no idea where it might currently be or when I might see it again. If and when they find it, it’ll be delivered to my hotel. Not been having much luck with checked-in bags recently. That’s the second time in a year one’s gone walkies.

My hand baggage contains all the essentials. Laptop, toothbrush, razor, bottle of whisky. But I’ll need a fresh pair of trollies for tomorrow. And I’m only staying two nights in Atlanta. If it doesn’t turn up by then, I’m fucked.

I jump in a cab with what bags I have. The view on the way downtown isn’t that inspiring. The areas around US airports are often a sea of beige. Beige concrete motorways. Beige strip malls. Beige houses, beige flats. It would drive me nuts.

There’s little time to rest once I arrive in my hotel. I’ve an appointment at 7 PM. With John Roberts and Stan Hieronymus. Not that it’s far away. Just around the corner at John’s Max Lager’s brewery.

I arrive about on time and park myself, as always, at the bar. No sign of John or Stan. I start getting worried after half an hour. Then John appears. They’ve been waiting for me in the upstairs bar. Silly me not checking there.

We pass a few pleasant hours of beer and chat. Stan kindly gives me a copy of his book "Brewing Local".

It’s been a long day. When things start getting too blurry, I head back to my hotel. It takes me a while to find it. I should have paid more attention on the way over.

Ensconced in my room, a final encounter with whisky pushes me rapidly down the slope to slumber.

Max Lager’s
320 Peachtree St NE,
GA 30308.
Tel: +1 404-525-4400

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