Europe Explained (part three)

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

A quick word from this post’s sponsor: 

Interested in buying or selling a home? RE/MAX agent James Eason can help with all your real estate needs.

Get in touch with him today by clicking on this link!

***

I made a mistake. In my last post, I didn’t write the way I normally do. Normally I try to be genuine and share my experiences, because that’s what makes me relatable. But last time, I shared bits of what happened in London without connecting the piece to anything important. Basically, I was reporting instead of sharing anything intimate.

This can partly be explained by the fact that I wanted to try something new, to see if it landed with readers better. If you Google any topic, some of the first articles to pop up are usually top ten lists, information condensed into brochure-like formats. Maybe this is the best way to get clicks, but that’s not who I am. I want to write more than just clickbait.

I’m not immune to money. I would love to have hundreds of thousands of readers and be able to profit off this blog. But that’s not why I write. I’m not into generating traffic or implementing algorithms that guarantee higher viewership. I want to be authentic so that when people do scroll through my website, they leave either feeling a connection to my writing, or unimpressed. With both outcomes, they’ve been exposed to who I am.

Last time, instead of writing authentically, I played to an ancillary force, like viewership. That’s the trouble with what I’ll term capitalistic writing, this sense that everything I write has to be better than its predecessor. I’ve gone through spurts where I felt my work was lacking a certain energy, a vibe that I previously had but suddenly can no longer capture. It’s frustrating, but also necessary.

Writing is not a business model. It doesn’t always get better or worse. It simply changes, and as an audience, when you invest your time in reading an author, book, article, etc., you’re not always tuning in because you’re expecting to be wowed more so than the previous time. Sometimes you just want to be part of the journey.

I remember after The Long Road North came out, this desire to be an elite professional overwhelmed me. I became momentarily obsessed with creating unique content that would showcase my continued evolution as a writer. After a few months of this thinking, I stopped the reckless drive for better and just focused on growing as an individual. Let the content flow as it will, and then live with the results.

It may sound overly philosophical, but part of me feels powerless when it comes to what I write. Obviously, I control the narrative, but within that structure, any real art that comes about usually happens in a fleeting, spiritual way.

Life was just beginning. That was the final line of my first book, and truthfully, it just came to me on a whim. I didn’t sit down for hours and try to concoct this immaculate final sentence that would leave readers begging for more. I just told my story and inserted the art whenever it arrived.

***

Instantly, the smell of marijuana engulfs my nostrils when I exit the train station in downtown Amsterdam. Crowds of people line busy streets but quickly I see why the rest of Europe is so famous. The architecture is astounding, beautifully blending in with the evening sun that will soon set. I hold my phone in my hand as I walk the streets lined with vendors. Rumor has it that pickpockets love Amsterdam.

Rows of people line up to watch a man perform in a square. “Anything helps. 20 Euros, 10 Euros…” he says over his microphone.

I trek to my hostel, turn left and find myself in the heart of the Red-Light District, my accommodations ten feet below the revelatory windows. Women appear in these windows, scantily clad and in search of companionship that will yield them income.

Some rap on the window when I walk past, but the streets are so crowded, I’m not sure the knocks are intended for me. This tour around Europe is one of self-resurrection. Catering to desire is not what I set out to do. But it’s a hedonist’s paradise out here, judgment finding no home in this part of the world.

Signs say I can’t take photos, but there is so much to see. This particular street says so much, but as I will come to find out tomorrow, it also says very little.

***

“Are you Quentin?” asks a man standing in the doorway of what appears to be a furniture store.

I have just arrived from a morning walk through a city center that’s awfully quiet when the sun comes up.

I meet Dylan, a tall, bearded man whose English is more understandable than the chaps from England. He gives me a cup of tea and then soon we are riding wooden bicycles around the city. And that’s not a typo. These are legit bikes made from wood. The ergonomics of such a machine elude me, but the kid-like excitement prevails.

I can’t help but smile when I’m on a bike. It’s like I’ve just been given a freedom to the universe every time I stroke a pedal. Something magical happens, even if it’s the middle of winter and I can only ride six miles per hour in the face of a daunting headwind.

Biking challenges an individual. Sometimes it makes you dig deep and push your boundaries to the limits of vomiting all over the side of the road. Other times it keys you in to a lush of forest you otherwise would have never witnessed. And sometimes, it just feels great to push myself until I’m drenched with sweat and invade a gas station ready to devour every crumb of donuts laid out in the pastry section.

Today, Dylan and I stop for lunch at an outdoor spot across the river. As we do, I can’t help but wonder if I’m capturing the moment. I’m trying so hard to embrace what’s going on that enjoyment becomes hard to find.

That’s because being in Europe isn’t about taking a vacation. It’s about running from potential problems, and being here is simply my last chance to run rampant around these parts before the bell tolls and a new reality invites me to alter everything I thought I once knew.

I don’t know how adults do it. The bills, the kids, the office and all the politics that come with it. I must be missing something because that life seems so unnecessary. I’m riding my bike through Europe right now, and if you were to ask most, they would probably assume I’m either rich or on my two-week vacation from work.

