Cruising Down Central Avenue

You’re cruising Central, headed south. Because you’ve lived in Phoenix longer than you care to remember, you’re seeing not just the buildings on either side of this wide expanse of road, but what used to stand in their places as well. You’ve been here so long, you remember when driving up and down this street, looking to hook up, was a weekend activity of every baby boomer in town.

Here on your right is Park Central Mall. Its recent facelift gives Phoenix’s first outdoor shopping mall a Midcentury Modern feel, but you’re not fooled. You recall when there were actual department stores there, where today there’s a collection of business offices, a handful of chain restaurants, and — huzzah! — a Starbucks. One thing they got right was returning the Walter Emory Sun Worshipper statue, a long-ago Park Central mainstay, to the property. Even if it is on the wrong side of the mall.

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Of the thousands of Trump supporters, Proud Boys, white supremacists, and hopeful insurgents who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, the most singularly memorable one is from Arizona. Go figure. Jacob Chansley, a 2005 graduate of Moon Valley High School, was at the Capitol in his guise as QAnon shaman Jake Angeli, dressed spectacularly in a fur hat with horns, Fourth of July makeup on his face, and nothing but tattoos on his bare chest. Holding an American flag attached to a long spear, he was recorded walking through the Capitol with other rioters, clenching a fist behind the Speaker's desk, and sitting in Mike Pence's chair, where he wrote a note to the vice president that said, "ITS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME / JUSTICE IS COMING." Back in Phoenix three days later, Chansley turned himself in upon learning the FBI was looking for him in its hunt for other protester-insurgents. Phoenix reporters already knew him from local right-wing protests: He was a 33-year-old wanna-be actor who lived with his mom in Glendale after falling behind on rent at his own apartment (the same mom who complained on his behalf when he wasn't getting enough organic food in jail). In early September, Chansley pleaded guilty to obstructing a civil proceeding, and his sentencing is tentatively scheduled for November. Maybe federal prison will be able to keep up with his dietary requirements.

Best Shitshow That Could End Democracy As We Know It

Maricopa County Ballot Audit

This year, Republican cynicism or outright delusion about Trump's failure to win the presidential election centered on Arizona, to a large extent, in one of the strangest ballot audits ever seen in modern politics. The Arizona Senate, led by Karen Fann and egged on by powerful state Republicans including the party's state chair, Kelli Ward, ordered the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to turn over all 2.1 million ballots cast in the county for the November 2020 election. The senate then hired an unknown Florida company, Cyber Ninjas, run by a Trump supporter, to conduct the audit. Earnest volunteers allegedly audited the ballots as they were placed on spinning lazy Susans, looking for irregularities including whether traces of bamboo might be present in the ballots, in case fake ballots were smuggled in from Asia. As of press time, the results of the count still haven't been released. But experts point out that for the audit to continue for so long without actual proof of fraud, combined with efforts by Republicans in other states to undermine the 2020 election, could destroy trust in elections. As disinformation spreads and voters can't agree on basic facts, some fret that American democracy is in decline. When it all falls apart, you can thank Arizona.

Arizona was one of the most important states in the 2020 presidential election, with its 11 electoral college votes hanging in the balance. Trump was counting on another Electoral College victory and needed most of his key states — including Arizona — to come through for him. Then came an election call that no one, least of all President Trump, had expected. Arizona was going Biden. For Biden supporters, especially those in Arizona, this was a magical and unexpected event. Even faithful Democrats found it slightly unbelievable, given that hundreds of thousands of votes remained to be counted. But in the end, Fox News was right. So, naturally, it fired its political editor, Chris Stirewalt, who correctly projected Arizona's win.

Celine and Kevin Rille put the "co" in co-working — their space is comfortable, collegial, and most of all, it's about community. These two didn't just buy a building, throw up walls, and start collecting rent. Instead, they treat this club like family — and that's what it feels like in all the best ways. The word is out, too; the Rilles recently expanded to the building next door. From the rosé on tap, jars of snacks, and regular happy hours (during non-pandemic times) to the gorgeous work and community spaces, weekly yoga, and convivial atmosphere, this is the place to see, be seen, and co-work.

