Last night my wife and I journeyed up I-5 from Salem to Portland to see the musical Wicked. We loved the show. But that's not what I want to talk about.
Rather, I was struck by how different an experience it was to see a top-notch musical in Portland, Wicked, compared to our seeing the Enlightened Theatrics performance of Hair in Salem a few weeks previous -- which also seemed to be Broadway-quality.
I came away feeling that there is a lot to like -- a LOT -- about what Salem, typically viewed as Portland's much less cool sister city to the south, has to offer live theatre goers.
I'll start by describing our Portland/Wicked experience.
-- Buy tickets online. Wow, already almost sold out for a Wednesday night performance. Ah, here's two tickets in row G, seats 5 and 6, on the left side of Keller Auditorium. Price is...yikes! $100 a ticket, including "handling" fees. (Of course, nobody handled the tickets, as we printed out a PDF file emailed to us.)
-- Leave from our rural south Salem home at 5:40 pm for the 7:30 pm show. Worried about freeway traffic in Portland area, which can be horrible at almost any time of day now. But, sweet, we cruise along and arrive in downtown a bit before 7:00.
-- Pay $6 at the parking garage close to Keller Auditorium. Seems like a good price, especially compared to our $200 worth of Wicked tickets. Have to park on the 4th floor. Head-in. Leaving the car, I have a thought. "Maybe I should have backed in." Prescient thought, which I ignored.
-- We enter the Keller Auditorium. First impression: people! Many people. We aren't in Salem anymore! There are so many people. Breathe... it's OK... Portland is a big city... with lots of people... it's OK.
-- Plenty of time to buy something to drink. My caffeine-addicted mind screams: coffee! Must obey. Hmmmmm. $3.50 for a cup of coffee. Seems steep, but I'm a captive coffee buyer. Who gets a cup that, maybe, at most, holds ten ounces. Still, it is coffee. And with a lid, legal to take into the auditorium.
-- 7:35. Wicked starts almost on time. Impressively fun first act. The woman seated next to me gets up about fifteen minutes before the first act ends, then soon returns to her seat. I wonder why.
-- Intermission. I took the advice of the female usher volunteer and kept my paper coffee cup in pristine condition. "Free refills," she'd told me. Nice. Now I can get 20 ounces of coffee for a "mere" $3.50. Almost sounds reasonable.
-- Not so reasonable: the super-long lines for both the women's and men's restrooms. I think I understand why the woman next to me got up when she did. It's almost impossible for a woman to make it into the Keller restroom during intermission. The men's line, of course, moves fast. Moments like these make me so happy to be a man! My wife decides to wait until after the show is over.
-- 10:30 or thereabouts. Wicked ends to a standing ovation. Really enjoyable show. We exit the auditorium after a final restroom stop.
-- Where's our damn car? Everything looks different at night. Following my wife's overly confident "The parking garage is this way," we walk in exactly the wrong direction. My more direction-proficient male mind soon realizes this. I turn us around. We walk up the stairs to the 4th floor and find our Chevy Volt.
-- Then realize we aren't going anywhere. Not for a while. Parking garage gridlock. I might be able to take a stab at pulling out at some point if I'd backed in and was pointing forward. But I need to back up. There's no room to back up. Laurel brings out some containers of sliced nectarines she'd brought along. I figure these will keep us alive until sunrise, if we're still stuck in the parking garage by then.
-- Eventually the cars belonging to our fellow Wicked-goers start moving. Very slowly. A nice person lets me back out. After we wind our way to the 3rd floor I realize that I only have a vague idea of how to get to I-5 south from downtown Portland. I ask my wife to either plug our home address into the Volt's navigation system or fire up Google Maps on her iPhone.
-- Two more floors. We're about to exit the parking garage. Laurel still hasn't figured out either the navigation system or her iPhone. I'm getting testy.
-- I've got to turn left, ending up in the left hand lane of some street. Which is filled with traffic. And has a sign way on the right saying "To I-5 South." I'm forced to go straight. My wife is still fiddling with the navigation system and her iPhone, alternatively.
-- "You're not helping out!" I scream at her as we head down Barbur Boulevard. "I'm trying!" she screams back. Suddenly we've taken on the role of two wicked witches. But nobody is around to see our performance.
-- I whip out my iPhone. Should have done this long before, I think irritatedly. Takes me ten seconds to see that, as I remembered, the I-5 south entrance is five freaking miles down Barbur.
-- Four freaking miles down Barbur, I glance to my left and see that it barely mattered that we weren't on the freeway, since I-5 traffic is moving at about the same speed we are. We get to the freeway entrance. Traffic is crawling. Nighttime construction work. Just one lane is open.
-- We entertain ourselves by trying to figure out the navigation system on our fairly-recently leased 2015 Volt almost all the way to Salem. In the process of trying to find the Address Book, which would let us put in our home address as "Home," I use voice activation to "Call Brian Hines" (me). The stupid Volt thinks I said a friend's name. He gets a cell phone call at 11:30 pm before we frantically push the "cancel" button.
-- Arrive home at midnight. Six-plus hours after leaving home. To see a three hour show. I'm exhausted. The dog gives us her best "I felt abandoned" look. We have a spoiled dog. Per usual, I tell her she's damn lucky she belongs to a retired couple who aren't off at work for ten hours almost every day. Then I feel guilty. I give her a chew stick and rub her stomach the way she likes, muttering "I'm sorry... we're such bad dog parents." Now it's 12:30 am.
OK. This was the lengthy Go See Wicked in Downtown Portland chain of events. Here's how Seeing Hair in Downtown Salem went.
-- Buy tickets online. $20 each for reserved seats. So we pay $40 for a musical instead of $200.
-- We leave home at 6:45 pm for a 7:30 pm show. Have no problem finding a free onstreet parking spot a block away.
-- I buy a snack in the Grand Theatre lobby. Costs me $1 to get a bag of Meduri dried blueberries. Pre-show restroom stop involves just me and one guy who was leaving as I entered.
-- Hair is hugely enjoyable. I feel, and later blog, "The '60s are still real."
-- We drive home. On uncrowded streets. Takes us 25 minutes. At most.
So, yeah, there's a lot to like about seeing a show in Salem, especially if you live in this area. But even if you're from Portland, or somewhere else, Salem has a lot to offer, theatrics-wise.
Check out the Salem Theatre Network on Facebook.