This sunny and warm mid-May day finds me in a land filled with helmet-less cyclists, many of whom are laden with equally bare-headed offspring tied precariously to their handlebars. Forget about the overhyped dangers of the red-light district and the coffee shops, your priority should be to attend to the bicycle traffic if you hope to survive this lively spot. Did you know that Amsterdam has more bicycles than residents?
Amsterdam this day was also rife with blooming bulbs sprinkled around bustling canals. It is a city rich with history. None more prophetic than the Anne Frank House. I purchased tickets online several weeks before the visit. This is mandatory as the odds of gaining access as a walk-up are probably equivalent to selecting the winning Powerball numbers two weeks running. This moving physical and emotional journey through the home and annex found me sickened. I felt like one of the fools who slows down to gawk at an accident scene. I also felt claustrophobic as the stairs and corridors are narrow and jammed with curious souls for miles. No exit door. No escape hatch. I was only there for a few moments as a liberated person. What must the hours, days, months and years of hiding and secrecy have felt like for young Anne and her fellow shut-ins?
Speaking of prisoners, a visit to Amsterdam would not be complete without a dilly dally along the famed streets of the red-light district. Dodging drunken patrons and the occasional spattering of vomit, we ventured in searching for who knows what. A few pubs later, we reached the mecca of hedonism. My first instinct upon meeting the gazes of the doe-eyed ladies of the red-light district was to liberate them Free Willy style. This led to another debate with my traveling companion. In America (save Nevada) and throughout most parts of the world, prostitution is illegal. Despite this, it exists and is riddled with slavery, intimidation, humiliation and human trafficking. Hence my desire to free the fawns of Amsterdam. The flip side of this presented by my buddy is that Amsterdam has it figured out. They regulate it. This argument included the idea that the women are protected from the horrors we typically associate with prostitution and are cashing in on what might be deemed their greatest assets in a big way. My pal went on to say that they are making profoundly more money in less time than, let’s say, a college professor, haha. Could it be? Were the prostitutes of Amsterdam winning? I decided to try to figure it out for myself. Sadly, I could find no hard and fast statistics either way, so I’ll keep my liberation plan in my back pocket for now.
As long as I was seeking out statistics, I figured I should also try to quell my concerns for the bicyclists of this fine city. It is reported that about six people per year die in Amsterdam as a result of a bicycle accident. San Francisco is a similar sized city in terms of population but the number of cyclists is much lower. Furthermore, most cyclists in the Bay area wear helmets. Guess what? Despite this apples to oranges comparison, San Franciscans have roughly the same number of cycling deaths.
So with all of this, I came to this conclusion- Amsterdam must be lacking in lawyers. I stumbled and teetered my way through the irregular streets of the city. I climbed hazardous stairs and was approached by peddlers inviting me to engage in living pornographic menageries. If this had happened in the land of the free and the brave I most certainly would have been offered legal representation within moments of said encounters. The remarkable thing is that with all of this opportunity for danger came a profound sense of levity and freedom. Could we, as uptight politically correct litigious Americans learn something from the Mokummers?