Best Prank 2022 | The Highway Hacker | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Phoenix is a lively and lighthearted city. And with great jocundity comes even greater jokes — remember the whole Penis Man graffiti saga? But the most epic prank in the Valley of the Sun this year came one night in late February, when a $30 million roadwork project in north Phoenix was briefly derailed after pranksters hijacked the controls of an electronic message board near Interstate 17 and Thunderbird Road. More than 100,000 motorists were instructed to "SUCK MY ASSHOLE" as they passed the sign on that fateful Tuesday. Just one day later, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the invasion of Ukraine, the hacktivist hijackers targeted another illuminated message board on I-17, this time directly on the interstate near Thunderbird Road. This time, the political vigilante manipulated the traffic sign to say "FUCK PUTIN."

Land speculation is an old Arizona tradition, as are the political scandals that follow in its wake. (Right, Fife?) One of the best ways to make a buck is to buy some bare desert somewhere and convince a government body to slap a highway through it. So when the Federal Highway Administration approved a brand-new interstate to run through the Hassayampa Valley west of the White Tank Mountains, the well-heeled and well-connected must have been doing cartwheels on their private jets. Parts of this area are so remote that you're hard-pressed to see any form of human habitation. It's 40 miles west of downtown. It will be home to Buckeye's grandiose plans to become bigger than Phoenix. Environmentalists see the destruction of the Sonoran Desert habitat and growth-inducing sprawl. Developers see a payday. They had a name for it before they even had a map: Interstate 11. Critics have a name for it, too: boondoggle.

When the news came down that the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade, undoing the right to an abortion that had been in place in the country for decades, Phoenix took to the streets. If you walked in the crowd of thousands that swarmed the Arizona State Capitol in the days after Roe fell, you felt a sense of immense urgency, camaraderie, and defiance. The stakes are high in here in Arizona, where a century-old abortion law still on the books could soon serve as a blanket ban on abortions, across the state. Demonstrators — disproportionately young women — reacted accordingly, shutting down the streets, flooding First Friday activities, and cursing out lawmakers. Unrest continued for days, with some nights ending in tear gas and bogus arrests of protesters. Abortion rights remain existentially threatened here in Arizona (though at press time, the courts have yet to clear up what laws hold). But during the summer, Phoenix proved that it would not take the end of Roe quietly.

When Phoenix drag queen Barbra Seville (a.k.a. Richard Stevens) went after gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, he brought receipts. The face-off began in June, when Lake tweeted some characteristically disparaging comment about drag queens, playing into the bigoted far-right furor of the day. In response, Stevens blasted Lake on social media — attaching screenshots and photos that documented Stevens and Lake's longtime friendship, as well as photos of Lake posing with other drag queens. Stevens had once even performed, in drag, in front of Lake's young daughter, he said. When Lake threatened to sue, Stevens was unfazed, telling the Arizona Republic: "If Kari sues me, she'll get 66 pairs of high heels, 112 wigs, a rescue dog, and my mom's ashes." Although the incident did not, unfortunately, cost Lake the GOP nomination for governor, watching Stevens call out her hypocrisy was nothing short of delicious.

Okay, let's just be frank: Rogers faced a lot of competition for this prize. So, Windy Wendy, take a bow. You've earned this. It takes a special breed to be censured by some of the very people who could claim the title themselves. How, you ask? Well, our distinguished state Senator reacted to the invasion of Ukraine by blasting its heroic president as a puppet of George Soros. She also attended the America First Political Action Conference, an event run by known white supremacists and Holocaust deniers. She called the organizer, Nick Fuentes, the most persecuted man in America and implored him to keep doing what he does (hint: spout hate). All that resulted in a 24-3 vote by Rogers' colleagues to censure her. Her reaction: "Today is the day where we find out if the Communists in the GOP throw the sweet grandma under the bus for being white." Not surprising, because Rogers hasn't been shy about spouting white replacement theory. Having clearly not learned her lesson, she later called the mass shooting in a Buffalo, New York, grocery store a false flag operation. And the voters loved her for it. She won the Republican primary for her state Senate seat, beating Kelly Townsend, who's not exactly a beacon of reason and tolerance herself.

