Patton Oswalt in Portland!


“If San Francisco and Humboldt County had a baby, it would be Portland, Oregon.”

My friend Josh Mohland told me this once. It was a Monday night and we were both at the local bar The Alibi, seeing the Irish folk-punk band The Smashed Glass perform. By this point of the evening I had had a few pints of Guinness and some Irish whiskey in me and I was feeling pretty good about myself and The Future.

“They say the dream of the 90s is alive in Portland,” I said, laughing.

We both smiled at how clever we were for a long while, then we turned our attention back to the band, who launched into another song about drinking. I clapped along to the melody, being careful not to spill my Guinness in the process.

The subject of Portland had come up because I had been discussing my plan to drive up later that week to the Wild North to see one of my favorite comedians: Patton Oswalt. The fact that my brother and his wife just so happened to live near the comedy club that he was performing was icing on the cake.

I have been a fan of Patton Oswalt for years. His particular style of comedy really spoke to me. The fact that he was a comic book nerd who effortlessly blended his own interests and hobbies into his act was inspirational.

Patton is also a big film buff, and I have spent many a happy afternoon sipping coffee and listening to him discuss his love of film and comic books on various podcasts.

As a self-described “comedy nerd” I have always felt that Patton was one of the best things to come out of the “alternative comedy” movement. Well, him and Louis C.K. But that’s another story for another time. I’ve got to stay focused here or I might ramble on for 2,000 words about my thoughts on stand-up comedy as an artist expression.

Okay, back to the subject at hand: Patton Oswalt.

When I learned that Patton would be playing for two nights in Portland I was overjoyed for two reasons:
1) I had never seen Patton perform before and I was dying to see him live!
2) I really missed my younger brother, Matthew.

I quickly purchased three tickets for Patton’s late show on Saturday night (February 5th) at Helium Comedy Club, which I had been hearing nothing but good things about from various comedy websites and podcasts. I called my brother to make sure that he was free that night, and then when I went into work that night I made sure to check with my co-workers to see who could cover for me (thanks Hannah!).

Everything was in place. I got my oil changed, had my tires rotated, and even got a haircut! It was a very productive week, all things considered.

The plan was the leave Friday morning so I could get there by dinner time, and then Matthew, Arial, and myself would have the rest of the night to do with as we pleased and then we could see Patton on Saturday. To say I was excited about the weekend would be an understatement.

After work Thursday I packed a bag and set my alarm for 8AM, which as anyone who knows me will tell you, is ridiculously early for me (I work at a bar, which means I usually don’t go to bed until 3AM or so). But hey, I was doing it for Patton and my brother, so when my alarm went off the next morning, I hopped out of bed in no time. My plan was to hit the gym for a quick pick me up and then make some breakfast. Looking back at that morning I feel I made the right choice. The work out I got at the gym got my brain working and alert, and considering I would spent the better part of 8 hours on the road, I needed the exercise.

After a simple breakfast consisting of eggs and potatoes and a few cups of coffee I was on my way. I put Matthew’s address into my trusty GPS, gunned the engine and pointed my car North.

Every time the road would turn into a blur (every two hours or so) I would find an exit ramp, track down a coffee house and use the rest room and then grab the largest, most powerful coffee they had on the menu and then hop back onto the highway (I would like to take a moment to recommend Dutch Brother’s “911.” It was fantastic! Thanks to Seth for the recommendation on that one).

For most of the drive up I listened to The Mountain Goats’ album “Sweden,” which I had been saving especially for the trip. After listening to it on repeat for over two hours I switched to the “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast, which kept my mind alert for the remaining 6 hours of my drive.

When I arrived at my brother’s place in Tigard (15 miles south of Portland) I was a mess of nerves and overly caffeinated energy, but alive nevertheless! Matthew and I hugged and all the stress of the trip melted away.

“Great to see you!” We both shouted, mid bear hug.

“You need a haircut, hippy.” I said after looking him up and down. We both laughed and headed into his place to drop my bags off. His wife, Arial, greeted me and we hugged too and then I excused myself and made a beeline for the bathroom. 8 hours of coffee will do that to you.

“Are we still planning on seeing ‘The King’s Speech,’ tonight?” I asked. “Sitting down and not moving for awhile is starting to sound pretty great right about now.”

“Yeah, we still want to go. Do you mind seeing it again? I know you saw it last week.”

“I would love to! It’s a great flick! Just so long as we get some dinner afterwards I’m a happy guy.”

