Four years ago, I spent a long weekend in Amsterdam. It was an awful experience. I arrived in the city after a sleepless night spent on a train from Rome to Paris. I got lost on the way to my hotel, wound up in the middle of nowhere and had to beg a tram driver for help. When I did find the place, a (literally) hunchbacked clerk in Rembrandt Square took advantage of my weariness and attempted to steal my passport.
I was given a room that reeked of body odor that shared a common wall with a thumping discotheque. My weekend only went downhill from there. As I boarded a plane back to London a few days later, I vowed to never return.
Well, life has made me eat those words.
Two years later, I met a girl from Beavercreek, Oregon who has been living in the Netherlands for the better part of eleven years. What started as a series of emails about blogging evolved over a period of months into something resembling a romance. Not only is she willing to put up with my complete inability to wring out sponges properly, she’s endured the slings and arrows that come with trying to maintain a long distance relationship. After over a year of headaches and adventures that have led us to the Alvord Desert in eastern Oregon to a hookah bar in Istanbul and into a detainment center in the belly of Schiphol International Airport, we’ve finally managed to arrange an indefinite period of time together on the same continent.
As I type this, I’m sitting in an apartment on a sunny evening in Leiden. I’m listening to a cover of “My Girl” by the Rolling Stones and every minute a dozen bicyclists roll past the window on their way home from work. It’s an idyllic Dutch vista out there. The only thing missing is wooden shoes and bongs. I arrived back in the Netherlands a few days ago.
I decided to move here, first and foremost, for my girlfriend but many other things led to my decision to leave the United States. As much as I dearly love my hometown of Portland, Oregon, in recent years that love had become completely unrequited. My career at a Fortune 400 company came to an end after management in Philladelphia decided to ax my department for reasons that remain unknown amidst a financial quarter where it was earning record-breaking profits. For going on a decade, Portland has been a wasteland of under-employed and over-educated liberal arts majors. What’s that gag from Portlandia? “This city is where young people come to retire?” Absolutely….but not always voluntarily.
With nowhere to turn for reliable employment, I returned to school like so many others. My time in the Political Science department of Portland State was pretty gosh-durn fantastic. Unlike the apathetic stoner hoards and indifferent staff I’d encountered during my years at the University of Oregon, my fellow students were driven and engaged in their studies. I can’t say it was all sunshine and rainbows but educators like Professor Clucas and Gilley were inspiring and among the most professional and dedicated I’ve ever encountered.
I managed to earn a second degree in Political Science in four terms but, despite this, my employment prospects continued to prove dim. An internship for a local politician led to nothing and other applications and inquiries also netted me nada. We’ve all heard terms like “Boomerang Generation” and articles about the US’ “Great Recession.” This one, about “The Great Speed-Up” is especially disheartening. In Portland, at least, this has all been going on since 2000.
I gave the city a decade of my adult life and all I had to show for it was another round of student loans and a worn-out ’92 Camry. As much as I hate to say it, I can’t see things changing for the better in Portland, or the United States as a whole, for a long, long time. Like so many others, I pinned a lot of hope on the Obama administration but I was duped. With the country now engaged in a conflict in Libya, on top of Iraq and Afghanistan with others likely to come, what we’ve got here is a stereotypical case of “meet the old boss, same as the old boss.” I don’t know about you but I’m beyond tired of reading articles like this one. Say what you will about GW, at least he wasn’t a wolf in sheep’s clothing like Obama. He was a straight-up villain.
Please pardon the sour grapes I’m spewing but I firmly believe that the “American Dream” is dead and gone. Ronald Reagan delivered the first blows and GW finished the job. Obama and everybody else in DC seems either incapable or unwilling to do anything to resurrect it. Sitting on the sidelines of American politics has become all too much like that epic train wreck scene in Super 8. It just keeps going and going. The rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer. You know the drill. As the philosopher king (heh) Thom Yorke recently opined, “has the light gone out for you? ‘Cause it’s gone out for me. It’s the 21st century.”
So, yeah, America broke my heart and I’m rather pissed off about it. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!
Not that the Netherlands is a wonderful paradise, although it is by comparison to the US circa 2011. An increasingly conservative government is cracking down on immigrants like myself and the country’s other traditionally tolerant policies. There’s no telling when, or if, this pint-sized nation will begin to shed its liberal skin and begin adhering to the siren’s call of corporate and reactionary influences ala the states. Dutch politician (and hate-monger) Geert Wilders makes Michele Bachmann look like Abraham Lincoln. Or at least John Quincy Adams. Heh.
Another thing: this time of year it doesn’t get fully dark until nearly midnight, which only encourages all the local seagulls to squawk until the witching hour. Nothing like being kept awake by a bunch of would-be Jonathan Livingston’s prattling on into the night.
But, for the time being, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be.