Best Of :: People & Places
We didn't think much of Barack Obama's chances of becoming president before he arrived at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix on January 30. Because of one major obstacle: He's black. But Obama's like a lot of rock stars we've seen in our time — you don't really get him until you witness him onstage. It was such an experience at the coliseum that afternoon, when upwards of 20,000 people showed up to take in the Illinois U.S. senator and first serious African-American presidential candidate. Caroline Kennedy was there, so was Governor Janet Napolitano — up there on the dais with Obama, surrounded by screaming fans as Stevie Wonder played on the P.A.
What struck us about Obama was his cool as he riffed with the audience for an hour or so. No notes, no jitters, no sweat. In fact, we wonder whether he even sweats when he famously plays basketball games with campaign staff. This day, he bantered about hope, change, kindness, toughness, inclusion of all Americans in the system (the usual stuff), but it wasn't what he said that mattered. It was the style in which he said it.
He was the kind of speaker who won over voters that day with his elegant tone, the kind of speaker who thrilled the converted with his movie-star orations, the kind of speaker who didn't threaten the older white folks in the audience. President 50 Cent he wouldn't be. Past black presidential candidates, like Jesse Jackson, come across as insufferable hotheads compared to him; John McCain comes across as an insufferable hothead next to him.
It was if he were having an after-dinner conversation with us over a glass of brandy and a cigar, only there were many thousands of us, from floor to rafters. We felt reassured that he was somebody of substance, a characteristic we had questioned of this first-term senator before that moment. By the time we'd left, if we hadn't been jaded members of the press who needed to maintain our (um) objectivity, we would've admitted that Obama seemed wise beyond his political years, that he had charisma unseen in presidential politics since Ronald Reagan or JFK. We came away from the rally with the unspoken sentiment that we wouldn't want to be John McCain. Even then, it was clear that Barack Hussein Obama (despite the unfortunate middle name) possesses something Arizona's experienced senior senator will never have: commanding flair.
If you've ever felt the overwhelming need to be the center of attention (and the gaping stares of other people don't bother you), then visit Easley's Fun Shop. The Valley's most renowned costume store is a veritable freak factory, with hundreds of crazy getups within its yellow walls, not to mention the wacky wigs, madcap masks, and other outrageous accessories. Want to shock your friends on Halloween? Rent the "evil clown" ensemble. Got a gonzo costume party to go to? Slip on a pimp costume and also grab a John F. Kennedy mask for some wry political satire. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination, bub, because sometimes it's more fun being a freak show than seeing a freak show.
Considering the way our city has expanded over the past few decades, with people relocating from other states, sometimes it's hard to tell who was born here from those who've moved here. We've figured out a surefire way of determining who's a native and who's a Johnny-come-lately: Ask them about Legend City. Only true OG's born and raised in the PHX will remember going to the Valley's version of Disneyland, which was located near 56th and Washington streets on the border of Phoenix and Tempe from 1963 until it was felled by a wrecking ball in the early '80s. The joyous joint was filled with themed areas devoted to Arizona's Wild West history and culture, like Indian Country and Boom Town.
We've got childhood memories of bombing around the park, lining up for the spookiness of the Lost Dutchman Mine ride, floating down the River of Legends, or spinning around on the Krazy Kups until we were green in the face. Our first chance to meet Wallace and Ladmo also came at Legend City, as the hosts of the renowned local children's show were regular visitors, holding a live stage show weekly and handing out their coveted and candy-filled Ladmo Bags. Thankfully, the park lives on through Web sites (www.legend-city.com) and even its own MySpace page (www.myspace.com/legendcity), where former patrons leave loving devotions, like the one from a dude who wrote, "Legend City is truly legendary." Word.
Technically, Laurie Notaro moved away from Phoenix years ago. Yet she keeps coming back, usually in the form of her essays and fiction, now found in seven books — with more to come. In her latest, Flaming Tantrum of Death, Notaro proves you can judge a book by its cover (we always love her covers) particularly if you read the subtitle: "Reflections on revenge, germophobia, and laser hair removal." That's quite a trapeze act, we think. And obviously Notaro thought the same, given her cover art.
Fuzzy hair, bulbous nose, comically pompous, attorney Dennis Wilenchik had all the makings of a clown even before he pulled out ethical stops and went after New Times. As Sheriff Joe Arpaio's well-paid attorney on the taxpayers' dime, Wilenchik had learned from the harlequin-supreme. Nobody sports a bulbous red nose and a potbelly, while acting the fool, better than ol' Joke.
Even before Wilenchik put his big clown shoe in his own mouth in the New Times case and a judge put her stiletto up his ass, it was as if Joe were conducting clown college and Dennis was star student. Wilenchik went after Joe foe Dan Saban with the vengeance of Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight, trying to get him fired from his job, bringing up Arpaio's smear campaign against Saban to practically anybody who'd listen. (It was right out of Arpaio's playbook.) Denny was all about extra-legal activities only tangentially related to his defense against a slander lawsuit Saban filed against the sheriff because of the bogus smear. That Wilenchik won that suit on technicalities must have emboldened him to take up his buffoonish mentor's cause against the alternative newspaper-thorn in the sheriff's backside.