We piled into Arial’s car (“Are you sure you don’t want to drive?” Arial joked) and drove to the local theater, which was located in a real ritzy shopping mall, which featured a covered dinning area that I admired quite vocally (“I can’t help myself, I’m a food nerd at heart!”). After navigating the shopping mall (“Look! It’s an Urban Outfitters! I haven’t been to one of those in ages!”) they lead me to the theater, which sold tickets for $10.50 a pop, which was slightly more than I was used to paying but well worth it.

After the movie, which Matthew and Arial both loved, they drove me to John Barleycorns Pub/Brewery, which had a happy hour from 10PM till midnight featuring $4 cheeseburgers, $2 pub fries, and a small and delicious assortment of other food items.

“This is my kinda place,” I declared after waltzing in and inspecting the restaurant.

“I knew you would like it,” Matthew said.

Since I’m a beer enthusiast I ordered to sampler tray of all their microbrews to start, as well as an appetizer of pita bread and hummus (only $2!). Our server, Eric, was a shaven head fellow in his early thirties and very friendly. As a server myself, I love good service in restaurants and told him as much.

“I’ve never seen someone smell their beer before they drink it,” Arial said, after watching me sample a few of the brews. “It’s like you’re drinking wine or something.”

“I take beer very seriously,” I lectured grandiosely. “A fine beer is a like a fine wine. It’s important to engage all the senses when sampling new beers. Each beer has it’s own taste and personality and it’s fun to figure out which beer fits your own subjective preferences. Personally, I’m a dark beer kind of guy.”

I went on like this for awhile until the food came, and then I was too busy eating to lecture on beer culture. Let’s just put it this way: When I staggered out of the pub I was a very happy and full fellow and I slept like a baby that night.

The next morning I awoke to the shrill sound of my cell phone alarm. I cursed the heavens, as I do every morning when my alarm rings, and rolled out of bed and into the shower, pausing briefly to admire my reflection in the mirror.

The plan was for me and Arial to venture into Portland proper for the day so she could attend a massive job interview/seminar for Apple. I hope she gets the job! I’ve been an Apple fan boy for the last few years and would love to have a more in depth look into how that company operates. Plus a little extra income never hurt anyone.
That morning Arial was taking me to her favorite coffee shop to try a “scuffin,” which is a beautiful hybrid of a scone and a muffin. It was genius. And delicious. I ordered “The Farm,” with ham, bacon, and Swiss cheese with caramelized onions. It was amazing.

“I love this,” I said in between bites. “The caramelized onions really puts this bad boy over the top for me.”

Arial nodded, sipping her coffee.

“I wish I could get paid to eat. That’s would be a dream job for me.”

Arial suggested that I put my journalism degree to good use and become a food critic, which I thought about for a long while whilst stuffing my face.

Later that morning I found myself in downtown Portland outside of the giant hotel where Arial’s interview was to take place. She let me know that it would take a few hours so I should feel free to go exploring and she would meet up with me later.

I walked a few blocks, feeling slightly under dressed in my jeans, Flash t-shirt (the Wally West Flash, if you’re curious) and light green zip up hoodie. Everywhere I looked there were men in fine business suits and briefcases heading to and fro and looking very professional. I decided then and there that I would go suit shopping. And indeed I did! I didn’t want to buy anything though, I just wanted to try a few on for kicks and giggles.

I stopped by Nordstrom’s and headed straight to their men’s apparel section.

“May I help you?” inquired one the sharply dressed employees.

“Yes you can, I’m looking for a three piece suit. Preferably something in gray or black.”

The man, Marcus, took me into the back and gave me a few different suits to try on. I tried on one after another after another. I couldn’t help myself! I live in small town and I love dressing up, but like I said, I live in a small town. I love it but I never have the opportunity to dress to impress, which is one of the many reasons I am looking forward to moving to Portland in the summer.

Before I knew it two and a half hours had flown by. I had tried on over a dozen suits in various outlets around town and I desperately needed a cup of coffee. I found a large coffee shop a few blocks from Banana Republic and settled down with a copy of the Wall Street Journal and sipped a large cappuccino while I read the style section and felt very posh and sophisticated.

A little while later Arial called me and we met at the coffee shop, which turned out to be right down the block from the hotel. Considering how terrible my inner sense of direction is, this was nothing short of a miracle.

