Life in the 253

Washington state, perhaps like every state, is divided and compartmentalized in a variety of ways. These categories define who we vote for, sometimes our speed limits and, in perhaps the most direct personal way, our area code.

Washington state, perhaps like every state, is divided and compartmentalized in a variety of ways. From congressional districts to legislative districts to zip codes, we are defined, and live within the confines and identities that have settled around us and attempt to keep us categorized by all kinds of definitions that we may or may not care about – or even, in some cases barely even notice.

These categories define who we vote for, sometimes our speed limits and, in perhaps the most direct personal way, our area code.

One area code to rule them all (at least until 1957)

Area codes for phone numbers were first set up in 1947.

For the first ten years, Washington had one area code. But in 1957, due to population growth, or at least the number of us using phones, the state was split into two area codes; 206 on the west side of the Cascades and 509 on the east side.

In 1995 206 was split again into the Puget Sound region and basically all the rest of Western Washington was assigned 360.

In 1997 the east side of King County was designated as 425 and the greater Tacoma area was given 253, which meant that 206, once the area code for the entire state became anchored in the Seattle area.

In 2017 area code 564 was established as an “overlay” prefix, for most new accounts, first for those in the 360 regions, and then for the rest of us.

Fun facts: In 1947 there were 77 area codes across the USA. In 2024 the USA holds well over 330. Area code numbers range from 201 – 989, with many numbers missing – especially those ending in 11 – to keep the range open for 911 and 411 calls.

And, of course there was opposition. The Anti-Digit Dialing League was formed in California in 1962, opposing what it called “creeping numeralism.” S.I. Hayakawa, a San Francisco college professor and later a Californian Republican senator, helped organize the protest, which spread nationwide.

For better or worse, “creeping numeralism” prevailed.

The 253 heart

Tacoma, as it often does, took its area code designation to heart – literally. You may have seen the heart shaped logo made up of the numbers 253.

Other places may have “I heart NYC” bumper stickers for example, but Tacoma’s heart is composed of its area code numbers. You can see a whole catalog of shirts, stickers and much more here —

Tacoma is a perfect 10

As I was writing this, I happened to run into a book that analyzed an ancient principle of coding. The premise is that every word, name or series of numbers can be reduced to a simple one- or two-digit number by adding the digits together as far as they can be reduced.

253, for example, would be 2+5+3= 10, which itself can be reduced to 1.

10 is considered a divine, even eternal number. The number 1 is, of course the beginning, the first whole number, the first integer, the ultimate starting point.

206 is of course, 8. 425 is 4+2+5=11 which = 2. 360 =9.

You can see more on this approach to numbers here —

As always perhaps, affection, relationship and identity can be expressed many ways.

There is an old saying that in war, every 10 feet an entirely different story is being told.

The same is certainly true of cities. Each block or neighborhood, or even each building or home, holds a very different and distinct history and set of experiences and expectations.

Life in the 253 is a very experience for each one of us. 253, at best is a nebulous territory. It stretches from southern King County (Kent, Federal Way, Algona and Auburn, and a few more) to the Pierce County lowlands around Mount Rainier (Sumner, Bonney Lake and many more) to the south (like Parkland and Roy, among others) to the edges (and islands) of South Puget Sound, like Rosedale, Steilacoom and Wollochet.

The city of Tacoma is, of course, the core of the 253.

Those areas, and even Tacoma itself, hold all manner of experiences, vistas, surprises and hidden gems.

Whatever your experience might be, or whatever associations you might hold about life in the 253, there is, at minimum, more than you have already encountered.

From isolated or popular beaches, to mountain views, to international markets and world class parks and museums, you can find that, and much more, in the 253.

The 253 stickers and icons, of course, do not differentiate between areas and neighborhoods, in fact the sticker seems to say that, no matter where you call home, or what your memories, encounters and experiences might be, in all its murky, and often contradictory glory, we all find our place here.