People like me don’t go to Europe. White trash takes a late model vehicle to all vacation destinations. If you can’t drive there you can forget it, because dad only works summers, unable to acquire a skill set that he can utilize all year round.
The most awesome thing that ever happened to me started with a spam email. Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. It actually started with an unexpected sum of money afforded to me the year I turned 30. I sat on this money for a bit, intending on using it to chip away at my school loan, or maybe buy a new car. But in the back of my mind was the whisper that one king hell vacation could be had with it.
And that’s where the spam email came in, informing me that Queens of the Stone Age would be playing a show in Berlin, Germany, in a fortress that was erected in the 1500s to defend the town of Spandau. I have a near religious devotion to this band, and the thought of seeing them in such a place put me in mind of a spiritual pilgrimage. I passed the email along to my boyfriend, complaining bitterly that I would never see them in concert, let alone in such a magnificent place as that. He responded:
“I’m sorry, but why aren’t we attending this? This seems like the perfect time to visit ‘the Europe’.”
Which we’d talked about, but only in a very vague way. Suddenly it became a real thing, as opposed to one of those things you insist you’ll do before you die, but have no intention of following through. So I got a little excited and wrote back:
“SHUT YOUR WHORE MOUTH!!! JESUS EFFING CHRIST WITH TEN DILDOS, THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE…it might be in Hamburg, I DON’T KNOW BECAUSE I CAN’T READ GERMAN. HOLY FUCKING SHIT TEN TIMES!”
To which he replied:
“I think that this is what we were looking for. Something to do in Europe, other than lose our fucking minds on hash. The weather should be nice and OMFG are we really thinking about doing this. I have also lost my pants.” (My pants having already been abandoned in run up)
We quickly made arrangements before we lost the nerve. Months later we were boarding a plane in New York to make the eight hour flight to Berlin’s Tegel Airport. I was sure I was going to die in that plane, flight whatever from JFK to TEG. I just assumed it was a foregone conclusion; the plane would crash into the sea, immolating my boyfriend and me, or maybe decapitating me alone by flying fuselage, as my boyfriend is sprayed in my gore, or maybe just a simple terrorist attack, i.e. a dark skinned gentleman wielding a box cutter, insisting we fly into the tilt-a-whirl at Mall of America Paramus.
During the flight I not so jokingly asked my boyfriend to join the mile high club before I actually saw the bathroom. I then realized the mile high club is a crock, as only two career anorexics would be capable of making it in there. There is barely enough room for a vigorous shit, let alone for two corpulent Americans to be going at it with abandon. Not that we’re corpulent. I speak in the hypothetical, of course. My boyfriend and I could get it on in an air vent, if we were so inclined.
After we landed we were picked up by an Egyptian cab driver who taught us how to curse in German when our vehicle almost collided into another. He dropped us off at the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever seen where I had a nervous break down when I was told our room wouldn’t be ready for three hours. The fact that I lost it surprised me. I thought I was going to step of the plane and run shit, instead I spent the first three days throwing up and having panic attacks, though not for any particular reason.
It’s just that when I thought about Pittsburgh and considered how far away I was, it made me feel light headed. It seemed like it no longer existed, or at least its existence was utterly irrelevant. I overcame this terrifying feeling gradually, thanks to awesome food and drink and the knowledge that I would be seeing my all time favorite band in a centuries old fortress in a matter of days.
Unlike concerts in the states, which often look like impromptu meetings of rejected Toxic Avenger extras, everyone in the crowd was stylish and good looking. We were outed as English speakers by a British couple who identified us as such by our overuse of the word cunt. The show started quickly, also unlike concerts in the US, where artists like to string you along and dick around back stage fucking each other with mud sharks and doing blow off groupies’ tits. The highlight of the evening was Josh Homme yelling at security for being assholes and then proclaiming, “We’re not here to kill each other, we’re here to fuck the shit out of each other,” which I might just get emblazoned on my tombstone.
