Best Of :: Megalopolitan Life
by Robrt L. Pela
“It’s quite a ways from where I live,” jazz singer and KJZZ host Blaise Lantana says of the Musical Instrument Museum, “but it’s always worth the drive. The acoustics in the performance space are great for a small ensemble, and there isn’t a bad seat in the house.” The gift shop, says Lantana, is always fun. “I have all these music-themed scarves and jewelry and little instruments,” she confesses. “And I can’t stay out of the MIM cafe — it’s got tasty and unique food.”
Lantana, who’s been music director at the NPR member station for 23 years, works off her MIM meals at Kiwanis Park. “When it’s cool out, I walk along the lake and listen to all the music, from hip-hop to Vietnamese music made by the people fishing or coming from a quincea–era in the park.”
- I love the Musical Instrument Museum (4725 East Mayo Boulevard, 480-478-6000, mim.org) for music and lunch and to wander around and play on some of the instruments.
- I usually go to the True Rest Float Spa (1860 East Warner Road, 480-389-0853, truerest.org) in Tempe, but I've gone to Chandler and Gilbert too. Who knew Epsom salts could be so relaxing?
- Pita Jungle at Dobson and Ray roads (1949 West Ray Road, Chandler, 480-855-3232, pitajungle.com) hosts a jazz jam every Thursday, and I'm always doing everything I can to finish work early so I can get there.
- Kiwanis Park (Mill Avenue and All America Way) has all these wonderful trails. They go east all the way to Mesa somewhere. It's a great bike ride.
- Mesa Arts Center (1 East Main Street, Mesa, 480-640-6500, mesaartscenter.com) is the most comfortable place for me. I just love seeing shows there. The sound is great and the seats are comfy.
There are plenty of comedians in the Valley with tight fives, but how many of them can say they've created a holiday? In addition to possessing one of the sharpest tongues and fastest wits in Phoenix, comic Anwar Newton is the creator of that most glorious of high holy days: Ja Rule Day, that blessed day on December 9 on which people across the nation pay tribute to Mr. Livin' It Up with thousands of "IT'S MURDA" jokes. But Newton is more than the originator of a fun meme holiday. He's also one of the creative forces behind Literally the Worst Show Ever, one of the best recurring comedy shows in Arizona. A mix of stand-up, character work, and hilarious videos, LTWSE's ambitions and production values put most other comedy nights to shame. And when Newton isn't hosting LTWSE, he's co-hosting a weekly late-night comedy show with Michael Turner called This Week Sucks, Tonight! He also has a killer routine about why you should be worried if you see your doctor drinking from a Polar Pop cup.
Every movement has to start somewhere. For the #RedForEd teachers who rose up in Arizona this spring, it began with Twitter and T-shirts. A conversation online between an outspoken music teacher and the head of the Arizona Education Association led to an idea: What if teachers wore red shirts to school in a show of solidarity for increased pay and school funding? Before too long, educators were holding demonstrations outside their school buildings. They began strategizing about demands. And in April, the #RedForEd movement pulled off a weeklong teachers' strike, closing schools across the state for the first time in Arizona history. Governor Doug Ducey, relenting to one of their main demands, gave teachers a 20 percent pay increase to take effect over the next three years. The movement suffered a blow when the Arizona Supreme Court knocked the Invest in Ed initiative from the ballot in late August. But don't count #RedForEd out yet. Teachers have vowed to support pro-education candidates at the ballot box in November. As it turns out, this year the most important lesson for Arizona teachers was a crash course in direct democracy.
It may have been Joe Arpaio's best interview in 25 years of politicking. The former Maricopa County sheriff has dropped enough bombshells during interviews over the years to flatten the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range. (Remember when he told Lou Dobbs it was an "honor" to be compared to the KKK?) Nothing he's done on TV in the past, however, tops his R-rated appearance with comedian Sacha Baron Cohen on Showtime's Who is America? While he was still running his failed campaign for the U.S. Senate, Arpaio got tricked by Cohen into appearing on the show, thinking Cohen was a YouTube star from Finland. Anyone in their right mind would have pegged Cohen as a kidder, but Arpaio, 86, has been steadily losing his mind for years. When Cohen asked Arpaio if he thought President Donald Trump has had a "golden shower," the ex-sheriff didn't reflect back to the news coverage of the past year. Instead, he told Cohen it wouldn't surprise him. The punch line of the show came when Cohen asked Arpaio what he'd say if Trump offered him "an amazing blowjob." To the delight of nearly everyone, Arpaio responded that he "may have to say yes." Maybe it was a Freudian slip, but Arpaio probably had no idea what Cohen was talking about. He might not have even known what day it was. But Arpaio's last major interview will be racking up views on YouTube for years to come.
Not even Tom Bodett could have put a positive spin on this story after Phoenix New Times reporters Antonia Noori Farzan and Joseph Flaherty combed through thousands of court records to uncover a pattern: Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents regularly showed up at one of two corporate-owned Motel 6s in Phoenix to arrest guests who had been deported but had re-entered the country illegally. Our reporters learned that the motels were sending their full guest lists every night to ICE, whose agents were comparing them to the names they had of undocumented immigrants, then making more than 20 arrests when they found matches. The story went viral, and within 24 hours Motel 6 said that it was ending its policy of handing over guest lists, and that the practice had been limited to only two motels in Phoenix. However, in January, the attorney general of Washington state announced that, based on our reporting, his office began an investigation and found at least six more Motel 6 properties that had been handing over information on more than 9,000 guests in that state. The Columbia Journalism Review called Farzan and Flaherty's reporting "an advertisement for alt-weeklies." We like to think of that reporting as shining a light on Motel 6 and leaving it on.
