REDEMPTION OVER AMSTERDAM
"Good morning, this is your captain speaking. If you'll look out of the right side
of the airplane you'll notice that we're dumping fuel. There seems to be a minor
problem that we'd like to have checked out before proceeding on to New York
so we'll be headed back to Amsterdam. Nothing to worry about folks, so sit back
and we should be back on the ground in about 45 minutes".
So what was I doing in Amsterdam anyway? Well, it must have been around 1997 and I was working on a Mattel Compact Disc Project. We had a cool demo to show to the head of technology of Philips in Eindhoven, which was not far from Amsterdam. This was gonna be interesting because his engineers claimed that what we were were proposing was impossible. The demo went off without a hitch and the look on their faces was worth the trip. We were scheduled to fly back to Los Angeles that evening.
But I had never been to Amsterdam and had heard about it all my life. I did have some vacation time accrued so I said goodbye to my companions and headed into the city. I checked into a really nice hotel and set out to explore. I loved everything about Amsterdam. Of course their attitude towards grass (tolerated not legalized) was one cool thing but their great canals with their unique houseboats and the general friendliness of the people made me feel right at home. Of course New York, where I grew up, used to be New Amsterdam, so much of the architecture was strangely familiar. The sidewalk cafes, the museums, the toy stores even the weather which one minute was beautiful, followed by a rainstorm sweeping thru and then blue sky again. I loved it. I just loved it all.
I enjoyed Amsterdam fully for three days and then I started to feel a bit guilty about work so I reluctantly packed up my stuff, re-scheduled my ticket and headed to the airport. One of the great perks of working for Mattel was the ability to fly business class on international flights, which is just an incredible luxury. I flopped back into my window seat and it even looked like the seat next to me might be vacant-even better. But just as they were about to shut the door, in came an impeccably dressed Dutch businessman (I just assumed he was Dutch), and, of course headed for the last open seat next to me. I might have made some small sign of displeasure while removing some of my stuff from the seat, but it was nothing compared to the look he had on his face when he realized he was gonna have to sit next to this disheveled hippie for the duration of the flight. Hey - I was just wearing my usual jeans and teeshirt but compared to him I was a bum and I’m sure he wanted the stewardess to check my ticket to make sure I was in the right class. Anyway we were both courteous to each other and settled in for the long flight.
After awhile we began chatting and he asked what I did and when I told him I was designer at Mattel Toys, I guess my status went up a bit and being an ‘artist’ bought me a little leeway with my dress code. Really, he was the kind of guy who, after an eight hour flight, would walk off the plane looking as fresh and neat as when he started his day. He asked me what I was doing in Amsterdam and when I told him and mentioned it was my first time, he asked me how I liked it. I told him I how I absolutely loved Amsterdam, which happened to be his home, and he was delighted and proud to hear of all my adventures. I told him I wished I had stayed a while longer.
He then told me more about Amsterdam and about his job which I think was in finance and then he said this: “but when I leave on a business trip I demand of myself one hundred and twenty percent efficiency!” In my casual way I responded “that on my best day I was probably about sixty-five percent”. I’m not sure he was able to process that and we were quiet for a while until the captain came on with his message.
After all my bush pilot flights in Alaska, nothing could scare me about flying and besides I remembered that when something like this happens, if you don’t feel like flying right away, the airline usually pays for an overnight stay. So I was relaxed and enjoying this but when I looked around the plane I saw that people were scared and many seemed to be praying.
My neighbor turned, looked at me quite strangely, and said “It looks like you’re going to get your wish to return to Amsterdam”. “Looks that way” I replied. Then, after a while he said “Well, maybe eighty-five percent”. At first I had no idea what he was talking about and then it hit me. He thought that maybe the plane would crash and he didn’t want to ‘meet his maker’ with that ‘hundred and twenty percent’ lie on his lips. I just told him we’ll all be okay.
And we were. The landing was smooth and silent and we all deplaned quietly. They announced that there was another plane at Gate 4 for us to continue our journey and the last I saw of my well-dressed friend was when I passed him waiting on that line as I headed to the SAS counter. We smiled and nodded at each other, both satisfied with the outcome of this particular venture.
At the SAS counter I explained how I wasn’t prepared to fly again right now after this ‘harrowing’ ordeal and when they saw my business-class ticket they said they understood. They asked me where I wanted to stay and fortunately I had the receipt from the Sonesta Hotel which I passed onto her. “But this is a first-class hotel”, she seemed surprised. “But that’s where I’ve been staying”. She handed me a voucher and when I got to the hotel they remembered me saying ‘Didn’t think you’d be back so soon”. I asked how long the voucher was good for and when she checked it seemed that it was open-ended, and it was not only for lodging but for dining also. Imagine that. Open-ended. I probably could still be living at the Sonesta today.
I just stayed in Amsterdam for another couple of days and had a great free time, even if it was at my best 65% efficiency.