A few days later we took a train across Germany to the Netherlands, another dream fulfilled. I stared out the window the whole time, passing through an idyllic countryside then coming back into the city, only to go out again through small towns, past weird looking houses and English graffiti. We disembarked in Amsterdam, almost the last stop on the train. Unlike the fear I felt setting foot in Germany, I instantly felt at peace with the knowledge that the world’s best smoke was waiting for me.
After dinner on the first night we politely asked our waitress to point us to the nearest coffee shop. She directed us to Leidseplein, tourist trap central and home to innumerable weed havens. We went into one and were greeted by jars full of the stuff. Suddenly I felt like Dave Chappell in Half Baked, spontaneously orgasming when faced with a cache of weed like I’d never knew existed. We went over the menu. Yes, they had a menu. I saw something described as a ‘power high.’ I pointed to it and said, “I want that.” My boyfriend agreed. We bought a gram and some tea. He rolled a giant joint, of which we smoked half. For the rest of the night we took turns going crazy.
Sometimes he would be out of his mind and I’d have to bring him back to earth. As soon as he was situated I’d go off the rails and he would have to do the same to me. The following is an approximation of what our conversation was like. I can’t document the actual conversation that took place, because I’ll be damned if I remember it:
“Look, there’s a pirate bar!”
“I can’t feel the back of my head. Make sure it’s still there.”
“You’re good. Why is that shifty man looking at us? Maybe he knows we’re American?”
“Maybe he hates Americans?”
“Maybe he is a terrorist that hates America and freedom?”
“Do you think I should tackle him?”
“No, let’s wait and see what he does. Look, a pirate bar!”
“I think we just walked in a circle.”
This went on until we shuffled back to the hotel, afraid that if we did too much more we wouldn’t be able to find it.
We established a routine pretty quickly. Every night we made the rounds between the Bulldog and an Irish pub across the square. We settled on the Bulldog due to its proximity to our hotel and laid back atmosphere. This was after getting tricked into drinking non-alcoholic beer at the Rockerij and accidentally walking out on the bill at Barney’s.
We did the standard touristy things, all while high on brownies or mushrooms or hash, or all three at once. We giggled our way through the red light district. We went to the zoo, where we were surprised to find animals like raccoons, which are much more exotic to Europeans than people who were raised in southwestern Pennsylvania. We ate ice cream prepared by a kindly Dutch gentleman. On the last night we took a canal ride throughout the city. While the boat was rickety and sometimes sounded like it was going to implode and the water was dirty looking and the weather grim, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. The next day we cleaned out our stash, tossed what was left of our drugs, ate some brownies and headed for the airport.
By that time we arrived at Pittsburgh International we were both feeling pretty cocky. We’d traversed a new continent without catastrophe. We were greeted warmly by Customs and herded into a roped off area towards with additional security check points and clearances, right behind a contingent of a frightening southern ministry who all looked quite healthy and well fed even though they just arrived from some impoverished country.
We made jokes about the drug sniffing beagle, until said beagle nosed my boyfriend’s suitcase with purpose, fiercely concentrating on the compartment that held his passport, which was previously kept in a safe containing all of our weed. The dog went ape shit on the spot, going from an adorable little puppy to a snarling hell hound in about a second. I saw us being questioned, our luggage ripped apart, full cavity searches for the both of us. I saw the climactic scene of 1984, both of us naked and professing our allegiance to each other, being kicked in the knees and our sex organs belittled. My relatively stress free experience was about to become fucked and fast.
But it didn’t, the dim bulb Custom’s agent on the other end of the pup sauntered on by, seemingly unaware of his fevered reaction to my boyfriend’s suitcase. We shared a sigh of relief and the declaration that we needed to find a bathroom in order to change our underwear.
So, I drank grappa in an Argentinean steak house in Amsterdam. I stood on the steps of the Alter of Pergamon. I saw Queens of the Stone Age in a fortress in Germany. Everyone says this has changed me, whether I know it or not. I can’t say that it has, and if so, I can’t exactly say how. I do know that before I did this I suspected that things would always be the same, that I would lead a pretty common life with no surprises. Now I’m not entirely sure about that.