Best Of :: Megalopolitan Life
The closest thing to a one-stop shop of underground downtown culture is this bare-bones space carved out of an old brick building on Roosevelt. It's strictly an after-dark joint. The lights typically don't go on until 7 p.m. But once they do, the offerings are just as likely to include exhibitions by painters, sculptors and performance artists as they are performances by dancers, poets, jazz players and punk rockers. The featured artists are largely up-and-comers -- the bands are some of the primo ones on the indie music circuit. And the swarm of culture-driven people who fill the dark streets around the arthouse helps to strengthen the human beat of the old heart of the city.
Last year, the award in this category went to the city of Tempe's official Web site, which offers wide views of Mill Avenue -- about the only street in the Valley where one regularly witnesses both foot and vehicular traffic.
This year, one Mill Avenue worker bee whose office affords an unobstructed view of the intersection at Fifth Street and Mill Avenue has one-upped 'em with a camera closely focused -- 24/7, updated every 30 seconds -- on a bench just outside Cold Stone Creamery ice cream and sweet shop.
Chow down, Tempe! You're on candied camera!
Poor Dave wasn't very Smiley the day we tuned in to the New Guys morning show and heard him turn on the waterworks while reading a "Dear Dave" e-mail his girlfriend sent him. Not since the Hindenburg crash has such tear-drenched humanity dripped out over the airwaves. On hand to catch his deposits of grief was the nauseatingly reassuring Love Doctor, a Tuesday morning regular who told him it takes a strong man to cry on radio where no one can see you.
It did make the morning drive more riveting than the hackneyed "wacky" fare that he and his partner Greg Simms usually dream up (like polling listeners for "kissable news anchors," for instance), but frankly we're too cynical about radio in the year 2000 to think Smiley's weeping was anything but crocodilian in nature, especially since he snapped back into his "professional" voice so quickly you'd think Don Pardo just walked into the room.
Maybe a marketing group told him the only way to beat Dave Pratt and Howard Stern in the morning ratings was to get disaffected female listeners by becoming a sensitive weeping jock. Or maybe someone just shoved the latest Arbitron numbers under his nose and let the teardrops fall.
For one week each year, the already sex-soaked cable network MTV becomes MT&A, letting it all hang out for Spring Break, shot at some exotic location and featuring nubile college students humping and grinding and sometimes frolicking in nothing but shaving cream.
Suddenly, this year's fun in the Mexican sun was interrupted by an abstinence-only public service announcement approved by the Arizona Legislature, produced by the state Department of Health Services and funded with our tax dollars.
The ad featured head shots of a half-dozen Jennifer Aniston look-alikes, taking turns delivering the following lines:
"To all you guys out there who see me as just another sex story to brag about to your friends: reality check. You know that thing between your legs? That is not what makes you a man. Not now. Not ever. But don't worry. There's a solution for guys like you. It's called a blow-up doll. Personally, I'd rather keep my self-respect than sleep with you."
The commercial ended and the screen filled again with writhing, near-naked coeds in Cancún. Earth to Arizona Legislature: "Come again?"
Would you expect anything less than bizarre from a gallery named after two vampire antique dealers from a Stephen King novel?
Opened in early 1999 by fledgling art czars Ryan McNamara and Andy Guzzanato, Barlow & Straker is the ne plus ultra of local performance spaces -- and it rarely performs below expectations with a lineup that's wild, weird and wacky -- but rarely fathomable.
Take, for example, last year's "Squeak and Clean," a performance by Phoenix artist Angela Ellsworth and collaborator Tina Takamoto. While Ellsworth exercised for two straight hours on a NordicTrack in a gigantic exercise ball hooked up to vibrating massagers (attached to large bars of soap, no less), Takamoto simultaneously scaled a gallery wall in rock-climbing gear and made gestural drawings with her feet.
Well, maybe you had to be there. We were -- and we're still trying to figure it out.
Welcoming you to downtown's favorite live theater is a most unusual sight. There you'll find an even dozen men, women and children having a great old time dancing their days and nights away. And not a stitch of clothing on one of 'em. It must keep them young because they've been doing it for decades now and they never get any older. Since 1974, as a matter of fact. "Dance" is an installation by John Waddell that was originally in the courtyard of Phoenix Civic Plaza before moving to its current home at the Herberger. The statues are a particularly joyous bit of public artwork. They appear to be having a blast. But isn't it about time someone got them some sunscreen?