The answer is neither. I just keep my overhead extremely low. No kids, car payment, or mortgage. Whatever money I make goes into savings or funding this excursion. But again, I must be missing something. Why is no one else out here exploring? All my friends are gainfully employed, embroiled in debt or bills that will follow them for years to come.

Whether it’s a car payment or student loan obligations, it’s as if they’re trapped in an unconscious oppression, one where they can’t just leave. To leave would be to forfeit their car or plunge into further debt. Their employer is guaranteed their services for the foreseeable future, but to my friends, that’s okay. And I can’t seem to understand why.

Not that I’m above a 9-5 job. Once I return from Alaska, if things don’t work out, I might be back on Indeed filling out applications from the couch in my parent’s basement.

Manual labor and dissatisfaction at work are not foreign to me. After high school I started loading trailers at UPS for a little more than minimum wage. I didn’t exactly shop around for different employment. This was my first non-seasonal job, so I was just happy someone was willing to pay me year-round.

By the end of my third year there, before I transferred to the St. Cloud location for the continuing of my education, I was up to nearly $13/hour, which was more than enough to survive as a community college student living at home.

I worked two more years at UPS before I said goodbye. I couldn’t stay there any longer, subjecting my lumbar to the annoyances of lifting heavy packages. In quitting, I gave up amazing healthcare and an eventual promotion, one where I would pull in six figures.

But again, I just didn’t care. I wanted so bad to be gone and doing something new. That search brought me to a liquor store, where I went back to minimum wage, but it was easily the best job I ever had. My buddy worked there, and we laughed our way through six hour shifts on the weekend. We basically got paid to hang out and ask for IDs. But you can’t pay the bills laughing your way through six hours.

I want to find that equilibrium of being able to enjoy my work and also earning a livable wage. Right now, I have the enjoyment part down, but not the livable aspect. Perhaps something better is out there, or maybe I’m right where I need to be.

***

Usually, the moment only grabs me when I’m riding a bike, or aimlessly swiping on Tinder and talking to women who have no clue what they want. In fairness, neither do I, but I’m much better at expressing my lack of clarity.

Florida did this, exposing me to a part of the opposite gender who left me confounded and laughing in frustration. I really don’t know what happened. I went from Beijing, China, which is essentially a foreigner’s paradise, to Sarasota, FL, the land of aspiring actresses disguised as cocktail waitresses.

Someone told me Florida is the L.A. of the east coast, which if you read between the lines is meant to suggest that people in Florida are fake, created personas that mask who they really are. I hope I never become that.

***

“Amsterdam is so much more than just the Red-Light District and weed,” Dylan tells me, but then he shows me.

We spend the rest of the afternoon scrambling around the city, through the bustling museum section, the bourgeois apartments that go for over a million Euros, and finishing up north, in a part of the city one would never see on a fancy tour bus.

“I’m beat, bro,” I tell Dylan as we ride the ferry back into the busy portion of the city. Afternoon sun seeps through the roof and burns against my forehead. As usual, I haven’t drunk enough water, so a headache might arrive any minute.

“I don’t want to make a lot of money. I just want to show people something new,” Dylan explains after I ask him about his future in the bike touring business. A former professional soccer player, his thighs are busting out of his shorts, a fact that doesn’t go unnoticed by the many people we see along the way who take the time to say hello to Dylan.

I’m taken aback and a bit envious of the attention he receives. But he deserves it. His interactions are genuine, which isn’t surprising after I consider how well he has treated me.

I’m reluctant to leave the shop after the tour is over. He offers me another cup of tea, and I accept, because truthfully, I’m scared to go back outside. Not a physical scared, but I’ve just made a new friend, and to give that up already seems so cruel.

We talk and laugh as if we will see each other soon, like I’m only a few weeks away from being on another plane to Amsterdam.

It must be the power of a bike, this simple two-wheeled machine able to unite people in a way no other vessel can. It used to be my failures with women that made tears stream down my cheeks, but as I’ve aged, it’s the countless bike trips I’ve taken that evoke the most nostalgia.

Winnipeg 2015 and Portland, Maine 2017 garnered the most attention, but the ones that didn’t grab headlines hold equal importance.

I stand up and say thank you to Dylan for the third time in the last ten minutes. It’s hard to walk out that door and back into the fracas of the Red-Light District. But I have to be reminded that I didn’t fly across the Atlantic Ocean next to a spastic flight attendant to wallow in dejected joy. I came here to feel alive. So out I go, into another unknown. I better add Amsterdam 2019 to the list.

***

Want to catch up? Read part one, and then read part two

A quick word from this post’s sponsor: 

Interested in buying or selling a home? RE/MAX agent James Eason can help with all your real estate needs.

Get in touch with him today by clicking on this link!

Want more Quentin Super? Buy his novel, The Long Road North, here

Know someone looking for a ghostwriter? Click here to find out more information

Want to take a bike tour with Dylan? Set up a tour of Amsterdam by messaging him on Instagram

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