When I was in high school, I was too cool for spirit assemblies. I attended one, and when our 5′ 2″ principal Dr. Doggett started running around the gym with our 6′ tall assistant principal Mr. Jeffries riding him piggyback, I decided I would skip the mandatory assemblies and head to Winchell’s instead to spend my 45 minutes smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee with my similarly too-cool boyfriend. Well, I don’t smoke anymore and, with age, I’ve realized Dr. Doggett’s feat was fairly impressive, so these days I embrace spirit more readily. Also, these days, spirit is not mandatory. In fact, my emerging unabashed (read: geeky) spirit for the city I moved to 6 years ago has come as a bit of a surprise.
I have become a Tacomaphile.
The fascination began with the first phone book that showed up on our doorstep; emblazoned across the front cover in raised golden letters was the phrase “The City of Destiny.” How epic! Had I landed in a town that matched me in my predisposition to exaggeration? So it seemed!
After a few months, I was blending in quite nicely, walking Pacific Avenue with my son in his stroller with all the other moms in sweats (and other interesting characters who spend their days walking along Pacific Avenue for various reasons). Budget had been a consideration not only in our move from Seattle to Tacoma, but in the neighborhood in which we settled. We found a sweet post-modern style house for what was a bargain back then and would be considered highway robbery now. We loved the house and did little to no research on the neighborhood, relying mainly on its ‘vibe.’ Our instincts were good – we quickly got to know every business within a half mile, because everything we needed was within a half mile! The Safeway, the library, the veterinarian, the bank, the preschool Ellis would eventually attend, and even the Walgreens with whom we are now in a Hatfield and McCoy style feud. I love our ‘hood. The woman behind the counter at the Cost Less pharmacy/U.S. Postal Service annex where Ellis buys a Tootsie Pop everyday after school even special orders his favorite flavor and sets them aside for him (the flavor, by the way, is pomegranate).
My love has blossomed further since I’ve been writing for The Weekly Volcano. As an Arts and Features writer for the weekly, I’ve had the blessed opportunity to meet a handful of the people that make Tacoma a true gem, all of whom are working hard to dash Tacoma’s bad rep to the rocks and actually let it be known that Tacoma is hip. A mantra I hear repeated time and again by these talented people, all busy setting up concerts, building arts and merchant networks, designing Tacoma pride logos, etc., is “We want people to know that Tacoma is its own destination.” Is that a more pragmatic echo of Tacoma as the City of Destiny? Tacoma seems to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – a hidden treasure that no one knows how to find. Indeed, before I moved here, I only knew Tacoma as a concrete dome and a bad smell on my way between Seattle and Portland.
I don’t smell the Tacoma aroma anymore. I know it’s there. I see it on the faces of out-of-town guests who come to visit. I’ve become accustomed to the waft of the paper mill, it seems. Just as I’ve become accustomed to Tacoma’s car shows, the Dia De Los Muertos festival at the Tacoma Art Museum, the multiple Farmer’s Markets, the cashiers in my neighborhood who have known my son since he was an infant, the looming volcano in my backyard, the biggest Trader Joe’s I’ve ever been to (with the friendliest, least snooty, employees of any Trader Joe’s in history), the Harmon and its offspring, Wright Park with its elaborate and, unbelievably, free-to-all spray playground, Rainiers games at Cheney Stadium, complete with fireworks on Friday nights, the ONLY pay-as-you-will children’s museum in the country (and it’s a good one), the most beautiful Zoo I’ve ever been to, and the only Zoo I’ve ever been to that boasts sharks…the why-I-love-it-so-much list goes on and on.
Neither love nor beauty can exist without imperfection, of course. As I was recently gushing about Tacoma to a young lady I was interviewing for a story, she pointed out that while Tacoma has a lot of community support for creative expression, there can be an issue with what she called the ‘Prima Donna syndrome.’ Some artists who get big in Tacoma end up leaving it behind believing, often erroneously, that they’ll have similar success in bigger markets. On the flip side of that coin, a Tacoma musician I interviewed for a different story pointed out that Tacoma’s secondary market has its own value being…just that. There is a benefit to being a big fish in a little pond; he noted that as a succesful musician in Tacoma, he can have it all. He gets to play rock star, has a built-in fan base, and also gets to have a family and a 9-5 job in the arts, bringing it all full circle.
So maybe those Prima Donnas should just stick around?
When I moved to Tacoma, the ultimate dream was to eventually sell a script that would allow me to move back to LA. But this future screenwriting Prima Donna might re-think that scenario. Flights to LA from SeaTac aren’t prohibitively expensive, especially for a successful screenwriter. And can you get any more Prima Donna-ey than flying in to Los Angeles for an early afternoon meeting? I’ll let you know.
For now, I’m enjoying the following:
Dahlias, my favorite, from the 56th Street Farmers Market. $5.
A car show on South Tacoma Way, with local music and grilled corn on the cob.