A long-read from an American living in Amsterdam, who’s trying to make sense of his country from afar — one he sometimes hardly recognizes. An essay intended to provoke personal reflection, challenge entrenched views, explore fresh perspectives, and inspire hope in a possible way forward.

It is the third Tuesday of September in this rat-f’d Year of the Rat.

Officially still six days from the autumnal equinox, it is the unofficial last day of summer in northern Europe, a final blast of sun and heat before the season turns, and with it the short days of winter which loom just around the corner. …


The other day I predicted to a friend that depending on the outcome of the November 2020 presidential election, America could be on the brink of Civil War.

But, as I thought more, I realized we are already in Civil War. Today’s weapons of choice are more memes than muskets.

The polarization and division of our population is as deep as the Union and the Confederacy in the 1860s. And the stakes are just as high, with the future of our country, culture, and society hanging in the balance.

How did we get so divided?

Our country is dominated by two rival tribes. Each is utterly convicted in their belief they are solely and uniquely patriotic in wanting the best for America and each equally certain the other side is willfully and carelessly destroying our nation. …


It was only a year ago, but it already feels like an entirely different era.

It was April 19, 2019. Sunset in Amsterdam was already 8:45pm and getting 15 minutes later each progressive week. The trees had come alive with the first buds of green leaves. Blooms blossomed galore. Pink wine was back in season.

So when Dave invited me and my wife to join two other couples for a boat cruise of the Amsterdam canals on his sloop in the late afternoon of Good Friday, well, he didn’t have to ask us twice.

You know what they say. The only thing better than having a boat is having a friend with a boat. …


For the kids’ school break during the last week of February, my family and I made the retrospectively unfortunate choice to ski in the remote Japanese Alps outside of Nagano.

Three days before our return to Amsterdam, we received independent word from both my employer and the boys’ school that our respective presence was unwelcome at the office or on campus for the coming fortnight.

My teenage boys were barely able to disguise their delight. I wasn’t as convinced.

Now 12 days in, I’ve had a few reflections and insights.

Indiscriminate discrimination sucks.

No shit, right? It took me 50-odd years as a privileged white male to actually experience it. I don’t want to mansplain this, but the lightbulb went on as even our closest social circle began treating us as outcasts. Untouchables. Lepers. Sweet sympathy, but with a telltale sneer of condescension. …


tl;dr

American Football: Run by socialists. Adored by conservatives.

European Football: Run by capitalists. Revered by liberals.

Football can tell you a lot about a society.

If you’ve ever seen Aussie Rules Football, a game loosely derived from an early version of rugby, you have instant insight into the independent and rugged nature of Australian culture.

Gaelic football. Uniquely Irish.

Canadian football. A rare misstep from our usually more enlightened brothers from the North, Canadian football is a head-scratcher with its imperial-measured and unnecessarily unconventional 110 yard field, seemingly trolling us with their excesses of spare land. Imagine the humiliation of taking seats at the 50 yard line tickets, only to be looked one-upped by the smug guy on the 55. Right, Canadians don’t get smug. Meanwhile, what’s with being so polite as to allow two of your nine teams to have the same nickname?! The Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Ottawa Rough Riders. Same, not same? No. Like Vanilla Ice claiming his riff is not the same as Under Pressure, I’m not buying it. …


We were admittedly late to the party.

It took until the early 90s until me and my crew caught on to how much fun the whole live music scene, particularly everything one degree of separation from the Grateful Dead. There was so much going on all along, but somehow we missed most of it.

The Dead played constantly in the Bay Area in the 80s. Aside from tagging along to a Laguna Seca show where I may or may not have had an actual ticket, I’m ashamed to have missed every other show.

It was all around us. I remember being at Di’s house for New Year’s Eve on the last day of 1985. Her parents were out at their own NYE party, and ten of us ended up in Los Altos Hills at her place drinking what we could find, listening to KMEL’s live simulcast of the Grateful Dead’s show from across the bay in the Oakland Coliseum just 20 miles away as the crow flies. …


Antonio’s Nut House didn’t used to be the only dive bar in Palo Alto. There was Pudley’s. The Stanford Pub. The Old Pro. I mean, the old Old Pro.

A bar by the name The Old Pro currently does exist in downtown Palo Alto on Ramona Street, but anyone Generation X or older calls that place the New Pro.

The real Old Pro sat on an undeveloped industrial lot on the southeast corner of Page Mill Road and El Camino.

It was a proper dive. In all the right ways.

The front room was framed by a long bar adorned with a just handful of unpretentious beer taps. And that’s pretty much it. There were maybe 10 barstools, a pair of pool tables and a jukebox in the corner. …


Dear son,

I‘ve been shirking my duties.

As your Dad and music fan wingman, I’ve been remiss for not yet to sharing my long-time obsession in a specific southern psychedelic rock band from Georgia. But more on that later.

Given all of the stuff on your plate in this 18th year of your life, I must say how pleased and enthusiastic I am that your music has become such a big part of who you are. I love how you’ve gotten good enough strumming the acoustic or thumping the bass to the point where it’s become really fun. …


Image for post
Image for post
Runners wearing costumes take part in the ING Bay to Breakers race on May 17, 2009, in San Francisco. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

One of my favorite parts of my time coming-of-age in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1980s and early ’90s was running Bay to Breakers, an annual 12K race across the city showcasing the best of the city’s quirkiness.

A quick note: When someone says they’re from the “San Francisco Bay Area,” like I have, it means two things: they live within a two hour drive of Ghirardelli Square, but they are not actually from San Francisco proper (if they were, they wouldn’t bother with the irrelevant “Bay Area” qualifier).

After all, San Francisco city limits are only 7-by-7 miles and home to just shy of 900,000 residents — smaller than most people realize. This 7-by-7 grid is what gives the Bay to Breakers course its form, crossing the city from end to end, from the bayshore in the Financial District down Market Street, up Hayes Street, through the Haight, into the Panhandle, and winding down through Golden Gate Park to the beach (the “breakers”). Locals have been running this race since 1912. It is typically held in May, but the 2020 race has been rescheduled for September 20. …


I ride my bike the 3 kilometers through the Vondel Park, across the Leidseplein, and down Marnixstraat to get to the Jordaan to visit my preferred barbershop.

The barbershop has been open since 9am. It just after noon on a grey Saturday morning of a local 3-day weekend, and the normally chaotic place is dead.

“Lucky first customer?” I ask, as I hang my light jacket equipped to handle the prevalent northern European drizzle.

I am beckoned upstairs, and I recognize the by-now familiar 30-something barber with steely eyes, well-trimmed beard, cautious body language, and friendly demeanour. I count this as the fourth time he’s cut my hair during the 16 months we’ve lived in Amsterdam. …

About

Brad Porteus

American in Amsterdam.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store