What passes for "live" TV news these days too often consists of shots of a place where something exciting happened hours ago, and the only thing close to "live" is the reporter in front of the camera. But when it comes to delivering real breaking news, reporting without a script from the scenes of fires, explosions, shootings or whatever, Meeks is head and shoulders above his mere hairdo competitors. He is adept at speaking extemporaneously into the camera, giving all the salient facts in clear, grammatical sentences without stumbling over words or hemming and hawing. No looking like he's about to cry at tragic scenes, no acting all hyped up by the excitement of it all, no appearing more concerned about his hairstyle or clothing than delivering information. Just journalism, thank you very much.
When Channel 10 announced it was beginning a one-hour newscast at 9 p.m., we expected lots of slow talking, meaningless stories and chitter-chatter just to fill the time. But this show is none of that, thanks to John Hook. A former Valley TV reporter, Hook knows what he's talking about, but he doesn't come off as too serious or self-absorbed. He can even deliver the goofy stories and mandatory Fox show promotions with the right amount of sarcasm and amusement, sans annoying giggles. Hook manages to tell us the news -- lots of it -- in a believable (and, yes, sometimes entertaining) way. And that's all we ask for in a newscaster.
All it takes is one scroll through the baby animal pictures on this nonprofit sanctuary's Web site, and we're head over heels in love. The photos are just a few examples of the injured or orphaned wildlife rescued and rehabilitated by Southwest Wildlife, including gray foxes, coyotes, raccoons, wolves, bobcats, mountain lions, deer, javelina and black bears. Since 1994, Southwest Wildlife has successfully released 70 percent of the thousands of wild animals cared for at its 10-acre desert habitat. Volunteering takes dedication, consistency and a minimum of six hours a week, helping as animal keeper, clinic assistant, educational speaker, groundskeeper, office assistant or rescuer. Hard work, yes, but worth it when a baby bear can be returned happy and healthy to its forest. And since it's illegal to have wild animals as pets, volunteers get a rare chance to get to know these creatures in a helpful way.
Casino Arizona at Salt River
Elvis has not left the building. The entertainer extraordinaire is alive and in full, glittery color at Casino Arizona. You can see the mighty pelvis-twister in all his glory at shows -- 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays -- in the cushy lounge. And the price is very good: free. Sometimes, we even get an extra glimpse, as the King sweeps through the gaming rooms and bars to promote his shows, trailed by a bevy of gold-lamé-bedecked beauties.

Thank you, Casino Arizona. Thank you very much.

Yummy and cheap. Those two factors give the nod to Harkins. While not quite at the haute-cuisine level of the trendiest California movie concessions stands, Harkins does offer a nice specialty-coffee selection, hot dogs, nachos and plenty o' candies. But the deals on basics are steals: Buy a large drink for $3.50 and get $1 refills the rest of the year when you bring back your souvenir cup. Buy a large bag of popcorn for $4.25 and get one free refill. And if you don't mind being a Harkins geek, wear your $20 Harkins tee shirt for free popcorn all year round. Given that the price of good eats at most theaters can easily exceed the price of admission, the deals are enough to hearken to Harkins.

Best Place For Smokers, Strippers, Swappers And Soothsayers

Gene's Hickory Smoked BBQ

It's like a Disneyland of debauchery here: Not only does Gene's serve up some mighty tasty hickory-smoked barbecue, but it shares space with a topless bar, a flea market and a psychic. This gleaming white trailer sits in the parking lot of the Candy Store exotic dance club, an ambitious piece of asphalt that's also home to Paradise Valley Swap Meet. But not only is this a bargain mecca, it's run by folks who happily read our palms while we take a break from shopping. Oh, and if we've got an important document to be notarized, they do that, too.

Gene makes his 'cue from scratch, smoking tender brisket, beef, pork, pork ribs and chicken (breast, of course) for 10 hours. The thick, sweet sauce is Gene's own creation, too. He says the recipe is a secret, but we've been thinking we might be able to work out a deal with the on-site psychic.

When we first heard about Governor Hull's most significant accomplishment this past summer -- getting her eyes done -- we smirked. Jeez, lady, you don't need to go under the knife, we thought. Some scissors and a bottle of Clairol will do just fine. Really, no one's looking at your eyes -- who could, after being blinded by your fire-engine helmet head?

Then we saw the governor on television, post-cut.

Wow, great job! Can we get the name of the surgeon? As one observer remarked, "Yeah, Governor Hull got an eye job -- all over her face."

Okay, so she really got a face lift; don't all politicians lie? Who cares, she looks fabulous! Who would have guessed that Jane Hull was a slave to the mirror?

Now if you'd just pay as much attention to the state of the state as you did to the state of your sags, Guv.

It's easy to scoff at the thought of staring up at the sky through a hole in a building not much bigger than an outhouse. But this best new view -- named after the museum's former director, Robert Knight, and created by artist James Turrell and architect William Bruder -- reveals the delicious spins that great artists can put on the commonplace. The elliptical room is a wide telescope that beams the eye far beyond the curved seats and walls. We recommend viewing this wonderful work at sunset. As day fades, the hole jumps to life as a medallion of changing, vivid colors. Your eyes adjust, and you find yourself staring at a deep, surprising glow of night.

Best Local Tourist Attraction You've Probably Never Heard Of

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Have you had it up to your disposable camera with Western-themed tourist traps featuring fake cowboy shoot-outs and chuck-wagon dinners served in mining pans?

Then dare to look beyond the obvious at Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a three-acre oasis of oddities near Cave Creek and Sweetwater roads, assembled by 77-year-old retiree Gus Brethauer. He has spent the past 25 years turning his property into a glorious pack rat paradise, and these days, he gladly gives tours in return for a voluntary donation.

The kids will enjoy highlights like a UFO landing pad, a prehistoric Temple of Doom, a grove of artificial Christmas trees (complete with plastic forest denizens), a "haunted" bungalow, and a mirror maze fashioned from discarded reflective surfaces. Older visitors will get a kick out of old Phoenix rubble -- decorative plastic "WP" trim from West Plaza Shopping Center and a stone gargoyle from the old Fox Theatre. Come prepared to walk (tours through the desert terrain take about two hours), and leave your disbelief at home.

Best Pair Of Double Entendres In A Local TV Newscast

KPNX News 12

Several months after 14-year-old Sean Botkin was arrested for holding a classroom full of Glendale elementary school students hostage at gunpoint, the boy's mother talked to reporters about his upcoming trial. An optimistic Cary Botkin said Sean's lawyer hoped to persuade the court to try her son as a juvenile, rather than as an adult, because that strategy represented "our best shot."

Later in the same broadcast, Lin Sue Cooney offered an update on an effort to remove Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano from office: Among other charges, the openly gay politico was under fire for pulling city employees' support of the United Way, which funds the anti-gay Boy Scouts of America. Commenting on Giuliano's reaction to the recall movement, Cooney told viewers that the mayor "will not go down without a fight."

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