Jenna’s AZ Bucket List, nos. 95-90

  1. Waste Management Phoenix Open

To start, I should explain that I have very little interest in golf. I can’t name many players besides Tiger and Phil Mickelson, I hate the clothes, expensive golf courses with their miles upon miles of greenways like artificial oases repel me (especially here in the desert where I cannot imagine they are very sustainable).

However, I’d always been curious out the Waste Management Phoenix Open because everyone says it’s such a spectacle. And as it turns out: ’Tis!

I somehow got to go hang out at the Open last year (2015) without paying for a ticket (long story). I discovered that all the crazy stories are true. If you get there during the day—like between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., the crowd is fairly tame and they are what you’d expect for golf fans—quiet (ish), conservatively dressed, driving nice cars. But they start drinking beer IMMEDIATELY. And then, well… things start to heat up. There is a whole set of young people, brightly dressed and some looking like they might be on their way to Vegas, or even ComicCon, who shows up eventually. There are dozens of vendors selling everything from donuts to shots to cell phone accessories and there are also tons of businesses with little tents set up giving away shwag and trying to get you to sign up for mailing lists. To kill time, I went into a money-grabbing booth (you know the kind? operated with a giant fan, you stand in the middle while your hair blows in your face and pluck $1 bills out of the air) that was being offered by a cosmetic surgeon. Apparently, for every fake Monopoly bill you could catch you were supposed to get a dollar discount ticket towards your next plastic surgery operation. I was curious. But they never called me with my coupon for a consultation. And I legitimately caught a good $62 in that booth!

Anyway, one of the places to party is a temporary bar set up called the Bird’s Nest. That is where big-name performers such as Rascal Flatts, OAR and Robin Thicke perform at the raucus night-time after parties. I didn’t stay for any of that because frankly the place was crowded and I’m not interested in any of that music.

What I did go discover—during daylight hours, mind you—was the 16th Hole. This is where everyone goes nuts, screams and yells, flashes selfie photos, throws Mardi Gras beads… I mean—it really is like a mini Mardi Gras out there on the golf course. There was a lot of drinking going on. I asked everyone what they were so excited about and a young man explained to me the phenomenon of Bubba Watson. He’s a young-ish guy, but a good ’ol boy. Apparently he’s been golfing since he was a kid and is self-taught, according to the legend I heard. He has a sort of unorthodox stance and stroke. It was interesting, because even for someone like me who really doesn’t know anything about golf (and doesn’t care much, either) it was fun to watch him play. It was clear that the crowd really adored this guy, and he seemed to calm and so common. Anyway, I’m pretty sure he got a hole in one that day.

The big thrill for me was actually a spill I took down a grassy and muddy hill. It would have been embarrassing if I’d been hanging out with anyone I knew, but I was solo. Basically, the day before there had been an unexpected downpour and the grounds were still soaked and mud-luscious. I made a false move trying to descend what looked like a pretty easy hill and suddenly I was sliding. I was wearing black pants, but one entire leg was soaked and brown with mud. I had to duck behind a vendor’s booth and steal a blue janitor’s towel to clean myself off. I guess it could have been worse.

Despite me ruining my best dress pants, the Phoenix Open was entertaining. I may not make it an annual thing, but I’d return at least once.

  1. Mutant Piñata Show at Bragg’s Pie Factory bldg/Frontal Lobe

I met Beatrice Moore a few years ago when I interviewed her for an article I was writing for JAVA Magazine. She was then remodeling some spaces at the Bragg’s Pie Factory building, putting up some new walls and generally changing things around. She mentioned to me a thing they did once a year called the Mutant Piñata Show. The way the show works is pretty self-explanatory, but the cool thing I should add to whatever you are imagining about this show is that it’s open to the public and they take submissions from anyone and everyone—you don’t really have to be an established artist at all. I’ve even seen work in the show by kids. I think she first told me about it in 2011.

I thought the idea was funky and cool and always imagined myself making a piñata to submit to the show. This is a weird thing to brag about, but as a kid I was really good at papier maché. I assembled materials like chicken wire and started collecting and saving old scrap paper and I always planned to make something. But every year I procrastinated. I finally made three female torsos, roughly about the size of women’s dress forms. But then I procrastinated and missed the entry deadline (I think that was in 2012). Then I thought up a different installation I wanted to use the forms for, and applied for a show in Scottsdale, but I didn’t get it. The piñatas went into storage. Then I went through a couple of moves and forgot about them for three years.

