Following Al: Weird by Northwest

(Note: This concludes my “Following Al” trilogy of posts. If you missed them — which is totally understandable given I started this two years ago — here are part one and part two. For the curious, it was this announcement that got me off my duff to finish this post.)

What’s wilder than driving 550 miles over three days so as to see three “Weird Al” Yankovic concerts in one weekend?

Waking up that Monday, tired, but wanting more.

That feeling led to me looking at the remainder of the tour schedule to determine a) where in the world “Weird Al” would be wandering, and b) whether I might want to wander there, too.

Turns out, Al had a few shows coming up in the Pacific Northwest.

I love the Pacific Northwest. I don’t think I’ve taken the time to write about that love, but it’s a passionate long-distance relationship we have. I try to get out there at least every couple of years, and since Al’s tour was taking the band there about two years since my last trip the whole thing seemed kismet.

All I had to do was convince The Empress of Whisky that it was not unreasonable to spend a week of vacation and a lump of my savings on such an adventure.

It wasn’t a hard sell.

She is a huge Phish fan, and we have regularly planned travel around that band, so she very much understood where I was coming from.

Thus began a week-long trek during which I followed Al across two states, taking trains, planes, and automobiles, whilst interspersing visits to friends and conducting other fun activities with  The Empress.

We landed in Portland (PDX), hopped in our rental car, and headed west for the coast, stopping only for cheese and ice cream in Tillamook — yum.

We spent a night in a small beach town, enjoying seafood, local beer, and some dune hiking.

Next day we headed down the coastal highway, leisurely making our way through that beautiful landscape for a couple of hours before making a sharp turn east and setting our sights on Eugene, Oregon, where a small theater played host to Al and the band that night.

I’ll say this about Eugene — it’s flat. The city-part between the mountains, I mean. Not much in the way of trees. Not much in the way of buildings taller than three stories. But it’s a lovely town, with a great  pizzeria right next to the theater — perfect for a slice and a pint after the show — and a wonderful little cafe that is the first place I ever had a stroopwafel. (They’re delicious.)

Next morning, we turned our rented auto north to Portland, where we would spend a couple of nights in a wackily-decorated micro-hotel, visit friends, see the truly awesome Portland Japanese Garden, browse several nifty local shops, drink some fine local beers — and a whisky! — to fill all the hours that weren’t spent watching two shows in an old high school gymnasium-turned-music venue. Oh, Portland.

After Portland, The Empress and I parted ways with a kiss and plans to see each back home. She stuck around to go on a hiking adventure with local friends, and I continued to follow Al.

His next show was in Spokane.

Getting there from Portland was fun. I walked to a light rail station, hopped aboard  a very clean train (using the pass that came with our hotel room) and rode that down to PDX, which, by the way, is a helluva nice airport. It’s open and airy, and it has things like free wine tastings inside. Also? There is a small (20 seats or so) theater that shows short films all day.

All of which is to say I had some fun things to occupy my time while waiting on my flight.

When it came time to fly, I had an experience approaching “old time” air travel. First, I had to actually walk onto the tarmac to board the plane via a set of steps hanging out the side. Compared to the gates and walkways used to board modern commercial aircraft, that was a little strange.

Of course, my first flight was aboard a World War II era Czechoslovakian spy plane,* so I’m not fazed by much.

*(Note to self: Tell story of my first flight.)

Anyway, the plane was a small, 50-seat propeller-driven relic. Once aboard, it was like being in first class, as there were few of us, and the seats were old-timey large.

I tried not to think too much about what this said about the plane’s age, or its odds of making it over the Cascade Mountains.

Really, I just thought of what they’d say if I died in a crash.

“He was following ‘Weird Al’ around.”

“Oh, that makes sense.”

Others nod along.

“Pass the whisky,” someone would say, as this whole daydream takes place at a funeral that is more like a good bar party.

Anyway, the plane landed — with an authentic tiny-plane bump on the runway — and I was soon headed to my hotel room for a nap before the show, which was held in another quaint small-town theater. No cool pizzerias or diners here, but I did find a dive bar for a burger and beer before bed.

I didn’t get to spend too much time in bed, as I had to be up stupid early — I think it was 3 a.m. or so — to walk over to the train station where I would catch my ride over to Seattle.

I love riding the rails, and it was beautiful to doze a bit before waking to the sun coming up over the Cascades, through which we were traveling. If the occasion presents itself, I highly recommend that Tacoma-to-Seattle excursion.

Upon arriving to Seattle, I had a free day and night, so I spent them prowling old book stores, eating way too much good local food, and winding up watching Solo: A Star Wars Story, thus making me a perfect (at the time) 10-for-10 on seeing Star Wars films during their initial release weekend.

Next day I did some more city wandering — Seattle is awesome for just walking around and seeing neat stuff — before catching up with a local friend to visit her neighborhood brewery before seeing the fifth and final show of my weird week in the Pacific Northwest.

Next day it was back to life, back to reality, which in my case meant wondering whether I could extend my vacation, change my flight back, and maybe squeeze in the next show, which was, wait, in Calgary.

Maybe if it had been in Vancouver …