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The 'Ol Crotchety One Kicks It Transatlantic Style

PopMatters sends its weekly culture columnist abroad.

One of the many benefits offered professional journalists is the opportunity to travel. Yes, for only the cost of a degree from a very selective university and an apprenticeship spent covering the minutiae of the Sycamore County Board, professional journalists enjoy a run of press junkets. Major media companies put them up at Ritzs in Venice or London. While Owen Wilson picks at his bandages, the professional journalist can ask soul-baring questions like, “When will you be working with Jackie Chan again?”

Life is much less rosy for the Internet journalist [or ‘blaaaager’ (said as ugly as possible) to our dwindling professional peers]. We live out of our own meager pockets, ecstatic for the free product swag sent to us for review. I don’t know if you can say we’re jealous. Many of my Internet peers already provide much better cultural criticism than those of paid correspondents. No, I feel like the guy who saw the door of an exclusive club shut in his face because of the members’ own rambunctious fecklessness.

Knowing this, can you imagine the surprise on my face when my editors here at PopMatters agreed to send me to Europe to file two columns?

Of course, with the limited PopMatters budget, I would not find myself at any Ritz.

I left O’Hare on the first of this month, packed into an aerated steamer trunk. Cramped for someone who stands 6’7”? Sure. But no more cramped than the steerage of coach.

There were pluses. Nobody in my row needed to pull out their chiffrobe from above my head, and the cargo hold was fairly quiet.

Quiet, not silent.

Next to me was the last remnants of Phil Collins’ kit from the last Genesis tour. When that kit heard that I was a journalist, it listed every grievance it ever held against Peter Gabriel. The album So? Completely stolen from Phil’s third bass pedal.

Across from me were two dachshunds on their way to honeymoon in Turkey. They kept themselves amused with a Mad Lib and their own gas.

Oh, they couldn’t stand Peter Gabriel, either.

Bob, a friendly porter from Everton, released me from my transatlantic confinement after he saw the trunk shake suspiciously. A few well-placed "Alex Ferguson’s a twit"s later and I was on my way toward the new Globe Theater, near which I would stay with an old friend.

I met the Rockista there. The Rockista doesn’t fly steamer trunk. She’s much more valuable freight.

The first day in London, our fair Chicago lost out on its attempt to host the 2016 Olympic Games. Not only did we lose, but we were the first city eliminated. Now, I never much cared whether we got the Games or not. The last thing we needed was an IOC pot o’ gold landing on our doorstep -- not with our corruption. But I didn’t want to be last loser, either.

I always equate the IOC with out-of-touch European bureaucrats. How dare they not give every Chicagoan what our psyche begs for: the chance to be the first loser. We’re not called the Second City for nothing.

Instead, they hand it to Buenos Aires, a modern exemplum of good governance and efficiency.

Over the next few days, I saw why we didn’t get the Olympics. London will host the Olympics in 2012. London can handle it. The London public transportation system leaves all other cities in the dust.

In contrast, our Chicago Transit Authority has such a hard time maintaining funding it threatens at least three service-cutting zero hours a year. London could never allow that to happen. The population density demands an efficient, punctual transportation system.

We Chicagoans simply refuse to pay for a modern transportation system. Chalk it up to America’s aversion to taxation. We not only don’t want to pay our taxes, we heartily fight any taxation against the wealthy, too. A government can only borrow so much. The IOC always chooses the site that will publicly guarantee the most money. We never had a real chance.

The Rockista wanted to attend a show at the West End. After much negotiation (she always wants to violate my restraining order against Andrew Lloyd Weber), we chose The Lion King. It was a matinee on Sunday, flooded with children. The play jams Shakespeare allusions into the plot. It also increases the role of Nala and changes Rafiki into a woman to balance the genders a bit.

Good? Sure. Great? The costumes for sure, and I can never deny Elton John and Tim Rice, so… yeah, I’ll go with great. What can I say, I’ve always been a sucker for tragic parents’ deaths in Disney.

I know I told you Readistas I would follow up on my earlier football column. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the time. I still have it on my list, though, and 20 years from now if / when a publication sends me back I will file an update.

After five days in London, we left for Amsterdam. Ahh, Amsterdam. A lovely city once known for its canals, now for its cannabis. We arrived at the Hotel Abba humming ‘Dancing Queen’ and utterly confused about what it had to do with the Dutch. We never found out, although the hotel did have framed ABBA album covers behind the reception desk. Obviously, everyone on Amsterdam is on drugs.

I dragged our luggage up a stairwell better suited for Spider-Man. It overlooked a courtyard of uncovered windows. Not wanting to waste our voyeurism time outside the Red Light District, we headed out.

The streets of Amsterdam are filled with bicyclists. These people don’t just commute. Heavens no, they compete. They turn corners like the whole city is one gigantic velodrome. The first night, a much M*A*S*H besodden me almost found himself split in half by the peloton. Always look both ways in Amsterdam, on the sidewalks and on the streets. And always wear white at night.

We explored the Franks’ WWII hiding place. A space like that would cost almost $2,000 a month in Chicago, and nobody would go shopping for you either. But as much as the yuppies and hipsters bother me, they’re not Nazis. I have a much better deal in Evanston.

In the spirit of "When in Rome, grab Nero’s fiddle", we headed next to an Amsterdam café right by the Dam, the Kadinksy. The Kadinsy has a bar and café across the street from each other. At the bar we enjoyed many Heinekins the way God intended. I don’t know why they taste so skunky in the States, bu through its native lines, Heinekin is to die for. I highly recommend the frozen Heineken, which comes out of the taps so cold the tap itself freezes over. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

The bartender at the Kadinsky looked just like a young Robbie Robertson. The only white artist I heard during our evening was Eric Clapton. Outside of that, it was pure black music-jazz, soul, funk, or hip-hop -- a very good selection.

The Dutchmen at the bar think very highly of their country and its open-minded personality. It’s very easy to be open-minded when you’re stoned all the time. They also couldn’t stop blaming religion for all of the world’s problems. If you ask me, their version of fanatic atheism is just as divisive.

After a couple of pints, it was time to check out a popular sitcom set during the Korean War at the café. I chose a basic Henry Blake episode, and also bought a few episodes to go. Thanks to the EU, I could enjoy Jamie Farr for the rest of my stay on the continent. God bless you, EU!

Next week: Bruxxelles and Paris!

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