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Best Of :: People & Places

Hero Worship

See: a video interview with Sam.

My old friend Sam has a favorite quote: "If you're not the hero of your own story, then you're in the wrong story."

If that doesn't make you reevaluate your life's choices, try spending a half-hour with Sam.

Sam — just Sam; no last name — is a beautiful woman. Petite and slim with rich brunette hair, I've rarely seen her wear a stitch of makeup. She's constantly moving and animates conversations by swaying her arms, curling her fingers, or leaning in to squeeze your arm.

She's got a lot to say, so it's lucky she's so good at expressing herself.

She runs Detour Company, a theater troupe for adults with developmental and other challenges. With a passion for movement, Sam loves dance and theater and became obsessed with American Sign Language, a language she says is "like speaking Italian with your hands." Sam worked at the Phoenix School for the Deaf for many years and still uses American Sign Language to interpret at Gammage Auditorium. She has two children whom she raised as a single mother. Her daughter Becky, 31, shares her mother's love of the stage and has been a dancer her entire life. Her son Christopher, 33, is also a performer and, in many ways, has inspired Sam's life work.

Christopher suffered extensive brain damage at birth. When Sam found out, Christopher was just 2 years old. She was alone in a room with six specialists who told her he should be institutionalized.

The doctors said he would never be able to communicate. The doctors said he would never catch a ball with two hands. And they said she'd never be able to take him to a restaurant better than McDonald's.

"I choose not to believe those limitations," was her response to the experts. Then she walked out of the room.

Yep, she's awesome.

Today, Christopher is one of the actors with Detour. He communicates verbally, can catch a ball with two hands, frequents restaurants that serve more than fast food, and regularly draws standing ovations at Detour's performances.

I've known Sam all my life. Somehow, even with her insane schedule of raising kids and working, Sam found time to make friends. My mother was one of them. They were single moms together and I know they kept one another sane.

Her résumé aside, the woman is warm, loving, and over-the-top gushy — but she's not afraid to play hardball when she has to. She's my hero. — Lilia Menconi

New Times assistant Night & Day editor Lilia Menconi believes in two things: the arts and helping others. She interviewed Sam on August 18 at Sam's home in Phoenix.

I live in Phoenix because this is where I landed.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a ballerina.

While I'm driving, I talk to my daughter.

Phoenix could use more opportunities for adults with disabilities and other challenges.

Phoenix could use less egocentric thinking that they have the answer. We need to open our hearts just a tad more.

My favorite part of my work is I tell people that a play is called a play because it's play.

I'm surprised when there's enough time to do everything I want in a day.

If I were a character in a play, I would be a character from a revue and I would have to be a whole bunch of characters. If I could be a person that I saw on stage that I most admired — that one I could tell you in a second — I would be Maya Angelou. She's the most gracious person I ever saw take to the stage.

My favorite word is yes.

My least favorite word is no . . . and that gets me into trouble.

My heroes are my son and my daughter because they gave me roots and wings. Christopher keeps me attached to this earth and my daughter encourages me to fly.

Right before I go to bed, I always say my prayers.

Best Art in a Cigarette Machine
The Art-o-mat Machine, at Vision Gallery

Want an original piece of art but can't afford the hefty price tag? Enter the Art-o-mat, a restored vintage cigarette machine that poops out handcrafted art pieces as if they were gumball-machine trinkets. The project began in 1997, when North Carolina artist Clark Whittington displayed his black-and-white photos like old-school ciggies. People loved them so much that the display became a permanent fixture and the idea blossomed into a national network of machines (though this is the only one in Arizona). Pop your cash in the slot, pull the old-timey plastic knob and out comes a work of art from the project's huge roster. Most are pretty amusing. Recent sightings at the slick chrome machine include Bearded Bunnies by William Hessian, Victorian vignettes, and Julie Graces' "Peep Show" secret spy mini-telescopes. You're obviously not going to get a Van Gogh-quality oil painting here, but for $5, any piece of art better than a line drawing is a steal.

