I think that almost every tourist, especially Amsterican ones, who comes to Amsterdam wants to see the red light district, if only briefly in the day time. Every guide book has a few comments on it, and yet very few guidebooks or maps are very explicit in telling you quite where it is.
Well, I don't have any maps with me at the moment, but it's not hard. If you're standing a feew blocks in front of the central train station (where almost all the trams go) and facing the station, then it's on your right, just a few blocks over.
Like almost everyone else, what I most wanted to see was the whores displaying themselves in windows. It turns out that the word "window" is a bit misleading. In Amsterdam, at least, what one has is a full-length floor-to-ceiling glass door, which the woman stands in, or occasionally sits on a stool. The women are young and definitely good looking. They are not naked. Some are wearing underwear, more often they are wearing lingerie or a something like the costume of a strip-tease dancer. I didn't see anything more exciting than things I've seen in Honolulu strip clubs even off the stage. I didn't ask about prices, or talk to any of the whores at all. According to the Cool Guide, you should expect to pay about 50 euros for a blow job or a fuck; 15 or 20 minutes. The condoms are complimentary.
Where I should have gone but didn't was to the Prostitute Information Center, which offers advice and information not only to tourists, but also to prostitutes themselves, and anyone else who is interested.
The next evening, I chose to go to Spui Straat, since one of my guidebooks said it was a student area with lots of interesting cafes and bars. So this is a place where almost anybody might go, looking for a restaurant. And to my surprise, I found some of the same sorts of windows with prostitutes standing in them that I had found in the red-light district. Well, students are always short of money, I thought. But I think I had actually wound up at the wrong end of Spui Straat. If I had paid more attention to my Cool Guide, I would have been told: "There is also a smaller red light area around Spuistraat and the Singel Canal, near Central Station." One of the best known sex shops is on Spuistraat: Female and partners. I wasn't able to go in though. Single males are not welcome.
There were also a number of fairly classy expensive restaurants in the Spuistraat area. There doesn't seem to be any sense in Amsterdam that sex is something that needs to be hidden away and quarantined.
I did have one very brief but interesting encounter in the red-light district, which I later partly regretted not having followed up on. A young woman, clearly not a prostitute, wearing jeans, said to me in American English, "Are you an American?"
I admitted that I was, and she asked first if I had change for a euro, which as it happened I did not. Then she asked if I had an American dollar, which I also did not, since all my American money had been stolen in Leipzig. Then she said she was really hungry, and offered to do a lap dance for me if I'd give her a little money. "Except I don't have high heels." "Aw, it's no good without high heels," I said, but then realized that even if she'd been able to understand that I was teasing her, under the circumstances she wouldn't have been in the mood to be teased. And she didn't at all realize that I wouldn't have teased her unless I'd already made up my mind to give her money.
I gave her a twenty-euro note. And she said gratefully, "I think I'm going to cry."
I had the impression that she had done quite a few heavy-duty drugs in her lifetime, and probably recently. It was mostly her face that gave me that impression, especially the pockmarks on her face. Of course drug users don't stick needles into their faces, so I realized that my reasoning was not very logical, but still, it was the impression I had.
I gave her the money because she was in need and asked for it in an natural artless way. Completely different from the pandhandlers I am used to seeing on San Francisco streets (as well as Berlin, and Munich, and Paris, and even Honolulu) who have carefully worked out the lines that will get them the maximum favorable response. I have seen some of the same beggars, saying the same things, standing on the same street corner in San Franciso over periods of five or even ten years. "Could you help me out a little?" "Could you give me a hand, buddy?" "Could you give me a little support, please?"
I don't object to the fact that these people have adopted begging as a regular job, and collect as much as a hundred dollars a day; they have their way of making a living and I have mine. I do object to the way that they try to lay a guilt trip on me. And mostly I object because they have taken what is one of humankind's most valuable qualities, the ability to feel compassion for others, and are turning it into a commercially exploitable racket.
Anyway, this girl in Amsterdam was different. I was wary of her because of my belief that she was involved with dangerous drugs. But afterwards, I wished I'd talked to her more. How did this American woman, who had presumably come to Amsterdam as a tourist, wind up alone in the red-light district, where one never encounters women alone except for prostitutes?
I later thought that I should have taken her up on her offer of a lap dance, just as a way of spending more time with her and getting to know her a little. A lap dance from a woman like this is more satisfying to me than one in a club from a woman with a much more perfect body and practiced charm.
Where would she have taken me? To one of the clubs, or did she have an room? Or would she have taken me to a love hotel where a room for an hour would have been available for maybe ten euros?
I thought that maybe I should have offered her 50 euros just for her companionship for the evening.
Well, I'm no Richard Gere and she was definitely no Julia Roberts. I think that my initial judgement was probably sound, and then afterwards I started romanticizing my image of her. Spending time with her might have turned out to be dangerous. It might have been different if I'd been in a city where I lived, but being in a foreign country where I knew almost no one, I felt much more at risk.
I am attracted to people on the edge, but when it comes down to the crunch, I'm Mr. Cautious. Maybe it's not the best way to be, but it's the only way I know how to be.