I think it was while my college friend Amy dumped water all over my face as I lay on the concrete floor outside of the Melkweg’s concert hall that I decided hashish in Holland was not for me.
The “Black Afghani,” which I had tried earlier in the evening, took over during the show at Amsterdam’s famous venue. As everyone gyrated around me, I stood still. Staring at my feet, I was focused and determined to synchronize my heartbeat with the drumbeat.
Finally synched, I saw a blue light shoot forward. Then blackness settled in. Only vaguely aware of anything, I fell forward, slamming into the people ahead of me. A barely audible “Steph,” Steph,” STEPH seeped in with the black. “Man, you are dead weight!” I heard someone say in the fog.
Also altered, my friends dragged me out of the main music hall and into a busy corridor. People whooshed by without even looking down as I lay on the ground. Tourists passing out in the bars of Amsterdam was about as common as tulips blooming in spring. Fortunately, my friends, whom I had only known for three weeks when we began our Dutch study abroad program, surrounded me.
The first coherent thought that came to mind was: “Damn! My parents are going to find out about this!” That thought, along with total embarrassment, contributed to the major paranoia I experienced for the rest of the night. On the train back to Leiden, I was convinced that all the passengers returning from Amsterdam at 2:30 a.m. knew what had happened and judged me for it.
During the rest of my stay in the Netherlands, I avoided further encounters with THC. I also avoided telling anyone I really just didn’t like it.
Six years later and back in Amsterdam:
“So it’s 25 guilders for 2 grams of Black Cobra light hash. You also serve space cakes, magic herbs and herbal elixirs, correct?” I asked. “All righty, that should do it.”
“Would you like to sample something?” suggested the hash bar’s balding owner. Wearing gold hoop earrings, he so strongly resembled Mr. Clean that I thought he should be hawking kitchen cleanser rather than drugs.
“I can’t. I’m working, but thank you for the offer. Dank u wel” I said while scribbling a few bulleted points into my notebook.
I was back in Holland. This time I was revising and writing for the 1996 Berkeley Guides Europe edition. Fodor’s created the Berkeley Guides, compiled by UC Berkeley students, to compete with Harvard’s Let’s Go budget travel series. Although I wasn’t a student, I worked as a copywriter for the university. My job and past experience in the Netherlands were connection enough.
As travel writer/updater, it was my job to ensure that travelers read new, accurate and reliable information. Fact checking is a huge part of the job.
Consequently, I confirmed hours of operation, prices, bus routes, wheelchair accessibility and cultural norms. I visited museums, parks, cafes, hostels and, of course, hash bars. This was for the Berkeley Guides after all.