Highrene: A Trilogy (Part 1)

Amsterdam is one of those places that you just never forget.

Beautiful architecture with old aging buildings, cobblestone streets, delicious food, legal prostitution and, more famously, marijuana. The dank, Mary Jane, Bud, Hash, Green, Weed.

Oh wait, it is.

I was studying abroad for the summer at the University of Sussex in 2011, so a few buddies and I booked a trip to pay the Dutch a visit. Unfortunately, that day would end up being possibly the worst and best decision I ever made that summer. Whether bad or good, it was definitely unforgettable. Or not.

We booked this trip through a local travel agency a good month in advance and we were all so excited to leave. A huge group of us gathered at the bus station rendezvous point at around 9pm or so. We threw our duffel bags onto the bus and were on our way. The bus drove a while away to this other station where the bus drove directly into this large metal, empty train cart. It was strange because the bus would be parked in a train that would shoot us through an underwater tunnel all the way to the Netherlands.

Truthfully, I was nervous. At that point in my life, I was a novice smoker, but I'd made the conscious decision (heavily weighed in upon by my "friends") to go and do as the Dutch do. I was hyper-speeding into worst case scenario level 9000 as I flipped through various possibilities where I'd either be arrested or dead.

"Will I bad trip?"
"Will I panic?"
"What if my friends have to carry me home?"
"What if I bad trip on the tour and I can't leave?"
"Will I get in trouble?"
"What's going to happen to my body?"
"What if I get kidnapped and no one realizes it?"
"What if I get lost?"

I tried to forcibly shove those thoughts into the furthest reaches of my conscious mind while I silently criticized myself for being the world's biggest pussy. Come on, Hangover, grow a pair why don't you? Everyone on the bus had smiles so big I thought their mandibular muscles would freeze that way. They were ecstatic and trying to contain their childlike enthusiasm for illicit drugs. Amsterdam: Disneyland for college students.

Our tour guide was this grungy-looking white guy with dirty blondish, light brown hair. He wore a cap with his long locks sticking out in every direction and his whiskers covering most of his jaw. During the drive, the Tour Guide decided to turn on a movie that he thought we would all enjoy to pass the time. Finally, a distraction from the long road ahead.

Tour Guide: "All right guys, since we're in Europe, why not watch a little movie to go along with the whole 'abroad' theme. Even though it's not the right country, why don't we watch..."

The Tour Guide pointed the remote at the DVD player and all the little floating black screens attached to the roof of the bus flicked on to reveal the title page for the DVD.

Tour Guide: "...Taken."

We killed a few hours as we watched Liam Neeson rip through eastern European traffickers like tissue. So badass. Why couldn't I have a dad like that who could kill a man with only his pinkie? While some of us slept, others played 7 Little Words on their iPhones, and the rest watched the film. It was pretty late when the movie was done (most everyone had knocked out) but there were still a few of us wide awake. Right after the movie ended, *Frank, who had been sitting a couple rows in front of me, turned around, shot me the creepiest smile and whispered, "Heeeeey, Hangover." I was legitimately uncomfortable and he made me want to clench my ass and call the local police. Thanks for that image, Frank. Sweet Dreams you sick pervert. Everyone else who was awake, however, found this little interaction amusing and laughed at me. I hate everyone.

It was late (or early, however you decide to see it) and I became sleepy, and nodded off. When I woke up, it was around 6 AM. I was awoken by the voice of the Tour Guide crackling from the overhead speakers.

Tour Guide: "Rise and shine. We are now arriving in the scenic city of Amsterdam where you'll see historical buildings...Blah blah blah...River ways...Blah blah blah...Welcome to the Netherlands."

Amsterdam was gorgeous. It looked old and kind of dusty, but in a way that gave it interesting flaws and character -- it was aging the same beautiful way that vintage artifacts do. The city was a lot smaller than I had imagined but it was still nonetheless a good change of scenery from the inside of metal underwater train walls. What surprised me was that there were literally hundreds of bicycles. In just driving maybe 30 minutes into town. Old, rusted bicycles, new fixed gear bikes, bright cruisers with woven baskets. And most of them without locks. In California, this would have been a free-for-all-grab-what-you-can-get level of pillaging. The next thing I remember was that I was absofuckinglutely hungry as shit. We had been traveling for a good 241 miles without real food and I could feel my stomach folding into itself, hissing and bubbling loudly for everyone to hear. Fuck. I NEED FOOD. The bus parked and we walked down the street for a bit, waiting for some of the breakfast shops to open. We walked down rows of tulip shops, sex shops, and Magic Mushroom shops. I mean, they were cool and all but my first priority was food and ample uninterrupted sleep. There were so many of us that our bus group had to split into two restaurants. Luckily, my friends and I were able to swoop in on the nearest restaurant like assholes while the other group walked down farther to find another breakfast joint.

*Boozan, *Bianca, *Annie, and I sat down at a table and were exhausted. We grabbed a menu and I ordered the tastiest and largest item I could find -- an order of 2 crepe-like pancakes, 2 slices of sourdough toast, 3 sunny side eggs, a salad, and a tall glass of milk. The portions were huge. I scarfed everything down until I scraped the plate clean and felt fully satisfied.

The tour guide took us on a walking tour of the city after breakfast and we came upon a huge red and white sign that read: "Amsterdam." Like kids let loose on the jungle gym playground, we all tried to climb on top of the letters for a super annoyingly tourist picture. Because the weather was a little rainy and misty, the giant red and white metal letters were slippery. I naturally had the urge to climb to the highest spot and mark my territory as the center of attention because I only got to do this once. Snap snap snap. After the pictures, I realized I had sat in a puddle of brown water because my ass was sopping wet. Awesome.

