The Longest Journey Home
The lights have just come up and I’m high as a kite. The last DJ is putting records into boxes and the crowd is dispersing. I look at my friends around me. Their eyes are dinner plates.
“Woah…” Mag says, who has spent the last hour convinced he is a pirate in a medieval era after greedily spooning ketamine into his nostrils. We link arms and walk tentatively in the direction of the bus stop. We can do this shit. Tilburg, the small Dutch town we have ventured to for this festival, is only an hour out of Amsterdam.
We collapse on the ground at the bus stop in a heap, laughing, ecstatic, faces lit up in the glow of the street lights. Attractive Dutch men who do not drink stand aside, incredulous, as we clutch each other’s palms, thrillingly unaware of the dirt coating our clothes.
The bus arrives and we pile in, smelling of sweat and alcohol. Over large speakers, we are immediately hounded by aggressive club music. We look like frightened deer in the neon lights as the music escalates, drop after drop with the bus rocking down the freeway. We arrive at Tilburg station in a haze.
The train to Amsterdam doesn’t leave for 40 minutes, so we sit on a park bench on the side of the road listening to Lionel Ritchie while Mark snorts generous scoops of ketamine. He quickly becomes extremely pleased by this whole scenario: the park bench, the side of the road. He attempts to explain what it’s like to be on ket, passing down the spoon with gusto.
“You’re confused,” he declares, “but you enjoy being confused.” He nods furiously.
“Mmmm,” my friend Mag agrees abstractly, “yeah.” At this point, Mag could be anywhere.
We manage to contemplate this for a full 40 minutes, arriving back at the station victorious at our excellent use of time. The journey will only take about a half an hour and then we will be home.
We jump onto the train and Mark immediately starts playing Cat Stevens’ ‘Tea for the Tillerman’. This seems a seriously appropriate exit song and we sing along joyfully.
“It’s not time, to make a change…”
The train pulls out and Lotte gazes out the window, remarking abstractly, “I wonder why the train over there is so busy.” Hordes of people are packing onto it. We look around and realise, with a start, that there is nearly nobody on our train.
Helplessly, we gaze at the board. ‘D’hoggenbosh’, it reads, just as the last train to Amsterdam pulls out of the station. Cat Stevens plays on in the background as we stare at each other in shock, speeding steadily away from home. D’Hoggenbosh is not even a real name. It sounds like a cough. It is also an hour away, by express, just past midnight.
“Oh my god,” I say helplessly. Mark, still in a remarkably calm, confused state, simply nods with confidence. I stare out the window in horror. Cat Stevens suddenly seems sinister. I look suspiciously at old, sleeping Dutch people who for some unknown reason have ended up journeying to D’Hoggenbosh at midnight on a Sunday and wonder what this mysterious dreamland will be like. I envision cobbled streets, inviting taverns, canals.
We arrive to slabs of concrete and silence. The only sign of life is a couple of homeless men chatting on the side of the road. We quickly rush to bus stop and establish there is a train leaving to Utrecht in one hour. From there, we can feasibly get a morning train to Amsterdam. Mark decides this is a good time to continue devouring ket.
We find a water fountain opposite the train station that, in our semi delirious state, looks exactly like the one featured in the opening titles of Friends. Thrilled with this discovery (someone enquires if this might actually be the very fountain used in the show , until we ponder why, exactly, an American sitcom would choose a middle-of-nowhere town in The Netherlands to film in), we put on the opening theme song and frolic joyfully in the water.
“We ARE friends!” Mag bursts out.
When this activity wanes, we sit in the park opposite and take more ketamine.
One of the homeless men from earlier takes this as an opportune time to come and join us. He speaks very little English and drinks a beer slowly, barking out the occasional sentence. He keeps telling us he needs to go find his friend, pressing until Mark, terrified, basically throws his phone at him.
“Find your friend,” he gasps, “please.”
I look around the circle and wonder abstractly how I have ended up in a town that begins with an apostrophe sitting with a homeless man at 2am. The bus arrives and we rush away, asking the driver four or five times, speaking extremely slowly and probably sounding insane, where we are going. Eventually satisfied we will end up in Utrecht, we collapse in the back seats.
The streets are empty, lit up by occasional light. The bus hums. We arrive in Utrecht at 4am and decide to drink a heartening cup of tea. There are a surprising number of people around, all of them sober. I wonder what they are thinking. At 6am our train pulls in.
At this point I seriously don’t think I will ever make it back home and will just wander bus and train stations endlessly until I die or collapse, but sure enough, as the sun begins to rise and workers start rushing across the city, we pull into Amsterdam Centraal, nearly 24 hours after our departure.
We have now been on public transport longer than we spent at the festival. There is only one possible thing we can do now. We ride down the escalator entering our magical city, linking arms, booming ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ off an IPhone. “The boys are back!” we cheer. I feel like I have survived a war.
We jump on our bikes and ride our separate ways, unsure, now, how to survive on our own. I fall into bed at 8am as the birds start singing outside my window, dreaming of Cat Stevens, of the cast of Friends, of strange towns I will never see again.