The following is from an e-mail I sent to my family after this ordeal in 2000:
Chapter 1 – Australia To Amsterdam
Australia was wonderful. Great place, great people, wonderful things to do. We had a great time. I finished training on Wed. at 2:00 Australia time and we packed our things into a taxi to head to the airport.
When we flew out to Australia we flew over Alaska; on the return flight we flew to Europe and back that way. It’s called an Around the World ticket because you do literally go around the world. We had an 8 hour flight from Australia to Singapore. We got off the plane for an hour in the Singapore airport, then had a 12 hour flight from Singapore to Amsterdam. One of the specifications of the Around the World ticket was that we needed to have a day layover in Amsterdam.
We were disoriented and tired after 20 hours of flying by the time we got to our hotel in Amsterdam. We had 7 huge heavy bags that we had for our 2 week trip. Tim even had to go buy an extra suitcase just for the gifts and wine we bought while we were there. We lugged the bags out of the taxi and had them on the curb waiting for a bellman to come out of the hotel. No bellman. We had to lug all of our baggage into the hotel, which was no small feat since there were stairs into the lobby.
The lobby was about the size of our living room, so I stood with our bags strewn all over while Tim checked in. The lady at the counter wanted me to fill in a form to check in, so I went up to the counter. The lady made some comment about some guy that just came in and went out again and that we should watch our bags. The form we were filling in needed our passport number, so Tim went to get them out of his computer bag. He looks around and says, “Where’s my bag?” We couldn’t find it and all of a sudden I realized that my computer bag was also missing. The guy (or guys) had walked into the lobby, taken our bags and left. We weren’t more than 20 feet from them the whole time. They did get them on video, but I don’t have any faith that they will catch them.
So, now we realize that we don’t have our computers and we don’t have our passports. Our plane tickets were also in the bags. I’m trying hard not to cry as we finish checking in. The only good thing was that Tim had his wallet in his hand and I had my purse on my shoulder, so we still had our drivers licenses and credit cards.
Chapter 2 – Amsterdam Police Department
We take inventory of what was in the bags and I realize that I had stashed $500 in cash in the bags. Damn. Tim is being wonderful and keeping me calm by reassuring me that at least we will be able to replace most of the items. Just money – at least no one was hurt and “We still have our wine!” Also, there was nothing on our laptops that wasn’t backed up in the office. Tim is telling me to treat this as an experience. We’ve never been to the police department or American Consulate before (and I hope we never are again).
Someone from the hotel takes us to the police department. He speaks Dutch to the police officer and she speaks Dutch back. He leaves and she says to wait one minute she will take our statement. She leaves and comes back and says to us, “Well, you’re out of luck.” I’m thinking, hey, all I’ve had so far is bad luck, so if I’m out of it I don’t mind. She tells us that the computer system is down and they can’t take our statement, so we should come back in the afternoon. I look at Tim and he looks at me and we both say that no, we won’t come back this afternoon. They need to take our statement now. She says that there is no way they can do that with the computers down. Tim asks why they can’t just write it down on paper. She says because it is an official statement and they need us to sign. Tim says we will sign that paper, but we need to file a police report so we can go to the American Consulate to get new passports and we need to leave for our flight early the next morning. We can’t wait until this afternoon. She tells us we have to. I ask what if the computer systems are still down in the afternoon. She smiles condescendingly and tells me that then they will do something for us, not to worry. I tell her that then they need to do something for us NOW. She realizes that we will not leave and tells us that we can just wait in the lobby that maybe they will come up in half an hour or so because “sometimes they do that.” I ask whether they will send someone to the hotel to look at the video and she says, sure, but that “this won’t be solved in a day.” By this time I realize that we are never going to see our stuff again and just want to expedite the statement so we can get our passports and go home.
After about half an hour, low and behold, the computers come up. A different officer takes us into a little room and asks us what happened. As we tell him, he writes down his notes ON PAPER. I look at Tim and he looks at me, but we decide not to say anything.
After he understands what happens, he starts to enter the information into the system. They have a crappy system with awful interface. He can’t cut and paste and everything is keyboard driven. Tim and I are both checking out his software and thinking about how it could be improved. He is a slow typist and entering the information is hampered when we need to fill in address information. Evidently the letters are pronounced differently in Dutch than English. I would say “eee” and he would type “I”, so I say “no, eee” and he types “A”, so finally I point to the “e” on the keyboard. Sheesh, good thing we weren’t in Hong Kong.
After he has entered all of our information, he prints it out and asks us to sign it. I think about making a wise crack about how the statement information is all in Dutch and I have no idea what I’m actually signing, but I figure I should just keep my mouth shut.
Next, we ask the police officer if he can give us the address of the American Consulate so we can get new passports. He pulls up the information and gives it to us. The screen says that they are only open from 12:30 to 2:30. Nice hours. He gives us the telephone number in case we want to call to see if they are open any earlier than what his information shows.
