We already have our Valentine's Day mapped out for next year. We're going to rent the "Bomber Boudoir" and take our sweetie on a trip to the clouds. The BB is a private plane owned by a local doctor, and he takes couples on flights 1,000 feet above the Valley (hint: sunset is awesome). The plane is a funky propeller-driven Beech AT-11, and includes a bubble turret and a Plexiglas floor for earthly views. It also includes a fake machine gun, such fun for our guy. The flight is a bit expensive -- $900 an hour (for up to six couples if we're kinky), and includes champagne, roses, fruit and chocolates. For privacy, the pilot pulls a curtain to separate us from his cockpit. Hmm. Puts a whole new incentive into joining the mile-high club.

Readers' Choice for Best Place to Pop the Question: South Mountain

In a time when most of our tax dollars go into things we can't use (like corporate loopholes and kickbacks), the City of Gilbert has built what is by far the best rec center in metro Phoenix, and offers its use to all Valley residents for a fraction of what it costs to work out anywhere else. At only $2.50 a day for Gilbert residents, and $3.75 for others (there's even a family rate), the 50,000-square-foot center boasts a climbing wall, four racquetball courts, a huge gym, family locker rooms, killer steam room and sauna, pool tables, aerobics rooms, and Ping-Pong. There are lessons in tae kwon do, aerobics, and hip-hop dance, kids' movement classes, and summer camp programs of various types. And a fully supervised day care, also at a great rate.

But the crown jewel of the place is the elevated race track. Set inside the nicely air-conditioned building, about 30 feet above ground, the track looks out on a spectacularly huge window, providing a rather inspiring view as you work out.

Monthly, six month and annual passes are available, and Gilbert businesses can get a corporate discount.

Each week, La Voz and Prensa Hispaña duke it out for Spanish-speaking readers. And nearly every week, the edgier, flashier La Voz comes out on top, often breaking stories of importance not only to the Hispanic community but the Anglo world as well. This year has been a particularly successful one for the three-year-old weekly. At the Arizona Press Club awards, Prensa was thoroughly trounced by reporters Juan Villa, Rosa Tequida and Mayela Trahin for stories on violence at the border, marijuana legalization and others. Tequida was also named Latina journalist of the year by the National Association of Hispanic Publications and the National Hispanic Press Foundation in September 2002.

We hope La Voz's recent sale to Gannett doesn't mean it morphs into another "McPaper."

Readers' Choice for Best Spanish Language News Radio: KHOT-FM 105.9

Just when you thought the ride was over indeed, just when the ride should have been over the Arizona Diamondbacks once again provided Valley sports fans with a pleasant surprise: the overachieving, hard-charging "Baby-Backs."

When they should have been losing with a stable of injured veterans, they once again found ways to win, this time with a stable of greenhorn minor leaguers who still look more likely bound for Williamsport than Cooperstown.

If you've noticed, the D-Backs are the only pro franchise in the Valley capable of pleasant surprises. While the Cardinals and Coyotes turn star prospects into jerkwad flameouts with felony records, the Diamondbacks turn no-name minor leaguers into lovable superstars.

Now, if we could just see that sort of personality and performance out of the rest of the Valley's pro teams, we might someday be a legitimate four-sport town.

Until then, it'll just continue to be the D-Backs and the occasional burst of Suns-shine.

Readers' Choice: Arizona Diamondbacks

BEST PLACE TO WATCH PEOPLE TICKLE THE ORGANS

Organ Stop Pizza

Who wouldn't love a giant organ, especially when it comes with a pizza? Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa prides itself as home to a massive 5,000-pipe Wurlitzer, the largest Wurlitzer theater organ in the world. Built in 1927 and revamped and put to use again in 1975, the thing, powered by four huge turbine blowers, totally wails; musicians play everything from the Star Wars theme to "Phantom of the Opera." Also, these guys deserve major credit for sticking to song themes. At the end of a patriotic medley, a giant American flag is unfurled behind the organ. Four console-controlled cat marionettes dance along to "Alley Cat." And when the song "Part of Your World" from Disney's The Little Mermaid is played, bubbles descend on the room.

What's in a name? A lot, we learned, during last spring's brouhaha over Squaw Peak. But what do our state leaders do if the offending symbol is actually part of a state building?