10 E. Chicago St., Chandler, 85225
Best Way to Get Around Old Town Scottsdale

Those Christian Louboutin kicks looked damn cute when you saw them on sale at Barney's — and even cuter when you wore 'em — but honestly, that's hardly practical footwear for an evening of walking around Old Town. Easy on the eyes, murder on the feet. Since your pocketbook's emptier than Lady Gaga's head, following your latest shoe-gasm, we've got a suggestion that's equally chic and cheap: Hop aboard one of the four Bunny Rides street-legal golf carts puttering from club to club. Operated by entrepreneur Aaron Lipson, these eight-passenger rides provide complimentary jaunts (although tips are appreciated) from 7 p.m. until 3 a.m. every Thursday through Saturday night. Decorated in electric pink livery and pumping out Top 40 tracks via built-in stereos, Bunny Rides are hard to miss, even after dark. Lipson's crew cruises a service area encompassing Old Town (which stretches south from Chaparral to Thomas roads, and east between 68th Street and Hayden Road), which means schlepping slews of drunken divas and dudes to danceterias, as well as back to nearby hotels. "People get loud and crazy, girls show their boobs, you name it," Lipson says. "It's like a party on wheels." Some caveats: They won't take you home, and those appearing to be overintoxicated aren't permitted to ride. "We don't wanna get sued if people fall out," he says. Besides, why risk the chance of scuffing up your $500 babies? Reach Bunny Rides at 602-405-2106.

Best Humbling Fact
Phoenix is short.

We've long thought Phoenix's skyline was pretty — if a little odd. Why do there appear to be two downtowns, and why does one lone skyscraper — the building formerly known as the Dial Tower — rise up from the earth between them? Then we learned something about our skyline that got us asking another question. Why are we so short? Here's a telling fact: At 483 feet, Chase Tower is Arizona's tallest building. Okay, maybe that number doesn't mean anything to you, so let's put it in perspective. Arkansas has a building that's 546 feet high. We're talking about Arkansas, the land of Walmart and rampant shoelessness. Actually, such less-urbanized and less-populous states as Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Nebraska all have buildings taller than the biggest and best of Arizona. Chase Tower wouldn't be one of the 20 tallest buildings in Texas, and that state isn't exactly known for passionate urban planning. Actually, of the country's 10 largest cities, only San Jose, California, has a tallest building shorter than Chase Tower, and, let's be honest: No one knows how or why San Jose is one of the country's 10 largest cities.

201 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 85004
Best Phoenix History Lesson
Phoenix Retro Spectacular at Phoenix Metro Retro

As a former New Yorker who's lived in the Valley for a decade, Marshall Shore may know a lot more about Phoenix history than most natives. Like the fact that Mr. Lucky's was intended to be Arizona's first casino or that Wayne Newton was a regular performer at Bill Johnson's Big Apple. Shore, who calls himself an information curator, deals hour-long doses of local lore each month at the Phoenix Retro Spectacular. For a fiver, listeners and fellow tale-tellers can sip wine and lounge on vintage furniture at Phoenix Metro Retro while Shore, through stories and images, shares his understanding of Phoenix antiquity and the importance of saving it.

708 W. Hazelwood St., Phoenix, 85013
Best Photo Opportunity

Photo booths are always cool, like black T-shirts and motorcycles. They practically invite rebellion, so we give ourselves permission to act up. We contort our bodies with those of our friends and family as we try to get everyone in the frame. In short, we ham it up. So what could be better than a traveling photo booth? Enter Mr. Fun Booth, where you can take as many digital pictures as you like with a nifty remote control inside the 2-by-2-by-6-foot box. Renting Mr. Fun Booth comes with delivery within 50 miles of Central Phoenix, setup and teardown of the booth, three hours of shooting time, and a webpage for viewing and/or purchasing prints. Call 480-588-2778, and have fun.


Hero Worship: Sam


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