Sometimes, but not often, it's possible to believe that Phoenix really is a major American city with character and class. The Flash was reminded of that while sitting in the audience last Friday night at the city's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.
For 12 years, the city's MLK show had been a breakfast event. But this year, executive director Fatimah Halim convinced an uncertain city council that she could pull off a nighttime extravaganza. Halim had a lot at stake at the event; she not only directed the program but produced and wrote its main attraction, a song-and-dance exhibition titled "The Seventh Song."
The multicultural opera featured Hindi chanters, a gospel choir and lithe dancers in a seamless and moving display. But the show was stolen first by Quetzal Guerrero, a 16-year-old prodigy who plays a spellbinding violin with the nonplussed hipness of a rock star, and by Halim herself, who performed her poetry to tribal music in a rousing syncopation and to loud cheers from the audience.
Even wooden Mayor Skip Rimsza managed a heartfelt speech.
The night's only misstep seemed to be the limited role played by the city council's only African-American member, Cody Williams.
After Rimsza's speech, Williams took the stage to a roar from the mostly black audience. The Flash anticipated a barn-burner of an oration; Williams, if not the most effective councilmember, is one of the best speechifiers on the local political scene.
But Williams instead was deployed for the night's tackiest moment. He asked executives from the event's four largest corporate givers to stand up, in turn, for applause. Then Williams left the stage.
Asking bank executives to stand for thanks from an audience that had paid $40 a head was a brief reminder that this is, after all, Phoenix, a cow town that sucks up to corporations like a turbo-powered Hoover upright.
The episode seemed hardly a fitting memorial to King. But luckily, Halim's excellent show soon took over.
We Shall Overcome Call Waiting
Tempe's new, screw-the-homeless "sidewalk squatting" law, which makes it illegal to sit your butt down on Mill Avenue during business hours, went into effect Sunday, January 17.
This invocation was a stroke of brilliance on the part of the city's legal department, since the next day--Monday the 18th--was MLK Day, the perfect occasion for a sit-in, which a band of ASU campus radicals titled, aptly enough, Project SIT, called for at 2 p.m. at Centerpoint Plaza on the corner of Sixth Street and Mill.
Predictably, it was a TV news gang-bang. MLK Day? Sit-in? Roll those trucks! The Flash counted, at one point, 16 rent-a-heads and cameramen. Most of the 40 sit-inners were ASU students with hand-lettered placards ("Sit Down and Be Counted") and a boom box playing tapes of civil rights marchers singing "We Shall Overcome."
The Flash hereby awards top protest honors to local cult hero, Angry Black Man, and rabid anti-police activist The Fonz, who roller-discoed circles around the protesters, chanting this wisdom: "If you don't fuck the police, the police will fuck you!"
Three orange-shirted members of Copwatch, who patrol Mill Avenue at night with videocams, cheered on The Fonz, then let themselves be miked-up, and ranted on demand for TV news cameras.
There were no cops to watch, though, apart from the occasional patrol-car drive-by (no one even bothered to boo). The Flash was hoping for a little mace and nightstick action, but no dice.
Just a lot of cell phones.
The journalists all had cell phones.
At least eight of the protesters had cell phones, and jittery TEAM leaders--of Downtown Tempe Community Inc.'s private security force--had a couple of cell phones each. They're bi.
Instead of joining the sit-in or nibbling sound bites with the other media piranhas, the Flash decided to chill with a band of five traveling crusties--homeless punk rockers in Tempe for the winter--who were kicking-it at a table outside Coffee Plantation, just on the periphery of the action. The street punks viewed the demonstration less as a fight for their rights than as a welcome distraction--a chance to play hacky-sack in the plaza without TEAM goons hassling them.
One of them, "Cat," stroked his new puppy and kept a watchful eye on a newly acquired can of Campbell's cream of chicken soup.
"I guess it's cool they're doing it," he said of the protesters. "But I can't really join in, because if the cops do come, I can't afford to get busted just to make a point."
Then Cat's cell phone rang, its chime set to mimic Mozart's 40th Symphony.
"Talk fast, bro," Cat said. "I gotta pay for this shit after the first minute."
He hung up and held forth some more.
"You know, here's the thing. We've all heard of this new law, and it's bullshit or whatever, but it's not that big a deal to us. We can ask for spare change standing up."
Cat slid his phone back in his pocket.
"I figure I'm cool, anyway. Cops don't hassle people with cell phones."