We can just imagine him popping his suspenders with glee when ringmaster Andy Thomas asked him to enter the bit tent and attempt to tame New Times. The problem here was that County Attorney Thomas was asking Wilenchik to go into the lion's cage with whip and chair, and he was but a pitiful clown, prone to clown-like antics — such as trying to influence the presiding judge over the New Times case and ordering the arrests of the paper's owners for writing a story a story about abusive grand jury subpoenas he'd issued from a grand jury that didn't actually exist.
The capper was that the subpoenas demanded not only NT journalists' notes and communications regarding Arpaio, but the Internet-viewing habits of readers who'd clicked on the paper's coverage of the withered law-clown. All perfectly fine in the funny-haired world in which he and Arpaio reside, but unwise when handling big cats. He was reprimanded by the judge, and fired as special prosecutor by his beloved ringmaster — after public opinion took a big bite out of both their bozo asses. Raar! The result is that Wilenchik and Thomas are under investigation by the Arizona Bar Association, and we hope that these scary scaramouches get a good legal whacking. Now that would be funny.
If any of your candy-ass, 'fraidy-cat friends are too terrified by the Desert Storm's towering appearance to consider riding the 90-foot-high roller coaster (the biggest in the state), tell 'em the ride lasts only about a minute and a half, from start to finish. A mere 90 seconds. About as much time as it takes to nuke a microwave burrito. Although you may wanna skip over the part about how there probably won't be any time to be scared, as they'll likely be too busy screaming their lungs out in terror while zooming along 2,000 feet of steel track (including the initial drop of 85 feet) and blasting through two vertical loopty-loops at around 50 miles per hour. With that whole "nothing to fear but fear itself" thing going on, the less they know, the better. Besides, once they've busted their cherry and ridden it at least once, we're sure they'll be hopping back in line to go again.
Former Arizona Governor Rose Mofford is the Jimmy Carter of our state — perhaps maligned a bit while in office, the elder stateswoman is celebrated by just about everyone these days. Since leaving office in 1991 (she served as secretary of state for more than a decade before becoming governor in 1988) the longtime public servant and softball champion has stayed active, volunteering for charities, and keeping her hand in the political game.
Mofford's perhaps best remembered for her fabulous white beehive, once drawn by a local political cartoonist as a Dairy Queen cone. We've always thought of it more as a swirl of cotton candy, which is why we were so tickled to see an advance copy of a billboard that will celebrate this year's Arizona State Fair. Take a look for yourself and tell us that's not sweet enough to give you a cavity!
In a city that almost always sleeps, it's rare to see anyone out for a stroll. But there's one couple you can count on: Julian and Suzanne. You'll find them in the form of a large-scale, animated light sculpture permanently affixed to a southeast wall of the Phoenix Art Museum. The creation of British artist Julian Opie, the large-scale (13.5 feet high, 10 feet wide) work is one of the most clever pieces of public art we've ever seen — beautiful in its simplicity, belying the tremendous work that went into its creation. Opie, whose work is also included in the permanent collection of the Tate Gallery in London, videotapes various people (including himself) walking on treadmills, then simplifies still images on the computer and animates them for LED displays. We don't understand just exactly how it works, but we know one thing: We could watch Julian and Suzanne all day.
Some skylines are world-famous — like Chicago, with the Sears Tower, or San Francisco, with the Transamerica Building. While Camelback Mountain is widely recognizable and doing us proud in the nature department, some folks are still longing for an urban stretch of skyscape as a reminder that it's not just a desert, it's the big city, dammit!
If you're looking for the best urban view Phoenix has to offer, your best bet is from the freeway. Jump on the eastbound I-10. Gaze to the right between 19th Avenue and Seventh Avenue. (Go for the passenger seat. We know you want to see signs of the big city, but safety first.) This stretch of our well-traveled thoroughfare gives a glimpse of the city's burgeoning skyline, best viewed at dusk when the pinky twilight illuminates the Chase Building, the Viad Building, and even the Luhrs Tower. These venerable old school 'scrapers are intertwined with the newly emerging and climbing developments as downtown continues its visible expansion upward. While a whole slew of developers promise a chorus of "One day we'll be sky high," this stretch of I-10 delivers the goods today.
If you know where every speed-enforcement camera is, and if you track where the cops normally park, you can speed and get away with it. Well, that's the theory.
If you subscribe to that theory, then there's no better resource than speedtrap.org. It's a national registry of speed traps — both conventional cop stakeouts and photo-radar locations. Simply log on to the Web site and click "Arizona." Then click the name of the city you plan to speed through.
The only depressing thing about speedtrap.org is how incredibly thorough it is. In the city of Scottsdale alone, Speedtrap lists 47 photo and conventional speed-trap locations — the vast majority of which are 100 percent legit.
Of course, thanks to Governor Janet Napolitano's push for statewide highway photo enforcement, you can mark the entire freeway system of Arizona as speed-trapped. In recent months, those white photo-enforcement vans have been popping up along the I-10 and even the I-17. So much for the Wild West.
Gas prices keep going up, and that's got you down. Listen to Spike Lee and get on the bus! In fall 2007, Valley Metro introduced an all-day pass that can be purchased on any bus for $2.50. Supplanting the flimsy transfers of the past, it surely is cheaper than the gallon of gas you're burning in your daily commute. Hit Valley Metro's Web site to conjure up your plan of action, leave your road rage behind, and pop in your earbuds. For the truly adventurous, strike up a conversation with an endless cast of strap-hangers, including the self-proclaimed chatterbox and the dude freestyling and shilling his demo CD-R.