FINALLY, a few months ago, I just happened to be trolling the Bragg’s facebook page in and I saw a posting for the upcoming date for the piñata show. I called my dad, dug the torsos out of storage, dusted them off, and dropped them off at Bragg’s. It’s kind of a silly thing, and I don’t think any of my friends saw my work at all (as a coincidence, my husband was having an art show at the same time at the Chocolate Factory, just a couple blocks down. He got the spotlight in March).

Seems a small feat, I’m sure, but after 5 years, I finally get to cross “Mutant Piñata Show” off my bucket list. Other public art projects on the list are INFLUX and a temporary installation in the Scottsdale Public Library. These are things I hope to collaborate with friends on and I hope to write proposals and apply for these this year.

  1. Rainbows Festival

For years, PHX Pride was on my list, and this year I finally went in person (more on that in a later blog post). But a bit smaller and more localized festival is Rainbows Fest. Put on by the same folks who host Pride, this little festival happens in the fall (usually mid-October) at Heritage Square, and it’s free.

I was excited to go because I imagined the events and vendor areas to be less packed than at Pride, and I was right. Parking around Heritage Square is never that fun or easy. Although, one quick hack for the area: park in the Science Center garage. You may have to pay by the hour, but it’s worth it for the convenience. The festival is free so you don’t have to worry about tickets. They only stop you at the gate to check bags and your ID. There were plenty of beer booths around (I wasn’t drinking because I was hanging out with students) and lots of vendors with information on various communities, identities, community resources and social events. I was impressed because a number of Valley churches had a presence there, and I think that’s awesome. My students had fun because there were dance performances, a vogue-ing contest, and the live music was really good. Small festival, sure, but the attitude was friendly and there was plenty to do; well worth checking out next October.

  1. Ice Skating downtown at CityScape

I want to be fair with this review: Ice skating downtown when they do the temporary rink in the middle of the street near CityScape is not for everyone. I love it for the novelty—it feels like just a tiny little piece of Rockefeller Center is happening in Phoenix. I begged my husband to take me there on a date, and he did. But I don’t think he had nearly as much fun as I did. I can see how some people would not love this tiny rink so I’ll try to balance the good with the bad.

Good: an energetic physical, fun activity that can take you back to childhood. Personally, I only tried ice skating once as a kid. I sucked at it. But over the years and many, many trips to Skateland, I became a very good rollerskater, and as an adult I even skated “semi-professionally” (briefly!) as a derby girl. So a skating rink of any kind is nostalgia for me, and I always have a good time there.

Bad: If you are not good at skating or have never tried it before, this is not the place to learn. There are little kids everywhere (at least there were, the night we went) and the thought of crushing one down can be unnerving.

Good: A little piece of (ok, it’s artificial, but still) white Christmas. It’s chilly on the rink. You may can bundle up in scarves and other fun winter accessories we never get to wear in AZ. But you don’t need to overdo it. Remember: skating is a physical activity and you may overheat. Still, it’s fun to break out the nerdy holiday sweaters, leg warmers and even gloves once in a while.

Bad: This place is hella busy and there’s a serious shortage of lockers. I recommend NOT taking big purses or duffel bags for changing your clothes, and definitely don’t wear boots or other large shoes. They charge you for lockers and you only get so much space. The seating benches for booting up were also crazy crowded.

Good: The location is perfect for grabbing dinner before or after, or a soothing warming winter cocktail nearby.

Bad: Actually renting the skates, paying to get in and renting a locker is expensive. As are most of the restaurants within reach. This is not a budget activity. I think we dropped about $25 each.

All in all, I want to go again, but maybe with friends who like skating as much as I do, or at least more than my husband. He wasn’t having the greatest time. Though he was so brave for trying it out to me, and I really owing him one for taking me on a fun date that was my idea, he wanted to tap out after about ½ an hour. Which reminds me of one last piece of advice: check the operating hours carefully before you pay your admission. They really aren’t open all that late into the night, and they close down for breaks of around 15-20 minutes frequently to refresh and re-Zamboni the ice. You really need to plan this visit and pay attention to logistics.

