Points of complication are usually both surprising and completely predictable. Take, for instance, international travel. We don’t really have trouble cramming a few hundred people who don’t know each other in a small, confined space and chucking in the air at 9,000 meteres to a destination several thousand kilometers away. That bit, apparently, is simple and is generally goes off without a hitch.
The complicated bit, evidently, is the bit where you arrive with all the same objects that you left with. My bicycle comes to mind as one such item that I would have liked to have arrive with me in Amsterdam, as it is an item that bears some relevance to this trip. And which, of course, didn’t make it onto the plane with me.
Thankfully, I’ve done enough travel to have some degree of familiarity with this particular routine. I’ve also learned that in America, we become very occupied with the idea that we might predict with some certainty when the missing items could arrive, or where they should be at any given moment. This gives us a degree of comfort that we might at some point regain possession of our beloved items.
Europeans don’t share this occupation with us. I recall my first trip to France with(out) bicycle. We arrived, naturally, in Toulouse san le velo. Throughout our workings with the airline as to determine where our bicycles might be, they treated us the the customary French ridicule that we should be so concerned with the whereabouts of the bicycles; they weren’t lost, after all. They just didn’t know where they were. But on that occasion, we were phoned within an hour or so that they would arrive on the next plane and that we should pick them up in a few hours.
My arrival in Amsterdam, without my bicycle, distinguished itself from our arrival in France in the respect that they had absolutely no idea where the bicycle was, and since I’d had a layover in San Francisco wherein the bicycle changed hands between airlines, there was also some question as to precisely at which airport it might have been left, whose fault it was (probably mine), and whether it hadn’t accidentally boarded a plane to New Delhi or some such exotic location. Thankfully, it also distinguished itself in the respect that I can speak the language well enough and can easily switch between English and Dutch as it suits my needs (the Dutch are often more tolerant of your ignorance if they don’t know you’re Dutch and should thusly know better, so if I’m clueless about something I tend to revert back into English to demonstrate my idiocy and invoke their sense of sympathy for my predicament.)
If you find routine comforting, as many of us do, then you would find it comforting to know that the baggage handlers in Amsterdam held the same degree of interest as the French did as to whether or not I found the situation I was in either inconvenient or distressing. That is to say, they had none; they were much more interested in getting me to stop talking than finding any kind of resolution.
Having experienced all this before, I left the airport not terribly distressed. But then the questions started to creep in, often raised by other. What should I if my bike didn’t arrive? I’m perhaps the most finicky person when it comes to my bicycle and position as anyone could be, so borrowing a bike is a very unappealing idea. Not to mention that I began curating my wheels in November, and had only twice ridden on the tires I had specially handmade for my ride over the cobblestones. To return to Seattle without having had these wheels so much as grace the pavé seems very incomplete, somehow.
I went to sleep last night with no updates, despite several calls to Schiphol in pursuit of some information that might put me at my ease. I awoke an hour later needing to use the loo, so I got up and made my way upstairs where I ran into my mother who had just gotten off the phone with my dad. She informed me of his heartfelt condolences, and that he was concerned that some handler with sticky fingers had perhaps stolen the bike as it came off the plane. This seemed almost completely impossible, but just possible enough to worry me to my core. I fell asleep with visions of never again laying eyes upon my irreplaceable Bike #1.
I start the day today in the waning hope of receiving my bicycle before we jump on the train for Lille tomorrow. I also find Lou Reed’s lyrics running through my mind.
I’m waiting for my bike,
With $26 in my hand.
So sick and dirty, more dead than alive,
I’m waiting for my bike.