You're looking for a gas mask and a taxidermied chipmunk and a ceramic candleholder shaped like a nun. Wal-Mart has failed you; even Osco doesn't carry black candles. What to do? Race for Black Hearts, where it's Halloween every day.

Open at the crack of noon Friday through Monday, this bizarre boutique is your one-stop shop for death-centric items, edge weapons, and forensic anthropology. Owner Vyle Raven-Greyv has crammed her 2,200-square-foot store with gas masks, lingerie, and original Wiccan art prints and statuary. Where else can you find an embalming table full of gravestone soap, a wall full of spiritual icons, and enough quasi-military fetish gear to outfit a kinky platoon? Nowhere but this Bazaar Noir, we assure you.

The smell of exhaust is in the air at Speedway, the Valley's premier indoor kart racing facility. Residents who feel the need for speed can burn rubber on the 75,000-square-foot track -- a challenge for seasoned racers and novices alike. The technical and four-wheel drift turns will test your skills and get your adrenaline racing. Professional timing equipment clocks your laps so you can gauge your progress.

This is a climate-controlled track, so the only heat at Speedway is the one you are competing in.

Charles Goyette is well-informed, a bit goofy and often irreverent, but that's not why he made the final cut for this award. What made Goyette stand above the madding (and maddening) crowd that populates the Valley's talk-show scene was his unexpected take on the war in Iraq. He was against it, no small deal in this neck of the woods, where rational political dissent is viewed by many as some kind of traitorous weakness that ought to be punished by banishment or death. Oddly, Goyette is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who considers himself a standup Republican. Goyette's once-loyal listeners called him every name as he steadfastly questioned the U.S. invasion of Hussein-land, including that nastiest of epithets -- liberal! But he stayed the course through his own perilous fight, and for that we give him our own little medal of honor.

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

Freestone Recreation Center
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 Hispaa 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

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.

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