Best Place to Take the Kids for a Hot-Weather Picnic

Desert Breeze Park

Desert Breeze Park
An outdoor picnic in the dead of summer?

Hot damn!

First, pack a picnic lunch with lots of cold beverages. Then suit up the kids in their swimming gear, grab the sunscreen and head for Desert Breeze Park.

Ignore the lovely lake surrounded by trees and picnic tables. Instead, head to the children's playground area. Beneath an earthen berm/overpass/observation deck are an assortment of shaded tables. This covered passageway connects a traditional playground with a "spray pad" where three dolphins and an elephant (climbing structures the rest of the year) squirt water on a cyclical timing system from May to October. Eat, chill, eat, chill -- well, you get the idea.

Repeat process as needed through mid-October.

The 1999-2000 Phoenix Suns were a gimpy lot. It seemed that a week couldn't go by without a key cog in their lineup pulling up lame and grimacing in agony. But as every hoops aficionado knows, there's a hierarchy to these things.

When forward Tom Gugliotta blew out his left knee, people felt bad for him, but nobody panicked. When Rex Chapman, Penny Hardaway and Shawn Marion took turns missing long stretches of the season, fans felt frustrated, but nobody panicked.

But when All-Star point guard Jason Kidd fractured his left ankle with a month left in the regular season, your last name didn't have to be Colangelo to know that Phoenix was witnessing a total eclipse of the Suns. What other injury would send the team into such a fit of desperation that it would drag Kevin Johnson out of the retirement home for one last waltz at point guard?

That's how important Jason Kidd is to this team. With all due respect to Randy Johnson, there is no other professional athlete in this town so utterly indispensable to his team.

In 1999-2000, Kidd didn't quite match his astonishing pace of the year before, when he was probably more deserving of the league MVP award than eventual winner Karl Malone. Nonetheless, Kidd was routinely dominant, leading the league in assists (10.1 per game), finishing fifth in steals (2.0 per game), and averaging 14.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. And -- as always -- he was an iron man, averaging nearly 40 minutes a game.

The true measure of Kidd's greatness, though, is the way he always seems to play at a different speed from the rest of the team, tirelessly pushing the ball up the floor, driving his teammates with the urgency of a warrior who knows that he won't be mentioned in the same breath with his idol, Magic Johnson, until he starts putting championship rings on his fingers.

Readers' Choice: Randy Johnson

Unlike some cities, Phoenix has never had trouble putting competitive teams on the field. The Suns and the Coyotes have been playoff perennials, and in 1998, even the Cardinals broke a decadelong spell of futility in the desert with a 9-7 record.

But, competitive as these franchises are, they don't tend to rise to the occasion in the postseason. You'd have to go back to the glory days of Charles Barkley to find the last time either the Suns or Coyotes were more than TV spectators once the second round of playoff action commenced.

Last year, in their maiden trip to the playoffs, the Arizona Diamondbacks were similarly shown the door in the first round. But, that disappointment aside, this team has shattered baseball precedent by stepping to the top echelon of the majors before casual fans even knew what their uniforms looked like. The very thought of a major-league baseball franchise winning 100 games and capturing a divisional title in its second season is startling enough to make Abner Doubleday and Connie Mack do head-first slides in their graves, but that's exactly what this team accomplished.

Whether it's Randy Johnson mowing down opposing hitters or reborn journeymen like Luis Gonzalez and Steve Finley cranking the ball over the swimming pool, this is a team that's as entertaining as it is efficient. A mild second-half swoon this season can't obscure the fact that this is still the best sports ticket in town.

Readers' Choice: Arizona Diamondbacks

He doesn't have feathers or wear loud primary colors. He doesn't do an asinine stadium jig that would mortify even the lowest forms of wildlife most mascots emulate.

He's Fang, the longhaired, jeans and tee-shirted mascot for the Arizona Rattlers, although no one actually calls him that to his face. Nah, he's the team's "enforcer," there to ensure that both sides of the stadium raise the "noise meter" up a respectable seven or eight notches.

Not that he even needs them, since he barrels through pyrotechnics on his thundering motorcycle. Once Fang gives his seal of approval, he's off again, which lets us know he really ain't such a trouble boy. Basically, Fang is what the Fonz would've turned out to be if he'd stopped hanging around those goody-goody Cunninghams and given those Steppenwolf albums a chance.

