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Best Of 2004

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Best Of :: People & Places

BEST PLACE TO BUY BOOTLEG TOYS

We'll do almost anything for a dollar -- or to save one. Like recently, our relentless pursuit for bargains galore brought us to this weekly commercialism commotion sprawled across the parking lot of the Phoenix Greyhound Park for -- among other things -- toiletries and socks offered at cut-rate prices. The little one has also joined us, and his attention is quickly riveted to blue tarps laden with bootleg toys.

There are knockoffs of all shapes and sizes: classic Transformers gestalts, unusually colored Power Ranger Megazords, Gundam Wing robots, and Robotech Valkyrie jets, ready to be drafted for a living-room war against GI Joe and the Rebel Alliance. Gentle hands are required, as some of the Chinese imports are made from such shoddy plastic that they'd shatter if you looked at them incorrectly. And someone should have considered running a spell-checker before exporting these goods, as multi-packs of "Spader-Man" and "Dragoon Ball Z" action figures (complete with bastardized graphics) look a little off.

We give the young'un $20 to buy the "Power Player Super Joystick," which promises thousands of classic NES games built into a Nintendo 64 control pad and wicked-looking Sig Sauer-esque light gun to boot. It's a sturdier substitute to toys that could potentially transform from robot to implement of impalement in the blink of an eye.

On the way to the parking lot, our now-joyful charge sings "Spader-Man, Spader-Man, no one fixes pets like a spader can."

BEST CLOTHES FOR PHAT BOYS

Husky hepcats in search of fly threads or the latest in alt-rock wear at the local big and tall store usually wind up fat outta luck. Try finding a catchy club shirt that doesn't smack of tackiness -- it's an exercise in fat-boy futility. So if you're living large and look more like Jack Black than Jack White, seek out this hip-hop haberdashery that includes sizes you won't find at Hot Topic. Piles of Dickies slacks and Levi jeans fitting up to a 66 waist size practically overflow from the close-quarter shelves, and short-sleeve Western shirts up to 10X crowd together on circular racks. The joint's also got ghetto-fabulous gear with brands like Ecko and Enyce for sale -- not to mention formal wear in shades so ostentatious they'd make Andre 3000 proud. Forget about a five-finger discount, unless you want to join the Polaroid rogues' gallery of shoplifters hanging by the front door. It's all good, especially since bargains abound and 40 percent-off sales are so common that when you depart, your wallet remains fat and your style stays phat.

BEST PLACE TO PIMP YOUR RIDE

Hey, couch potato, flip off MTV and make your own dream come true. If you're looking to boost your Mack Daddy attack arsenal, Big Boyz Toys is your artillery headquarters. Big Boyz Toys boosts the bad-ass factor with a full line of custom body kits and graphics, dash accessories, lights and interior add-ons. They can dress up your engine with color wire looms, hose sleeves and oil caps, install custom Euro taillights, fog lights or conversion headlights, and slap some flames on the hood. Big Boyz Toys also offers a full line of custom wheels to wrap around your hubs, including König, Motegi, Arospeed, and Primax. (Yes, you can even get those cool shiny hubcaps that keep spinning when you're parked, for perpetual pimpin' motion.) They've also got a phat selection of wings and spoilers, and a full line of speed and performance products, including race oils, battery extenders, underdrive pulleys, adjustable fuel pressure regulators, and nitrous oxide systems. Just keep an eye on that glow-in-the-dark speed gauge -- you can buy some custom shift knobs or designer seat-belt shoulder straps for the price of a speeding ticket.

Readers' Choice: Soundwerks

BEST SHRINE

Driving the streets of Phoenix doesn't seem so mundane when we pass through the intersection of 12th Street and McDowell. Since 2000, a shrine made up of three white wooden crosses has been lovingly maintained on the dirt lot across the street from Banner Good Samaritan Hospital, honoring three teenagers who died there on a summer evening when a drunken driver barreled into their car.

On any given day, the shrine is decorated with flowers, stuffed animals and other mysterious trinkets, or festooned with bright Mylar balloons marking yet another birthday where, once again, the guest of honor is absent. We see shrines along busy streets all the time, all over town, of course, but none so carefully tended -- and for so long. The flowers and other decorations are always fresh.

And so is the thought, each time we drive by, that you can die in the shadow of an enormous hospital.

BEST PLACE TO LOSE A PAYCHECK THIS SIDE OF VEGAS
Casino Arizona at Talking Stick

Ever since the drive to Las Vegas got speedier when U.S. 60 went four-lane, local cardsharps have had more of a reason to skip town for Sin City. But why risk becoming another roadside cross when the Salt River Pimas have all sorts of ways to separate you from your weekly wages? With two casinos within a 30-minute drive from downtown Phoenix, you're just the kind of chap or chick who'd be an ace at improving the tribe's bottom line. True, Vegas has showstopping entertainers, but get enough $3 beers into you, and even Beatlemania Live will start resembling the real Fab Four.

You've probably been jonesing for an opportunity to practice your Texas Hold 'Em skills ever since watching all those World Series of Poker reruns on ESPN2, so stop off at Talking Stick -- where there's also Omaha and 7 Card Stud to be had. Two rules to remember, high roller: System players go broke systematically, and the house always wins. So when the flop doesn't go your way for the nth time, head down the 101. The main digs await, where 30 blackjack tables (from $5 to $250), 1,500 multidenominational slots and keno lounge will help buy you a one-way ticket to Tap City, population: you.

9700 E. Indian Bend Rd., Scottsdale, 85256
MAP
480-850-7777
BEST WAY TO PICK UP SOME CASH

Ever wonder why that solid antiperspirant works so well? Because some kind, sweaty soul was willing to try it out for you first, to guarantee it won't cause a heinous rash in a hard-to-reach spot. He got a few bucks for his time, and so can you. Hill Top Research, a national product-testing firm, has a location in Scottsdale, and it's looking for people to test moisturizers, shampoos, cosmetics and, yes, antiperspirants and deodorants. Be warned -- or, rather, warn your friends and family: Guinea pigs have to go through a "washout" period first, during which you're not allowed to use any sweat/stench-preventing products.

You probably won't get stinking rich, and you might end up with that aforementioned rash.

Or you just might come out smelling like a rose.

3225 N. 75th St., Scottsdale, 85251-6909
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BEST PLACE TO BUY BOOTLEG TOYS: American Park 'N Swap at Phoenix Greyhound Park

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