Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

What I Did On My Winter Vacation

The PopCulteer
December 16, 2022

Okay, so technically it’s not Winter yet, but a week ago today your humble blogger and Mrs. PopCulteer, Mel Larch, began our day by hopping off the Amtrak Cardinal in Charleston, after having spent almost a week in Chicago.

This was a big deal because we haven’t been to our favorite city since right before the pandemic hit, and we haven’t been able to go for Mel’s birthday since 2019.

This year we were determined to go, and we managed to cram in enough cool stuff to make the trip blogworthy. So blogworthy was this trip that I am going to tempt fate and see how many photos I can cram into a single post. I’ve  had issues with this since moving to our new location, but I’m feeling lucky (plus I’ve stopped updating the old Gazette-Mail version of PopCult, so I don’t have to worry about the nagging  cross-compatibility issues). Tell me in the comments if the photos take too long to load.

And yes, we are both fully vaxxed and boosted and we wore masks everywhere we went. If you have a problem with that, drop me a personal line so I can tell you where to shove your opinions.

We arrived in Chicago on Saturday, December 3, and spent most of the day resting up for the coming activity-filled trip.

Sunday morning we got up early so Mel could take in Prince: The Immersive Experience, which was happening a block or two from our hotel. This is a new immersive exhibit, created by the folks who did the Immersive Van Gogh thing. Mel’s a big fan of Prince and really wanted to go.

I am not a big fan of Prince. I really like a couple of albums he did in the mid-1980s, but he’s not high on my list of musicians that I’d like to be immersed in, so I volunteered to wrangle Mel’s puffy coat and sit in a comfy chair, people-watching in the Shoppes at Northbridge, while Mel took in the show.

Mel enjoyed it and supplied the photos you see. I enjoyed not seeing it. So it was a win-win.

Kevin Webb and Caitlin Jackson

Later Sunday afternoon we hopped on the L to the Chopin Theater to catch a really wild and innovative production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This took place in the basement theater in a room with a tiny stage and regular-chair seating. They only had a four-piece orchestra to tackle Sondheim’s epic horror musical, and the stage was smaller than most wrestling rings.

Kokandy Productions did an amazing job here, foregoing the usual stagecraft and creating a minimalist world that was still totally engrossing. As Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett, Kevin Webb and Caitlin Jackson led a cast of amazing singers and actors who brought the musical to life.

Aside from the shots of the outside and the cool underground lobby at The Chopin that you see below, the photos here are swiped from the website. I’m not going to take photos during a production. Kudos to director, G. “Max” Maxin IV, for assembling an extremely talented cast and designing such a wonderful and unique production.

The Chopin, one of Chicago’s many cool storefront theaters.

We waited in the lobby in the basement theater (The Chopin also has an upstairs theater). It really is a fantastic, intimate performance space.

A promo photo showing off the tiny stage, surrounded by seats on all sides, and with a turntable in the middle that was used to great effect.

Sadly, the show closes Sunday, after an extended run, so if you want to see it, you’d best get moving. And bring a mask. The audience gladly wore theirs during the show.

Monday morning we made our way to Daley Plaza for Christkindlmarket. The Picasso stood watch as the crowds poured in.

Hot Chocolate and pretzels were consumed, and we bought lots of new ornaments at Frank’s. Below you see a tiny sampling of what they had to offer.

We have reached a point of our ornamosity that we have to rotate which things we put on our tree each year, but these things look so cool, how can we resist them? We are not alone. Look at that line to get in at the right…

Like I said, here’s just a taste of the ornamentary…

You seriously do have to file through the Frank's Ornament House booth single-file.

You seriously do have to file through the Frank’s Ornament House booth single-file.

“Look at that one!” loudly exclaimed finger-pointy in my shot man.

Yes, they even sell New York City ornaments in Chicago.

Boid Oinamints! A whole flockin’ flock of boid oinamints!

They even have ornaments for fans of The Who.

After swimming amongst the huddled masses in Christmasland, we did some more shopping, including a pilgrimmage to the new location of Blick Art Materials.

The new place to shop in Chicago for people who art a lot.

Monday evening was spent resting up and enjoying real Chicago Tavern Pizza (none of that deep-dish stuff for us) in the hotel room whilst watching wrestling.

Tuesday was a bit of a busy day. In the morning we grabbed a cab to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, as you can see below.

Entering the lobby is even cool at MSI

Newly refurbished since our last visit is the famous Pioneer Zephyr, the first diesel locomotive, which set speed records and inspired movies. Visitors can walk through the entire train, including the legendary observation deck.

We also checked out MSI’s collection of actual working space vehicles.