Later that night…

Matthew, Arial and I arrived at the Helium Comedy Club at 9:55PM on the dot. “We made it!” I said triumphantly, jumping out of the car and into the chill night air. I was wearing a brown leather jacket that I had picked up in the Hawthorne District (my future home, if all goes according to plan) for $20. I was looking rather snazzy, if I do say so myself.

As we walked toward the comedy club my heart was beating fast from the excitement! I had never been to a comedy club before and the fact that I was about to see my favorite stand-up perform in front of my very eyes had me in a state of excitement akin to Christmas morning.

There was a two drink minimum in the club, which suited me fine. I ordered an amber ale and waited for the show to start, taking a moment to high five my brother. (“Can you believe this is happening? I’m freaking out right now! In a good way.”)

A local stand-up warmed up the crowd for a good 40 minutes or so and then at long last the moment that I had been waiting for happened: Patton walked out on stage and I screamed like a pre-teen girl at a Justin Bieber concert.

What happened next was an hour and a half of pure comedy nerd joy. There I was, seeing my favorite comedian with my brother and his wife and I couldn’t think of anywhere else in the world that I would have rather been. It was beautiful, really.

To make things even sweeter most of the material in Patton’s act was stuff I had never heard before, which thrilled me. I mean, sure, he threw in a few of his classic jokes here and there, but it all ebbed and flowed so effortlessly that I didn’t hold it against him at all. Why would I? When trying new stuff you’ve got to throw in some old tried and true bits to keep things going.

Needless to say, I was in comedy heaven.

After the show was over and the crowd scattered into the night, I looked over at my brother and Arial and smiled. I was a happy guy.

On the drive home I convinced them to stop at a 24 hour restaurant that advertised “fresh, homemade pies.” So there I was, fresh after seeing my favorite comedian, drinking coffee at midnight and eating pie. All was right with the world.

We ended the night by playing Mario Kart on their Nintendo 64. It was the perfect end to the perfect day.

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There And Back Again: In Which Our Hero Drives To Sacramento To See Conan O’Brien And Learns Valuable Life Lessons On The Way

It was 9 a.m. on Thursday morning. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. I put on my sunglasses and started my engine. Jack White instantly began screaming at me through my car stereo about his poor, broken heart.

“Alright,” I said aloud, “let’s do this thing!” I gunned the engine and sped off, leaving behind a dust cloud and the distant sound of Jack White’s guitar.

It was over 300 miles to Sacramento and I was ready! After driving from Seattle to Humboldt earlier this year, driving to Sacramento was child’s play (or so I told myself and anyone else who would listen).

The reason I was headed to Sac Town was simple: Conan O’Brien. The fact that my BFF Seth and his fiance Tara also happened to live there was icing on the cake.

The sun beat down upon my brow as I navigated south with the coolness of Steve McQueen, passing cars with ease. A master helmsman. I felt like a king, and Highway 101 was my kingdom.

One thing that I will always love about road trips of any length is that it gives you a chance to discover new music (or rediscover old favorites). Two albums in particular stand out from this road trip: “All Hail West Texas” by The Mountain Goats (which I had purchased a week before my trip but had saved to serve as road trip music) and “Easy Beat” by Dr. Dog (which I had burned during my last gig at KRFH as a DJ. Sigh…).

The first artist, The Mountain Goats, was a band that I first got into because of my love for the TV dramedy “Weeds.” The song “Cotton” plays at the end of an episode in season 2 and I was so impressed with the song that immediately after the episode ended I hoped over to my computer and Googled the show to see who sang that beautiful and tragic song. Turns out, The Mountain Goats had been around since the mid-90s, but I wasn’t discovering them until 2008 or so. Ah well. The nice thing about music is that it doesn’t really matter when you discover it, it is still just as powerful as the day it was recorded.

The album “All Hail West Texas” was, I decided after listening to it 3 times in a row while my windows were rolled down and the wind played tricks with my hair, a masterpiece. On the drive to and fro from Humboldt to Sacramento, and back again I listened to the album no less than 7 times and each time it got better. Lead singer John Darnielle has a voice that is both innocent sounding and world weary at the same time, which adds such beauty to his songs about love lost, mental breakdowns, and failed marriages. Get your hands on this album, gentle reader, you won’t be sorry.