  1. Orpheum Theater

This Arizona landmark has been on my bucket list a long, long time. Someone in my family told me they thought I went there as a kid, but I remember nothing of a visit.

Then, just out of the blue, my buddy Bill texted that he had an extra ticket through another friend of ours to see David Sedaris. I love it when kismet helps me knock things off the bucket list, so I’m just going to take a moment here to list out other AZ things I’d love it if someone invited me to: Titan Missile Museum, free hotel room in Bisbee for a night or two, Beckett’s Table, Nearly Naked Theatre, Phoenix International Raceway, the Henry for drinks, Dorrance Planetarium, jazz at the Nash, hiking Echo Canyon, Merc Bar, Maverick Copters, spa at Montelucia, Bearizona, Phoenix Mercury game. Ok—got that outta my system!

Sedaris was hilarious as usual. He came out wearing coulottes (yes, men’s coulottes) and started with a lengthy piece about oddball fashion. His set was excellent and the acoustics in the place are so good that at the end of his set he offered a Q&A with audience members, and we could clearly hear their questions to him from their seats even without them being mike’d.

The Orpheum Theater truly is an Arizona treasure. It is a classic. I read that they first broke ground on the construction in 1927. It comes from a sort of chain or family of “orpheums” nationwide and it has that awesome old-timey, Modernism about it (I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but I don’t know any other way to describe this kind of architecture and design). The inside of the theater is splashed with ornate mural work. I like the flow of traffic throughout, although I’d hate to be stuck in the ticket line if it even happens to snake out the door. The restrooms are in the basement, which reminds me of the old Roseland Ballroom that was in the heart of the Theatre District in NYC. Everything about the Orpheum is charming and classic and truly whisks you away to a different era back when going to theatre was a big deal and people dressed up and made a big fuss about. I can’t believe I haven’t been to the Orpheum for more shows. It’s now on my “must return” list.

See also: Friends of the Orpheum Theatre

  1. Harvey’s Wineburger

I can’t tell you what this crusty little hole-in-the-wall first attracted me, except for the name. Located in a completely nondescript little building on 16th Street, tucked back from the street and just south of Camelback, Harvey’s Wineburger, on first notice, does not look like any kind of place you want to invest a lot of time in. Still, I always thought the name was funny. So one day last year I asked Colin to go give it a try with me.

It turns out that a wine-soaked hamburger is actually a very good idea. Yes, this place is a dive with no hip fixtures, sticky tabletops and typical sports on the TVs screens, but there really is something magical about the burgers. As in, I’m thinking of writing Anthony Bourdain an email about this place for his show. The original Wineburger and the Cheesewineburger are my favorites, but I’m curious to go back and try weird menu items such as Sweet chile sriracha wings, garlic parmesan wings (yeah, I know: what-what?) and the Buffalo Bleu burger, which is a wine burger prepared with hot sauce (like Buffalo wings, I imagine) and slathered with bleu cheese.

I hope I’m not on my way to a premature heart attack or diabetes type 2. With places like Harvey’s and Lucky Boy down the block, I need to make sure I eat plenty of my garden greens during regular week days.

 

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Jenna’s Arizona Bucket List, nos. 100-96

Note: these items are not in any particular order of preference, or by theme.

I have been writing a lot of reviews for TripAdvisor lately (read them here: jcduncan2001) and I decided I’d like to try reviewing some local Arizona treasures. I will start with things and places I’ve seen and experienced, and then I will get to a longer list of AZ things I think everyone should try before they die in or move on from Arizona.

100. Karchner Caverns
When I was in my early 20s, I did an Americorps Conservation Internship in Carlsbad Caverns National Park New Mexico. Most of my job took place in the library (I served as the Park Historian’s assistant). But every single day I found a way, a reason an excuse to go into caves.
This interest started when I was a kid—an early teen, I believe—and my mom took us on a family trip to the caverns. The giganticness of this underground space seized my imagination. You could actually get lost down there! It was astounding.

It took me another ½ of my life to get around to finally visiting Karchner Caverns. What was my problem? Well, there were a couple of half-attempts, but it took me a while to figure out that to go to Karchner you need a reservation. It’s not like Carlsbad where you can just roll in any day of the year (literally, many, many national parks are open all days of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, check NPS.gov for details). Anyway, this was the first and most noticeable difference to me; the fact that Karchner is a state run park and therefore the hours are limited and the rules are different.