Chapter 3 – American Consulate
So we get back to the hotel room at 11:30 and call the Consulate. They tell us that the hours we have are wrong and they actually close at 12:00, so we need to get over there as soon as possible. We take a cab and book it to the Consulate. Good thing we didn’t take their advice and go back to the police station in the afternoon, good thing the computers came up when they did, and good thing we didn’t take their information about when the Consulate opened (OK, I’m reaching for things to be grateful about, but you need to take good news where you can find it).
We get to the Consulate and they are actually very nice and helpful. The tell us that although they close at noon, that they will start processing our passports and if we come back at 2:30 with passport photos they will have them ready for us. Finally, something is going our way.
So we go to the passport photo place and get our pictures taken. We walk around looking for a place to have lunch. We’re walking down the street and Tim says, “Take a look in the window.” We were walking on the sidewalk next to buildings with storefront windows. In all the windows on the first and second floor were women in lingerie posing for the men on the sidewalk to pick them. A la carte sex. Now all I can think about is that I am really just a small town girl from Otter Creek and I really want to go home to South Haven now.
We go back to the Consulate and they have our passports ready after we give them the pictures. Now, why can they issue a passport in a couple of hours but it takes months in the US? Oh well, I decided this is not the time to complain about government bureaucracy.
Chapter 4 – Night in Amsterdam
It is about 4:00 pm Amsterdam time (don’t ask me what time or what day it was in Australia) when we finish with the passports. We call back in the office and tell them to order us two new laptops and have them shipped overnight so they are ready when we get back in the office. We talk to the person who takes care of travel arrangements and have her work with the airlines to issue new plane tickets.
We decide to go back to the hotel and take a nap before we go out to dinner. I am afraid I am going to be mugged on every street corner and by every alley that we pass. We take a nap and are so exhausted that we sleep until midnight. When we wake up Tim calls me to the window of our room. The streets outside are completely lit up with neon and there are hundreds of people partying, laughing, yelling, etc. Now I really just want to go home to my 8 acres in South Haven! We decide to just go back to bed and pretend it was all a bad dream.
Chapter 5 – Flight Home
We get to the airport early the next morning (7:00 am Amsterdam time) so that they can reissue us new tickets. With a reasonable amount of waiting and more money they give us new tickets to get home. Right now I would swim home if I had to.
The flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis is about 8 hours. We have an uneventful flight and are so happy to be going home we can hardly stand it. I’m starting to think that we came through this incident fairly unscathed.
We are starting our descent into the Minneapolis airport when Tim looks at me and says, “Huh………..We got a problem.” Turns out that the car keys were in the bag that got stolen. Dammit! Neither of us can believe that we didn’t realize this was going to be a problem until now.
So, we start brainstorming about what to do. I suggest that we rent a car and drive home to get the other set of keys. Hmmm…. That won’t work because we don’t have any keys to get into the house. Double Dammit!!! The only way that we can get into the house is with the car since there is a garage door opener in it. Unfortunately it isn’t a removable door opener, but the kind that is programmed right in the visor. OK, so we have to get into the car.
Chapter 6 – Starting The Car
So, when we land, Tim calls the Nissan dealer where we bought the car and has them give us the identification code for the key. I get parked with the luggage (believe me, I am keeping a REALLY good eye on it) while Tim takes a cab to the locksmith.
An hour later, Tim comes back with a key from the locksmith. It will open the doors of the car, but won’t start the engine. Turns out that there is a computer chip in the real key and the engine won’t start without it. Dammit!! So, we call the Nissan dealer again. Now, there should be a system where they can just use some encryption technique and reproduce the computer chip code since they could reproduce the key design, but nope, they can’t do that. Our only choice is for them to tow the car to the dealership where they will reprogram the car to take the new computer chip they put in a new key for us (which of course means that all our other keys at home will no longer work).
So, we lug all our bags into the car and wait in the freezing cold for the tow truck. It takes an hour for him to get there and then we load the car and ride in the front of the tow truck to the dealership. Now it is about 3:00 US time (remember we started at midnight US time) and Tim and I are tired, cranky and hungry. We really just want to go home!
We wait, and we wait, and we wait in the dealership until finally they finish with the car at 6:30. They tell us that they key only works in one of the doors. Turns out that they had trouble with their key cutter and tried to cut five different keys and this one worked the best. Great.
However, we don’t care because by now we JUST WANT TO GO HOME. We still have an hour and a half drive home and need to stop for some groceries on the way home and need to get Buddy too. But it seems like we are actually going to get home sometime that night. Now I’m starting to worry what they had to do to reprogram the car. If they had to turn off the battery would the garage door opener in the visor still work? Would we get home to more trouble because we can’t get in? Tim tells me to stop worrying and we will deal with that when we get home. We finally get home, the garage door opener works, and we get Buddy home at about 9:00 Friday night. We eat take-out Chinese and fall asleep on the couch half an hour later.