After the tour, our Tour Guide let us loose and we headed to the coffee shops. The first place we stopped by was called The Blue Dolphin. The inside was decorated beautifully. The ceiling was painted like water, the tables and chairs were made of drift wood and fishing nets. Sculptures of sea anemone, coral, and different undersea fish were hung here and there. It felt like we were underwater. So cool. We went to the shop and immediately, we were asked for identification. For some reason, I kept thinking that we were going to get in trouble. I felt like I was doing something illegal when it was legitimately and perfectly allowed by law. We were seated downstairs and we ordered a "cupcake" topped with a jelly dolphin on top. We split the cupcake and lit up a blunt. So it began.

Throughout the day, we visited a ton of shops, stopped for some Chinese food, and more shops. I bought myself a slice of "chocolate cake," a "muffin," two "brownies," a slice of "carrot cake" with cream cheese frosting, and an ounce of Neville A5 Sativa (which everyone nicknamed "Neville Longbottom." It literally made us go insane and everyone avoided smoking it at all costs. By the end of summer, I actually had to convince people to take it when I was giving it away before my flight back to LA). My first purchase of marijuana ever. And it was legal. I can't believe I got so excited about something that wasn't even illegal. Oh well. Nothing else happened that was too funny, except for when *CanIGo knocked over a rack of postcards when he tripped walking into the store. I was laughing at him and then accidentally did the same thing. Fuck you karma, with your sick sense of humor.

I'd eaten 2 big brownies and felt nothing for 2 hours, so I figured they were duds. We hopped back on the bus and arrived at our hotel for check in. Bianca and I were bunking together so we took the elevator up. Our room had a shower stall built in right next to the bed. It was the oddest thing. We had a bunk bed (bottom holding a queen sized mattress and a single on top). Bianca sprawled out on the queen and I knocked out on the double. We were so exhausted that we slept through the free dinner at the hotel. Boozan had called my phone multiple times and eventually came to our door to wake us for the walking tour of the red light district.


Boozan: "You guys? The tour bus is leaving. Are you coming?"

I listlessly opened my eyes. My body felt like solid concrete and my eyelids were made of sandpaper. I WAS SO STONED. I severely regretted eating 2 brownies. I felt and embodied a sluggish pile of shit. I considered snuggling in the cozy bed that was sending me strong signals to stay in, but I weighed my options. I could:

A) Stay in and miss the rest of my trip in a warm bed with a high thread count cotton blanket and feathery pillows


B) Go out, brave the unanticipated and sudden 6000 lb. weight gain, and make the walking tour feeling like shit in the cold rain.

B it was.

Bianca at that point was not responsive when I nudged her really hard, so I joined the tour at the last minute and made it to the bus just as the doors were closing behind me. What happened after that was all a big haze. It was like walking through some weird lucid dream. We got off the bus and started walking through these narrow brick walled alley ways. They were getting so narrow I thought they were shrinking and closing in on me like a the booby trapped walls in an Indiana Jones movie. Then I remember (whilst clutching onto Boozan's arm the whole tour) seeing nothing but red lights. And women. Everywhere. I was surprised at how many there were, just waiting behind their body length windows like living Barbies in boxes, trying to lure in men as if they were dogs lured in by jerky treats. One man was being pulled into the doorway by the hand. Almost hypnotized, his smile and transfixed eyes relayed an expression of enchantment. He looked like a kid meeting Mickey Mouse for the first time. I faintly remember whispering to Boozan, "I want to make friends with a hooker with a heart of gold."

As the tour guide rambled on about the history, laws, and social practices of the sex trade, someone bear hugged me from behind and pinned my arms, picked me up, and started running with me in a full sprint. I saw red sleeves around my arms and torso and realized it was creepy Frank. I started screaming as I fondly recalled the scene from Taken where the daughter was grabbed by her legs and then forcibly dragged from under the bed. I was so high that I swore Frank was going to steal me and sell me to a pimp for a bag of weed. As I was kicking and trying to wriggle myself free, everyone laughed. I wasn't so bitter at having people laugh this time. I was just relieved that I wasn't going to be sold into human trafficking.

Even after the tour, the rest of the summer school buddies wanted to go to yet ANOTHER shop. I was so stoned that I actually felt DRUNK. Room spinning, headache and, to add to the fun, now I felt heavy and lethargic. We entered a coffee shop but there was nowhere to sit because this piece of shit place decided less than 10 chairs was fine, who the hell knows. I was already in a terrible mood because I felt like death so I walked to the standing section of the shop where a long wood counter traced the walls around the room. I leaned against the counter standing up and put my head down.

I felt like I wanted to die.

Me: (internally) "OH SHIT. I CAN HEAR MY OWN VOICE. It's my voice, in my head, but I HEAR IT AS IF IT IS MY SPEAKING VOICE. CAN ANYONE ELSE HEAR ME? OH FUCK THEY WILL KNOW ALL MY SECRETS. CanIGo will know that I think he has the body of a god chiseled by angels. STOPTHINKINGSTOPTHINKING STOP THINKING SO LOUD."

This paranoia and sudden audial sensation continued for what seemed like an entire lifetime. The next thing I remembered was Boozan shaking me awake.

Boozan: "Hey, are you okay? We're leaving now."
Me: "What? How long have we been here? I fell asleep."
Boozan: "We've been here for like forty-five minutes."

Oh holy Odin. I had fallen asleep for almost a fucking hour STANDING UP.

I'm not even going to try and make it seem better than it was. I was obliterated.

Amsterdam: YOU WIN.

*Names have been changed.