The other big difference is the commitment to conservation the AZ parks people have made to Karchner. I’m not saying at Carlsbad they aren’t committed to conservation—they are. Well, nowadays. It wasn’t always that way. As a result, decades of high-volume visits from the public have dried the caverns out and made the formation growth less active. Not the case at Karchner—this is very much a living cave. The entire cave system underground is probably gigantic, but it hasn’t all been mapped and explored (Carlsbad hasn’t either. Very highly explored (around 119 caves that are known of), but probably not entirely, plus it had a possible link to Lechugilla (at least 138 miles long) which is a whole new animal when it comes to massive cave systems). Anyway, Karchner is being protected with a sophisticated system of airlock giant tunnels and doors that are opened only occasionally to let folks in and out. There are two tours available: the Throne Room/Rotunda and the Big Room. The Rotunda tour has been operating longer and it’s an easy trek. I don’t know much about the Big Room tour because we did not do that one, but according to the website, it’s not for children under 7 years of age.

The Rotunda/Throne Tour is interesting. A ranger rides a shuttle with you to the cave mouth and you wait for instructions before you are let in. Once in you hang out in a humid damn antechamber while the ranger tells you some history of the caverns. The cave tour is only ½ a mile and you move at a snail’s pace following the guide and waiting for new portions of the path to light up so you can travel them. It’s an informative tour, but after Carlsbad it feels small and a little slow. There is a weird orchestral light show in the final chamber on an amazing formation called Khubla Khan. When we went you could barely hear the music from the weak speakers and by the time we got there we really just wanted to walk around on our own anyway. So the tour was a tad disappointing. If we had all day, I’d say do both tours. Oh, and then take a drive down to Mexico—you will find yourself only 20 minutes from the border.

99. Barrett Jackson Auto Auction
I’m not particularly a gearhead, nor do I love hanging out in places where most of the people have more money than they know what to do with, but… that said… I’ve always wanted to visit Barrett Jackson just to see what it was all about. Last year I had that chance. During the opening weekend, I snuck up to Scottsdale to check out the event for myself.barrett_jackson2015_4

Shockingly, I had no problem with traffic nor parking. Perhaps it’s because I arrive at 2:30 on Friday afternoon. The ticket line wasn’t a problem, either. Because I had no other agenda than just to go inside and roam around, maybe eat a corndog, I wasn’t deterred from anything by crowds or long lines.

I was impressed with the interesting vendors. I got to sit in a tiny commuter car especially designed for only one driver/rider (move over Smart cars!). There were cool amphibious vehicles from WWII. There were clown cars and crazy antiques, sparkly glittery cars, and cars that could go from zero to 120 mph in only seconds. Basically this show made me feel self-conscious about driving my Prius, and I used to feel COOL for it!

barrett_jackson2015_8I sat in on the auction for a while just because I always get a kick out of those barrett_jackson2015_9fast-talking callers “Do I have a sixty-sixty-five, c’mon-baby-keep-it-alive, seventy-seven-thousand, baby let’s go eighty, 80-thousand, ninety? Ninety-no? Eight it is! SOLD!”

I’m sure I picked exactly the right time to go and I got out of there in an hour and a half before horrendous traffic, too. A terrible crowd would have been a deterrent. But… I surprise myself when I write this: Barrett Jackson is a fun, family event and I’d recommend anyone should go. Once.

98. Lucky Boy Burger
I’d heard the rumors of this legendary place but did not believe it could rival Whataburger. Well, it can and does!

Lucky Boy burgers (3430 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ 85016) is near my house. Driving by, you would never assume this might be a place you’d want to frequent. The blue paint on the exterior is flaking off and the parking lot is frequently overgrown with weeds. At best, it looks like a place that was abandoned at the 1960s.

But once you try it you’ll find the service is friendly. I wouldn’t say “fast,” because it took a good 15 minutes to get my order, and I only two burgers and two orders of fries. But it was worth it because I could tell the food had been freshly made and wasn’t just sitting under a heating lamp.

I got the Lucky Burger and Lucky Original because they were recommended. These are your standard burgers with lettuce, tomato pickles. There isn’t anything particularly distinguishable from what your mom might make (on a good night). Still, they are great! The fries were great, too. So, long story short, we WILL be back.