Maybe this category should be why we should spot Ted Simons for a therapist or a year's supply at a dispensary. Here he is on live TV, flanked by Kari Lake, Karrin Taylor Robson, and two other people who don't matter much, all of them talking over each other — and Simons, the host — for 57 excruciating minutes. It took the frontrunners six minutes before they began cutting each other off and calling their opponents liars, elitists, or cowards. "We have to have some semblance of order. Please," Simons said after 16 minutes. One of the most patient and gracious personalities on TV (he's the host of Arizona Horizon on PBS), even Simons was getting frustrated. He wasn't even supposed to be there. He was tapped 24 hours beforehand, with almost no prep time, because Lake objected to an Arizona Republic reporter moderating. Several times, Simons tried to end the broadcast and the candidates wouldn't let him. Even Lake at one point said the event felt like a Saturday Night Live skit. Maybe Meghan McCain summed it best when she tweeted later: "can't believe this is a real debate, in real life. Arizona really brought out the winners to run for governor." The real winner is Ted Simons, who should get the Presidential Medal of Freedom and combat pay, but at least we can give him another Phoenix New Times plaque.

Joe Arpaio is 90 years old, and his reign over the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has long since ended. This did not stop him, though, from launching a final bid for power — this time in the tiny, conservative retirement town of Fountain Hills, where he lives. Arpaio announced his candidacy for Fountain Hills mayor in fall 2021. Compared to his last two races, which failed, the Fountain Hills mayoral seat seemed like an assured win. The incumbent, Ginny Dickey, was a Democrat in one of the most conservative communities in the Valley. Arpaio had access to far more fundraising resources than are ever usually deployed in a small-town mayor's race. And, surely, the Fountain Hills constituency — wealthy, conservative seniors — would be the ideal voter base for the former tyrant of Maricopa County and close ally of former President Donald Trump. It seemed like the perfect comeback race. Much to our amusement, it was not. Dickey prevailed over Arpaio in the August election. The months of hawking pink underwear to fund the campaign, it seems, did not get him across the finish line. It's fitting that the former sheriff's last, most insignificant election would end this way. At least, we hope it's the last one.

Mirabella at ASU in Tempe touts its residents as an "intergenerational community fueled by lifelong learning and collegiate energy." You might as well add "unrelenting party-poopers" to the description, since they helped snuff out a thriving electronic dance music venue nearby. The senior-living apartment building, which is owned by Arizona State University, debuted in late 2020 along University Drive near Myrtle Drive across the street from restaurant, bar, and music venue Shady Park, a longtime hub for live music and EDM that was closed down at the time due to the pandemic. When it reopened and resumed DJ events on its outdoor patio in March 2021, Mirabella residents weren't pleased with the noise. Months later, a spat over the issue unfolded on social media. In response, Shady Park owner Scott Price installed step-pyramid roofing and other sound-reducing elements. It wasn't enough. The codgers at Mirabella filed a lawsuit against the venue and sought an injunction against gigs. In April, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled in Mirabella's favor and imposed stringent noise restrictions on Shady Park, causing Price to nix future shows and inspiring fans of the venue to stage protests. The decision is currently being appealed.

In a time when the debate has turned ugly around who we should commemorate or not, it was heartwarming, even inspiring, to see that Phoenix changed the signs on a short block of Fourth Avenue at Osborn Road. This is a brief walk from where Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles was blown up in a car bomb attack at the Clarendon Hotel in 1976. He died 10 days later, and within days, the nonprofit organization Investigative Reporters and Editors met for its first national conference. Bolles was a member of IRE, which rallied a team of reporters to investigate his still-unsolved murder. It resulted in a 23-part series about widespread corruption in Arizona and propelled IRE to become the preeminent organization promoting investigative journalism. Around here at Phoenix New Times, we share that mission, so when the street signs were changed to Don Bolles Avenue, we felt it was richly deserved and long overdue. If one kid looks at that sign, Googles the backstory, and is inspired to hold the powerful accountable, then it'll be worth the strip of aluminum it's painted on.

Rusty Bowers, current speaker of the Arizona House, has a long, sometimes troubling record at the state Capitol. For decades, he's been an enigmatic figure in Arizona politics, and in addition to his 18-year career at the state House, he's also a sculptor and father of seven children. Until recently, his record was fairly in line with that of an old-school Arizona Republican. He's not a fan of marijuana, nor of funding public education. But this year, we have to give Bowers some major credit for being one of the only Republican lawmakers in the state to stand up to the bizarre, neverending claims of election fraud that have infected Arizona politics over the last two years, leading to, among other things, the absolute circus that was Arizona's 2020 election "audit." Bowers refused to bend to the demands of former President Donald Trump and others in his party to take action to overturn the 2020 election results in Arizona. He became a star witness in the federal hearings on the January 6 Capitol riots, testifying to the nightmare that his life became when he resisted the fringe of the Arizona GOP. And it was a real sacrifice: Bowers lost his bid for state Senate — badly — to his Trump-endorsed opponent in August. (He did get a 2022 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his endeavors, though.) Is it depressing that Bowers, once considered something of a hardline reactionary, is now the lone voice of reason in the Arizona Republican Party? Yes. But we'll still thank him for it.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of