Last Thursday, I found myself at Sue Johnson's house with two take-out boxes of nachos from La Cocina and a bottle of red wine. The food landed in the kitchen with other pot-luck items, and the wine on the table outside with a small crowd of almost 20 other friends and family.
This was a celebration of Michael Hannon's life. Johnson's husband, a U.S. Marine veteran and long-time downtown Tucson citizen of the world, passed away last month leaving behind his artist wife, their dog Pepitone and a host of Dunbar/Spring neighborhood friends and family. Johnson, the founder of Tucson's All Souls Procession, has been carrying on a tradition that goes back to the early days of the procession when she and Hannon lived in her downtown studio.
Rather than just the larger-than-life All Souls Procession that we know today, Johnson and a group of friends still do a smaller procession from her house in Dunbar/Spring to the Tucson Museum of Art where a large Day of the Dead altar takes up a beautiful wide corner of the museum's lobby. On Thursday, in good cheer and with thoughts of Hannon, everyone left the house with Johnson leading the way to the museum pushing a large dragon on wheels, a large puppet and others in a mix of Day of the Dead make-up and garb. As we made our way to the museum, so much raced through my mind from how we create family, art, community and mostly how important it is that we keep traditions alive in good times and bad, during loss and when we are busy with the good that life throws us too.
I also thought about how much we owe Johnson, not just for creating the All Souls Procession to begin with, but for keeping this small memory of the first procession alive, too—for helping us keep anchored to that downtown Tucson of yesteryear that today most wouldn't know ever existed. Sure, there were parts that were rundown and a few dive bars to go with this spirit, but with rent priced just right, there were dozens of artists like Johnson who called downtown home. They were our downtown pioneers who led the way to help us realize what a cool urban space we had.
This Saturday, I got to experience almost the opposite of that old downtown vibe at a media tour of the AC Hotel by Marriott still in construction behind the Playground at Broadway and Sixth Street. This is developer Scott Stiteler's latest downtown Tucson endeavor.
The tour was part of a topping-out ceremony held that day at Playground and across the street behind Connect. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild was there, as well as City Councilman Steve Kozachik, along with a crowd of local names and faces. I can honestly say that it was difficult at times thinking about the changes that have occurred under Stiteler's vision, as well as other developers. I haven't always felt positive about each change, but at the same time I've recognized that it certainly has done a lot for downtown and 2nd Saturday evenings are a crowded mess of Tucson humanity, more people downtown than I've seen before and certainly more people than we used to see at Downtown Saturday Nights years ago.
Two different downtowns. What was obvious Saturday is that Stiteler feels that he is doing good for our downtown. He's excited and proud of this project, as he should be. I'm wondering right now what he's going to do next, and you know what? I left downtown thinking that I kind of like this Stiteler guy. I like this developer. Mari saying that – wow.
But we can't let go of the Sue Johnsons and Michael Hannons of our community either. We just can't. If we need new traditions to fill in the in-fill that comes our way, then start creating those traditions, just as Johnson did. She didn't ask anyone for permission. It came out of downtown. It came out of a sense of community and made-family. It came from us. Thank you, Sue, and a big goodbye to Michael. Sue says Pepitone misses you, Michael, and I know your neighbors do, too. God speed.
— Mari Herreras, email@example.com