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.

You've been a naughty New Times reader, and Mistress Porsche Lynn has just the punishment for you. In a warehouse five miles west of Sky Harbor Airport, the legendary adult-film star -- whose handprints adorn the adult industry's Walk of Fame outside Larry Flynt's Hustler Hollywood store -- has the dungeon to rival all dungeons. Inside a nondescript building where security cameras watch over the exterior like high-tech gargoyles, a score of worship-worthy doms, submissives and switches (those who "switch" from dom to sub) render and receive punishment to and from clients.

A number of lavishly outfitted rooms help Mistress Porsche and her femmes fatales fulfill customers' fantasies. There's a 4,000-square-foot main dungeon room with X-crosses and cages; an immersion room with a spanking bench, a gynecologist's chair, and a suspension unit that helps you "hang out"; a doctor's clinic where your nasty nurse can give you a full examination; and a parlor where sissy boys can cross-dress to their heart's content. Phone sessions are also available, and there are always guest doms in from N.Y or L.A. Visits are by appointment only, so give them a call for precise directions, and meet that Venus in Furs you've always dreamed of.

BEST PLACE TO CRASH IF YOU'RE A MILL RAT

TV Lounge

It's been a long night of spanging and bumming smokes in front of the Coffee Plantation on Mill Avenue, and now the dawn is breaking. You need some serious sack time, but too bad the cops busted up your squat the night before. Luckily, the cushy red couches in the TV Lounge on the lower level of ASU's Memorial Union will fit the bill nicely, and you can lay your crusty head down for a nap. If the sandman doesn't come posthaste, drop a couple of panhandled bucks for a Croissan'wich, watch cheesy talk shows and aging sitcoms on the gigantic-screen TV, or jam out at one of Hoodlums' listening stations in its adjacent store. If the occasional student worker (or "The Man") rousts you and demands some student ID, the jig might be up. As long as you don't stand out -- consider removing some of your funk in one of the union's many restrooms -- you won't look (or smell) much different from any of the other twentysomethings who're dozing after an all-nighter. When you wake refreshed, check your Hotmail account on any of the walk-up Internet stations before heading out to resume your night-crawling ways or to catch a train to parts unknown.
If you're a chubby, pale-skinned teen eager to replace your threadbare Misfits tee with something more likely to shock your already concerned parents, you've come to the right place. The first thing that grabs your attention as you enter the shadowy confines of this hardcore metal CD store and specialty boutique isn't the severed limbs that hang from the ceiling, nor is it the not-so-dulcet thunder of grindcore assaulting your ears. Nope, it's the rows of tee shirts from local and national acts. Three double-sided racks of pitch-black printed tees await you, any one of which will announce your newfound affair with the dark lord and make you the foe of the holy rollers everywhere. Get the folks pounding the Paxil with Cannibal Corpse's "Eaten Back to Life" shirt, which depicts a rotting cadaver consuming its own entrails. Too subtle? Perhaps Cradle of Filth's "Desire Me Like Satan" tog -- with a buxom, topless woman with legs spread wide and bound to an upside-down crucifix -- might get you into group therapy double-quick. Of course, no potentially offensive outfit would be complete without a pair of spiked leather gauntlets, gargoyle incense holder and copy of Terrorizer magazine, also in stock. It's like a head shop, without all the, er, tobacco paraphernalia.
If you've driven from San Diego to Phoenix, you know there's not much to look at. On a recent summer vacay, we were almost at the end of the road -- Maricopa Road, that is, en route to I-10 -- when we noticed a sign out the window. It was one of those Adopt-A-Highway signs, you know, the kind usually sponsored by the Sierra Club or the Audubon Society. Up 'til that point, Hooters was the oddest Adopt-A-Highway sponsorship we'd ever seen. But this one really made us wonder if we were hallucinating after too many hours on the road. The Church of Body Modification, chipping in for roadside cleanup? Aren't those folks too busy suspending themselves by their nipples and ramming hooks through their back flesh? Turns out they are too busy, according to Doug Nintzel, from the Arizona Department of Transportation. He confirms the Bod Modders sponsored a mile on Maricopa Road, just south of I-10, but says that our call prompted some checking, and that after more than a year, no one had heard from the Church. So ADOT "did a modification of our own," as the witty Nintzel puts it, and stripped the Church of Body Modification of its Adopt-A-Highway status.

Ouch, that smarts.

Don't get us wrong. We love our city. But we know our limitations. And let's face it, friends, Phoenix is not the nation's music capital. It's not the music capital of the Southwest. It's not even the music capital of Arizona, for crying out loud. That title goes to Tucson.

But no one mentioned this to Esquire magazine, which recently published a music guide including an article titled "Cities That Rock: A Guide to the 10 Best Cities for Seeing and Hearing Music." Clearly, the writer was trying to be counterintuitive, since Pittsburgh and Fresno also made the list. But we really had to chortle -- and then wonder if maybe we were missing something in our backyard -- when we found our own fair city at Number 9, below New Orleans and before San Francisco.

"The Phoenix and Tempe scene is like a desert flower in bloom," Esquire reports, referencing the Format and Necronauts as the bands to watch, and Stinkweeds and Modified Arts the places to buy music and hear it, respectively.

We love Stinkweeds and Modified, but do they catapult us above S.F.?

Who knows? Maybe we should start believing our own press.

Sloane McFarland is Phoenix's own renaissance man -- an artist who dabbles in real estate. Usually it's the other way around, but this young man truly applies his aesthetic to everything he does, and, whether he means to or not, is creating community in his hometown. He's best known as the landlord at Lux Coffeebar on Central Avenue; his slump-block complex also houses the sandwich shop Pane Bianco, and Passage, a boutique featuring locally produced fashion. McFarland is one of the guys behind Welcome Diner on Roosevelt Street, and now, we hear, he's branching out to Buckeye, putting artists in a strip mall and developing other properties, spreading the wealth west.

Thanks, Sloane, for helping us to fill the pages of Best of Phoenix. We can't wait to see what you do next.

The 5,000-square-foot refuge sectioned off on the fourth floor of the Phoenix Public Library's main branch is revered by the community as a safe haven for teens, and loved by teens because someone has actually been able to create a safe setting that's not too dorky to attract the kids. Staffed by an average of five librarians specially trained to deal with teen issues, and stacked with resources to help teens cope with everything from peer pressure and pregnancy to that looming book report on The Odyssey, Teen Central has earned its reputation as a sanctuary for teens.

In fact, about the only place around TC where young people have to deal with the weirdness of the adult world is at the entrance, where older relatives sometimes hang out like the reverse version of underage kids outside the liquor store, bribing 14-year-olds to pick up that latest Sigur Rs CD from the section's 5,000-plus collection of new and recent releases -- the most current selection in town. It's no wonder the oldsters lurk jealously outside the door: Teen Central is like the dream library denied to all previous generations, outfitted with a cozy crash space surrounded by magazines and vending machines, nearly two dozen Internet-wired PCs blaring music videos and games, a wide-screen TV hosting twice-daily movie matinees, and even a small dance floor.

Best of all: In Teen Central, no one ever tells you to "shush."

Best Of Phoenix®

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