I think he had a thing for me. The fidgeting with the necklace, the puppy-eyed stares, the head nod to the side as he said “Oh you’re too funny.” I’d chock it up to cultural differences but I know quite a few Dutch people and they’re – well they are artsy types – but they like their Dutch women and their macho attitude. I was happy to indulge the Airport’s Tourist information clerk, and he was more than happy to indulge me with information, gently dropping hints like “Oh that’s where I live” and offering me tips on how to cross the river to that side of town.
Normally I’m cranky at Airports, but this was a pleasant flight. It was one of those two hour where-did-the-time-go flights. More of a commute between San Francisco and the South Bay than an international flight from Oslo to Amsterdam. I kept trying to find the cranky passport agent who’s going to give me shit about my Syrian past, but a right and a left after the tourist office had me standing on a train platform.
I’d been worried about explaining to the passport agent why I’m flying in alone, without a place to stay, without a plan of what to do or who to see, without even a reason for why I’m visiting other than “I thought it might be neat.” Luckily for me, there was no passport agent to explain anything to, and by the time I landed, the AirBnB I had requested right before my flight went through. I had to pick up the key from the host’s friend in Amstel, a station 20 minutes of public transportation away from the apartment.
So here I am, standing in by the train platform, waiting for the train that the ticket machine assured me would get me to Amstel station, wondering why my train’s information on the information screen is greyed out, when everything else is in white and blue.
“psssssshhh” The PSA system comes on, says a few sentences in Dutch, of which I pick up the name of my train, followed by an English translation gently and softly informing us that my train won’t be coming. Up I go to the train information kiosk. Central Station is where I need to go, then transfer to platform 4B. Very well then, back down I go to the same platform, waiting for the train. It arrives, I get in, fate held in the hands of an overworked information agent.
Waiting for the train, I was feeling anxious. I wasn’t feeling anxious about the delay or having to figure out how a new public transpiration system worked, I had no doubt I’ll get what I needed to get done worked out. I was feeling anxious because for the past two weeks I’d started working on a startup, and it has perpetually grown to consume me. Hiking in Norway, I was thinking of names, analyzing market placement, scrutinizing my value proposition, and reassessing my assumptions.
Working on the Airplane, I was making the sort of progress that makes us programmers look closer to the movie representation than anything else: The kind of work in which you can visualize the entire picture of everything that needs to be done, knowing exactly which files to edit in which way, what code to write and what pictures to draw, and you have to go through the rather mundane process of writing it down in code. Working in that mode, an innocent bystander might see an extremely focused person, frowning their brows slightly as they type at an approximate speed of 90-100 words per minute, bobbing their feet up and down on their balls as the caffeine attempts to manifest its energy in physical motion. To interrupt that, say by an airplane landing, is to cause a disruption in the brain that’s a bit hard to explain to people who doesn’t work using their brain.
When a programmer is in their flow, they’re thinking not about what they’re doing – They’ve already thought about that minutes before – but they’re thinking about what needs to happen next. They’re also thinking about how the next task fits into a larger system that has to work together. In the head of a programmer working in their flow, a bystander wouldn’t see 1s and 0s streaming by nor would they see ifs elses and switches. Rather, they’d see boxes and arrows, systems constructing themselves and interlocking the teeth of gears together. To be snapped out of that is to introduce a dissonance between the necessity of physical existence and the many unsolved problems in the head.
So I was sitting in the train, anxious, waiting to get back to an internet connection and a power supply so I dump out the half-built system in my head. The train arrives, I find platform 4B, hop on the next train, and on to Amstel I go. By this time, I’m confronted with the reality of having not had a bite in about 10 hours. My host’s friend is waiting for me, I’m in a bit of a rush. Two stops into the ride, we arrive at Amstel, I get off, get on wifi, fire of a message to my host’s friend, and two minutes later I’m standing in the station alone again with my apartment-for-the-week’s key in my hand. Now I have to get to the actual apartment.
The overly-friendly and interested information agent at the Airport had printed out instructions for me to take the 65 bus north. I go down, try to find the bus, and struggle to find a bus stop. I talk to a friendly young couple who pull out their iPhones and use it to give me an 8-step process of getting home. Lacking in alternatives, I head back to the station, increasingly agitated and hungry, with no way to head home. On my way in, I find the 65 pull in. Apparently I had to go a few feet forward to find the sign. I ask the driver if he goes to my stop, and he shakes his head negatively, points up above the hill to his left, and says that’s where the northbound bus stop is. I look, see a 65 stopped there, and break into a sprint. I get there huffing and puffing, step into the bus, then, and only then, realize I have no bus ticket. Lacking in alternatives once again, I head back to the station.
Thankfully, there happened to be a lady in an orange vest walking around with an “i” on her back. I explain my predicament to her, at this point carrying a yogurt and a sandwich, eagerly awaiting the first quiet moment to gobble them down, and she points me to the bus ticket machine. First card doesn’t work. Second card doesn’t work. Ok, no train ticket for me. As a last resort, she points me towards the ATM. First try, the debit card finally works, and out comes 20€, my ticket home.
I get home, walk in, turn on the bedroom light, unpack my laptop, connect to the internet, and 4 hours later, at 2AM, I lie down on the bed, finally with the system transcribed into code, working, and my brain clear.