After my 3rd listen to the aforementioned record I decided a little silence was in order, so I shut off my stereo and listened to the cool, gentle hum of my faithful 2006 Ford Focus and let my mind wander. My brother Matthew’s upcoming marriage (June 5th) played heavily on my mind. It was such a strange, bittersweet feeling. Call me old fashioned, but I had always assumed that as the oldest that I would be the first person to get married. It’s kinda funny. “Kids grow up so fast,” my grandma always says. I never knew how right she was until this moment, it seemed. I pulled over to the side of the road and had a good cry. The month of May has been a very emotional time for me. I’m saying goodbye to a lot of things: My life as a college student. My life as a DJ. My brother. I know he’s not dying or anything, but he is moving up to Oregon and it makes me more than a little melancholy that he is growing up. He’ll always be my little brother though, no matter what happens.

Sigh….

Okay, back to my slightly pretentious music reviews! Oh boy!

After my tear-stained pit stop, I looked around for the nearest gas station and bought myself a cup of coffee and some Cheez Its and was back on the road in no time, feeling rejuvenated and ready to go! I was less than an hour away from Ukiah, where I had planned to have some lunch. I was craving a tuna sandwich like you would not believe! I don’t know what it is about road trips but whenever I’m driving from more than 2 hours I always have an intense craving for tuna salad. I have no idea why this is. It’s just one of those things, I guess.

Anywho, the second album I fell in love with was “Easy Beat” by Dr. Dog, which was the most Beatles-inspired album that I had heard in qutie sometime and it made me smile. The lyrics and melody brought to mind the Beatles and the Kinks, circa 1967-68, but with some modern flourishes that had me grinning like a school girl with a crush. I turned up the volume as high as I could and gunned the engine, passing a VW bug with relish, waving for no apparent reason other than the fact that I was feeling friendly. The family inside waved back. I smiled. They smiled. It was a nice moment.

After that the gentle lull of the highway took over and I drove the next hour as if in a trance, until I saw I sign for a diner in Ukiah that I had always wanted to try. I pulled out my GPS and checked my location. Turns out I had missed the exit for I-5 about 4 miles back. Damn. Oh well, I said to myself, live and learn. I pressed a few butons and let the GPS recalibrate while I strolled inside, found myself a nice seat at the bar, and politely asked the overly friendly teenager behind the counter for some coffee and a tuna sandwich.

“Sooooo….. You from around here?” The girl asked while she poured my coffee, pondering whether or not she recognized me from somewhere.

“Nope,” says I with a grin, “I’m actually heading to Sacramento tonight to see Conan! My best friend lives in Sac and we’re both pretty excited to see him live!”

“Oh really?” she said, with wonder in her voice. “That sounds so fun! I always liked Conan! I never liked…. What’s the other guy’s name again?”

“Leno.”

“Oh right. Leno…. I never liked him.”

I gazed deeply into my coffee, as if considering my own existence. “Yeah, me neither. I’m Team Coco all the way!”

She smiled, and then hoped back into the kitchen, reappearing with my sandwich. “Ta da!”

I laughed and thanked her and then dug in, finishing the sandwich as quickly one does when one is hungry and craving one specific thing above all else. I paid the bill and left, putting my sunglasses back on as I walked into the bright outdoors.

Only a few more hours to Sacramento, I told myself, popping a Eddie Izzard stand-up album into my CD player and cackling like a mad man to Izzard’s jokes. The man is hilarious! If you haven’t listened to him, you’re missing out (man, I’m just pushing you around, aren’t I? Haha!).

The next few hours flew by and before I knew it the 5 most reassuring words a Tom Tom GPS can say flooded my ears like music: “You have reached your destination.”

Seth and Tara were both outside, eagerly awaiting my arrival. I honked the horn and drove into the parking spaces of their apartment complex, jumping out of my car as fast as I could and grabbing Seth in a bear hug.

“Oh man, I’ve missed you, buddy!” I said with a goofy grin.

“I’ve missed you too!” Seth said.

All 3 of us stood there, smiling like children. It was great.

We grabbed my travel possessions and headed upstairs to their apartment, talking a mile a minute. After a while Tara decided that she was sick and tired of being sober and made all 3 of us delicious gin and tonics. We sipped them happily.

“We’ve really gotten into gin and tonics” Seth informed me.

I nodded somberly.

We talked for another hour or two and then decided that we had better head on over to mid-town so that way we would be plenty early to see our beloved Conan. The spot the 2 of them decided on for dinner was a place called Buckhorn Grill in mid-town Sac, which turned out to be quite the classy place! The place was known for their tri-tip, so Seth told me, so the tri-tip I ordered and it was amazing! We opted to sit outside at the place’s outdoor seating area, since it was a cool 75 degrees. We sat in the sun, drank beer and laughed about Twitter and Facebook (we’re in our 20s, what else is there to talk about?!? Lol!). It was one of those moments that I felt completely happy and satisfied with my life. I love those moments.

