New Year's Eve (Prep & Celebration)

Monday - The last day of 2001 and we were up early bringing the car back to the airport. Knew the vehicle would be carefully checked for dings, dents or scratches. I had expected this type of review. When we picked up the car, we witnessed a major production over a scratch on a fender of a returning car. The guy had to write a report explaining that he had not noticed the scratch and had no idea how it happened. Our Ford Ka got a clean bill of health and I got the receipt. 965.6 kilometers, 80.63 liters of fuel at an average of 1.12 euros per liter ($4/gal!). And to think that out west, I complained about $2.00 a gallon gasoline!

We hopped on the train bound for Centraal Station. Some guilders were just burning a hole in my pocket so we decided that while skyrockets are great for New Year's Eve. Some noise-making firecrackers would be fun too. Picked up a couple of  bricks, each containing 2,000  1 1/2 inch firecrackers. Played tourist snapping pictures of Neptune, the Gladiator, Steve the Bagpipe player and other actors who entertain folks on the plaza between the Palace and the Dam.

Stopped at a place called The Bulldog where we had a couple of Heinekens. Preparation for the night's festivities were in full swing. A sound crew placed large organ-rattling speakers in the small coffeeshop, then cranked the volume. M.S.O. and I had to raise our voices to continue our conversation. I mentioned "bedroom eyes" describing someone and M.S.O.'s look of confusion told me that she hadn't heard me over the blaring speakers. I raised my voice, "Bedroom eyes. You know, 'F*ck Me eyes'". At a most inopportune moment, a member of the sound crew flipped the wrong switch, killing the sound system, then flipped the switch back into the correct position. Unfortunately, it was at that precise moment that my ribald description was leaving my lips at a much louder than normal volume. Heads at the bar and tables swiveled. I cringed, color rising in my cheeks and secretly wondered if I could just drown myself in my half full glass of beer. Hearing no further outbursts, patron's heads swung back to their original positions. There's a life lesson in here somewhere!

Back at the hotel, dozed for a while knowing that it was the only way I'd ever see the New Year roll in. An hour before midnight, we bundled up, grabbed our supply of fireworks and headed to the riverbank by Centraal Station. We didn't share the lack of inhibitions that many revelers have in Amsterdam on New Year's Eve. People think nothing of launching skyrockets from the middle of crowded sidewalks using homemade contraptions like the Acme Rocket Launcher (of Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote fame).

We chose to launch ours over the Het IJ (river) behind Centraal Station. Soaring high in the sky, they were visible for miles! Small knots of revelers gathered as I launched rocket after rocket over the river, applauding the pyrotechnic display.

When we had finished our tribute to the New Year, we headed up to the Dam where a raucous crowd had gathered. Trams had stopped running hours earlier but an occasional car would try to brave the crowds milling in the street. After midnight, a sporty european car slowly nosed its way up the street. A pedestrian pushed on the car. On the other side of the car, someone pushed back. Others joined in rocking the car back and forth. From nowhere, a police van pulls up, its revolving lights conspicuously off. The sole occupant gets out, walks over to the crowd, places his hands on his hips and glares at those rocking the car. Like leaves in the wind, the crowd dispersed and the car continued unmolested. In the U.S., the police van would have been filled with riot-prepared police, brandishing shields and batons ready to boot some butt. With fireworks exploding around us, we slowly wound our way back to the hotel.

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