Everybody knows that Phoenix is, quite simply, the best place in the world to live. Whether you're looking for great weather, a unique cultural spectrum, expressive architecture or just plain friendly folks, this year-round fun capital has it all! And while naysaying summer guests may moan that the Valley of the Sun is too "hot" (temperatures over 100 degrees are quite common), just assure those snobs that swimming pools are "prime features" of all our hotels, motels, resorts and many private homes. I always say, as long as you're in the pool, Phoenix is cool!

Of course, with so many "positives," picking a list of "best ofs" is only that much harder. In other words, how do you come up with certain things that are "the best," when everything is so wonderful?

No, it wasn't easy, but for this special issue I decided to offer up a few of the things that, to me, make Phoenix so much more than just the Best Run City in the World.

Best "Rimsza Our Mayor" Sign: His name is Rimsza, and he is, indeed, our mayor. I really love the direct approach, and Skip's red, white and blue affirmation borders on haiku. It's a tough call as to which sign is my fave, though. Despite downtown locations, both were obviously placed on natural soil for a back-to-nature effect. Though the top ROM sign is cleverly placed near a trash bin, suggesting that Rimsza is out to "clean up," I tend to favor the message implied by the juxtaposition of the ROM sign with the wide-open Phoenix space. On South 16th Street, to me it seems to say, "People of Phoenix, look at this huge expanse of open space! Let's build something here! There's even an electrical meter, just waiting to be hooked up to a wealth of pastel, stucco apartments!" Yes, his name is Rimsza, and he is, indeed, our mayor.

Best Dead Palm Tree: Does God hate this tree? I don't know, but it sure looks like it. I drive by it almost every day on Washington Street, and it's so pathetic--stuck in that vacant lot with a "For Sale" sign nailed to it--it's almost beautiful. Almost. But I have to admit, the mutated palm complements its closest neighbors, Century Plastics, Inc., Jack in the Box and Kachina Testing Laboratories.

Best Blobby, Cartoonish Figure on a Fast-Food Sign: Who is he? What is he? Every time I stop at Charlie's on South Seventh Street for the corn dog and small fries ($1.75), I can't help but ponder the pudgy, ebullient image on the sign above the parking lot. Now, as you well know, Phoenix is strewn with fast-food signs bearing blobby, cartoonish figures, yet there's something quite singular about this one that speaks to me. His body is yellow, and there is what looks to be a gooey, dark-green substance dripping down his head. Still, this bizarre elf-thing seems to be quite happy with his situation. Weirdest of all is the mysterious "eff" written on its stomach. Last time I was there, I begged the girl at the drive-through window to reveal what he was all about; she got cagey, cryptic. "Uh, I haven't worked here that long."

Best Place to Sell Grapevine: I don't know about you, but I read it through the Grapevine! A person might be homeless, but that doesn't mean he or she can't sell newspapers, and what other publication can you get delivered right to your driver's seat as you wait for the light to change? And that's one heck of a long red before you get on I-10 from Seventh Street, a perfect spot for an enterprising newsie to catch you with your foot on the brake, 50 cents on the dash and a thirst for the kind of up-to-the-minute info only the 'vine can quench.

Best Dad: My dad, of course.

Best Wall Mural: Whenever I drive up to purchase the latest edition of Grapevine, I always take a few seconds to turn my head toward the car garage on the corner so that I may admire its massive, vibrant painting of the flag of Mexico. Adopted in 1821, the flag's green stripe stands for independence, the white for religion and the red for union. The stirring image of the eagle with a snake in its mouth, emblazoned on the swath of white in the middle, is from the country's coat of arms. Legend has it that the Aztec Indians built their capital (where Mexico City now stands) on the spot where an eagle was sighted, perched on a cactus devouring a snake. As far as I can find out, the bikini-clad buxotic painted around the corner of the building has nothing to do with the national imagery, though her swimsuit and heels are the same shade of red as is on the flag. And that stands for union.

Best of Beck: "The Pump," "Freeway Jam," "Beck's Bolero" and many others are included--in short, the Best. And few people realize that Beck actually spent his early years in Peoria before moving to London and transforming himself into the stunning guitar virtuoso the world now knows as "Jeff Beck."

Best Place for Kids to Play: A pink sign that says "Danger Keep Out" is taped up on the front of this bombed-out wreck of a building, but that sounds like an invitation for adventure (and maybe even tetanus) if ever I heard one! Tons of broken glass, big hunks of charred wood and metal, and lots of stuff hanging down from the ceiling in a fun, creepy way! Let's face it--vandalism is impossible here; the place is already trashed.

Sure, it's dangerous, but if it wasn't, it wouldn't be any fun, right gang? And, best of all, even though this delicious urban playground is located on a busy, major thoroughfare, it's in kind of a bad neighborhood, so it's doubtful anyone will stop to hassle you. The sign may say "Keep Out," but just look at the picture--the front door's wide open!

Best Liquor-Store Man: Most folks shopping for liquor want to grab their booze and get home, but I don't mind a little old-fashioned courtesy when I stop for a beverage-to-go.

The name of the place may be In n' Out, but don't let that fool you; if you're anything like me, after a rap session with the man behind the counter, you'll tell him he oughta change it to Stay n' Chat. And chances are he'll laugh and smile, and then chat some more with you! That's Sam Naiman, and, whether you're looking for Blends, Straights, Bonded, Creams or Ripple, he's got what you and your liver need. When you finally decide to leave, rest assured that Sam'll still be laughing and smiling, probably waving "see you later!" Just like in the picture.

Best Cat: Chimpy. Tell me this cat isn't the best.

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Peter Gilstrap
Contact: Peter Gilstrap