972_2925Tonight’s Sunday Evening Video is a travelogue of my recent trip to Chicago. Some of you may remember that, three years ago, your PopCulteer snuck off to Chicago to wed his longtime love, Melanie Larch. Our third anniversary was actually August 26, but to celebrate this year we decided to head back to the city of wind a week early so that Mel could see one of her acting heroes, Amy Morton, in the play, Hir, which was due to close just before our anniversary.

We’ve been returning to Chicago two or three times a year since our wedding, and we do love the place. It’s vital, invigorating and we never stay long enough to start to hate it. On this trip we hit up a few of our favorite places, Steppenwolf Theater, where we saw Hir (and where we got married), Quake Collectibles, Rotofugi, Laurie’s Planet of Sound. We also made some new stops, like Three Dots and a Dash, American Science Surplus and Blick Art Supplies.

I decided to make a video slideshow this time because since one of the blogging software updates a year or two back, I can’t really post the long photo essays that used to be  PopCult trademark. So now, even though I really sort of hate slideshows (as a reader I prefer to linger over the pictures that interest me), I slapped together a video, and I have to admit that it came out pretty good.

hirAs for the trip, it was fantastic. Hir is a remarkable play that is very hard to describe. I called it a “slapstick tragedy” at one point. It’s a very hilarious play about broken people badly hurting each other. Afterward, you sort of feel bad for laughing so much. The performances were amazing. We saw Amy Morton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf a few years ago at Arena Stage in Washington DC, before that production began its Tony-Award-winning run on Broadway, so we knew she’d be incredible. Francis Guinan was just exceptional in role that had to be difficult to figure out.

Em Grosland and Ty Olwin rounded out the small cast, and each actor was at the top of their game. The play itself is hard to describe without giving away too much. An Iraqi vet is dishonorably discharged and returns home to find utter chaos. His father has suffered a stroke. His former sister is transitioning and requests the use of new pronouns, “ze” and “hir.” His mother has stopped doing anything resembling housework and as a result the house is a complete mess.

This is a family that is so far beyond dysfunctional that, even though the situations often are so funny that you can’t help but laugh, the play winds up in a very dark, gut-wrenching place. It was an outstanding production of a very gutsy play. After the play Mel actually got to meet Ms. Morton and they had a very pleasant exchange about acting.

966_4476We also made it to Three Dots and a Dash, one of the country’s most acclaimed Tiki Bars. Since neither of us drink, we didn’t really know what to expect, but what we got was so much fun that this Tiki Poser can’t wait to return on our next visit. They had no problem making alcohol-free versions of their signature cocktails, and the food was just terrific. I had a “virgin” Jet Pilot (ginger ale, bitters and cinnamon) and Thai fried chicken, and it was fantastic. The ambiance was superbly sublime and the service impeccable.

We always have fun in Lincoln Square, visiting Quake Collectibles, Laurie’s Planet of Sound, Merz Apothecary, Enjoy: An Urban General Store, and Geddings Park. On this trip we made it a point to ride the “L” more often that we had previously, and wound up in a cool area, near Millenium Park, that includes Blick Art Materials, Graham Cracker Comics and Reckless Records (where I managed to score the one Record Store Day release I wanted that managed to elude me when we were in Chicago back in April).

966_4409I always do my best to build up and support the local scene here in Charleston, but it’s refreshing, after years of toiling as a caregiver, to finally have the chance to travel and see how other cities balance their cultural side with everyday life. Despite the ridiculously bad rap that Chicago gets in the press, we always feel safe there. The Loop and various commercial districts seem safer to me than many parts of Charleston. I know that the panhandlers in Charleston are far worse and much more aggressive than in Chicago.

It’s nice to visit some place and come back with fresh ideas on how we could make things better here. Bicycles are a big deal in Chicago, but that’s because the city is flat, and people will actually take advantage of bike lanes and public bike systems like Divvy. Charleston would be well-served to concentrate more on improving and expanding their mass-transit service than on wasting resources on bike lanes that are only going to be used by a small fraction of the population, and only in good weather. We rode the “L” extensively on this trip with no trepidation. You couldn’t pay me to get on a KRT bus.

There are a lot of wonderful things in Chicago that are only possible because of the population density. I can’t see Charleston supporting a Tiki Bar like Three Dots and a Dash. We simply don’t have enough people who are willing to patronize such a cool place often enough to make it economically viable.

Of course, Charleston has its advantages too. There are entire sections of Chicago that we avoid because we don’t want to be shot on sight. While population density is nice, it’s also cool to be able to go to a first-run theater on a weekend matinee, and have the place to yourself. And driving in Chicago is not something any sane person would want to do on a regular basis. We love going there, but we also love coming home.

Anyway, we had a blast. I didn’t take nearly as many photos or shoot as much video as I normally do, because this was our anniversary trip. I hope you get a kick out of the travelogue, and get ready for more videos like this in the future, because while I prefer posting lots of still photos, the blogging interface does not like it when I do that.