by Pete Jordan
Just hours after I stepped off the plane in New York, my friend Cheryl commented, "Don't tell me you're one of those people that moves abroad and then comes back all uppity and points out the nit-picky differences between there and the U.S." Since it sounds like only a schmuck would do such a thing, I told her, "No, no."
But now that I've been back in the U.S. for a few days, I can't help myself. After spending 12 years traveling back and forth and up and down across the United States in an attempt to wash dishes in all fifty states (and--plug! plug!--recounted in my book DISHWASHER: One Man's Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States), for the past five years I've been living a very settled life in Amsterdam.
First: Within minutes of my plane landing, I rode in an auto for the first time in almost a year. It was a frustrating ride as the car became mired in Manhattan's midtown traffic. It made me long for my bike and Amsterdam. Within the next two days, I would spend more time in cars than I have spent in my whole five years in Amsterdam. As a guy who prefers bikes and public transit, it was an eye-opener. Of course I knew Americans drive a lot. But actually sitting in the cars that were stuck in traffic, I was reminded why I prefer Amsterdam and my bike.
Another observation: food size. At NY's Penn Station I asked for a poppy seed muffin. When it was handed to me, I did a double take. The thing was as large as a jack-o-lantern! It looked like some novelty that was supposed to be for display purposes only. Who needs that much muffin!? I couldn't even finish half of it. Same thing happened the day before. A friend took me out for breakfast. I didn't come close to finishing my bacon and eggs. The plate was massive. You'll never find such portions in Holland. No wonder why there's so much obesity in the U.S.
Final observation: In the first 24 hours in Chicago, I've been panhandled more than in my five years in Amsterdam. For all the nationalistic bluster that comes from the U.S., the fact that so many people are so desperately poor here is very embarrassing to this American. The Dutch may not be boastful about their superiority in the way Americans are. But at least people aren't starving in the streets in Holland...
Anyway, book tour! I'm coming for you Corte Madera, California (May29th!). Tomorrow: Personal anecdotes about Corte Madera!