After dinner we decided to venture over the bar next door, and had a conversation that revolved around how cool and grown up we all felt at that moment. Then Seth glanced out into the street and got all excited.

“I think I just saw Conan’s limo! I saw a puff of red hair and a police escort! I think it was him!”

“Oh yeah?” I said. “Well, you’re probably right! Unless Sacramento has some ‘other’ famous redhead that I don’t know about.”

“That’s so cool!”

We decided that the Conan sighting was a sign from the Universe to head over to where the concert was taking place. When we arrived we were about a half an hour early, so we grabbed our seats and waited giddily for the concert to begin, with Seth and me tweeting to pass the time.

“I’m honored to be in the same building as Mr. Conan O’ Brien,” I wrote. “Show begins in 30 minutes! I’m as excited as a midget on crack!” Seth read this, laughed and retweeted it. Being a nerd is such a enjoyable thing.

Before we knew it the lights dimmed and Conan’s band (minus Max, who is on tour with Bruce) rushed the stage. The crowd jumped to its feet, applauding and smiling at each! Seth and I high-fived.

“Please welcome Mr. Conan O’Brien” the announcer said and I screamed at the top of my lungs!

The next two and a half hour was filled with music (Conan’s a really amazing guitar player!), dancing (Conan has very, very long legs), and stand-up. A few thinly veiled jabs at Leno and Arnold had the audience eating out of the palm of his freckled hand. He even appeared onstage in a fully leather suit that he bought from Eddie Murphy. It was great! Icing on the cake: he played “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes at one point.

“I don’t usually play this song on stage, just in rehearsal” he informed us. “But you guys have been such an amazing audience that I feel that you deserve a little extra something something.”

As the show ended we walked outside, as if in a trance.

“Wow. That changed my life.” I said. Seth and Tara both nodded enthusiastically.

On the way back to their car I spotted a frozen yogurt place and suggested that we end the night off with some sugar, “for our throats. We’ve just spent the last 2 hours yelling.”

We all decided that this was a good idea and stopped in for a bite.

It was a good night. Thanks for the memories, Conan.

Confessions of a Conan O’Brien enthusiast: Where our hero sets into motion plans of seeing his red-headed idol in person!

How long has it been since Conan O’Brien graced the airwaves? Days? Weeks?!? Months?!?!!? YEARS?!!?!!?! It feels like an eternity since I saw that lanky Irish bastard and I miss him! There. I said it. I, Nathaniel Ochoa, miss Conan.

My life hasn’t been the same since Conan was unceremoniously kicked off the air. I mean, sure, I still go about my day as I always do. I still over-eat. I still drink too much coffee. I still work out (so that way I can eat and feel no shame). I still love comic books. I still watch movies and then talk about them for hours. In most regards, my life is the same as it ever was, except for one thing: No Conan. This makes me sad.

I’m a night owl by nature. I stay up late every night, even if I know I have to get up at 7 a.m. the next morning. I can’t help myself. I could never be a baker or a butcher (do candlestick makers offer evening shifts?). This means that when midnight rolls around I’m still wide awake, usually reading, or Facebook stalking my friends. But still, when the clock hits 12:35 a.m. I (until recently) would grab my remote and flip on my TV and laugh myself to sleep watching Conan’s antics. Alas, that is in the past now (until November that is, thanks TBS!).

Luckily for Team Coco (that’s what us Conan-loving types are calling ourselves these days), Conan is taking his show on the road!!!! And better yet, I’ve tickets to see him live!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m a little excited.

Conan announced last month on Twitter that he was going on tour (The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour), causing quite a stir amoung his faithful followers. I checked his tour dates and decided then and there that I had to see him. I instantly thought of Seth, a beloved friend of mine and fellow Conan-enthusiast, as the ideal man date for this occasion. His fiancee (!!!) Tara is coming along, to serve as our caretaker while we both become rabid with excitement and glee for this historic event.

As of the publication of this, Conan’s tour is already officially underway and I couldn’t be happier about this! More Conan news as it transpires. Stay tuned, faithful readers (all 7 of them… I love you mom!).

The date of the performance: Thursday, May 6th in Sacramento! Then I graduate college on Saturday, May 15th! May is going to be the best month EVER!!!!!