I’ve been in Las Vegas on a Friday night. I’ve found myself in the middle of drunken riots on more than one occasion. I’ve been to Burning Man twice and I’ve happily bounced around in the spark showers at La Merce. I’ve even been to a Ted Nugent concert.
As a result, my tolerance for what can only be described as “douchebaggery” is higher than the average individual’s but even I have my limits. I found out where that line is drawn in my soul on Friday night around 9 PM.
I was biking down the Breestraat, a street here in Leiden, when a teenage girl jumped out in front of me. She was screaming and reached for my handlebars. Her friends, standing nearby, thought this was hilarious. I narrowly avoided a collision and she yelled at me as I made my escape. My Dutch is terrible but I can only assume she had blathered, “I NEED YOUR BIKE, MOTHERF–KER! GET BACK HERE!”
There’s a reason why 16 year-olds should not be legally allowed to drink. If you doubt this, look no further than “3 Oktober,” an annual festival in Leiden that drags on for three or more days and nights. Since Thursday, I’ve had my front door used as a toilet and I’ve had to surf through an ocean of drunks just to get to it. The tavern across the street has not closed since Friday afternoon and has either been blasting music or hosting sing-alongs almost nonstop. Getting to and from Leiden Centraal, the city’s train station, has been an exercise in patience that would test the nerves of Mohandas Gandhi. If confronted with 3 Oktober, I’m sure he’d find himself throwing punches or, at the very least, writing passive-aggressive tirades like this one on his blog.
I usually love this sort of thing but, honestly, this event had really gotten old by Saturday morning when 3/4 of the city was covered in a combination of piss, trash and empty beer cups. Most festivals usually shut down around midnight. 3 Oktober never stops. Leideners are typically laid-back but they must save up all of their rudeness and boorish behavior for the holiday.
Based on what I’ve seen in the past, the Dutch, in general, are pretty decent drunks. Get a group of them together, pour a few pitchers down their gullets and, at worst, they might start singing football chants. While they rarely get violent, their deeply-embedded aloofness skyrockets tenfold once the Amstel starts flowing.
Now if you take this hypothetical group of Dutchies and times them by a thousand and you’ve got 3 Oktober, a festival that celebrates not only the city’s triumph over the Spanish in 1574 but Dutch culture at its absolute lamest. It really brings out the worst in the locals and the city at large. Public urination, off-key warbling, complete indifference to everyone around them, bad jokes and a heavy penchant for littering…it’s all here. Nearly every Leiden bar hosts live bands on makeshift stages on sidewalks, making getting to and fro anywhere in town an absolute nightmare.
If the attendees aren’t singing along to polka tunes, they’re dancing to techno and not even decent techno. We’re talking about the most banal dance beats that seem to have time traveled from a Polish discotheque circa 1995. They can’t get enough of that stuff.
But the worst part of the festival is the carnival. For some inexpicable reason, the city’s municipal government thinks it’s perfectly ok to fill the major streets in front of the train station with cotton candy stands and Ferris wheels. Any other city on the planet would set all of this up in a park or a fairground on the edge of town in order to not drive area residents absolutely insane. Nope, not Leiden. They toss it all right, smack in the middle of the thoroughfares everyone needs to get in and out of the city center.
I’ve tried to enjoy 3 Oktober and to get into the spirit of the whole thing, despite how terribly it’s organized and how horrible the participants have behaved. I’ve been to a few events, I’ve ridden a few of the rides and I even tried to attend the pole-vaulting contest earlier today after I wrapped up my work for the afternoon.
After getting diverted to the edge of town by a gigantic parade, my attempts to get to the contest were thwarted. As I was pushing my bike home, a guy turned around and casually tossed a beer cup in my bike basket. He thought this was hilarious and chuckled to himself. Still fuming from an incident earlier in the day, when I was nearly run off a street by a recreation of Cinderalla’s carriage that was blasting along with total disregard, I lost my cool.
I paused and flashed him my best Clint Eastwood stare. He suppressed a chuckle and stared straight ahead. I don’t know what you would have done in this situation but I calmly picked up his cup and tossed it at him. I guess it should come as no surprise that the folks around him thought I was behaving like a jerk. They muttered among themselves as I continued on my way.
It’s times like this that make me wish the Spanish would invade this city again. At the very least, I’d be able to get a decent churro and a glass of Sangria down at the carnival.