Keeping Tacoma Feared

A popular Tacoma T-shirt                                                                               Photo by Morf Morford

A popular Tacoma T-shirt Photo by Morf Morford

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

My wife hates the common bumper sticker “Keep Tacoma Feared.” I don’t mind it. In fact I think it captures an element – or at least a  tendency – unique to or personified by Tacoma.

As Charles Mudede put it (New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y] 26 Oct 2002: A.21): Tacoma is “at once urban and yet maintains the feel of an unmanaged outpost” and “The woods around Tacoma have not been and may never be tamed”.

The assumption is that we, the people of Tacoma (and Pierce County) will also “never be tamed.” That’s all right with me.

Like most of us, I have friends and family in and around Seattle. Virtually every one of them has, at best, a mildly negative view of Tacoma.

Pierce County and Tacoma have relatively affordable real estate and rents. But the cultural leap from King County to Pierce County is great. I know many residents of King County who are comfortable travelling anywhere in the world – but are terrified at the prospect of getting out of their car in Tacoma.

It’s not that we citizens of Tacoma are so mean and menacing. Far from it in fact. Many, if not most of us, are civil, literate and relatively articulate. Most of us have steady jobs, solid families and mow our lawns on a regular basis. We are not really that different from anyone else – but don’t tell anybody.

I like Seattle, and I like many individuals from Seattle, but I don’t like what people and influences from Seattle are doing to my (in some ways) fragile hometown.

So how is Tacoma different from Seattle? Can you imagine this line in a chamber of commerce brochure comparing Tacoma to Seattle: “If anyone in the city of Seattle discharges a pistol in the backyard, a swarm of police cars will surround the house in minutes. But in Tacoma, where the sound of gunshots is not unusual, ex-soldiers…can discharge high-velocity rounds late at night with little or no objection. In Tacoma, you hear shots all the time. You don’t think much of it.” (Charles Mudede)

I’m not sure how to think about how the New York Times portrays Tacoma. Do they really think we are a bunch of semi-coherent, flannel-shirted hicks roaming our streets with military grade weapons, Confederate flags and surly attitudes toward authority and civil order?

We don’t have New York City-style rudeness, but we have little tolerance for pretense and affectations. Power, money and glitz don’t impress us. Trying to impress us impresses us even less.

Most of us in Tacoma are not very good followers. We like doing things our own way. You might see us patiently waiting at red lights or befuddled and hesitant at roundabouts. For the most part, we don’t have much faith in– or even interest in – experts.

And when it comes to urban development, especially increasing housing density, we hate it as much as we love it. 

We don’t like taxes, but we don’t complain about them. We do complain about our weather – but only because we secretly love it.

Unlike some parts of our country, we don’t have much of a problem with the federal government –in fact the largest employer in Pierce County is JBLM.

And, from my experience, with only a few exceptions, community relations with local law enforcement is usually quite positive.

Tacoma (and greater Pierce County) is a great place to pursue our own passions and obsessions.

Portland and Vashon Island have their “Keep Portland weird” or “Keep Vashon Weird” bumper stickers. We don’t need those – our “weirdness” is more nuanced, and besides, if you have to proclaim your “weirdness” you are obviously trying too hard.

Be sure to notice the people in the car with the “Keep Tacoma Feared” bumper sticker – I’d guess that they are probably the least intimidating people you’d meet in Tacoma. They are making a statement, and perhaps the statement is as snarky as it is obvious: if Tacoma strikes you as gritty and ghetto, and if the thought of some of us “never being tamed” scares you, you obviously don’t belong here.

“Keep Tacoma Feared” is ironic, sarcastic and perhaps most of all a spoof of those pretentious cities that seem to need to market their “weirdness.”

Most of us just want to be left alone and as long as you don’t tell us what to do, we’ll probably get along.

We don’t have anything to prove, and we know that  few are impressed by Tacoma. Tacoma is an acquired taste and it suits most of us just fine.