BEST PLACE TO PEOPLE-WATCH 2003 | Mill Avenue, Tempe | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix
Mill Avenue is the heart of downtown Tempe, and there's no better place to see the pulse of living than this urban strip. Arizona State University brings college kids in proximity, but it's also a popular spot for cruising and hanging out. The voyeur within us likes to sit back and watch the eclectic mix of teens, the young hippies selling hemp products with their dogs, punks with dyed hair spiked with egg whites, motorcycle gangs gawking at each other's crotch rockets, and even suburban families who have stumbled onto the scene. With such an array of characters, it is like watching a Fellini movie. Now that's what we call entertainment, and it's free.

Rather than killing us softly with your song, why not swing into this store and set yourself up for private, in-home karaoke humiliation. A mere $67.99 scores the most basic setup, but -- as Britney is well aware -- the more money one invests in equipment, the better one sounds. Fancier systems carry options such as a digital key controller that adjusts the singer's range, and microphones that regulate bass and treble levels. After ringing up headphones, wireless mikes, amplifiers, lighting gear and a specially built karaoke chair, it's time to name the tunes: country, cock rock, rap, Spanish, oldies, Broadway, gospel or children's. If Velvet Elvis: Songs of the King and Sing Like Celine Dion, volumes 1 through 4, don't rock your boat, pick up a copy of Kiss This, and belt out "Lick It Up" at your next Tupperware party. Don't forget the tambourine, maracas and disco ball.

Why did the Phoenix Baptist Hospital patient cross Bethany Home Road? To get to the Recovery Room. No joke. After enduring a hospital stay with $23 gelatin cups and flavorless IV drips, dischargees will liken this tavern's food specials to deep-fried manna from heaven. Free chili from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays, 99-cent quarter-pound burgers during NFL games, and a daily dollar lunch special: From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., buy any beverage and get a hamburger, cheeseburger, chicken sandwich or dos tacos for 99 cents. (All the better to fill out that hospital gown during your next bypass.) Plus, hospital workers who flash an ID badge score their second drink for a quarter. We can't resist saying it: It's a health of a deal.

It seems that the traditional places to pick up men or women have become tired. That ultimate classic, the bar, has become stale and it tends to carry a Cheers quality to it -- you know, "Everyone knows your . . . name." The second is a shot in the dark and scary: the personals. How many horror stories have you heard? Rest stops require driving, and, let's face it, not much to choose from. So, where does a single stand? At Bally Total Fitness, of course. This has become a mecca for beefcake of all varieties. Mmm, we're talking USDA prime cut meat here. There is plenty to choose from, and the simple fact is that if they are at the gym they must care about getting physical. There's equipment, but who are we fooling? More important, there's plenty of scenery to motivate you through that workout. So, boys and girls, pump some iron and if the stars align, find that elusive catch.

Six months ago, nobody in Phoenix -- make that nobody in Major League Baseball -- knew the first thing about Brandon Webb.

And while Phoenix has yet to realize what a rare gem he is, the rest of the country has jumped on the B-train. Brandon Webb is one of the country's few legitimate rookie pitching phenoms, and he couldn't have arrived at a better time for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

With Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling nearing the end of their careers, Webb has given D-Backs fans a new beginning. He is the future, the national poster boy of the emerging Baby-Backs.

The 2.45 ERA as of mid-August. Sixteen quality starts out of 18. Arguably the most wicked sinker in all of baseball. This from a low-round draft choice who just happened to do what thousands of others fail to do: refine spectacularly a raw and wild talent.

Now the D-Backs and their fans have the best of all worlds: a genial, fan-friendly star whose stay should be measured in decades, not months. Thanks, Brandon, for making the future look bright for baseball in the Valley.