Herberger Theater Center
Got a stage-struck young'n? Can't afford the tickets to see every show in town? How does seeing them all for free sound? Downtown's busiest theater has the best volunteer program around. They are always looking for new folks willing to tear tickets and lead patrons to their seats. Volunteers as young as 12 are accepted when accompanied by an adult, which makes this a perfect family activity. After calling the volunteer hot line number above, you will go to an orientation meeting, which includes a tour of one of the biggest performance spaces in town. After that, it's a matter of signing up to work the various plays that are always happening on the two stages at the center. Give your teen a chance to see everything from Shakespeare to Wallace & Ladmo while helping Phoenix's best local theater center keep up the good work.

Best Gaffes in a Movie Shot in Phoenix During the Past Year

"What Planet Are You From?"

During an early scene in the laugh-challenged Garry Shandling/Annette Bening comedy, one character explains that while he lives in Phoenix, he also has a weekend getaway retreat "up in Scottsdale."

Not long after local audiences were still savoring that geographical howler, Shandling visits a Phoenix strip club. When he asks whether it's the only one in town, someone explains that there are several other similar establishments scattered throughout the city.

Best Place to Prepare for the New Millennium

Laser Quest

These sprawling, two-level facilities go into the category of "Only in America!"

You plunk down $6.50 for 20 minutes, then hang a brightly colored pad that resembles a flotation device around your chest and shoulders. Laser gun in hand, you step into a maze, try to get your bearings, and start firing at other players -- up to 30 at a time per session -- who also have you in their sights. Loud music (oddly enough, we heard classical piano blaring over the speakers one day instead of the usual thrashy stuff) helps the disorienting effect.

There are numerous nooks and crannies in which to hide -- or, if you're the aggressive type, from which to spring. It all ends in a flash, and a computer printout tells you how many humans you've shot, and how many have shot you. What a blast.

Having trouble finding inspiration with Barney blaring in the den? Sick of Kool-Aid-sticky computer keys? Junior been using your journal as a coloring book?

Hear, hear! Writers Voice can help.

The YMCA brain child that has brought fiction, poetry and memoir workshops to the Valley for almost a decade also offers a writing class designed for moms, taught by moms.

Over the years, the workshop has been held at different locations with different instructors and different curricula, but always the same goal: to provide a nurturing environment for writers who happen to be mothers and a forum for discussing and writing about issues surrounding motherhood.

And you don't have to be a published author to take part; mothers of all levels of experience are invited. A favorite feature of the weekly sessions: child care.

This year, Writers Voice director Julie Hampton is working to make Mothers Write a regular gig, and by early 2001 she expects to have the workshop available at four locations in the Valley.

Write on!

Modified Arts
The closest thing to a one-stop shop of underground downtown culture is this bare-bones space carved out of an old brick building on Roosevelt. It's strictly an after-dark joint. The lights typically don't go on until 7 p.m. But once they do, the offerings are just as likely to include exhibitions by painters, sculptors and performance artists as they are performances by dancers, poets, jazz players and punk rockers. The featured artists are largely up-and-comers -- the bands are some of the primo ones on the indie music circuit. And the swarm of culture-driven people who fill the dark streets around the arthouse helps to strengthen the human beat of the old heart of the city.
Other than Native American and maybe Mexican art, Phoenix is not exactly a hotbed of ethnic art and artifact shopping. Unless, that is, you scope out the shelves of ASU Art Museum Store, where, for more than 20 years, volunteer manager LaReal Eyring has been bringing the best of the outside world to the Valley.

In years past, the store's included exquisite tribal jewelry from India and Afghanistan, as well as fine folk ceramics from Mexico, Morocco and Japan. And we were recently bowled over by large tapestries made from old Pakistani beaded embroideries that you probably won't see anywhere else in town.

Since the inventory constantly changes, it's best to pop in at least once a week or you might miss the latest ethnic treasure Eyring's managed to round up with a relentlessly unerring eye. All this and your purchases are completely tax-free, too, since the store is a nonprofit enterprise.

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