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Things haven’t started well.

I get to Schiphol two hours before my flight to Chicago is due to start boarding. Plenty of time for a leisurely couple of beers before jumping on the plane. I suspect things may not be that simple when I need to queue to join the baggage drop-off queue. It’s a foretaste of things to come.

I get a false sense of reassurance when I’m able to get my bag checked in in under 20 minutes. Then I spot the queue for the security queue. This is crazy. The security queue extends right down the stairs. I’m in for a long wait.

After the first half hour, there’s something hypnotic about how the queue slowly snakes back and forth along the tape barriers. I don’t think I’d be having such a zen experience if time was tighter until my flight.

Finally I get to the head of the queue . . . and am redirected to another queue by the security point itself. Then I notice I’m in the longest of said queues and people who were in the main queue are getting through before me.

As happens every time at Schiphol, one of my bags is plucked out for extra attention. This time it’s my electric toothbrush causing concern.

By the time all the faffing about is done, I’ve just about time to buy my traditional bottle of Laphroaig in the duty free and arrive at the gate as my flight begins to board. My worst ever experience at Schiphol by a long way.

Safely aboard, the crew announce the flight will be delayed for 30 minutes while they remove the luggage of twelve passenger who haven’t shown up. Presumably stuck in the security queue.

I start to fret a little. There are only four hours between my scheduled arrival time in Chicago and the departure of my train. You never know how immigration will take. In Newark once with Dolores and the kids it took over two hours.

Chastened by my experience is Asheville, when I nearly got stranded, I have a plan B. Should I miss my train, I could get a Greyhound to Holland tomorrow. It would be tight, but I could still make it on time for my first event of the trip.

I pass the time, as usual, by watching crap films on the entertainment system. It’s amazing how quickly the time can pass when you head is immersed in brainlessness.

We land at O’Hare pretty much on schedule. I deplane as quickly as possible and rush to immigration. Am I in the right spot? Where is everyone? Amazingly, there’s no queue. No grilling from the officer at the desk and I’m through, passport freshly stamped, in under five minutes. If only it were always that speedy.

Getting through so quickly means I need to wait for my checked-in bag. Now there’s a novelty when arriving in the US.

Soon I’m in a taxi rolling down the long concrete highway that leads from airport to city. As with many US airports, it’s a long way out of town. It’s not the quickest of journeys, but I’ve still plenty of time before my train. Just as well I’ve made contingency plans for this eventuality, too.

As part of Plan A, I’ve identified the nearest reasonable-looking pub close to the station. Close being the most important criterion. Giving the slightly unweildly luggage I’m lugging. It’s Dylans Tavern & Grill, a pseudo-Irish pub just a block away. Busy with an after-work crowd, the hostess finds me a small table.

The beer selection isn’t the greatest, but there’s one standard I can rely on: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I order that and a burger. I can relax, at last. Let the buzz wrap around me as I wrap my chops around the burger. Life can be good at times.

Amish crowd the station’s waiting room. Or are they Mennonites? Not sure I can tell the difference. All to do with the colour of their hats, evidently. So does that mean trains are OK, while cars aren’t? It must be an odd world to inhabit. But maybe no odder than mine.

Amtrak carriage may be getting long in the tooth, but they do offer plenty of room. A plug by every seat. And decent strength free wifi. Could be much worse.

We trail through suburban Chicago for quite a while, through the usual industrial flotsam that floats around railway tracks the world over. Once free of the city’s embrace, massive, rusting chunks of industry still line our path and we skirt Lake Michigan, crossing the state line in the process. I watch the orange glow of the sun as it sinks over the lake, placid in dusk’s calm. Like a distant reflection of the rusting factories.

I’m surprised when Holland is announced an hour earlier than I expect. “Is that right?” I ask the conductor. “I thought we weren’t scheduled to arrive until 10:30?” He explains that we also changed time zones when we crossed into Michigan.

Kevin Hilgert, of New Holland brewery, is there to meet me at the station. It’s not far to my hotel, but I still appreciate a lift with all my luggage.

Once I’m safely checked in, we head over to the New Holland brewpub. It’s not far. Then again, New Holland isn’t a very big town. We have a few beers. Until I begin to fade and it’s time for bed.

Tomorrow is my first gig. It’s going to be a busy few days.

Dylans Tavern & Grill
118 S Clinton St,
IL 60661.

New Holland Pub on 8th
66 East 8th Street
Michigan 49423.

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