Even if the night hadn't ended with whip-its and Adult Mad-Libs, my recent Saturday night excursion onto Mill Avenue in Tempe would still be among my most fun forays into Valley nightlife ever. It was a pleasant surprise, because I don't usually hang out on Mill, the main drag in one of the nation's largest college towns, on a weekend. I graduated from ASU three years ago and now live 40 minutes away. Generally, my journeys into Tempe these days are for rock shows at venues off Mill, like Last Exit Bar & Grill and Yucca Tap Room.
But my outrageously outspoken friend Toxic JuJu is moving to Indianapolis in a couple of weeks. I thought our soiree at a gay bar ("Wieners' Circle," March 22) was her send-off party, but with days to go 'til her departure date, JuJu decides to tease up her blond bob, throw on a punk T-shirt, ditch the boxes and bubble wrap, and cause some scenes on the street.
Naturally, she twists my arm. "C'mon, I've never been down to Mill on a Saturday," she says. "Let's check it out. It could be fun."
The evening starts out innocently enough, with us downing fruity frozen drinks at Fat Tuesday's. The crowd consists mostly of frat boys and college coeds, and many of the latter are dressed like golf caddy sex kittens and have scorecards labeled "Bar Golfing" pinned to their backs. I wasn't sure what was going on with that; initially, I thought it was a tryout for The Pussycat Dolls, but apparently, it's some other form of competitive objectification.
Our subsequent trip into Urban Outfitters goes from nostalgic ("They have jelly shoes here! And Snoopy Sno-Cone machines!") to apocalyptic when we walk out to find a huge "prayer circle" gathered on the corner. If there is a hell, JuJu's about to secure a hot spot for us there.
"What are you praying for?" JuJu asks, barging right into the prayer circle.
"We're in the midst of a battle," someone tells her.
"Well, fuck that. I'm getting coffee," JuJu says, leading me across the street to the Coffee Plantation, where we grab gelato and lattes and take a seat on the patio.
The prayer circle is now the audience for a street preacher, who's standing on a box and shouting into a microphone that he's giving money away to people who'll answer his questions.
His first round of queries includes secular bits of trivia meant to draw in unsuspecting sinners, stuff like, "What's the only food that does not spoil?" (honey) and "How many stories does the Empire State Building have?" (102).
As the preacher continues with his questions, they become an obvious segue into his sermon. "Can anybody here prove to me that they're a good person?" he asks. Then he starts going through the Ten Commandments: "Have you ever stolen? Have you ever lied? Have you ever coveted your neighbor's wife?"
"C'mon, let's go back over there," JuJu says, grabbing her coffee.
Oh, boy. Here we go.
JuJu charges to the front of the crowd. An old lady hands me some of the "money" the preacher's been giving out. The money's fake; the bills are really church fliers with Bible verses on them. She tries to hand one to JuJu.
"No, no, no," JuJu tells her. "I worship the devil. The devil is the best!"
The lady pulls back a bit and lets out a nervous laugh. Then JuJu screams, at the top of her lungs, "I'M A WHORE FOR THE DEVIL!"
The lady literally runs away, and the preacher pauses for a second. But he quickly regains his composure and keeps talking. So JuJu screams again, "I'M A WHORE FOR THE DEVIL! HAIL SATAN!"
A few people cheer as JuJu goes charging off down the sidewalk, with me laughing my ass off behind her.
Mill's teeming with several hundred people tonight, and there are numerous buskers with their tip jars out: "psychics" offering tarot readings, artists drawing caricature sketches, bongo players, dudes with acoustic guitars. Eventually, we encounter a guy sitting on a bench, holding a sign that reads, "Advice on any topic: five cents."
"Okay, buddy," JuJu says, digging in her purse for a nickel. "What's the stock market gonna do tomorrow?"
The guy takes the nickel and says, "The, uh, the stock market right now, is uh, all about commodities. Commodities are the way to go, because commodities are . . . are . . . uh . . ."
"More of a commodity?" I ask.
"Yeah!" he says, clearly clueless. "And, uh, I would sell, not buy."
"Whatever, dude," JuJu says. "Here's a question for ya: Should you sleep with a guy who has herpes?"
Before our bench sage can respond, a young guy with dreadlocks walking by emphatically declares, "NO!"
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We then wander into Fascinations, where I buy a dirty comic book titled Yuppies, Rednecks, and Lesbian Bitches from Mars.
Eventually, we end up at Graffiti, a head shop that sits inconspicuously in the back of the building that houses Gordon Biersch and The Loft, on the corner of Fourth Street and Mill. There, we discover that you can buy pumps for making whipped cream, along with cartridges of nitrous oxide.
In theory, this product is for people who want to make whipped cream at home. In reality, this product is for people who want to fill the pumps with nitrous oxide and do whip-its. So, of course, JuJu and I had to get some (for, uh, making whipped cream, natch).
That was our last stop of the night. Later on, when we were back at JuJu's half-empty house, giggling our asses off and talking like James Earl Jones while our heads went wah-wah-wah-wah, I came to a heady realization: Mill Avenue is still cool. Sure, a lot of people complain about the gentrification of the strip, but where else can you see college coeds dressed like golf hoochies, get advice on the stock market for a nickel, crash a street preacher's sermon and buy Yuppies, Rednecks, and Lesbian Bitches from Mars, all within the space of two hours?