They don't carry the ectoplasm-seeking nutrona wands and proton packs of Aykroyd, Murray and company, but Joe and Mikki Shelton of Arizona Trips n Tours and their ever-shifting team of investigators, aspiring parapsychologists, acceleration physicists and just plain ghost nuts are "who you gonna call" once you've heard a few too many spooky bumps in the night.

Eschewing a flashy Ectomobile in favor of a caravan of compacts and beat-up pickups, the members of Arizona Paranormal Investigations crew set out on monthly expeditions to the state's most notorious ghost towns, like Tombstone and Jerome, as well as a few not-so-obvious spots around the Valley -- one forum member is convinced the old Spaghetti Factory building on Central Avenue in Phoenix is haunted by the ghost of a little girl in the attic. The best excursions, though, are the ones the API crew must conduct undercover. Founder Gary Westerlund, who turned the organization over to the Sheltons in July, insists there's an old hotel in Glendale that's now haunted by the ghosts of dead prostitutes and johns from the days when the hotel was a wild Western brothel. Current management, however, would rather the hotel be noted in Fodor's for its air-cooled suites and kitchenettes. When the API crew shows up with its infrared cameras, low-frequency sound recording equipment and electromagnetic field detectors, the "no vacancy" sign goes up -- and true ghostbusting adventure ensues.

No one wants to go to the hospital, least of all a hospital devoted to kids. But the kind folks at Phoenix Children's Hospital have made their digs a little more bearable with a wonderful, whimsical collection of art created by local artists, often in collaboration with children.

The art turns up in unexpected places, like a pre-surgery waiting room, where we were recently greeted with a Rose Johnson print of a young girl holding a heart, just minutes before our baby went in for open-heart surgery.

Not every art encounter can be planned (or not planned -- that one was lucky) so perfectly, but we do know that a lot of hearts have been lifted by the bright work on the walls. Grown-up hospitals should take the prescription as well.

Many things come to mind when we think of The Rogue, a beloved Scottsdale dive, but "fine art" just isn't one of them. Yet the bar is home to our pick for the Valley's best mural. The painting, by local artist Joseph Oursland, embodies the bar so perfectly, you could almost mistake it for a mirror on a crowded night, 'til you notice the rock stars lurking within. In the foreground, a brooding, dark-haired young man sits surrounded by rowdy bargoers, drinking his whiskey straight, oblivious to the debauchery going on around him. Several famous rockers make cameos throughout the painting -- David Bowie snarls from one corner, Debbie Harry appears in the middle of the crowd. We're delighted that the Valley is home to a muralist like Oursland -- someone who refuses to paint cheesy Southwestern scenery on freeway walls. We raise our 50-cent PBRs in salute.

It takes a lot of character to get the same "Best Of" two years in a row. And while we still love the Paper Heart for all the same reasons we did last year -- especially its eclectic variety of free or cheap under-the-radar entertainment, like performance art, poetry slams, comedy shows and indie film screenings -- we love it for a whole new reason: its spacious, cool-looking new digs on Grand Avenue. The former used-car dealership faces the street at an angle, making a statement about the beauty of being off-kilter in this urban grid. More gallery space has made for bigger, livelier First Friday receptions, too -- or is it the addition of a bar that now serves beer and wine? Either way, this is a welcome addition to a stretch of downtown we'd like to see flourish.
We're not sure if the body parts here are any less plastic than what you'd find at the typical Scottsdale nightclub, but it's safe to say that the attitudes aren't as fake. After all, this eclectic party at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is being thrown in the name of art, not action, and the stylish young crowd it draws is more suited to downtown Phoenix than Drinkwater Boulevard. No matter what the night's theme ("Wicked," "Tart," "Spice" -- use your imagination), there's always DJ music and live bands, a runway fashion show, plentiful art on exhibit, and, of course, cocktails. We wouldn't change a thing, except we wish this was a party they threw more often.

Even the most gun-shy gals feel at home on the range at Shooter's World. From 4 to 8 p.m. every Friday, "Arizona's largest indoor shooting facility" fires up for ladies' night, wooing the girls with free range time, free firearm and safety rental, and free instruction; the only cash to cough up is for ammo and targets.

