A few days ago, something I did caught the attention of more than a hundred tourists in Amsterdam.
Mind you, this is not an easy task. Most were bleary eyed and fresh off a plane or a high-speed train after having just arrived from a faraway place. And let’s be honest, this is Amsterdam after all—more than a handful were completely stoned out of their gourds. And, perhaps, one or two were even in a bit of a post-coital Red Light District daze. But, I had an advantage over all of these other distractions. I had a metal-cutting electric power saw. And I was standing in front of Amsterdam’s Sex Museum.
While most of the tourists thought I was setting up a new exhibit at the museum, I was actually dealing with one of the perils of being a daily bike commuter in Amsterdam—arguably one of Europe’s greatest cities for cycling.
I had the unfortunate task of having to figure out a way to saw through a one-centimeter-thick chain after the key snapped off in my bike lock. That’s what happens when it’s 10 degrees below zero in Northern Europe in the winter. But I figured I would make the most of the situation.
As a bit of a side note, it’s worth giving you some background about me. I’m an American ex-pat living in Amsterdam. My office happens to be next door to the Sex Museum. No lie. So each day, I battle the tourists and trams, park my bike, push it deep into a dozen other bikes and lock it in front of a few statues of some Romanesque or Greekish marblene figures—standing there erect in all their glory.
But, I digress. Back to my bicycle.
My poor 30-pound Dutch Batavus was locked to a metal fence and the remnants of the key were buried in the bowels of the lock. And after a 30-second effort of trying to pry it out with a paperclip, and two frozen hands I just pushed what was left of the key deeper into the lock. I borrowed a co-worker for an extra pair of hands, strung an extension cord from a store and got to work with a local bike shop’s borrowed machinery. (The Sex Museum wouldn’t let me use their electricity for fear I would blow a circuit. My joke about my power saw being nothing compared to the machinery he was running in his museum was lost on him.)
Fittingly, I am a virgin to this kind of metal-cutting saw. But this baby did a number on me. She was a bit hard to handle, at least to start. I revved her up and put the pressure on. I connected to the ice-cold metal. Things instantly heated up. Sparks flew more than 10 feet in the air and onto the tram tracks. Cyclists passed through a shower of sparks on the path nearby. Voyeuristic tourists stopped in their tracks and stared. I’d never glowed like this before. Neither had the metal. And, before I knew it, it was all over. In less than a minute, perhaps no more than 30 seconds, my work was done. I barely had time to enjoy it. The lock and chain fell limp to the ground. But I had my Batavus back.
And so goes another day in the life of an American living in Amsterdam.
I haven’t shaved my legs in years. I haven’t heard the crack of a start gun at a local crit for longer than I can remember. I stopped drinking cosmic-colored energy drinks. I haven’t touched any gooey energy gels in a good year or more. And I haven’t been in a good pileup in a few years. And worst of all, I’m horribly out of shape. But I ride my bicycle daily to get around this fantastic city.
If all I have to deal with is a frozen bike lock, a bicycle traffic jam at a light and the occasional slow-moving tourist—I wouldn’t have it any other way. Fortunately, very few incidents here have to do with cars. And most are just shrugged off in Amsterdam. And in this particular case, it was my own doing. Thankfully, the tourists loved the show.