From Amsterdam to Köln – If it weren’t for random strangers’ help, I’d be in Madras right now

I was woken up by the ring of the room phone at 12:30 in the afternoon. It was the front desk asking if I was going to check out or not. Check out was at noon and I had finally fallen asleep at 10 am. I did set alarms for 11:30 but didn’t bother waking up. I told him, 10 minutes and I’ll be out.

Headed out to Amsterdam via the airport. Had only eaten a McDonald’s Caesar Salad since San Francisco. At this point I couldn’t foresee myself staying vegan too long. At the airport I had to change from the bus to the downtown train. Got off the bus and saw a sign, ‘Mediterranean to go’. I had had enough of starving myself so I had myself a good old Spaghetti Bolognese.

Got off at Amsterdam Central Station with all my belongings, an overloaded tennis bag and a small backpack. Walked around town for an hour and a half which was good enough for me to check off Amsterdam. I don’t do museums, tours, art galleries and things like that. Took a few photos and I was on the train to Vlissingen, in the province of Zeeland. It made me think if New Zealand was named after this place by the Dutch. Sure enough, our savior, brother Google confirmed my suspicion.

The tournament was in Middelburg but I had my Airbnb in Vlissingen, only about 10 minutes away by car. It was my first Airbnb experience. The host was a Vietnamese girl, Cucu, who was in Vietnam. She assured me her friend, My, would check me in. She gave me My’s WhatsApp and I communicated with her whenever I had WiFi to setup a time for us to meet at the house so she could check me in.

My, along with another friend checked me into the house. They took me to the super market, translated everything and helped me get the groceries I needed to survive the next couple of nights in Vlissingen and Middelburg. Great first experience with Airbnb. The house was all to myself and it was fully furnished, including the kitchen, which was very convenient. As I had only slept 2 hours in the morning, I crashed as soon as I got settled in at the house and had a bite to eat at 9 pm.

Mr. Varney was playing the Middelburg futures as well so he drove in from Cologne, Germany that night and stayed with me at the Airbnb. He got there at midnight, I welcomed him in like it was my own house, we stayed up for an hour and then he slept – and I couldn’t fall asleep again, again.

I stayed up all night, went to practice with Jackson at 8 am and signed in for the tournament after that at 10 am. We had checked with the tournament previously if we could sign-in in the morning as Jackson had to head back to Cologne to coach that afternoon. They were completely fine with it and so we did exactly that and told the tournament director we’ll see him the next day for the matches.

Jackson dropped me at the Airbnb and headed back to Germany. If he made it to the qualifying draw, he would drive back the same night to play the next day, if he didn’t make it, he obviously wasn’t going to. As soon as I got home around noon, I showered and passed out as I had had another uncalled for all-nighter – only to wake up at 8 pm to find out that I wasn’t included in the qualifying draw.

I couldn’t believe what had happened. I was confused and a bit shaken. I thought maybe I was not seeing straight after waking up from a long sleep. I looked again, but my name was nowhere to be found in the qualifying draw. It’s hard to miss my name in the ITF tournament lists as it has never not been the longest name in the draw.

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I was going to be no. 3 in the qualifying draw of 32, with a first round bye, which meant I would have had to win one match to qualify. It occurred to me to check the main draw, maybe I had slipped in as one of the last direct entries. But no, that was a bit too optimistic and wishful of me.

I emailed the tournament director right away to tell him of the mistake. I didn’t, and still don’t have a sim card so I couldn’t call him. He responded saying, that he made a big mistake, and how embarrassed he was. He apparently forgot to give the ITF supervisor the sign in sheet he used for us two, so neither of us got in the tournament.

The tournament director was very apologetic and took complete responsibility of the situation. He did his best to compensate me for basically wasting my first week of competition. He offered me doubles wildcard or to cover my expenses for the last couple of days. It was 9 pm by now and I had to make a decision, to either stay and play doubles only, or, take some money and go to Saarlouis, Germany next day, sign in and play singles qualifying and doubles main draw.

Germany is the only place that I know of, where sign in for qualies is on Saturday, not Friday like elsewhere. So I decided to go with plan B, take the money and go to Saarlouis.

Now it’s 10 pm and I have emailed the tournament director to be at the club at 7:45 am next morning, Saturday, so I can pick up the money and my rackets that I gave for restringing and get on the 8:30 am train from Middelburg station to Cologne, Germany. Once again, I stayed up all night, tried to finish and cook up all the groceries I bought for 3 days, and clean up as much as possible to leave the house in the same shape as I got it.