They even let us take one to the moon, just to piss off Elon Musk.

Dat Astronaut.

The main reason we went was to see a new exhibit, one scheduled to run through next year, devoted to Mold-A-Rama. There was a room filled with four working Mold-A-Rama machines, hundreds of the waxy plastic toys that come out of those machines and even some of the actual molds.

Yep. This was why we went to MSI on this trip.

It was like crossing the threshold into heaven.

This one makes a robot.

I could just spend hours staring at this stuff.

In case you ever wondered where dinosaurs came from.

This stuff belongs in a museum, I tells ya.

The walls were covered with informational blurbs and cool trivia. And yes, we did shoot video. However, it’s unlikely that we’ll have time to edit and post it until next week, at the earliest.

Tuesday evening saw us hopping on The L again to go to The Loop, specifically we went to The Harold Washington Library where we listened to an hour-plus talk by Penn Jillette, talking about his new novel, Random (as recommended in The 2022 PopCult Gift Guide).

Penn Jillette, of course, is the talking half of the magic duo, Penn & Teller. He also updated us all on how Teller is doing following his recent heart surgery. The news is good as Teller is recovering ahead of schedule and is champing at the bit to get back to work.

Penn also took questions from the audience, and following that, signed copies of his book.

Penn & Meller.

Then we made our way back to the hotel for another night’s rest in preparation for Mel’s birthday.

Mel’s birthday on Wednesday begain with a quick stop at Front Bar at Steppenwolf, where they unfortunately do not have the Rainbow cake anymore. Still it was nice to visit the place where we got married, and we knew we could get Mel’s Rainbow cake close to the hotel.

From Steppenwolf we made our way to the designer toy store, Rotofugi, where we saw tons of cool stuff and spent too much money.

Coolness, art and toys. What more could you ask for?

Despite my age, I still get overly enthusastic about brightly-colored bits of plastic.

It’s just the coolest place on Earth.

And a quick walk to the L station at Diversey, and a short ride later, we were in Lincoln Square, home of Merz Apothecary, Enjoy an Urban General Store, Laurie’s Planet of Sound, Giddings Plaza, and Quake Collectibles.

I still find it amazing that the owner of Quake still recognizes me, even after three years have passed since I’ve been in his store.

And Quake is also a cool store, one I would’ve spent way more money in if we hadn’t had limited space to carry stuff back on the train.

The Christmas tree at Giddings Plaza. About thirty feet behind where I was standing where I took this photo was where I videotaped the band, Tautologic, for Radio Free Charleston.

That took a while, but we made sure to get back to the hotel before 4 PM, so that Mel could get her Rainbow cake from The Goddess and The Baker.

The cake is NOT a lie!

A couple of hours later we were back on The L and on our way to Wrigleyville, where they have a second Christkindlmarket. As seen below.

You have to admit, it looks cooler at night.

Even the people aimlessly milling about look Christmas-y.

The Christmas tree at the Wrigley Field Christkindlmarket. Simply perfect. And big, too.

On the way back to the hotel, we hit Michigan Avenue, saw the Water Tower, and visited the new It’Sugar store.

It’s always cool to see one of the few major landmarks in the country that has a Cards Against Humanity vending machine inside.

IT’SUGAR is a really cool, huge candy store…less cool if you’re on a diet, though. This moved in to the former location of The Disney Store on Michigan Avenue.

It’s colorful and cool inside.


By then we were dead on our feet, so we went back to the hotel room, did some preliminary packing for the trip back, and slept the sleep of the dead.

Thursday we checked out of the hotel, had them watch our bags, and went on one last ride through The Loop on The L to kill time before our train home was to leave. Further time was killed having lunch at Aloha Poke, and then we got our bags and headed to Union Station, where we began our journey home.

It was a great, fun, whirlwind of a trip, and even though we remained masked for the whole trip (except when it was just us), it was nice to get back somewhat to our pre-pandemic urban adventuring. We had a great time. Mel had a great birthday, and we can’t wait to go back.

And that is this week’s PopCulteer. I’ve tried cramming more photos in this post than I have in years, so I hope I don’t break the internet. There is some video coming, but I haven’t had time to even look at the footage yet.

Check PopCult for all our regular features and fresh content every day.

1 Comment

  1. Thomas H. Wheeler

    Oh, wow, what a trip! I’m rather envious here. So much cool stuff that I would’ve enjoyed seeing, as well. Blick Art Materials sounds very interesting, Quake Collectibles and Rotofugi look great, the Chicago Museum of Science looks fascinating, and who doesn’t love Mold-A-Rama? The ornaments store looks like a lot of fun, too! Glad you had the chance to make this trip, and thanks for sharing!

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