Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
It may seem odd to select the Phoenix College Bears fast-pitch softball squad as the Valley's best team in a year when they didn't win the national championship. After all, the school had won five previous nationals in a row, a remarkable feat by any measure. But, heck, they finished second (to a team from Normal, Illinois) and destroyed the local competition for the 10th straight season. The Bears consistently rank high in academics, which counts for something in our book. For a body of work that grabbed our attention years ago and continues to shine, Phoenix College softball hits a home run in our park.
If you've never seen the PhoenixPhreaks in action before, just wait until the next First Friday rolls around. This roving gang of cycling psychos (who serve as the local chapter of the national Freakbike Militia) can typically be found cruising down Roosevelt Street or in the vicinity of Bikini Lounge or the Firehouse. They're as much a part of the monthly art walk as the paintings and free cheese and crackers. Speaking of masterpieces, the modified two-wheelers being piloted are works of art in their own right. Most are ordinary bikes that have been elongated and rebuilt to resemble Harley-Davidson choppers straight outta Easy Rider (if Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda were pedaling their way across the Southwest, that is). Others have been pimped up and polished in classic cherry lowrider style. Then there are the bizarre and beautiful customizations, like Allan Greenblazer's "Green Fuzzy Chopper," which (as the name implies) is covered in emerald-colored shag carpeting. We were feeling pretty green ourselves, albeit with envy, after seeing it roll past.
The annual Cruise on Central has been happening in the Valley since the 1960s, and it embraces a proud tradition of hot rods, custom cars, and pimped-out lowriders. Generally held the first Saturday in April, Cruise on Central features a variety of vintage rides, from '70s model Chevy Impalas to '67 Chevy trucks to '41 Pro Street rods. Participants meet at Park Central Mall, just south of Osborn, and proceed south on Central Avenue in a parade of classic and American muscle cars. The event is so hugely popular that it's created problems, with hundreds of people lining up across several blocks of Central Avenue and creating traffic and crowd control concerns. Luckily, the Cruise on Central is adaptable — it'll switch dates at the last minute (as it did this year, when the April 11 cruise was rained out and rescheduled for April 18), or even switch locations (this year's cruise actually happened on Jackson Street).
We've looked high and low, and Purple Lizard — a dear little boutique in west Phoenix packed with cute linen clothes, cuter bags, and spicy-sweet candles — is the only place in town we could find that is currently selling the supplies you need for Dia de los Muertos, a.k.a. Day of the Dead. Here we can stock up the supplies to make sugar skulls (molds, decorations, and the meringue power essential to getting the sugar to stick together), marigolds (the holiday's traditional flower, conveniently made here out of paper) and all manner of skeletons. Not real ones, of course, but the papier-mâché traditionally made to celebrate the dead. At Purple Lizard, you can find a larger-than-life-size lady or a classic diorama with tiny figures, as well as books, tissue paper cutouts, paintings and other items making up the most unique collection of Day of the Dead offerings we've seen anywhere.
Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like a good old-fashioned auto race. For those of us who don't own a muscle car or have the cash to try the big leagues at Bondurant, there's Speed Street Indoor Racetrack, where you can traverse a third-mile track in a bright yellow speedster with a nine-horsepower, four-stroke engine. Okay, their go-karts aren't exactly NASCAR-worthy, but if you crank one up to top speed — about 50 miles per hour — it's still pretty freaking awesome. Each kart has racing slicks for advanced traction and ROC timing to clock your speed as you make a lap, and the indoor arena is temperature-controlled to reduce those nervous sweats. We're a little wary of the happy-hour special, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Fridays, but Speed Street's waiver assures us there won't be any DUIs out on the track.
Want to reach new heights but you're afraid of coming face-to-face with a rattler, scorpion, or hive of Africanized bees? Get inside. The Phoenix Rock Gym offers routes for any level climber. The Beginner's Canyon has straight vertical walls, and those without gear can rent everything they need and climb all day for under $20. More experienced? Ape up the walls of the two more technical areas of the gym, Hueco Canyon or Exit Canyon, or boulder 'til your fingers bleed. The gym offers monthly and quarterly passes, which are both reasonably priced. (For a cool $1 million, The Phoenix Rock Gym also offers a lifetime pass.)
