In between lost luggage and lost iPhones, I am thankful (truly, utterly, beyond words thankful) that I still have: 1. my laptop 2. the internet. Because this means I can: 1. work & pay for this trip 2. reserve a ride on the Amsterdam bike taxi to dinner.
Too scared of getting lost and wasting precious time without GPS to guide me, I Google Amsterdam bike taxis and Skype in my reservation to Voidtke. A Polish mountain biker, and while he bikes me down the most picturesque streets he can find, we talk of epic bike rides, bike-induced scars (see exhibit A: my legs) and crazy crash stories. It’s my personal slice of heaven. Bike adventures talk.
When we reach the streets of beautiful Jordaan, he waves his hand like a magician (as he has picked up — and laughed at, but still seems pleased with– my tourist exuberance and childish delight with the way things are in Amsterdam). I give the requisite “oooohhh” and clap my hands with excitement. It’s gorgeous. He teases me but I can tell he’s happy I’ve enjoyed the trip through his adopted home. I get his number on a slip of paper, for the return trip, and the invite to join him and the guys mountain biking in Poland, if I ever make it out that way. (Who knows?!) Then he gives me two more slips of paper with his number. In case I lose the first two as I’ve lost my iPhone. (wink!)
Marco is a former colleague, a senior executive and one of those people with a resume of international achievements that should have placed him worlds away me at the time, on every possible aspect – and yet Marco is also one of those people, and former colleagues, who is completely approachable, encouraging, and inspiring with his stories and passion for life! A childhood split between Italy and Africa, continents traveled, languages spoken and adventures I could only dream of. A general “likeableness” that exceeds all other human beings I have ever known and the innate ability to transcend corporate nonsense with natural ease. (Those who know Marco know it is never possible for a dull moment or the absence of a smile to exist in Marco’s presence.) Quickly, Marco was one of those people I grew to respect and adore during my corporate tenure as a eager, work-a-holic 24 year old, finishing a full-time college degree honors program at UW while oscillating between a demanding, full time .com job. It goes without saying that I looked forward to Fridays like nothing else. Work done, Susan Littlefield and I would pull out the blender, tequila and margarita supplies (all stashed in my cube “bar”) for happy hour in the affectionately named “Better Off Dead” conference room. When Marco arrived, the party started. Inevitably, laughter followed. And, hopefully, a story.
Eventually, Marco leaves us for a better job in Britain. I remain afloat through one after another corporate revolution. I start to rise through the ranks, but not without sacrifice. And then the moment when I make my move. (“Money isn’t everything, but it can be nice. So everyone’s watching–what are you going to do, Iverson? Snowboard the rest of your life?” The serious question about my career makes me smile, because up to that moment, I had never been so certain what I was going to do… And last year I managed to get 30 first class powder days.)
Five years evaporate in a second when I see the same, brilliant, smiling Marco standing before me. The hug of a dear friend. It’s like nothing has changed. He introduces me to Christine with words I find astounding. Like an angel-in-training, then. Now I’m pleased to see how she’s grown up to be the graduate version.
It blows my mind to hear these words, about me. Like someone showing you a photo, from years ago…and parts of it are familiar, but others are totally not at all what you’d expected or remembered. But there it is in front of you. Past and present colliding in an Amsterdam living room, miles away from the office park in Renton that brought us together, over ouzo and bongo board contests. I laugh away my watery, sentimental eyes.
A home cooked Italian meal. Fresh. Perfectly cooked. Delicious tastes of an old family recipe as the sun sets across the green canal and colorful Dutch houses and we talk, for hours, over a glass of red wine. Marco, his wife Christine and I.
I find out more about Marco’s life in those few hours than I’d known in the years we’d worked together. Starting a new life in Seattle, walking home from the London Tube the day of the bombing, finding old friends on Facebook, finding a new richness in life that exceeds all corporate achievement.
And like the wonderful, curious mentor & teacher that he is, Marco listens to my story. How it is that I’ve ended up traveling for 5 months, the why, the where, the how…interspersed with the utterly unknown. Marco and Christine provide both advice and encouragement. Astounding, much-needed, heart-warming encouragement. And for the tenth time that night, I’ll raise my hands to my face (Are you kidding? You’ve read that book too? You’ve heard of her too? You know about that project, too?) when it turns out not only does Christine have a graduate degree in global food policies (making her one fantastically interesting person to talk to about food, coffee, and trade as I’m diving into the details of these topics with new interest) but has also read or is planning on reading all the books on my list, of late. This whole time, this entire winter when I was traveling down my little rabbit hole of books — in between early morning powder runs and late nights of work at the cabin — how funny to travel half the globe and find out another was doing exactly the same. Even when you think you are alone, you are never alone. It’s amazing to share ideas, books, sources, thoughts, laughter…
Over a shot of anise flavored raki, I try not to think how much I admire and adore my friend more than ever because of the way it makes my eyes water. Instead I think of how we promise to meet again in Greece.
Walking to the tram, together, in the quiet Amsterdam night, is like heaven. Laughing and talking. I don’t want it to end. And I know, already, that when I try to write about what this dinner and these personal conversations meant to me, I’ll butcher it, horribly. Sometimes there really are no words.
And I know I will never be able to describe the happiness I felt. To see my friend, Marco, again. But this time, in love. The happiness that lights his face and eyes, is brighter than anything I remember. It’s not the sickening love. But teasing and humor and adoration. It’s the kind of love that is fun to be a part of. The love of friends and partners. It’s the kind that I adore. I never knew until that night that it took a massive heartbreak for Marco to get there. For all the encouragement and advice and kindness, what I will remember most of that visit is the light, happiness of his face, as they stood together, waving to me, (and cheering me on), as the tram pulled away.
I sit quietly, listening to the wheels turning. A mechanical ghost, rattling through the dark to familiar streets and sights I can name (Tropenmuseum! Oosterpark!). So strange to be somewhere completely new, yet feel so at home.
I wish the conductor good evening and good bye in Dutch, crossing streets without need of a map, down lightly graffitied corridor, to my home, in the light of a bright Amsterdam midnight.