Other items on the menu are standard burger joint fare: fries, fried zucchini, hot dogs. They have a long list of shake and malt flavors including banana, Oreo cookie, M&M, peanut butter and cinnamon (I know, right: Cinnamon? But that sounds delicious!). Next time I go I’ll get a dessert and then I’ll update this entry to let you know how it was.

97. Japanese Friendship Garden
I once tried to meet a friend at the Japanese Friendship Garden 1125 N 3rd Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85003) on a weekend around 4 p.m. in the summer. To our dismay, we found it closed. I can only assume this place has limited hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. most days, closed Mondays) because it’s mostly volunteer run. Still, I wish it were open longed hours and more often so more of us could enjoy it during the week.

Also disappointing is the giant condo complex going up on the Southside. Not my favorite thing to see when I look up and around, pretending to be “out in nature.” But what can the caretakers of this charming little garden really do against Big Development in Phoenix?

Anyway, I went on a Friday morning after visiting with some girlfriends at Lola’s after coffee. We breezed through the little park at a not too slow pace. When I return, I’d like to spend more time there. It has some cute pagodas and lot of delicately manicured plants, even water lilies. The path is gentle and easy—anyone could do this walk (although when we went they had just watered and the path was a little tiny bit slippery). There’s a reflection pool area and places where you could sit in the shade.

I imagine this is an ideal place for a small private event such as a wedding or company luncheon. We have so few cute outdoor spaces around downtown Phoenix, that I hate to be a naysayer, but… the Japanese gardens in Portland and Seattle are really astounding compared to our quaint little one in Phoenix. It’s cute, and I hope it doesn’t close, but it’s also not grandiose or elegant.
96. Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
From the moment I first heard the name of this fancy signature cocktail joint, I knew I had to try it. Bitter & Twisted (1 West Jefferson St, Phoenix, AZ 85003) is a novelty for Phoenix but the type of fun, fancy cocktail place you’d find in Brooklyn, Austin, San Francisco or the hipper parts of L.A. It’s dark and there are huge plush booths and the place gets packed on the weekends—sometimes you have to wait in a line out the door. It’s located in the historic Luhrs building downtown. Be prepared to pay $10 to $20 for parking lots on game nights.

That said, it’s worth the wait to have expertly trained bartenders shake you hand-made cocktails from a loooooong, very long, list of cocktails beyond your basic Manhattans, gimlets and martinis. They have a seasonal drink with the catchy name “Slap & Tickle,” and they had a fun one called the Rosie Perez that I want to say contained watermelon juice? Don’t ask me, they were strong. I think I had two one night and then had to ask a friend for a ride home.

The food menu, like the revolving cocktail menu, is a tad experimental, too. But mostly good. You can’t go wrong with the bar snack popcorn (covered in butter, garlic sesame spices, sushi and crunched up spicy rice crackers), mouthwatering brisket street tacos and the meat and cheese board. They used to have a pork belly dish that was interesting, but they tend to change the menu around (drink menu, too). The desserts always look good (they serve campfire-style ‘smores!), but I always get full on drinks. And, I have to say about the Banofee pot: don’t they have the same thing just down the block at that Sam Fox nightmare place, Butcher-something? Salted pudding, or something gross?

Anyway. I will be back to Bitter & Twisted because it’s cute, cozy and I have some out-of-town friends coming to Phoenix that I want to impress.

Jenna’s Arizona Bucket List, part 1

For the next 2-3 years, I will use this blog to post the top 100 places in Arizona I think that everyone should see and experience (myself included). I know that this has been done before, but this little experiment has a special meaning for me. I am an Arizona native, and for years I’ve struggled with this identity. You see, I love this beautiful state, its natural wildernesses and break-taking contrasts of topography, but I don’t always relate to the ideas around here nor all of the people.

That said, and even though I am a Native Arizonan, there are still dozens of places I’ve always wanted to visit but have yet to explore.

My goal is to post short write-ups on ten different places, attractions, features, etc. each week which that are uniquely “Arizonan.” At the end  of this little experiment I may go back and somehow compile a complete list. I’m starting with places and things where I have been but I’ll move into uncharted territory this summer.

I invite friends to follow along, come with me to try new things and send your feedback and ideas throughout the summer (and into September).

Let’s do like ADOT suggests on those obnoxious lighted freeway signs: Slow down, enjoy Arizona.