Best Of :: People & Places
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.
With fresh white walls, great lighting and a dramatically high ceiling, this cavernous warehouse turned gallery space not only does justice to the intriguing art on display, but also to the downtown pretty things who turn up in droves on First Fridays to check out the work as well as each other. Any given month, monOrchid might also be hosting a hip local band or DJ, a fashion show, or even film screenings, giving the whole place a kind of dynamic vibe that you would imagine came out of Andy Warhol's Factory -- if only it had cropped up in the middle of the desert, not downtown Manhattan.
Aside from the experimental, no-budget "microcinema" events that have popped up in downtown art spaces, the best chance Valley cinema lovers have of seeing the edgiest indie films is at this jewel box of a theater, tucked in the shadow of Scottsdale Fashion Square. While some competition has cropped up recently, it's mostly from within the Harkins chain. (In particular, the Harkins Valley Art comes in a close second, with some decidedly non-mainstream features.) And as far as international titles are concerned, Camelview is frequently the only destination in the Valley to showcase the latest flicks from foreign shores.
Readers' Choice for Best Movie Theater: Harkins Ciné Capri
Craig's List is a free Internet bulletin board system where you can buy, sell and trade just about everything, as well as cruise personal ads, find a job, or enter into one of many community discussion forums. Created in San Francisco in 1995, Craig's List came to Phoenix in May 2003 and has steadily built up its listings. Although still relatively sparse when compared to those cities in which Craig's List is better established, it is an easy, anonymous, free way to post bulletin board listings. Users reply through the Craig's List's anonymous e-mail system to postings, and the poster can choose to make contact or not. There are no ads, and no charge for most ads (the exception being employers who pay a small fee to post job listings).
And sometimes it's funny, such as this ad from July: "Now hiring 6-10 smaller carny types to drive/ride in modified tiny' Volkswagen beetle for grand finale of traveling road show. Experience necessary: Ability to manipulate small handles under duress. Resistance to fire is a plus. Similar roadshows are now igniting finale performers. Ability to dodge potentially dangerous projectiles. Must get along with others and pack animals. Excellent communication skills. Benefits: Travel and experience the West Valley!"
There's also an active singles area, including a kinky "casual encounters" board and "missed connections" in which you can post a note to that handsome stranger you wish you had spoken to at the bar last weekend.
Noted baseball architects Ellerbe Beckett designed this beautiful facility that serves as home to the Milwaukee Brewers. Built in 1998, and originally planned to house two spring training teams, the Maryvale park is not Bank One Ballpark, and that's why we love it. Sure, you can't see regular-season major league play, but when a game is on in this no-frills park, you'll see why we love it. There's no fancy-schmancy country club seating, or waiters to bring you drinks. This is the kind of park where people come to watch baseball, not talk on their cell phones and network. The stadium has more than enough seats to handle the volume of patrons it gets, without feeling like its cavernous sisters in Peoria and Mesa. Its partial roof offers shade to a large part of the stands, which provides comfort without ruining the "outdoor" feel of watching the game. The grounds are impeccable, there is ample parking, and its bright blue seats are actually pretty comfortable for molded plastic. The concession areas are well-placed, offering a variety of standard fare at different locations so that not a lot of walking is necessary to get your hot dog and beer, and smaller vendors set up booths of more unique items at the end of the walkways, out of the way of traffic patterns. The lawn seats in the outfield are set up on a steep incline, allowing even those in the cheap seats a great view.
The British-born Binder threw the state Legislature into a tizzy last spring when she elected to take her long-planned vacation during the final days of a contentious debate on the budget. Binder already had balked at draconian cuts urged by Republican leadership, and her departure forced the Rs to compromise with Governor Janet Napolitano's proposal.
We love her for that. And we love her because she is one of the few legislators who isn't afraid to depart from party line and do what she believes is in the best interest of her constituents. Her independence has triggered absurd reactions from other Republican leaders like pinhead House majority leader Eddie Farnsworth, who refused to move any of Binder's bills to the House floor for a vote.
A fiscal conservative with a social conscience, Binder has been one of the few voices in the state pressing for reforms to stop the coerced underage polygamous marriages practiced by a fundamentalist Mormon cult in Colorado City. Her courage and high principles are matched by her polite demeanor that seems to have more weight with that classy British accent.
Readers' Choice: Janet Napolitano
For fans of all things light-giving, Modern Lighting is the only place to shop. This Phoenix mainstay is as much a gallery of great lamps of all eras as it is a shining shrine that proves how illuminating art can be. It also proves that Seinfeld's Soup Nazi has nothing on Phoenix, where surly shopkeepers like Peter Alper (known in collector circles as "The Lamp Nazi") are as likely to snap your head off as offer to sell you a parchment shade. We've shopped here for years, albeit cautiously, because no matter how big we smile, no matter how politely we ask questions, our Mr. Alper (who's a genius at rewiring lamps and reupholstering old, torn shades) always sneers us at. During our last visit, we pointed to a fine-looking floor lamp and asked, "Do you know the price of this lamp?" to which Herr Alper replied, "Yes, I do. I know the price of everything in the store." And then proceeded to ignore us for the remainder of our visit. Another time we asked if a particular lamp was antique or a reproduction, and were treated to an astonishing display of eye rolling and the reply, "I am closing in seven minutes." And it's not just us; we've asked around and discovered that Mr. Alper's nasty temperament is as legendary as his remarkable selection of vintage goosenecks. But we don't mind. In fact, we kind of like it -- as long as Modern Lighting continues its bright homage to the wonderful lightness of being.
