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Best Of 2009

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Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

Best Owners of a Local Sports Franchise

We've had our issues with the owners of the Arizona Cardinals. Mostly because Bill and Michael Bidwill fielded such lousy teams over the years. They ran the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Football League, a team that hadn't won a championship since they were the Chicago Cardinals in 1947, and hadn't made the playoffs since 1982 as the St. Louis Cardinals.

Yada, yada, they sucked. But why did they suck? Well, the answer was always the Bidwills, who were seemingly too tight-fisted to compete in the cash-happy modern NFL. There were bad drafts, bad trades; a low bottom line always seemed to be what the Bidwills relished. Over a winning season, much less making the playoffs or going to the Super Bowl. Daddy Bill always complained about having to play so long at ASU's Sun Devil Stadium, complaining that certain locals hadn't made good on a promise to build a stadium for his team.

Well, finally a new stadium was built in Glendale and, damn, if son Michael didn't hire a viable new coach a couple of seasons ago and start fielding a competitive team. Nobody can say the Bidwills are cheap anymore. Not after making starting quarterback Kurt Warner happy in the off-season with a $23 million, two-year contract; not after signing backup QB Matt Leinart in 2006 to a $51 million, six-year deal; not after giving star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald a $40 million contract renewal after the '07 season; not after signing former Ohio State running back Beanie Wells to a five-year, $11.8 million rookie deal recently.

But, most importantly, the Bidwills had smarts enough to bring in Ken Whisenhunt, the former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator, as head coach. He was a bargain at $2.5 million a year, considering that it's Whisenhunt who makes the Cardinals go. He's a coach who makes players believe and backed it up with an 8-8 season and a Super Bowl berth.

And, hey, the Cardinals not only competed in the Super Bowl but damn near won it against Whisenhunt's old team, the Steelers. And we have no reason to believe that the Cards can't do it again with Whisenhunt in charge (we know, we know — Super Bowl losers historically don't do well the next season, but the others didn't have The Whiz). Fact is, the Bidwills, with Whisenhunt's direction, have put together an even better roster than last year's. Now that they've opened up their wallets and given us a contender, we must give Bill and Michael Bidwell their due as the best owners in this desperate-for-a-winner desert.

Best Bike Gang

If you've never seen the PhoenixPhreaks in action before, just wait until the next First Friday rolls around. This roving gang of cycling psychos (who serve as the local chapter of the national Freakbike Militia) can typically be found cruising down Roosevelt Street or in the vicinity of Bikini Lounge or the Firehouse. They're as much a part of the monthly art walk as the paintings and free cheese and crackers. Speaking of masterpieces, the modified two-wheelers being piloted are works of art in their own right. Most are ordinary bikes that have been elongated and rebuilt to resemble Harley-Davidson choppers straight outta Easy Rider (if Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda were pedaling their way across the Southwest, that is). Others have been pimped up and polished in classic cherry lowrider style. Then there are the bizarre and beautiful customizations, like Allan Greenblazer's "Green Fuzzy Chopper," which (as the name implies) is covered in emerald-colored shag carpeting. We were feeling pretty green ourselves, albeit with envy, after seeing it roll past.

Best Place to See Lowriders

The annual Cruise on Central has been happening in the Valley since the 1960s, and it embraces a proud tradition of hot rods, custom cars, and pimped-out lowriders. Generally held the first Saturday in April, Cruise on Central features a variety of vintage rides, from '70s model Chevy Impalas to '67 Chevy trucks to '41 Pro Street rods. Participants meet at Park Central Mall, just south of Osborn, and proceed south on Central Avenue in a parade of classic and American muscle cars. The event is so hugely popular that it's created problems, with hundreds of people lining up across several blocks of Central Avenue and creating traffic and crowd control concerns. Luckily, the Cruise on Central is adaptable — it'll switch dates at the last minute (as it did this year, when the April 11 cruise was rained out and rescheduled for April 18), or even switch locations (this year's cruise actually happened on Jackson Street).

Best Day of the Dead Merchandise Year-Round
Purple Lizard

We've looked high and low, and Purple Lizard — a dear little boutique in west Phoenix packed with cute linen clothes, cuter bags, and spicy-sweet candles — is the only place in town we could find that is currently selling the supplies you need for Dia de los Muertos, a.k.a. Day of the Dead. Here we can stock up the supplies to make sugar skulls (molds, decorations, and the meringue power essential to getting the sugar to stick together), marigolds (the holiday's traditional flower, conveniently made here out of paper) and all manner of skeletons. Not real ones, of course, but the papier-mâché traditionally made to celebrate the dead. At Purple Lizard, you can find a larger-than-life-size lady or a classic diorama with tiny figures, as well as books, tissue paper cutouts, paintings and other items making up the most unique collection of Day of the Dead offerings we've seen anywhere.

2827 N. 15th Ave., Phoenix, 85007
MAP
602-728-0980
Best Go-Kart Racing
Speed Street Indoor Racetrack

Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like a good old-fashioned auto race. For those of us who don't own a muscle car or have the cash to try the big leagues at Bondurant, there's Speed Street Indoor Racetrack, where you can traverse a third-mile track in a bright yellow speedster with a nine-horsepower, four-stroke engine. Okay, their go-karts aren't exactly NASCAR-worthy, but if you crank one up to top speed — about 50 miles per hour — it's still pretty freaking awesome. Each kart has racing slicks for advanced traction and ROC timing to clock your speed as you make a lap, and the indoor arena is temperature-controlled to reduce those nervous sweats. We're a little wary of the happy-hour special, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Fridays, but Speed Street's waiver assures us there won't be any DUIs out on the track.