Short Creek, a community of current and former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is only about a six-hour drive from Phoenix, but philosophically, it may as well be on another planet. So we're grateful to Utah journalist Ash Sanders and Arizona's own Sarah Ventre for giving us an inside look at that remote, insular world through their 10-part podcast, Unfinished: Short Creek, from Witness Docs and Critical Frequency. The pair spent years reporting on the community before debuting the series in fall 2020. Through unbiased reporting of their own and the voices of dozens of members of the community, Sanders and Ventre teach listeners about a part of Arizona culture that is often sensationalized but rarely understood. It's no wonder that it gained national acclaim, including making The Atlantic and The New Yorker's lists of best podcasts of 2020.

Peter Corbett has a travel website,, that's worth checking out. But because we're addicted to social media, we usually encounter the former Arizona newspaperman on Twitter, where Corbett regularly posts highlights from his adventures exploring the small towns, historic sites, and extravagant scenery our state has to offer. You'll see a Lake Powell sunrise overlooking Wahweap Marina on the Arizona-Utah border. You'll learn that two former Phoenix cops opened Alpine Pizza in Flagstaff in 1973. You'll discover that Apache Junction was once home to the Apacheland Movie Ranch, a western town built circa 1960 that later burned down. If you're interested in Arizona, past or present, Corbett's a must-follow.

We're thrilled for these Phoenix-based veteran journalists that their April 2021 book, Driving While Brown: Sheriff Joe Arpaio Versus the Latino Resistance, is getting national acclaim (including a recent rave review in the Los Angeles Review of Books). But we're equally gratified that the book exists as an invaluable chronicle of the 24-year Arpaio Era, one that saw Arizona gain an international reputation for illegal, cruel treatment of Latino people. Driving While Brown, which was published by University of California Press, is meticulously researched and includes crucial backstory on Arizona history and the early life of Arpaio himself. You'll probably spend a lot of your reading time angry about the things that happened here, but don't forget to be appreciative of the wave of Latino activism that arose during that period of time and that continues to advocate for equality and immigrant rights.

A man wearing a Vic Hanny suit walks into Rosenzweig and Sons Jewelers and finds a young Barry Goldwater eyeing a pocket watch. Private eyes lunch at the Saratoga; characters name-drop Carl Hayden and Governor Hunt and Winnie Ruth Judd and Otis Kenilworth, the barber. Jon Talton's latest crime novel follows a former homicide detective who's chasing down Depression-era missing persons when he discovers a dismembered body beside the train tracks. Because this is a noir mystery, the murder is linked to powerful people, both good and bad; and because it's a Talton thriller, the gumshoeing goes on in Phoenix. City of Dark Corners is bursting with cameos by long-gone local celebrities and well-loved places, but even for people who live in Schenectady, the latest from the beloved local historian (Talton's Rogue Columnist blog charts Phoenix history) is another tightly drawn winner.

Mesa native T.J. Newman used to stock shelves at Changing Hands Bookstore and fantasize about seeing a book of her own on display — a not-uncommon aspiration for a would-be novelist, but one that rarely comes to fruition. Newman bucked the odds this year in grand fashion, though, when her debut novel, Falling, was published in July. Newman, a flight attendant, wrote her thriller — about a pilot who must crash the plane he's flying or else a terrorist will kill his family — while working cross-country red eyes, and after rejections from 41 literary agents, she got a yes, a two-book publishing deal, and a seven-figure advance to boot. Perhaps most poignant of all, she got her very own book event at Changing Hands in Phoenix (the first in-person event at the store since the pandemic began). Newman's family, friends, co-workers, and fans gathered to hear her talk about her first novel (she's already deep into writing the next one) — and to watch a dream come true.

As the founding director for ASU's Center for Imagination in the Borderlands and a Mohave language preservation activist, Natalie Diaz has been exploring the intersections of language, place, and identity in her work, which this year expanded to include her second poetry collection, Postcolonial Love Poem. It was well-received upon its release, then it became very well-received when it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. During a year filled with conversations about social justice related to health care, immigration, and police brutality, Diaz's poetry created space for readers to consider how one can love and be loved in the context of colonial violence, and gave voice to Diaz's experiences as an Indigenous, Latinx, and queer woman.

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