The Loser Line is arguably the cleverest bit of radio in the Valley, brought to you by the DJ duo of Kid and Ruben S who handle this too-short segment of the morning show perfectly. The premise is simple. Girls can call the station and get a phone number to give to guys -- total losers, of course -- who hit on them at clubs, in class, at the gym, wherever those annoying encounters take place. Guys call the number thinking they're calling the girl. Instead, the message machine is really at the radio station and their incredibly fumbling attempts to get laid are broadcast to thousands of listeners. Some morons call over and over, some are drunk, some are simply pathetic. All are hilarious. ("I've called you five times. How come you never call back? You're so hot. Please. Call me. Okay? I looovvve you.") We looovvve the calls from the girlfriends/wives who find the number in their man's pocket. ("You bitch. Don't even think he's going to call you. I'll kick your ass.") Funny, too, was the high school principal who thought he was calling a student's house to discuss problems at school with her parents. Or the woman who gave the number to her gynecologist who called -- twice -- with test results ("It's very urgent that you call us right away"). Great stuff! Even if you have to tune in at 7 a.m. when the Loser Line airs.
As if the northwest section of Grand Avenue isn't scary enough after dark, there's that giant Mr. Lucky's vintage marquee that's been putting the "yeeeeeeee" in "yee-haw" for coulrophobiacs (that's clown fearers to you) since the mid-'60s. For the mime dreaders, jack-in-the-box shunners and people who just plain freak out at the sight of Bozo, imagine cowering in the neon of a maniacally jeering jester springing some 40 feet high, balancing "COCKTAILS" and "DANCING" from each hand as if they were "HATE" and "FEAR" tattooed on his knuckles. By now you've guessed that we'd rather ride the live rodeo bulls you find every weekend at Mr. Lucky's than get a closer look at that marquee to see who's playing Saturday night. No, that would mean feeling Lucky the Clown's creepy peepers peering down into our souls, rightly sizing us up as pintsize wussies who can't even relax at a children's party if there's a juggler with drawn-on tears. Inside, Mr. Lucky's has real living, breathing clowns doing face painting, but even those white faces pale compared to the outdoor giant.
In its two prolific years of existence, this performance space/art gallery/espresso bar has graced downtown Phoenix with a wonderfully weird, unpredictable lineup of free or cheap entertainment and cultural happenings, making it a magnet for local creative types. On any given night of the week, Paper Heart might be hosting punk bands, experimental groups or singer-songwriters, improv comedy, spoken word, tango lessons, film screenings or performance art. Every few months, the place usually throws a bash with a bit of all of the above. First Friday events are fun, too, with live music to complement paintings or photography by local artists adorning the gallery walls.
The records office used to be in a tiny basement room in the county courthouse building at First Avenue and Jefferson. So if you needed, say, a copy of your divorce file, you had to circle the block a few times for an open parking space, then find the basement office, then brave the gridlock of lawyers, paralegals and others in the small room just to get to the counter to request a file.
My, how things have changed. A couple years ago, the records office moved to spacious quarters in the bottom of a parking garage at Sixth Avenue and Jackson. Now it's no problem finding an empty parking space, and the office itself is thoughtfully designed and laid out to accommodate people who may need to be there a while and need a place to spread out some paperwork. There are more than two dozen desks and several large round tables scattered throughout the room, so privacy is not an issue. A nice touch is the kid-size tables for those patrons who have to bring small children with them. There are numerous computer terminals for looking up case numbers. Rows of couches fill the room so waiting is comfortable (even though the wait seems shorter these days and the counter clerks more plentiful). Magazine racks full of recent copies of a range of publications stand on one wall. Our favorite element: clean public rest rooms at the back of the main room. Now that's public service.
From its retro angular roof to its neon lights, Christown Lanes looks like a throwback to bowling's 1950s heyday. But once inside, the 48 shining synthetic lanes designed to enhance the "hook and spin" bowler's game boldly proclaim that Christown is still at the forefront of the Valley's bowling renaissance.
The ultra-clean alley sports new carpet, spotless rest rooms and a snack bar. Even better: non-smoking lanes. But there is also plenty of room for getting rowdy at the pool tables in The Legends nightclub featuring karaoke on Friday nights.
The lanes host regional Professional Bowlers Association tournaments and the popular Strike Force Tour, and have leagues for kids to seniors. It's rock 'n' roll time on Friday and Saturday at 10:30 p.m. when black lights and strobes enshroud the lanes for Extreme Bowling ($14 for two and a half hours, including shoes). Reservations are recommended.
The friendly staff is always ready to help, including providing bargain-priced personal lessons. Ask for desk attendant Jeremy McElliot, who has a half-dozen perfect 300 games to his credit.