Mean Streets
Two national traffic research groups proclaimed last week that Phoenix is one of the deadliest places in the U.S. to drive, prompting the Flash to shoot the irregular "No Shit, Sherlock, Award" to the boys in D.C. who just figured this out.

The Road Information Program--or TRIP, no relation to Linda--tallied up Phoenix's traffic fatalities and found that Phoenix ranks third in the country in people turned into corpses by the lethal combination of cars and stupidity.

A few days later, the Surface Transportation Policy Project found Phoenix ranked third in deaths because of "aggressive driving." This Burst of Light can only blame Viagra.

These perils, of course, are obvious to anyone who's ever tried to get from Point A to Point B on the asphalt meat grinders we laughingly refer to as "roads" here in the Valley of the Sun.

Rear-enders--dimly remembered events in which the responsible driver halted at a red light queue (which, incidentally, are considered optional in Arizona) gets to anticipate his/her impending pulverization as the reality grows ever larger and menacing, usually in the form of a primer-gray Camaro, in the rear-view mirror--are more frequent than a Three Stooges film fest. One acquaintance of this Strobe recently was plowed into by a driver who compassionately lamented, "I'd love to stay and help you out, but when the po-leece come, they'll just arrest me."

This Strobe has given up counting the number of near-collisions the Flashmobile has experienced when some pus-head flips a U-turn despite the fact that he's driving 20 mph in the gutter while dragging a tail light, muffler and badly mannered Rottweiler behind his '74 GTO. These days, the Flash only counts actual, honest-to-God pile-ups, and even then, there has to be some soft-tissue damage and an obscene gesture from the other driver.

But the news apparently came as quite a shock to the rocket scientists in charge of the state's paved deathtraps.

Alberto Gutier of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety fumed that Phoenix had gotten screwed. Tom Callow, street transportation director for the city, whined about the TRIP study's methods. Just because a lot of people die while on Phoenix's tax-funded bumper-car ride, they seemed to be saying, is no reason to assume the streets aren't safe.

Maybe these mo-rons have some other reason locals enjoy insurance rates high enough to clear up Third World debt in six easy payments. Perhaps the national groups should look into other reasons for Phoenix's dismal stats on traffic deaths. They should study alien abduction and spontaneous combustion--both of those can happen in cars, right?

The Flash has bemusedly fondled the TV remote while listening to sports pundits bemoan the horrific state of the National Basketball Association. Horrors! Kobe Bryant is officially overexposed. The Bulls are diasporic. Michael's wearing glasses, going one-on-one with Jack. Jud Buechler is a star in Detroit.

Yet in the Flash's humble opinion, the game hasn't been this interesting since Larry and Magic regularly plied their trade.

In recent years, you see, the sport had taken on some characteristics of WWF cage matches: Everyone--the players, coaches, fans and, especially, the officials--knew who was going to win.

Now, lockout-induced ineptitude has actually restored some suspense to the game, if not a few shots that caress the rim like jettisoned toasters. There seems to be more parity--everyone is equally bad.

And, hey, when was the last time you saw five white guys (or guys who could pass for white guys) on the court at the same time? The Suns were so deployed in their Saturday fiasco against Sacramento, which no doubt explains why they got spanked. (Actually, the Flash sincerely believes the last time this occurred in the NBA was circa 1985, Suns vs. Celtics in the Coliseum, when there were not just five but 10 crackers on the court at the same time--possibly the last time this will ever occur. Brick Robey was involved.)

Anyway, despite his profound paleness, Googs is cool, although he's about as mobile as Jay Bell. The Suns' colossal problem is a dearth of anyone agile enough to create his own shot in the clutch.

Michael Finley, we hardly knew ye.

Grounds for Protest
Is the coffee you drink destroying the rain forest?
A coalition of environmental groups and bird lovers says many coffee plantations in Central and South America have clear-cut the lush forest canopy and replaced it with row crop monocultures of a so-called "sun coffee" hybrid.

Coffee plants normally require shade to grow. For centuries, farmers planted coffee shrubs beneath the forest canopy where the leaf litter and legume-bearing trees fixed nitrogen and provided soil nutrients for the shaded plants. The trees also provided habitat for hundreds of bird species.

Since 1970, sun coffee plantations have expanded into once forested areas. Sun coffee relies heavily on chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Bird lovers say the destruction of the forest and the heavy use of agrichemicals may be a factor in measurable declines of many North American neotropical birds. Birds nesting in Arizona that may be adversely affected by sun coffee plantations include the Western Tanager, Summer Tanager, Yellow Warbler and Bullock's Oriole, the latter three which nest in what forested areas remain along the Salt, Gila, Verde and San Pedro rivers.

"Birds making the long flight from Central and South America to Arizona need to have adequate food and gathering opportunities before they fly north," says Dr. Robert Witzeman, conservation chairperson of the Maricopa Audubon Society.

Audubon Society members and other environmentalists plan to protest the use of sun coffee by the ironically named Rainforest Cafe at the Arizona Mills mall at noon on Thursday, March 11.

Witzeman says the Rainforest Cafe charges $1.75 for a cup of coffee and has refused to add "shade" coffee to its menu since the Audubon Society first raised the issue last fall.

The cafe is noted for its rain forest motif and pledges to its customers that its owners "care about what is happening to our planet and attempt to raise the environmental awareness of all those around us."

Jean Golden, director of corporate communications for the Minneapolis-based Rainforest Cafe, says the company is negotiating with shade coffee suppliers.

"This is definitely something we take seriously," she says.
Rainforest Cafe operates 30 restaurants in the U.S. and internationally. The publicly owned company is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

One Toque Over the Line
As the Flash told you February 25 ("If You Can't Take the Heat . . ."), when Alessandro Stratta left the Phoenician's Mary Elaine's last spring, the resort undertook a national and international search for his replacement. The process took five months, until George Mahaffey, chef at Aspen's famed Little Nell, got the coveted post.

But his stint was brief. Unhappy that management wouldn't let him redesign the menu, Mahaffey quit at the end of February. His departure left Mary Elaine's adrift, just as the tourist season was peaking.

This time, though, management moved much faster to fill the spot. The Flash hears the new man is James Boyce, who was a sous chef at the restaurant in the early 1990s, and who then moved on to Caesars Palace and Loew's Coronado.

He'll have a big toque to fill. Stratta and Mahaffey are James Beard Award winners, chefs with a national reputation. Boyce isn't.

The Flash also wonders if Boyce's hire signals more bean-counting by Starwood Hotels, the Phoenician's new owner. No doubt a really famous name would have required parting with big bucks and authority. (No big-time chef, after the Mahaffey fiasco, would agree to take orders from corporate.) Ever since Starwood took over last year, tales of corner- and cost-cutting at the swanky resort have been seeping out.

It took Mary Elaine's about a decade to build its reputation as one of America's great gourmet restaurants. If Boyce doesn't work out, it may have to start all over.

Feed the Flash: voice, 229-8486; fax, 340-8806; online, [email protected]

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.