I noticed a small sidebar in the paper the other day entitled, “Let us hear from you.” One of my favorite former columnists, C.R. Roberts, was looking for some ideas to improve Tacoma, such as better streets, more yogurt shops (?) or even, gasp, a single multiplex movie theater.
Interesting topic, I thought. A couple of hours later I was on a plane headed out of town. Tacoma – outta sight, outta mind. More on that interesting topic in a moment.
Though I have spent some time in the Deep South before, this was my first visit to its crown jewel, Charleston, South Carolina. Much like Boston, its northern counterpart, Charleston’s rich heritage includes architecture, monuments and history layered over hundreds of years. It is also the wellspring for many of the South’s most treasured traditions. If that isn’t enough, the beautiful flowering trees, Spanish moss and the aromas of a vibrant restaurant scene also make it a feast for the senses.
Charleston’s place in history is tainted by the blight of slavery, which is inescapably present – the slave markets still stand as monuments or museums, while former slave quarters (90% of white city residents in 1840 owned slaves) now serve as housing or office space. Charleston provides a glimpse into the past with few illusions.
Yes, I know this isn’t a travel column. But if you travel, you already know that the flip side of seeing new sights is that you also see the old, familiar sights through a slightly different lens.
What did I see when I returned to Tacoma?
Well, I didn’t really notice the lack of multiplex theaters, which are a poor substitute for natural attractions and live entertainment (and are abundant in the suburbs anyway).
Nor did I notice the city’s plethora of potholes, a shortcoming which normally pisses me off. Perhaps the rough roads reminded me of Charleston’s cobblestones, which added to the historical ambience as much as the gaslit streetlights and wrought iron. We still have a few cobblestone streets in Old Town, don’t we? Maybe we should dig down to find more of those instead of laying down more blacktop.
And yogurt shops? Whatever.
But here’s what a traveler visiting our region from, say, Charleston sees when he exits I-705 and gets lost in Grit City.
Miles of waterfront. From Point Defiance, along Ruston Way, and around the corner into Thea Foss Waterway, Tacoma has a vibrant waterfront that should be the envy of any coastal city. It also has a port that kicks Seattle’s bacon.
Stunning views of Mt. Tahoma. Okay, we can call it Mt. Rainier, but there’s no doubt that “The Mountain” presents a world class view. And Tacoma has box seats.
Art and culture. We have an inspired Bridge of Glass and nearby Museum of Glass due in large part to the world renowned artist, Dale Chihuly (even if his recent allegiance is to that other city up I-5). The Broadway Center for the Performing Arts hosts nationally acclaimed programs in an intimate setting.
Digging deeper, we have a coffee shop in the shape of a teapot (or is it a coffee pot), a valley named after a potato chip company, one of the last Nordstrom’s to have live piano music (wait, I’m being told to scratch that one) and the pride of hosting one of the world’s largest military installations, Joint Base Lewis McChord.
Natural beauty, cultural treasures, potholes that just might be covering cobblestones, it’s all quite a lot for one place. It’s just too bad we always seem to be laboring under a municipal inferiority complex.
So, yes, do take a minute to jot down an idea for Tacoma’s self improvement. But then, if you have another minute, think about all the cool stuff that’s already here.