I’ve lived in Amsterdam for 63 years but have only been cognizant of my surroundings for about 60 of them. Over the course of those six decades, the demographics of my hometown have changed quite a bit and ditto for our society in general. As a result, so have the things people like to do in their spare time. The following list is therefore a hybrid of what folks in Amsterdam typically used to enjoy doing and what they enjoy doing now. You will note there are a few Amsterdam pastimes that have withstood the test of time. I’ve included five of the ten below:
2. Playing a number – If Amsterdam had its own Olympics, playing numbers would be a medal competition. Back before OTB an Amsterdam bookie was like an Amsterdam physician, every family had one. Our’s owned the grocery store at the foot of our street. What the new baby weighed, the time of day your great aunt died, the license plate number on your cousin’s new car, the dream book number for dreaming about a divorce all became straight and boxed three-digit hopes and dreams for folks in every neighborhood of this city. Then that night at exactly 6:40 PM, your aunt would tell you to call the grocer and ask how much she owes him. The grocer would turn that night’s number into a dollar amount. “Tell your aunt she owes me zero dollars and sixteen cents.” You’d give your aunt the amount and 999 times out of a 1,000 she’d respond with her patented “Awwwwwwww shit!”
4. Softball – Playing softball in Amsterdam isn’t just a sport, its pretty close to a religion. When the time comes, you either get invited to join a team or you start one of your own and you keep playing until there’s a verifiable and irreversible reason why you can’t play any longer. Game nights are eagerly anticipated, not just for the thrill of the competition but also because its a night out with a bunch of good friends and a chance to laugh, reminisce, tip a few cold ones and maybe if you’re lucky, rip a shot into the gap and make it to second standing up. And its been going on forever. Ask anyone whose played recreation league softball from my dad’s generation, from mine or my kids’ to name a best memory from their own playing days and they will instantly recall five.
6. Bingo – My Dad’s lady-friend would beg me to go with them to play Bingo every week so one night I did. At the time you could play that game in far more places in this city than you could buy a book. Every church and fraternal organization ran a Bingo night. I had always played as a kid on Sunday nights at my grandmother’s house while eating Aunt Onnie’s homemade pizza, with the Ed Sullivan show on TV in the background. I remember the night we finally realized the O-68 chip was missing from that Bingo set. My grandmother was devastated! But nothing prepared me for the K of C Bingo night I experienced with my dad and his friend a full decade later. The hall on Market Street was packed! We sat next to a lady who must have had fifty Bingo cards going. She had Bingo markers, at least a dozen lucky charms including a framed photo of her dead sister and four bags of snacks in front of her and she was slurping on at least a 32-ounce soft drink. I’m sure glad they didn’t allow guns in there because as the night wore on the crowd got pretty ornery! “Shake em up God darn ya!” “Again with B-15, Shove that B-15 where the sun don’t shine!” “Her again??? She wins every damn week!” I have to admit I enjoyed the evening but didn’t get the bug. Last year, while doing a cleanup at my grandmother’s house I found that old Bingo game set and brought it home. Now we play it whenever my grandkids come to visit. The other night while deep into a game little Frankie asked me “Poppi, how come you never call O-68?”
8. Friday Night Football – You can see the lights from the Thruway and hear the noise of the crowd from my back deck a mile away. Its a Friday night in autumn in Amsterdam and the Rams are playing at Lynch Stadium with the stands on both sides of the field packed. The quality of the football is of course top notch but that’s certainly not the only reason it seems as if half of all Amsterdam shows up for those games. Those Friday night contests really truly are a social event for this community. There’s the one and only Marching Rams, one of the best high school bands around. There’s the 50-50 raffle, paid off in cash and on a good night the winner walks away with enough to pay next quarter’s property tax installment. There’s the chance to see and catch up with just about every person you know. You even get a chance to sing the old alma mater, flubbing the words of course. If someone who doesn’t know Amsterdam asks you what’s good about this place, take them to a Friday night football game at Lynch.
10. Texting – This is certainly a newer phenomenon. Nobody talks to anybody any more in Amsterdam. Instead, we pull out this way-too-expensive-to-use device and start pressing our fingers to its screen in rapid succession in order to convey information that most of the time, does not need to be conveyed at that moment. Like any pastime, we text message because we enjoy doing it not because we have to do it.
I will finish this list of Amsterdam’s Favorite Pastimes in time to get them in my upcoming book which is scheduled for release later this year. In the meantime, make sure you subscribe to my free monthly Amsterdam Top Ten Newsletter for previews and reveals of more Amsterdam Top Ten Lists. You can sign up for the newsletter here.