The two hour drive from North Scottsdale to Tucson begins with choking Phoenix traffic as you skirt the sprawl of one of America’s largest cities on the 101 loop. Meeting up with Interstate 10 near the city’s south side, you find yourself on a straight and dusty freeway travelling through empty desert, surrounded much of the way by Native American reservation land. Road signs warn you of high winds and the speed signs say 75. You push your car to 80 in an attempt to stay up with the traffic.
As you near Tucson the traffic again turns to a snarl. Contrary to common perception, Tucson is not a quiet little town in the American southwest. Its population of three quarters of a million souls strains its resources and clogs its streets. New residential developments are required to employ desert landscaping to preserve the precious water supply
My family and I were last in Tucson for a tour of the University of Arizona campus. Our daughter plans to enroll there when she completes high school in a year and a half. On the north end of the city is the Hacienda del Sol. Owned by a friend, it was once the getaway for Hollywood stars like Spencer Tracy and Lauren Bacall. Now refurbished, it boasts a four star restaurant and the finest wine cellar in southern Arizona. Still further north, Ventana Canyon Country Club is home to two of my favorite golf courses.
It is not far from these familiar stops that six souls ended their time with us through no purpose of their own yesterday morning. Ina Road, where the Safeway store is located in a strip mall, is a major thoroughfare cutting west to east from the Interstate across north Tucson. Well away from the city’s center, the feel is more suburban than urban. Passing by you might see children playing soccer or touch football, you would mingle on the road with mothers in their SUVs taking children to piano lessons or dance class or going shopping at Safeway. In the neighborhoods, yesterday’s 60 degree temperatures would have been perfect for working in the yard. One nine year old girl will never know the quiet pleasures of suburban Americana again.
Her name was Christina Taylor Greene [pictured above]. She played softball and took ballet lessons. Bright, energetic and popular, she had recently been selected to serve on the student council at Mesa Verde Elementary School. She loved horseback riding and swimming. A neighbor had invited her to go to an event where she could meet a member of Congress. Unlike the five who died quickly at the scene, Christina clung to life before her struggle ended at University Medical Center.
The others who died were Gabriel Zimmerman, 30, an aide to Congresswoman Giffords, Dorwin Stoddard, 76, Pastor of Mountain Avenue Church of Christ, Hon. John Roll, 63, federal District Court judge, Dorothy Murray, 76, and Phyllis Scheck, 79.
But there is another America. Before the bodies of the dead had been processed and while survivors were still in surgery, that America, the America of political punditry, was straining at its leash to assess or deflect political blame. The Sheriff of Pima County, Arizona added fuel to the speculation using a press conference to decry the vitriol of the political environment as a factor in the bloodbath
Local news anchors here in Arizona had spent the afternoon of wall-to-wall coverage speculating. My Space and You Tube pages added to the speculation once the name of the suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, was released. He was obsessed with “literacy”; he was a gold bug who believed the United States should return to the gold standard; he was anti-government. Liberals were blaming conservatives for ginning up violent sentiment. Conservatives were backpedaling, denying that Loughner was one of theirs, that he was deranged, not political.
And on it goes. Yes, the victims include a federal judge and remarkably moderate member of Congress. Judge John Roll, appointed by George H. W. Bush, was regarded as a hard working, clean and honest jurist. Representative Gabrielle Giffords is deemed one of the most moderate members of Congress with her 53% liberal, 46% conservative voting record. She had recently joined a small cadre of Blue Dogs in voting against Nancy Pelosi’s continued leadership.
And the chorus of pundits will continue. We will assess and deflect blame according to partisan perspective. Perhaps I will join that discussion. But not today. Today an innocent child lies dead. She will never follow my daughter to the University of Arizona or sip wine at the Hacienda del Sol. She will never have a 10th birthday party or learn to drive or go to prom or take pride in another report card or speak her mind at the student council. Her family did not sleep last night. The tears and anger and grief would not allow it. The politics can wait.