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Best Of 2008

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Best Of :: People & Places

Best Valley Political Moment

We didn't think much of Barack Obama's chances of becoming president before he arrived at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix on January 30. Because of one major obstacle: He's black. But Obama's like a lot of rock stars we've seen in our time — you don't really get him until you witness him onstage. It was such an experience at the coliseum that afternoon, when upwards of 20,000 people showed up to take in the Illinois U.S. senator and first serious African-American presidential candidate. Caroline Kennedy was there, so was Governor Janet Napolitano — up there on the dais with Obama, surrounded by screaming fans as Stevie Wonder played on the P.A.

What struck us about Obama was his cool as he riffed with the audience for an hour or so. No notes, no jitters, no sweat. In fact, we wonder whether he even sweats when he famously plays basketball games with campaign staff. This day, he bantered about hope, change, kindness, toughness, inclusion of all Americans in the system (the usual stuff), but it wasn't what he said that mattered. It was the style in which he said it.

He was the kind of speaker who won over voters that day with his elegant tone, the kind of speaker who thrilled the converted with his movie-star orations, the kind of speaker who didn't threaten the older white folks in the audience. President 50 Cent he wouldn't be. Past black presidential candidates, like Jesse Jackson, come across as insufferable hotheads compared to him; John McCain comes across as an insufferable hothead next to him.

It was if he were having an after-dinner conversation with us over a glass of brandy and a cigar, only there were many thousands of us, from floor to rafters. We felt reassured that he was somebody of substance, a characteristic we had questioned of this first-term senator before that moment. By the time we'd left, if we hadn't been jaded members of the press who needed to maintain our (um) objectivity, we would've admitted that Obama seemed wise beyond his political years, that he had charisma unseen in presidential politics since Ronald Reagan or JFK. We came away from the rally with the unspoken sentiment that we wouldn't want to be John McCain. Even then, it was clear that Barack Hussein Obama (despite the unfortunate middle name) possesses something Arizona's experienced senior senator will never have: commanding flair.

Best Place to Dress Like a Freak
Easley's Fun Shop

If you've ever felt the overwhelming need to be the center of attention (and the gaping stares of other people don't bother you), then visit Easley's Fun Shop. The Valley's most renowned costume store is a veritable freak factory, with hundreds of crazy getups within its yellow walls, not to mention the wacky wigs, madcap masks, and other outrageous accessories. Want to shock your friends on Halloween? Rent the "evil clown" ensemble. Got a gonzo costume party to go to? Slip on a pimp costume and also grab a John F. Kennedy mask for some wry political satire. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination, bub, because sometimes it's more fun being a freak show than seeing a freak show.

509 W. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 85003
MAP
602-271-9146
Best Bygone Theme Park
Legend City

Considering the way our city has expanded over the past few decades, with people relocating from other states, sometimes it's hard to tell who was born here from those who've moved here. We've figured out a surefire way of determining who's a native and who's a Johnny-come-lately: Ask them about Legend City. Only true OG's born and raised in the PHX will remember going to the Valley's version of Disneyland, which was located near 56th and Washington streets on the border of Phoenix and Tempe from 1963 until it was felled by a wrecking ball in the early '80s. The joyous joint was filled with themed areas devoted to Arizona's Wild West history and culture, like Indian Country and Boom Town.

We've got childhood memories of bombing around the park, lining up for the spookiness of the Lost Dutchman Mine ride, floating down the River of Legends, or spinning around on the Krazy Kups until we were green in the face. Our first chance to meet Wallace and Ladmo also came at Legend City, as the hosts of the renowned local children's show were regular visitors, holding a live stage show weekly and handing out their coveted and candy-filled Ladmo Bags. Thankfully, the park lives on through Web sites (www.legend-city.com) and even its own MySpace page (www.myspace.com/legendcity), where former patrons leave loving devotions, like the one from a dude who wrote, "Legend City is truly legendary." Word.

Best High-Flying Book Cover
<i>The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death</i>

Technically, Laurie Notaro moved away from Phoenix years ago. Yet she keeps coming back, usually in the form of her essays and fiction, now found in seven books — with more to come. In her latest, Flaming Tantrum of Death, Notaro proves you can judge a book by its cover (we always love her covers) particularly if you read the subtitle: "Reflections on revenge, germophobia, and laser hair removal." That's quite a trapeze act, we think. And obviously Notaro thought the same, given her cover art.

Best Political Sideshow
Maricopa County's attempt to prosecute <i>New Times</i>

Fuzzy hair, bulbous nose, comically pompous, attorney Dennis Wilenchik had all the makings of a clown even before he pulled out ethical stops and went after New Times. As Sheriff Joe Arpaio's well-paid attorney on the taxpayers' dime, Wilenchik had learned from the harlequin-supreme. Nobody sports a bulbous red nose and a potbelly, while acting the fool, better than ol' Joke.

Even before Wilenchik put his big clown shoe in his own mouth in the New Times case and a judge put her stiletto up his ass, it was as if Joe were conducting clown college and Dennis was star student. Wilenchik went after Joe foe Dan Saban with the vengeance of Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight, trying to get him fired from his job, bringing up Arpaio's smear campaign against Saban to practically anybody who'd listen. (It was right out of Arpaio's playbook.) Denny was all about extra-legal activities only tangentially related to his defense against a slander lawsuit Saban filed against the sheriff because of the bogus smear. That Wilenchik won that suit on technicalities must have emboldened him to take up his buffoonish mentor's cause against the alternative newspaper-thorn in the sheriff's backside.

We can just imagine him popping his suspenders with glee when ringmaster Andy Thomas asked him to enter the bit tent and attempt to tame New Times. The problem here was that County Attorney Thomas was asking Wilenchik to go into the lion's cage with whip and chair, and he was but a pitiful clown, prone to clown-like antics — such as trying to influence the presiding judge over the New Times case and ordering the arrests of the paper's owners for writing a story a story about abusive grand jury subpoenas he'd issued from a grand jury that didn't actually exist.

The capper was that the subpoenas demanded not only NT journalists' notes and communications regarding Arpaio, but the Internet-viewing habits of readers who'd clicked on the paper's coverage of the withered law-clown. All perfectly fine in the funny-haired world in which he and Arpaio reside, but unwise when handling big cats. He was reprimanded by the judge, and fired as special prosecutor by his beloved ringmaster — after public opinion took a big bite out of both their bozo asses. Raar! The result is that Wilenchik and Thomas are under investigation by the Arizona Bar Association, and we hope that these scary scaramouches get a good legal whacking. Now that would be funny.

Best Roller Coaster
Desert Storm at Castles-n-Coasters

If any of your candy-ass, 'fraidy-cat friends are too terrified by the Desert Storm's towering appearance to consider riding the 90-foot-high roller coaster (the biggest in the state), tell 'em the ride lasts only about a minute and a half, from start to finish. A mere 90 seconds. About as much time as it takes to nuke a microwave burrito. Although you may wanna skip over the part about how there probably won't be any time to be scared, as they'll likely be too busy screaming their lungs out in terror while zooming along 2,000 feet of steel track (including the initial drop of 85 feet) and blasting through two vertical loopty-loops at around 50 miles per hour. With that whole "nothing to fear but fear itself" thing going on, the less they know, the better. Besides, once they've busted their cherry and ridden it at least once, we're sure they'll be hopping back in line to go again.

9445 N. Metro Parkway E., Phoenix, 85051
MAP
602-997-7575
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Best Valley Political Moment: Barack Obama at the Coliseum

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