Readers' Choice: Luis Gonzalez

The last time someone took us on a car-dinner date, we were 15, and it involved window service at a roller skating waitress-service hamburger shop. Well, these days, we're substantially older, and our tastes are substantially ritzier. The only vehicle vittles we'll be munching on are the ones in the opulent package offered by Cuisine Limousine. The evening starts with settling into a state-of-the-art luxury stretch from Jackson Limousines (provider of vehicles for such big shots as Colin Powell, Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, Billy Joel and Bill Cosby). Then, we're driven to a private spot atop Camelback Mountain, where a table is set for us with fresh exotic flowers, china, silver, crystal and votive candles. Our dinner is catered by Vincent's on Camelback, and includes our choice from a lengthy lists of appetizers, entrees, desserts, and wine or champagne. After our romantic dinner, our private limousine whisks us away to another tunnel of love, the gondola boat ride on the lake at the Hyatt Regency at Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale. The 4- to 12-hour package costs $495, but that does include gratuity, and just get a gander at some of these eats. Our favorite menu: lobster with leeks, cucumbers and lemon dressing, plus monkfish with apples and tomatoes in a calvados cream; or potato waffle with smoked salmon and cream of chives à la Daniel, plus rack of lamb with mustard and garlic. So long, soggy French fries dripping on the dashboard!

Contrary to popular belief, downtown Phoenix isn't the only place to see what up-and-coming Valley creative types are up to. In fact, right in the midst of Scottsdale's prestigious gallery row lies Art One, a cutting-edge art space showcasing the work of talented student artists from area colleges and universities, as well as local artists just beginning to make names for themselves. While its location might leave you scratching your head at first, it actually makes perfect sense: When Art One's artists graduate to the next level in their careers, they only need to cross the street to get to some of the Southwest's most established art dealers. This gallery is also remarkably accessible, not only to unknown artists, but to patrons as well. Prices hover in the two- to three-digit range.

Since it opened less than a year ago, Perihelion has brought the Phoenix art scene to a whole new level. Sure, we already had plenty of spaces for experimental work, and Scottsdale long ago covered the bases on upscale art establishments. But when Perihelion owners Amy Young and Doug Grant came back to the Valley after living in New York City, they brought along an aesthetic that defines some of the hippest galleries in the country, and oozes off the pages of Robert Williams' Juxtapoz magazine: lowbrow art. With a tongue-in-cheek take on pop culture, and an often dark edge to boot, it's got street cred. The gallery also offers Phoenix's best selection of weird reads, with occult titles and plenty of underground art books.

We rarely answer the costly call of movie snacks, but at Madstone, we make concessions. Boasting biscotti, imported chocolate and an espresso bar, this theater of seduction offers the substantial (turkey and Brie on sourdough) and the sweet (fresh-baked carrot cake, brownies and lemon bars from a nearby bakery). Now that we've feasted on Madstone's soft, hot pretzels, mere Milk Duds will never do. Stuffed with marinara sauce and sprinkled with Parmesan, the pizza pretzel is perfect with a bottle of New Belgium Sunshine Wheat or even a glass of Pinot Grigio. And while snackers can shake up their popcorn with special seasonings -- chocolate-marshmallow, white Cheddar or Parmesan-garlic -- we feel no need. This corn is bathed in real butter, a rare find in the cinematic sector.

Readers' Choice: Harkins Theatres

Our barker hates to park it. His energy is endless, he absolutely adores other dogs, and on weekends, when we want to take a nap, he wants to run, run, run with his buddies. So it's been a godsend for us both that the City of Scottsdale recently wised up and deemed Horizon Park a permanent Off-Leash Bark Park. Since bestowing the honors, the city has installed drinking water, and maintains a lovely fenced lawn with shade trees, benches and tables, lighting, a rest room and phones. We can let our doggy do his thing (so many butts to sniff, legs to lift) from sunrise until 10:30 p.m. Does he love it? We know he does, finally coming back to us with wagging tail, shiny bright eyes, panting tongue hanging crazily out the side of his mouth, and that sure sign of doggy-delight delirium -- his head covered in spit from the attentions of his new furry friends. We love it, too. Because when we get home, our little Cujo wants to crash just as much as we do.

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