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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Peter Corbett has a travel website, ontheroadarizona.com, 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.

For nearly a century, this expert collection of keen travel stories and scenic photography has documented the hills and valleys of our fair state. In April 1925, Arizona Highways was meant to document the booming road-construction projects of the Department of Transportation, but long after those pathways were paved, the magazine was still publishing, a showcase for some of the world's best photographs of cactus and cactus wren, of mountains and sunrises. Alongside the stunning shots, you'll find stories about everything from the water crisis in the Navajo Nation to the best scenic drives in town and beyond. And since this is the social media age, we should remind you that the magazine's Instagram account (@arizonahighways, of course) is chock-full of that same top-quality photography and always makes us stop our scrolling to appreciate our state's natural beauty.

We're big fans of all three hosts of local National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's magazine-style program The Show. Steve Goldstein and Mark Brody have the institutional knowledge and journalist acumen it takes to keep us up to date Monday through Friday. But Lauren Gilger's the one who puts this show over the top. She's got the news chops for sure, but she also understands how important it is to look beyond the headlines at the ways the arts and culture both reflect and affect our lives. We hope she never trades us for a larger market.

In a sea of options, we prefer to get our local news from KAET-TV, metro Phoenix's PBS station, and Horizon, which has been on the air for more than 40 years, has long been Channel 8's crown jewel. That makes Ted Simons, who's been on the show since 2007, the king. And the guy wears his crown well, managing to always be prepared no matter the topic, and elevating the conversation while still making his guests feel welcome. Simons manages to be hard-hitting and gracious at the same time. Not an easy feat. All hail Ted!

When we think of people doing an outstanding job supporting local music, the DJs of KWSS are right near the top of the list. The indie station will celebrate its 16th anniversary later this year, which means it has spent more than a decade and a half playing songs by local artists and exposing the public to aspects of the Phoenix music scene they may have missed. The DJs are all volunteers, so when you've listened to The Jay Cairo Show, Dani's Diner Retro Hour, or Dubs' Private Reserve (which just ended a four-year run), remember that you're tuning in to a group of folks who care enough about bringing music to the Valley that they're willing to do it for free.

ASU Art Museum

It's not every day you see a lowrider car built by an artist placed at the center of a museum gallery, or realize the genius that must go into creating an automotive mashup as a symbol of hybridized cultures and identity. But that's exactly what happened to visitors who explored ASU Art Museum earlier this year, where the "Body/Magic: Liz Cohen" exhibit expanded on the artist's previous "Bodyworks" series inspired in part by lowrider culture. The exhibit introduced new audiences to Cohen's take on labor, identity, and transformation during a year when those very issues were at the heart of contemporary life. The museum's "Pilot Projects" explored social justice as the nation grappled with police brutality, white supremacy, and health inequities. The museum provided outdoor art experiences amid the pandemic and a robust lineup of virtual conversations with artists. Free admission meant greater access for community members and helped the museum stay relevant and responsive during challenging times. Bottom line: ASU Art Museum was the right museum at the right time.

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