Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tucson In Reverse

The normal progression would be to tell the saga of the day from start to finish. Today, though, that just feels like the wrong order of business to me. So here's how our day ended:

We watched President Obama on the TV as night fell over Tucson. He was here to pay his respects to the dead and wounded from the recent shooting episode that shocked the nation and shattered this community. I don't consider myself to be a fan of the president's politics or rhetoric, but his oratory is noteworthy and this evening's performance, if you will, was the right word at the right place at the right time with the right tone. It sounded at first more like a pep rally than a memorial service in that those in attendance were in large part students who were cheering on their President. He seemed almost uncomfortable with the behavior of his audience, and to be sure he began from the uncomfortable position of having many of his strong supporters espousing blame to those who had nothing whatsoever to do with the events as they unfolded. He could have joined them. He could have continued down that path. I thought he may well have. But he did not. Instead he held up the lives lost and the actions of the living to strike a note of promise that this community seems to be crying out for. He challenged the nation not to "disappoint" the hopes and goals of those that were lost- among them perhaps most on the nation's mind- a nine year old girl who was at the event to learn about her government, having just been herself elected to her student council. There were no dry eyes in the house, in the streets, or in front of the tv. I even noted the President nearly "losing it" when he spoke of the child, which surely must have hit pretty close to home with him. To be here now is to feel the pain and the tragedy even more sharply than if we were elsewhere.... We feel immersed in it, even though we are essentially just passers by. On this occasion, I heard no one, not one who thought the President could possibly have done a better job pulling people together and trying to get the nation back on track. Credit where credit is due.

Perhaps tomorrow, in the bright sunlight of the desert, thanks in part to the oratory of the evening before, we can all be a bit more at peace with the true lessons from a sad day. One person is to blame. Many lessons are to be learned.

Which takes me back in time to the drive back to the coach from our activities of the day. We had been on the far side of Tucson- about as far away from the south side where we are camped as you can get without being "somewhere else." A full 40 minutes from the rig, maybe longer if we hit traffic. Did I mention the President was in town? We did know he was coming. But Tucson is a very large city geographically and we had no idea when we started out exploring where things were- like the college campus, the hospital, the Safeway, and especially the auditorium where the President was to speak. First we noted that nearly all traffic was slowing and becoming congested. Helicopters were filling the sky like hummingbirds at the sugar-water right before sunset. Sirens started in a distance and became louder and closer. Traffic slowed to a crawl- but did not, could not stop. Instead large, painfully slow circles were created on either side of what was the President's motorcade route. For security I suppose, no routes were marked, so you had to keep moving and following the vehicles in front of you in an endless detour. No police directed traffic- they must all have been deployed elsewhere. Well it so happened that on one of our loops up near the barricaded routes, the motorcade passed right in front of us. Now mind you we had not come here to see the President, the motorcycle cops, the black limos with flags waving, the secret service detail. I've seen motorcades before, have even been in parades in Washington DC where they were all around us. But something other than all that was going on here- almost as though there were decoy motorcades.... One passed in front of us, then a second from our left, and yet another came straight at us from under the route 10 bridge. I feared that maybe something else tragic had taken place with all the squad cars and flashing red and blue lights coming and going every which way. Especially when we started to see helicopters landing on the roof of the hospital...and hundreds, literally hundreds, of news coverage vehicles, crews, reporters as far as the eye could see as we drove by the hospital where the President was going to visit Gabrielle Giffords and the other surviving victims. Thankfully that was not the case. My best guess is that security on the ground is much like security for the President in the air- where there is always more than one Air Force one flying.

Truthfully it was all a bit frightening. My sense of history told me whatever was happening was BIG and I should be pulling over and taking photos. But as cars to the sides of the route were forced to keep moving, that was a challenge that was only met in small measure. In the congested conditions of the city, one wrong move could have created an accident or worse that simply could not have been dealt with- so we just kept on going around and around until everyone else was where they were supposed to be....

Earlier in the day we had taken a tram at Coronado National Forest, through and to the top of Sabino Canyon. Sheer cliffs, at places 400 foot high walls of solid rock, stately Saguaro cactus dotting the hills and canyon walls, while the Creosote brush and Mesquite and Palo Verde (green stick) filled in the space between the Arizona Sycamores and Cottonwoods in the Riparian area surrounding the stream that flows out of the mountains and through the canyon floor. We jumped off the tram just down from the top where it made its turn-around, determined to hike out of the canyon. We started out at a temp of 46 degrees. We finished however many miles later at a temp of 64 degrees. The coats and "layers" we were thankful for at the outset were now burdens that needed to be stripped off and lugged with the water and the cameras and the binoculars and the yada yada yada. Time for a new backpack! The walking sticks, being back at the coach, were NOT helpful, but as no mountain lions decided to take issue with our trespassing in their space- that worked out OK. Even at 64 degrees, "comfortable" by any measure of desert temperatures, the desert air sucks the moisture right out of your body and hastens fatigue. I'm pretty sure that's true, but whether it is or not, that's what I'm blaming my being so tired on by the time we walked out of the canyon and back to the visitors center.

A Day In Tucson: In Reverse. One for the record....


Rod and Loyce Ivers said...

Gregg, interesting insight on the Obama speech. I too would be one of the folks that hoped he wouldn't jump on the opportunity to blame the right for the tragedy. And as you report, happily he refrained.

I find that by the time I get to the bottom of your blog as a somewhat slow reader, the slide show has played out to the end. Then I can't seem to get it to replay itself. Perhaps the slides should be more close to the top. So we can see the pictures.

Just a suggestion. Rod

bob said...

Well Greg I give you credit for your nice comments about the President. I am one of those who believe he is a very good President who has been dealt a very difficult hand and who is doing a very good job. I also believe extreme rhetoric can in many ways influence crazies to do bad things. I have no idea of what influence it had here. I do know we have to come together as people and learn to repect each others views and seek common ground. I think you made a big step toward that goal in your comments and I appreciate that.

Having ridden in those motorcades years ago I can tell you they are way more sophisticated now but probably no less thrilling.