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

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