Progressive state representative Athena Salman has been killing it this year. To start, she represents Arizona's 26th legislative district, which includes the cities of Tempe, Mesa, Phoenix, and the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. She gained further notice from those not already paying attention when she introduced House Bill 2222, otherwise known as the #LetItFlow campaign, which highlighted how incarcerated women were given just 12 sanitary pads a month. Salman, an Arizona State University magna cum laude graduate, has continued the year supporting the #RedForEd movement, LGBTQ equality, women's rights, and many more issues.
Some power couples seek out fame and fortune. This duo just want to make Arizona more equitable for everyone. Often spotted in the halls of the state Capitol, Marilyn Rodriguez is a founder of the progressive lobbying firm Creosote Partners, and works tirelessly to advance environmental causes and criminal justice reform. Meanwhile, Joel Edman runs the Arizona Advocacy Network, a nonpartisan group fighting voter suppression. The do-gooders got engaged last December, and we couldn't be happier for them — and their adorable rescue dog.
With so much craziness emanating from the White House, it can be tough to keep up to date with what's happening closer to home. That's why we're so grateful for The Breakdown, a weekly podcast in which some of Arizona's sharpest political reporters help us get caught up with the latest developments at the state Capitol. Host and producer Katie Campbell got her start in public radio, and her peppy delivery keeps us coming back for more. Listeners agree, with one iTunes reviewer calling it "an Arizona-only version of the NPR Politics podcast, detailed, objective, and entertaining." Whether the topic is opioid addiction or education funding, the discussion is always informative, but never overly wonky or insider-y.
When he's not busy fighting for the civil rights of Arizona's growing Muslim population, CAIR-Arizona president Imraan Siddiqi is dunking on conservatives on Twitter, where he excels at deploying sarcastic one-liners and finding the perfect GIF for any situation. With over 38,000 followers, he's one of the loudest voices in the state when it comes to speaking up against all forms of discrimination. He's used his platform to raise money for a vandalized Jewish cemetery, and to fight for the prosecution of two women who filmed themselves mocking Muslims and stealing Korans from a Tempe mosque. But he's also just plain funny. "E-coli will be a great time, after I finish my stint in the hospital for salmonella," he cracked in response to a conservative commentator's claim that Nikki Haley would make a great first female president after Trump's first term.
Bob Stump spent 26 years representing Arizona in Congress before he died in 2003. Then, in late 2017, Bob Stump announced that he'd be running for the seat vacated by Representative Trent Franks, possibly to the confusion of elderly voters in the 8th Congressional District. No, Bob Stump hadn't risen from the dead — this was Christopher Robert Stump, a Hawaii-born Harvard graduate who conveniently started going by "Bob" right around the time that he got involved in Arizona politics. After Bob Stump's widow accused the younger Bob Stump of misleading voters, his mother jumped into the fray, insisting that he had every right to use the name. Their feud ended after the Republican primary, when Stump received less than 6 percent of the vote. Name recognition only gets you so far.
"We Need a Mom to Clean Up the House." That's the tagline that Milena "Millie" Bucci, a Democratic candidate for the Arizona House of Representatives, chose for her campaign to replace Representative Don Shooter, who had been accused of sexual harassment by numerous women. While the play on words was undeniably clever, the slogan also smacked of gender essentialism — after all, in 2018, do we really want to assume that only women and mothers are capable of doing basic household tasks? Before she could land a spot on the ballot, though, Bucci dropped out of the race. And Shooter ended up getting ousted from the House after Speaker J.D. Mesnard called for his expulsion — proving that men, too, are capable of rolling up their sleeves and dealing with a mess.
Arizona's departing junior senator has a weird knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time — or the right place at the right time, depending on how you look at it. First, there was the baseball game in Alexandria, Virginia, where a lone gunman opened fire and shot Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise. Flake immediately rushed over and applied pressure to the wound until paramedics arrived, then called Scalise's wife so that she wouldn't find out about the shooting through the news. Then, in January, Flake was on his way to a GOP retreat in Virginia with other Republican lawmakers when their train collided with a garbage truck. Unscathed, he immediately began helping to treat the injured passengers. What's next for Flake after his retirement from the Senate is unclear, but we're guessing that it might mean some volunteer stints as an EMT.
Smack-dab in the middle of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and general male asshole-ism, Republican Congressman Trent Franks got caught in a sexual misconduct scandal and resigned. Steve Montenegro and nine other GOP candidates decided to run for his seat, and for a while, Montenegro was the leader. He'd had a short but successful career in the Arizona Legislature, with a stint as Republican Majority Leader of the Senate. If you think a holier-than-thou politician who works part-time as a preacher has something to hide, you'd be right. The family man was sharing bawdy text messages with the Senate's social media coordinator, who used her skills to send Montenegro at least one topless photo on Snapchat. Montenegro looked like the biggest boob in town for a week or so after someone leaked the texts to the media. Who leaked it and why? The answer proved elusive. But the damage was done when the story hit the papers, and Montenegro's star fell. Voters elected Debbie Lesko to Congress. Hint to other high-profile Don Juans: Just because you put your sex fantasies on Snapchat doesn't mean they'll disappear. But your political aspirations just might.