MIDNIGHT RUN

This is a follow up to a previous post titled HOUSEBOAT.

We were out late one night in Utrecht and impulsively decided to check out the red light district. We had not been back to that area for a few months and wondered how different it would be at night.

As you pull into the driveway, you can see the houseboats and lots of cars. Our plan was just to sit in the crowded parking lot for a few minutes and observe this world that was so foreign to us.

I felt like I had a View Master from my childhood. Those little red viewers that gave you a slide show of Niagra Falls or Mt.Rushmore. But this was a view I have not seen before—crawling cars and men walking on the sidewalk, looking into the
houseboats. The houseboats are lined up and close together. They consist of one room and a bathroom. There is a large window, basically a wall of glass, that allows you to practically see everything inside, including the woman.

How do I know all this? Well, here is the funny part…we decided to turn around and leave, but we accidentally got into the line of cars that cruise the houseboats. We were in the parade and there was no way to get out of the line, unless we parked the car, which we were most definitely not going to do. And get this—we were behind a police car. Remember, this is all legal. If everyone behaves themselves, no one is arrested. The police are there to make sure that everyone is safe and that there is no trouble.

This parade of cars goes very, very slowly. You can actually make eye contact with the window prostitutes (as they are called) and you have time to check out the room décor (Martha Stewart could be kept very busy sprucing these rooms up).

What were the women doing? They were dancing, posing, talking on their cell phones and one woman was actually on a saddle. She looked like she was ready for a roundup or a hoedown (sorry, I couldn’t resist). No matter what the women were doing, they always faced the street and looked for potential customers. By the way, the women were wearing lingerie.

A driver would pull over and park his car and then walk to the houseboat he wanted. He was as casual as if he was going to a barbecue at the neighbors. The woman would open the door, they would discuss the plan of action, he stepped in, she shut the door and closed the drapes.

Apparently, you don’t have to have a car to be a customer, men would also be walking by the houseboats and carefully looking into each window until they found what he wanted. I never saw any rude behavior or any public drinking. In fact, it was very quiet and the men were pretty matter of a fact about the whole thing.

So here we were, two women in this dinkie car, caught up in a parade that we never thought we would be in. When you go shopping and the store clerk asks you if you need any help, you say “no thanks, I’m just looking”, well, that is what I wanted to say to all the women in the windows. But the women would wave at me, dance and straddle the saddle.

We could not move fast enough and I found myself saying “don’t hit the police car!” But we realized we could not move any faster, and we were aware of men walking by. We could see their faces and they could see us, I tried to keep my eyes looking straight ahead or I would fiddle with the radio. And finally, to our great relief, we were able to leave the parade.

I found out some interesting things about the houseboats and the prostitutes. Here are a few facts:

– The city of Utrecht has helpful information for prostitutes on their website.

– The city states they want a safe and healthy environment. This area is well lit, has surveillance cameras and community police patrol the street. There is a safe shelter for the prostitutes and there are specific times when a doctor and nurse are available.

– Prostitutes must be 21 years old to work at the houseboats. They must register with the Chamber of Commerce and with the health department. They must pay taxes and fill out tax returns each year.

– They can rent the room for a minimum of four weeks at a time and they cannot work longer than a 12 hour shift.

– On this website, the city stresses the importance of safety and making sure that you are not being forced to do this kind of work. They give contact information for anyone needing help.

Needless to say, this is not what Americans see when they go to their municipal web sites.

The day after this midnight adventure, we took a drive in the country. I saw numerous orchards with apples, pears and cherries. I saw cows, sheep and horses. There was a windmill proudly standing guard over a farm. Bikers were flying everywhere and hikers with backpacks were enjoying the beautiful day.

In a small village, we sat at an outdoor café and had a great view of people eating gelato, children racing each other and friends greeting friends. There was a breeze through the trees that were protecting us from the hot sun.

This is the Netherlands that I love. There is something for everyone here. If you want to eat cheese and gaze at windmills, you can. If you want to visit the red light district or even work there, you can. This country seems to recognize the reality of the situation, and is trying to be practical about it. I definitely don’t need to visit the houseboats again, I have had enough. For me, I choose the farms, the cobblestone streets of tiny towns or a cup of coffee with a free cookie.

Recommended Reading:

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman

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Comments

  • aledysver  On June 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Quite an adventure! It’s a good thing that it is quite safe here and there are rarely any problems. In the NL everything is handled in a practical way: with every thing you need to do, comes an instruction booklet that tells you every single detail you need to know, so you don’t have to waste your gray matter to figure out anything for yourself 😀 The website with information for the sex workers then, makes a lot of sense in this context 😀

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