Not much, apparently.

There they are -- swastikas -- carved right into the façade of the Arizona State Office Building in downtown Phoenix, home to the state's Department of Agriculture. As it turns out, the swastika -- then called a "whirling log" -- was a design element used in India, Tibet and Turkey long before Adolf Hitler hijacked it as the logo for his National Socialist Party -- and, ultimately, a universal symbol of hatred.

Ancient Native Americans used the "whirling log" in their artwork as well, including Arizona's Pima, Maricopa and Navajo, which is probably why it ended up as part of the Arizona State Office Building, erected in 1930.

But who thinks about whirling logs now? Not the Native Americans, who long ago signed a decree renouncing the use of the swastika on any artwork.

Guess it's harder to get out that sandblaster than it is to blast dissenters on a committee in charge of naming mountains.

The Valley has many dedicated professionals who are very good at dealing with the public and the press. And we should know; the media are their biggest customers and often their biggest headaches. But the Phoenix PD's Randy Force has taken the concept of public information to a new level. Three years ago, Force gave up a long-held post in homicide to become the department's chief mouthpiece. He soon saw the value of working with the media (easier to get the department's message out to the public) rather than fighting with the press (always bad headlines). So for the past two years, Force has taught media relations classes (which he devised) to rookie officers as well as to veteran supervisors. His PowerPoint presentation would make a First Amendment lawyer weep for joy. It starts with a lecture on the constitutional underpinnings of a free press and the importance of a free press to society, works through laws and court decisions on public information (such as access to crime scenes) and wraps up with a run-down of Arizona's public records law, including the fact that even cops' own personnel files are generally open to inspection. All of which is designed to encourage an open flow of information from a department that has often kept itself behind closed doors.

And besides, what a great name for a cop.

We'd sooner eat our playbill than employ that overused phrase "Broadway caliber," but we're struggling to come up with a better description of this teeny troupe's last season. With its letter-perfect production last August of Neil LaBute's humorous morality play The Shape of Things, Nearly Naked set the bar impossibly high. By November, the five-year-old company had surpassed itself with its widely acclaimed take on Peter Shaffer's postmodern sex-and-equine-imagery drama Equus. No other company, not even our biggest-budgeted Equity houses, came anywhere near Nearly Naked's stylish productions and splendid choices, and we're hoping they remain -- to quote Jacqueline Susann, "undraped on the stage" -- for a long time to come.

Leave it to the Japanese to create a serene oasis right in the middle of a desert metropolis. Situated at the south end of the Margaret T. Hance Park, this three-and-a-half-acre refuge is the perfect place for busy urbanites to slow down and contemplate simple beauties: a 12-foot waterfall, a rocky stream that flows into a koi-filled pond, a shore of carefully selected rocks from Arizona quarries, and stone lanterns and sculptures. (Landscape architects from Himeji, Japan, Phoenix's sister city, incorporated native desert plants into the traditional design to help the garden withstand the extreme climate.) Even the garden's official name, Ro Ho En, inspires a poetic mindset. Ro stands for "heron," Himeji's symbolic bird, which references the town's spectacular White Heron Castle; Ho is Japanese for our own mythical winged creature; and En means "garden." There's also an on-site traditional teahouse, perfect for viewing the lovingly manicured scenery.
This is the place to get decked out in the latest NASCAR and racing gear while picking up precision models of your favorite race car. Billing itself as the full service racing collectibles retail store, Action has more gizmos with corporate logos than Richard Pettys jump suit. Dressed out in its new Tempe digs, Action features a complete line of precision scale-model stock cars, sales of which are restricted to members of the Racing Collectible Club of America. The individually numbered, die-cast stock car models are a hot item in the collectibles world, sometimes fetching big bucks among the faithful. The centerpiece of the store is a stock car driven by Dale Earnhardt in a NASCAR race. The car has cut-away panels over half the body, exposing the inner workings of the machine, including the $80,000 engine that employees fire up from time to time. But thats not the only car on display. A museum is integrated into the retail store, jammed with full-size cars including hot rods, a 57 Chevy, some vintage Mercurys, driver uniforms, shoes, helmets and other memorabilia. Gentlemen (and women), start your engines, and get on down to Action.

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