And even though you're packing heat, Shooter's 24 air-conditioned lanes make it easy to keep your cool. So grab a couple gal pals, strike that Charlie's Angels pose, and discover a whole new World -- where firearms and femininity aren't mutually exclusive. Fo' shizzle, my trizzle.

For those of us who grew up watching Hogan's Heroes and idolizing its star Bob Crane, the site of Crane's murder and his last residence -- Room 132A at the Winfield Apartments in Scottsdale -- is perhaps the Valley's most macabre tourist attraction. Crane was living there while he performed in the play Beginner's Luck at the Windmill Dinner Theatre (now The Buzz nightclub), and it was there that he was found bludgeoned to death with his own camera tripod on June 29, 1978. For anyone who hasn't seen the film Auto Focus with Greg Kinnear portraying the troubled actor, Crane was obsessed with sex and with videotaping and photographing his numerous conquests. So the killer's choice of weapon was ironic to say the least. Suspicion centered on an associate of Crane's, John Carpenter (played by Willem Dafoe in the film), but a trial in 1994 acquitted Carpenter of the much-delayed charges, and Carpenter has since died of natural causes. Some believe Crane was instead killed by a jealous boyfriend or an enraged father (likely there were many), so the case remains unsolved. Interesting aside: Bob Crane's son Scotty now peddles pop's homemade porn via the Internet. So if you're interested in seeing Colonel Hogan boffing babes, check out the site at www.bobcrane.com.

But we digress. The Winfield Apartments are now the Winfield Place Condominiums, and someone else occupies the space. Still, more than one Bob Crane fan has cruised by the condos to have his or her picture taken before the sign for the complex.

In this sprawl-happy burg, it's hard to find someplace untouched by the hands of man, where one can flee from reality, if only for a few minutes. If you're like us, you've found an escape route, like the six-mile stretch from Phoenix into Paradise Valley, after dark.

As we head east from 24th Street, the chain stores start to lessen, the road gets curvier, and we open our baby up for a little speed. If it's well past the witching hour, the road's empty except for the sweet smell of a just-completed monsoon squall. An occasional entrance to some gated estate zips by, but thanks to the cover of darkness (and fewer streetlamps along this drag), the gaudy homes of the ultra-rich are nowhere to be seen. With the windows rolled down, the cool moist air whips around us as we come up a gently sloping hill, presented with a panoramic view of the sodium-lighted grid below us.

Oops, a stoplight camera just tagged us after we rolled through the Tatum Boulevard intersection, well over the 40 mph limit. When we get that surreptitious snapshot in the mail in a few weeks, the look on our face will probably be one of delight.

Just about everybody who works in or around the county courthouses in downtown Phoenix knows Eddie Haramina. More important, he knows more about them than they probably would care to admit. Commonly known as "Eddie the Hot Dogger," Haramina has been a fixture in front of the east courthouse at First Avenue and Jefferson Street for more than a quarter-century. There, this Argentinean-born gentleman dispenses his custom-made all-beef hot dogs, fresh lemonade and homemade chili. The dogs are excellent and the buns are steamed, but that's not what makes Eddie such a gem. No, he's our Eddie because he treats Superior Court judges, homeless beggars -- everyone, really -- exactly the same: with unabiding respect and courtesy. And people of all stripes do talk to him about everything (literally) under the sun, including their kids, spouses, jobs, dreams and failures. Believe us, the Hot Dogger is no hot dog.

We love a group of girls who strap on roller skates and bust chops. And we love a bake sale. For the past year or so, the women of the Arizona Roller Derby have dolled up in their fishnets and combat boots and taken to the streets of Phoenix to sell their cookies. They're a solid presence on First Fridays -- not always without some strife, according to their Web site, which features pictures of their bake sale efforts, as well as a couple of car washes.

A posting regarding a recent bake sale gone bad reads, "Of course, we also had a solid crowd going for the 'buy one cookie for $2 and if we're friends with you, we'll throw in a beer' deal, which got us in a lot of trouble, but hopefully the Paisley Violin has forgiven us by now -- sorry!"

Whoops! Now you can find them in front of Holga's, near Third Street and Garfield. But check the Web site for updates. It also has information about upcoming roller derby matches, where the girls will really be shaking their cookies.

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