When we arrived, the memorial was intact: hundreds of bouquets, cards, candles, posters marking the January 8 tragedy, remembering the victims. But not for long. It was Wednesday, January 19. And apparently, it was time for business to go on.
The Safeway had opened a few days earlier, but the memorial remained directly in front of the store. This morning, that would change, and the scene became part of a portrait of Tucson that photographer, Jamie Peachey, art director Peter Storch and I traveled south last week to try to capture -- as the Jared Lee Loughner story went from hot to warm, and the city struggled to move on.
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"I can smell the flowers," our photographer, Jamie Peachey, says as we pull into the Safeway parking lot at Oracle and Ina roads on the northwest side of town on a Wednesday morning. It's been 12 days since the shooting.
To be honest, all I can smell is chickens roasting in the deli, but closer to the makeshift memorial we catch a big, cloying whiff of scented candles burning.
A five-minute drive away, the Loughners' quiet street falls just short of middle-class - old trucks with mud flaps with sexy girls on the back and falling-apart facades, a neighborhood in need of a homeowner's association, someone quips. But this shopping center is really nice. Head the other direction from the Loughners' house, past the Safeway, and you're at Ventana Canyon, one of the fanciest resorts in town. The Loughner's neighborhood predates the fancy stuff by at least a decade or two.
The memorial is right in front of the store, and I mean right in front - you have to walk behind it to get to the sliding doors that lead into the Safeway. It's 8:30 in the morning and quiet. Chilly and sunny, as it was the day of the shooting. An NBC satellite truck hums in the parking lot, a few people walk in and out of the store, some with crumpled tissues in their hands, stopping to look at the hundreds of cards, stuffed animals, posters, candles, and bundles of flowers piled on the street, protected by metal traffic gates.
It's hard to imagine that anyone's coming here just to shop.
A pickup truck's pulled up alongside the memorial, and two men who appear to work for the shopping center start picking through the flowers, putting some in the back of the truck. At first it looks like they are removing the dead flowers, and I'm impressed, since none of these flowers look even particularly wilted. What attention to detail. A woman walks up with a prayer candle and asks one of the men for a light; he leans over and lights the candle, and she places it with the others.
But, then, one of the men gathers an armload of cards and stuffed animals and dumps that in the truck, and it becomes clear that something else is going on. A woman walks out and tapes signs on the metal gates, directing people to leave their offerings on the corner, away from the store's entrance.
The shopping center maintenance man walks over to the woman with the signs and asks, "Do I blow out the candles?"
It's obvious he's saying more than that.
She looks uncomfortable. "You know," she says, "Safeway has to get back to work."