Closing Time At Amsterdam’s Betty Boop Coffee Shop And Internet Cafe

All right, it’s the last day of Travel Month, and since Nicole has already shared some of her embarrassing travel stories, I may as well share a favorite one of mine.

The summer before college, one of my oldest friends and I backpacked through Amsterdam to Copenhagen and back to Amsterdam. There we parted ways: she headed home while my brother “Zak,” then a freshman at college, flew in to meet me. My friend had been a model tourist the same way she was, at school, a model student. Together, we got up early and toured castles, canals, and museums until our legs buckled.

Zak, however, had one thing on his mind.

“Come on,” he said, eager as a beagle heading into the woods. We alternated going to coffee shops and restaurants, parks, and the Van Gogh museum. It was up to me to remember how to get back home; Zak had retreated to a world of internal oblivion, as happy as a puppy covered in deer shit.

We met our parents, traveled around more demurely, and then returned to Amsterdam for one last night. After our parents had turned in, Zak directed the two of us to the Betty Boop Coffee Shop and Internet Cafe. Zak and I instant messaged with our friends back at home until, around midnight, he exclaimed, “Dude! This girl I know, Beth, is in town and she’s staying at our hotel. I gotta go. Don’t worry, I’ll be back.”

Worry. How could I worry with Betty Boops all around me — in 3D doll form and on 2D collectible plates, in black-and-white and glorious Technicolor — smiling through the scented haze?

As hands moved around the faces of the Betty Boop clocks, nervousness crept up on me. The coffee shop was scheduled to close at 1:00 AM, and Zak was the one with the money. Our proprietress, a sturdy and unsmiling Nordic woman, did not seem like someone to be trifled with. As 1:00 AM drew nearer and nearer, I began to think, There are drugs in here. Hollywood had taught me that, where there are drugs, there must be burly, unsympathetic men.

1:00 AM came; Zak did not. I was alone in the now ominously silent Betty Boop Coffee Shop and Internet Café with Helga the Viking to answer to, mobsters waiting in the wings, and no way to pay my tab. The proprietress came upstairs and I threw myself on her mercy, babbling about my brother.

“I will run to the hotel,” I swore to her, “and drag him back by his hair, we’ll pay you, I’m good for it, I’m an American, I’m so sorry, really, I’m so careful with money I don’t even have a credit card, and here, take my watch as collateral, here, please, take it,” and don’t have someone break my knees, I added silently, I need those, although if it comes down to it, better my knees than my hands.

I slipped off my battered, digital, green and entirely worthless Timex watch, and extended it toward the proprietress. She accepted it, an inscrutable expression on her broad, pale face, and she watched as I dashed out the door.

I sprinted to the hotel, thanking God for continued, if temporary, use of my knees. There I found Zak sitting in an armchair in the lobby chatting with some girl. Unbelievable!

Stalking up to him, I wailed, “You left me there. You said you’d come back and you didn’t and now it’s closing time and you have the money! How could you do that to me? I thought they would break my legs! I had to give them my watch.”

I brandished my bare arm at them for proof. Beth looked impressed. Zak did not.

“Ester,” said Zak. “You have the money.”

“I do not!”

“I saw Dad give it to you. Look in your pocket.”

Very slowly, willing him to be wrong, I dug into my pocket, where I found the equivalent of $50.

“Oh,” I said.

When Zak and Beth had finished laughing, he took the money to the Betty Boop Coffee Shop and Internet Café and returned with my Timex.

“Thank you,” I said with some dignity.

“I got such a lecture from that woman,” he replied, shaking his head. “She was going on like I was her husband home from a weeklong bender.”

“Good,” I said. “I hope you learned your lesson.”

This story is part of our Travel Month series, which we are wrapping up.

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