Part of a 27-acre complex that includes tennis courts, a splash pad, and athletic fields, Goodyear's Skate Park is 1,200 cubic feet of heaven for concrete surfers. There's an awesome peanut bowl for beginners, metal coping for grinders, two snake runs, and a 16-foot-high half-capsule. This being Arizona, helmets aren't required. But we feel obligated to suit up our noggins every time we go vert on the seriously wicked 16-foot-deep bowls. The city got some flak from the BMX community after bikes and scooters were banned from the park shortly after its opening in 2007. Skateboarders are happy to bogart the space, though (grudgingly, if it's alongside inline skaters). Not exactly the most sportsmanlike attitude, but, hey, once you've gotten a tire in your face while busting a nightmare flip, you'll agree.
Don't be skerred that President Barack Obama will be putting a permanent safety lock on Americans' right to bear arms. You're just being paranoid and probably a little on edge. Relieve some of that pent-up anxiety at Caswells, a small-ish, 21-year-old gun range tucked inside a warehouse area near Stapley and Baseline roads in Mesa. Eleven shooting lanes, which cost $15 per person per lane, are available for rent for both the grizzled gunsmith and the firearms novice. Not packing a piece? No problem, because you can rent black-as-night Glocks that are also available for purchase through the range's "Try Before You Buy" program. Queues do tend to get long on the weekends, so you may want to fire away on a weeknight. Ladies Day, which entitles women to free range time and gun rentals, takes place Tuesdays and Fridays.
Whatever your preference, if you're into firearms, Usery Mountain is the place to go. Whether you're a beginner who wants to get comfy with a new firearm in a safe environment or a seasoned marksman, you will feel welcome at this massive outdoor shooting range. Usery Mountain's versatility is impressive. The shooting range boasts several pistol bays, clay pigeon throwers, and targets as far away as 500 yards (if you're interested in really testing your aim). Throw in range masters, who supervise the firing range at all times as well as provide safety and education, along with the fact that this shooting range is open pretty much anytime the sun is out, and there really is no competition.
Beware: Final Destination, in its fourth incarnation at the Door Christian Center in Chandler, is not a traditional haunted house. If you're looking for a fun and scary activity to work in between bouts of recreational drug use, promiscuous sex, and idol worship, this "haunted house-style attraction" run by evangelical Christians is not for you. Unless, that is, you're willing to watch a doctor hold down a screaming patient during a mock abortion before going back to your normal weekend routine of smoking up a hooker (using a Bible as rolling paper) while listening to Marilyn Manson. Final Destination is, however, very well put together, with great acting, impressive production values, and passionate workers who'll do their best to save your soul. If you're a remorseless heathen who's Hell-bound anyway, or if you're maybe interested in getting saved, Final Destination makes for a pretty damned entertaining night.
As Halloween season gears up, you're going to hear a lot of boasting by haunted attractions around town. Last year, we pretty much hit them all, and Fear Farm was truly the best. Sure, it's likely a haul from your own unhaunted house, but this massive indoor/outdoor experience is well worth it. Spread over a dozen or so buildings of various sizes and 25 acres of cornfield, this attraction will give you a full night of entertainment. Offering up some of the best pretend monsters in town, this old-school haunt is light on animatronics and chock-full of hair-raising scenes that are well constructed and realistic enough to make suspending disbelief easy — even for adults. Thanks to chainsaw-wielding clowns on stilts, mobile homes that are every bit as scary as you imagine a mobile home in Glendale to be, and a terrifying blood-spattered asylum, this house is first-class all the way.
The holidays can be downright depressing in this cactus garden of a city. But one of our absolute gems is this annual seasonal bash, held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Part of the charm is its location, on Scottsdale Civic Center Mall, which looks the part with its well-groomed greenery. And despite the fact that it's choked with hundreds of children simultaneously trying to frolic in the real snow, get their pics snapped with Santa, make Christmas crafts, and snag the best view of the official tree-lighting, the event goes off like clockwork, year after year. (P.S.: Admission is free, and you don't have to live in Scottsdale to attend.)