So now, I need to take a bus from Vlissingen to Middelburg train station, from there take a taxi to the tennis club, take a taxi back to Middelburg station and catch the 8:30 am train to Cologne. Sounds simple, if you have 3 hours.

I left the apartment at 7:10 am. Had to drop off keys at My’s apartment. Was at the bus station by 7:20. Now I’m sitting there for about 10 minutes and there’s no sign of a bus. It’s early Saturday morning so it’s very quiet. Across the street at the bus stop, there are two people waiting. I confirm with them if I’m in the right spot to catch the bus for Middelburg. I knew it was the right spot but by now I was getting a bit nervous so I couldn’t help but ask.

It’s about 7:35 now and the girl comes half way across the street to tell me that it’ll be much faster if I took the bus from the other side, and instead of going to Middelburg by bus, go to Vlissingen train station which was 2 minutes away and take the train from there that leaves in 8 minutes and takes 5 minutes to get to Middelburg. It would save me 20 minutes because the bus stops a lot. I jumped on that next bus going the other way, and did exactly what she recommended.

I get on the 7:57 am train and get to Middelburg train station at 8:03. Now I’m in a bit of a panic. I know if I don’t get back to the same station before 8:27, I’m not going to make the 8:30 train and there’s no way to get to Cologne before 5 pm. Jackson was going to pick me up from Cologne train station and we were driving to Saarlouis right after. We had to be at the tennis club in Saarlouis before 6 pm and Saarlouis was about 3 hours from Cologne. The 8:30 train was getting me to Cologne at 2 pm and if I made that, I was set, if not, doomed.

I jog out of the station at 8:05 am with all my belongings. It’s a rainy Saturday morning, not many people around, I’m looking for a taxi but there’s nothing. I walk to the other side of the station and I spot one but there’s no driver. At this point I’m debating whether to wait for this taxi driver or to start running in the direction of the club and hopefully find a taxi on the way. I see an old couple, in their 70s, bike in towards the station and I ask them for help with taxis. They tell me to call the phone number on the taxi and the driver should come pretty quick. I told them I don’t have a working phone so they happily did that for me. The driver was across the street getting breakfast, but was headed back.

It’s 8:12 am. I have 17 minutes to go to the club, find the tournament director, negotiate the money, pick up the rackets and drive back. According to Google maps, the club was a 7-minute drive from the station. So as we drive off in the taxi, I explain the whole situation to the driver. Thankfully he understood and spoke perfect English, as most Dutch I encountered did.

He’s speeding in his little Renault, zipping around slower cars and drifting on corners. He gets me to the club in 5 minutes but the street is barricaded. Without saying anything, it is understood that I am going back with him. I leave all my belongings in the taxi, run all the way to the tournament director’s desk but he isn’t there. I ask for him and this other guy that I don’t know, is expecting me. He knows the whole situation and has the money with him. He is walking me to where my rackets are and we’re discussing the money situation. I explain to him my time concern to speed him up because walking isn’t cutting it for me. My one eye is on the watch the whole time and it’s ticked to 8:20. We get to the stringer’s tent, he hands me the money and the rackets, which are completely drenched in water from top to bottom and the grips are dripping. I was furious but I didn’t have time to take it out on anyone. Once done with the dealings, I run out of the club with the rackets and money in my hand. I take a right turn from the gate toward the street where he dropped me off and I hear a honk. The champ had removed the barricades and driven into the street and was waiting right by the club gate with the car running. I jump in, he shoots off and Italian Jobs me to the station in 4 minutes thanks to some clutch green lights. I hand him the money, thank him and jet out to the ticket booth. It’s 8:28 and there are two people ahead of me. To get to the platform, I need to cross the track through a tunnel. I request the couple in front of me to let me use the machine next and they’re extremely kind to let me. Once at the machine, I can’t find Cologne or Köln (as written in German) as the destination. I ask the couple for help and they tell me I need to select ‘international’ destination to be able to choose Cologne. It’s 8:30 am, I have the ticket, and I hear the train coming. I see the train approaching but I’m still on the other side of the tracks. I run through the tunnel, sprint up the stairs to see the train stopped, I jump on and within 30 seconds it departs.

Without the help of the bus stop girl, the old couple on their bikes, the couple in the ticket line ahead of me, and the taxi driver, especially the taxi driver, I would not have made the train. I’m surviving and moving along so far only with the of the help of strangers. If it wasn’t for others, I could still very well be stuck in Colfax or Madras – not India, Madras, Oregon – the place, by the way, that will have the best sighting of the total solar eclipse this August. Random – I know.

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