Just let other cities try to brag about theirs. Boston's ain't nothin' but beans. Philadelphia has a little tinkling bell. New York? Only a shriveled-up old apple core.
When you are talking balls, you are talking Phoenix. Not just any balls, either. We are talking big ones. Three feet tall and just as big around. And made out of solid concrete to boot. Strong enough to stand up to a desert summer without breaking a sweat.
Yup, right out in front of BOB for all the world to see. Along the corner of Fourth Street and Jefferson you'll find almost a dozen stone baseballs welcoming you to the home of the Diamondbacks. A perfect spot to grab a photo of the baseball-loving young'un on the way into the game. Are you man -- or woman -- enough to straddle 'em?
Now you can learn all the exciting ins and outs of this fabulous, high-paced career! If you want to be a model, or just gawk at one, get yourself to this copper-topped office complex, sit at an outdoor table and monitor the action!
Most afternoons, you'll see a photographer, usually with a British accent, shouting at his subject, "Great! Great! You're giving me great stuff!" You can sympathize with his numerous lackeys, buzzing around in the blazing-hot sun with huge silver screens at half-mast, forever fussing with light meters. Hopefully, you'll be in the company of some deliciously catty women who'll quickly size up the competition and snipe, "She ain't all THAT!"
Although this location no longer offers an unobstructed view of Camelback Mountain as it had in seasons past, who's gonna notice on an earring spread? They keep coming back anyway. All the better for you to hang around at a distance -- like a model busybody!
Bridges have been rising out of the ground and spanning new freeways with blurring speed in the past five years. But this one slows the eye to a memorable crawl across the landscape. Its inviting grayish profile of mountain peaks shows us what's new in galvanized chain-link fencing. And the craftsmanship that made mountains appear in this 260-foot span of woven metal is the finest we've ever seen. J&L Highway Construction, which actually formed the bridge's distinctive chain-link cage, was responsible for that. A design team of engineer Seetha Ramahia and Tempe artist Laurie Lundquist came up with the idea for the bridge. And the Phoenix Arts Commission's Percent for Art program and ADOT paid for it. The result is truly one of a kind.
Going to the dog track needn't cost you a bundle. Just grab your dead presidents and head to Phoenix Greyhound Park for one of the pup palace's legendary weekend swap meets.
Each weekend, hundreds of vendors gather to sell all the crap they couldn't unload at their garage sales -- old tools, rusty golf clubs, eight-track hi-fi's, and ancient, tube-powered Zeniths. Hundreds more vendors sell newer things like packaged socks, luggage, clothes, art and furniture -- the list is endless.
And if you don't happen to be in the market for someone else's castoffs or a 99-cent liquidation sale? Well, haggling over the price of old eight-tracks is just part of the fun.
For pure people-watching, the dog track is the flea market equivalent of Rodeo Drive. A seat near the snack bar provides a primo view of the crowd, and a live band sometimes plays background music for an hour or two. A pan flute and guitar duo recently hypnotized passers-by with soft, mellow rhythms as worn-out shoppers guzzled beer and scarfed nachos.
As the time passes, so does a passing parade of diverse humanity, the likes of which you're unlikely to assemble en masse anywhere else in town -- or at least until the state fair rolls around again. And where else in town can you gawk at the myriad forms of your fellow man while getting your ears pierced on a lawn chair?
There may be worse names for a store selling used children's clothing, but right now, none to springs to mind. Except, perhaps, Kiddie Worn -- but that would be in really poor taste, wouldn't it?
Granted, watching local politicians scarf down a BLT or digging into a caesar salad is not everyone's idea of a great time. If you, however, find yourself in this camp, hie yourself to Tom's Tavern, the pol-spangled trough that is to the Phoenix governmental set what the Brown Derby used to be to Hollywood stars.
We recently took a Valley newcomer to Tom's Tavern for lunch, promising a good chef's salad and the chance to see more big-name ballot-box celebs than you could shake a recall petition at. We were not disappointed.
Governor Jane Dee Hull lunched with state Representative John Wettaw. Hull sent the rest of her dessert tray over to state Senator Scott Bundgaard, who stopped to chat with Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan. State liquor czar Howard Adams dined on the patio, two tables over from us.
And the chef's salad? If it ever runs for election, it'll get our vote, too.