6542 W. Bell Rd., Glendale, 85308
MAP
623-334-9952
Best Indoor Rock Climbing
The Phoenix Rock Gym

Want to reach new heights but you're afraid of coming face-to-face with a rattler, scorpion, or hive of Africanized bees? Get inside. The Phoenix Rock Gym offers routes for any level climber. The Beginner's Canyon has straight vertical walls, and those without gear can rent everything they need and climb all day for under $20. More experienced? Ape up the walls of the two more technical areas of the gym, Hueco Canyon or Exit Canyon, or boulder 'til your fingers bleed. The gym offers monthly and quarterly passes, which are both reasonably priced. (For a cool $1 million, The Phoenix Rock Gym also offers a lifetime pass.)

1353 E. University Dr., Tempe, 85281
MAP
480-921-8322
Best Skateboard Park
Goodyear Skate Park

Part of a 27-acre complex that includes tennis courts, a splash pad, and athletic fields, Goodyear's Skate Park is 1,200 cubic feet of heaven for concrete surfers. There's an awesome peanut bowl for beginners, metal coping for grinders, two snake runs, and a 16-foot-high half-capsule. This being Arizona, helmets aren't required. But we feel obligated to suit up our noggins every time we go vert on the seriously wicked 16-foot-deep bowls. The city got some flak from the BMX community after bikes and scooters were banned from the park shortly after its opening in 2007. Skateboarders are happy to bogart the space, though (grudgingly, if it's alongside inline skaters). Not exactly the most sportsmanlike attitude, but, hey, once you've gotten a tire in your face while busting a nightmare flip, you'll agree.

3151 N. Litchfield Rd., Goodyear, 85395
MAP
623-882-7525
Best Indoor Shooting Gallery
Caswells

Don't be skerred that President Barack Obama will be putting a permanent safety lock on Americans' right to bear arms. You're just being paranoid and probably a little on edge. Relieve some of that pent-up anxiety at Caswells, a small-ish, 21-year-old gun range tucked inside a warehouse area near Stapley and Baseline roads in Mesa. Eleven shooting lanes, which cost $15 per person per lane, are available for rent for both the grizzled gunsmith and the firearms novice. Not packing a piece? No problem, because you can rent black-as-night Glocks that are also available for purchase through the range's "Try Before You Buy" program. Queues do tend to get long on the weekends, so you may want to fire away on a weeknight. Ladies Day, which entitles women to free range time and gun rentals, takes place Tuesdays and Fridays.

856 E. Isabella Ave., Mesa, 85204
MAP
480-497-5141
Best Outdoor Shooting Range
Usery Mountain Shooting Range

Whatever your preference, if you're into firearms, Usery Mountain is the place to go. Whether you're a beginner who wants to get comfy with a new firearm in a safe environment or a seasoned marksman, you will feel welcome at this massive outdoor shooting range. Usery Mountain's versatility is impressive. The shooting range boasts several pistol bays, clay pigeon throwers, and targets as far away as 500 yards (if you're interested in really testing your aim). Throw in range masters, who supervise the firing range at all times as well as provide safety and education, along with the fact that this shooting range is open pretty much anytime the sun is out, and there really is no competition.

3960 N. Usery Pass Rd., Mesa, 85207
MAP
480-984-9610
Best Brimstone (and Hellfire)

Beware: Final Destination, in its fourth incarnation at the Door Christian Center in Chandler, is not a traditional haunted house. If you're looking for a fun and scary activity to work in between bouts of recreational drug use, promiscuous sex, and idol worship, this "haunted house-style attraction" run by evangelical Christians is not for you. Unless, that is, you're willing to watch a doctor hold down a screaming patient during a mock abortion before going back to your normal weekend routine of smoking up a hooker (using a Bible as rolling paper) while listening to Marilyn Manson. Final Destination is, however, very well put together, with great acting, impressive production values, and passionate workers who'll do their best to save your soul. If you're a remorseless heathen who's Hell-bound anyway, or if you're maybe interested in getting saved, Final Destination makes for a pretty damned entertaining night.

Best Haunted House
Fear Farm

As Halloween season gears up, you're going to hear a lot of boasting by haunted attractions around town. Last year, we pretty much hit them all, and Fear Farm was truly the best. Sure, it's likely a haul from your own unhaunted house, but this massive indoor/outdoor experience is well worth it. Spread over a dozen or so buildings of various sizes and 25 acres of cornfield, this attraction will give you a full night of entertainment. Offering up some of the best pretend monsters in town, this old-school haunt is light on animatronics and chock-full of hair-raising scenes that are well constructed and realistic enough to make suspending disbelief easy — even for adults. Thanks to chainsaw-wielding clowns on stilts, mobile homes that are every bit as scary as you imagine a mobile home in Glendale to be, and a terrifying blood-spattered asylum, this house is first-class all the way.

2209 N. 99th Ave., Phoenix, 85037
MAP
Best Holiday Event for Kids

The holidays can be downright depressing in this cactus garden of a city. But one of our absolute gems is this annual seasonal bash, held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Part of the charm is its location, on Scottsdale Civic Center Mall, which looks the part with its well-groomed greenery. And despite the fact that it's choked with hundreds of children simultaneously trying to frolic in the real snow, get their pics snapped with Santa, make Christmas crafts, and snag the best view of the official tree-lighting, the event goes off like clockwork, year after year. (P.S.: Admission is free, and you don't have to live in Scottsdale to attend.)

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Best Owners of a Local Sports Franchise: Bill and Michael Bidwill, Arizona Cardinals

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