Best Of :: People & Places
But for her long, black mane and the constant chirping, buzzing, and tweeting of her social-networking accoutrements, you could mistake good-time girl Raven Valdes for a film noir minx. With her exotic dress and carriage, she seems out of another time. The irony, of course, is that she's the very definition of her linked-in age.
The 50-year-old divorced mother of a 10-year-old son has been throwing professionally engineered parties in the Valley since 2004. Thanks to their creative themes and Valdes' innate knack(s) for marketing and detail work — not to mention her 10,000-plus-member database — Raven's dialed-in events draw nightlife crowds that are half the native Texan's age, though her target demo tends more toward business-casual folks in their 30s and 40s. And Raven herself is a core attraction; she personally hosts each gathering, and you'll find her at the center of things, holding court in the eye of the storm.
Her staples are business mixers, happy hours, and charitable events, but several times a year, Raven lets down her jet-black hair and unleashes something massive, like her annual Red Light District Costume Ball at the Wrigley Mansion. Last May's edition featured music by Nineball and DJ Old School, a costume contest, celebrity MCs Amber M. and Amber B. of the Bad Girls Club, and pole-dancing lessons courtesy of the PussyCats Pole Dance Company.
Sound like fun? In classic Valdes style, it was hellacious merriment disguised as a fundraiser for domestic-violence shelters.
That's so Raven.
Though nobody knows her real name, "Cake Lady," as downtowners have affectionately dubbed her, continues to contribute to central Phoenix lore. In short, there's a woman about town who occasionally shows up at gatherings (a music performance, an art exhibit) looking for free stuff, especially cake. The consensus is that she reads New Times (a smart woman, indeed) and then calls ahead to inquire about the possibility of free goodies. She's been spotted only a couple of times, including years ago at a birthday party at the now-defunct Paper Heart, where she briefly showed up, then dashed out the door with a bunch of cake to go. Hey, Cake Lady, share some next time!
Yes, you're reading that right. No, we're not heat-addled.
Summer in Phoenix rules.
We first noticed this seeming contraction one day several years ago when all the traffic on Indian School Road dried up. Poof! It was like a scene from I Am Legend or Vanilla Sky. And it made us ponder the other positives of a season in which temps can hit the 120s in the shade and you can get a third-degree burn on your butt just by getting in your car.
The sunsets. The storms. The long light of evenings. The short lines at our favorite hangs. The full-moon hikes. The abundant parking at Piestewa Peak. The pool parties. The misters. The cheap resort rates. The free Sunday-afternoon films at the Phoenix Art Museum.
More than specific pleasures, though, our late-blooming appreciation of Phoenix summer has to do with the sense of inclusion we feel from Memorial Day through late September. For 120-odd days, it's our town — not the fifth-largest city in America. It feels like a community.
It's hot, but it's home.
It was weird, right? This year, summer didn't really start 'til July. Sure, we had a hot day here and there, but any true Phoenician knows to brace for the heat starting in, oh, March. Not so in 2009, and June was particularly balmy. If you don't believe us, check out the stats: We haven't had this many days under 100 in the month of June (only 13!) since 1927. Which only made July the cruelest month — when, as if on cue, the temperature soared.
Here at New Times, we know maps. We've spent countless hours trying to assemble them for our own various purposes. That's why we have such an appreciation for the Small Wonders map, published by Local First Arizona, designed to promote local businesses in both central/downtown Phoenix and Tempe. Consider this our thank you note for the labor of love it took to create these fold-out, easy-to-use, eye-pleasing guides to our favorite stuff in the city. It was surely no small feat to produce them.
Depending on whom you ask, the year-old Metro light rail may or may not be the most over-hyped project in Phoenix history. But no matter what you think of the billion-dollar (and counting!) project, you have to admit the view of the Phoenix skyline from the bridge going over Tempe Town Lake is pretty amazing, especially at dusk. From the confines of the always overpacked or nearly empty train car, you get a glimpse of Phoenix at its best. The downtown towers reach ever higher, their steady ascent seemingly fueled by the mysterious desert waters around you, but they never quite catch their backdrop, South Mountain. As the copper-colored star fades into the purplish haze of an Arizona sunset, even the most curmudgeonly rail-hater has to be impressed by the beautiful scene framed through the windows of this ambitious transportation project.