Tacoma gets discovered. Again.

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

Tacoma is a strange place in many ways. Perhaps the most extreme aspect of how strange Tacoma is, is how invisible Tacoma tends to be. You may have heard of the saying “hidden in plain sight” – that’s Tacoma.

Tacoma straddles I-5, with the Tacoma Dome dominating the landscape – and in the distance, from the freeway, one can see Tacoma’s attempt at a skyline. Even at a distance, for the vast majority of drivers, Tacoma’s skyline, or even presence, flickers by in an indistinct blur.

This is pure conjecture, of course, but it’s likely that about 98% of those on the freeway going by Tacoma have no intention of stopping – or coming back to T-town.

Tacoma is like that jar you are looking for in the refrigerator that seems to be hiding behind every other carton or jar and seems elusive on every shelf – until someone else finds it front and center, eye-level on the main shelf. That’s Tacoma; it’s there somewhere, and everyone, inside and outside of the city, is convinced they know what Tacoma is.

Seattle, of course, has its defining landmarks (the Space Needle and others), its dominating economic drivers (like Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing), its cultural benchmarks (like Starbucks), its tourist attractions (like the Pike Place Market and the waterfront), sports stadiums, and a large world class university. And, as the whole world knows, a couple of the richest people on the planet.

Tacoma, as we all know, has none of that. Tacoma’s charms, if we could call them that, are more subtle, and literally elusive.

In short, as marketing teams might put it, Seattle is a “destination”. Tacoma is not.

Students, tourists and potential emigres (even a few dreamy-eyed artists and musicians) dream of recognition, even fame in Seattle. How many of those fantasize about a new life in Tacoma? I’d guess, not many. At best.

Many of us just find ourselves here. Stationed by the military, anchored to a job or a relationship, or inadvertently born here, few of us had dreams of moving, or staying, here. And yet, here we are. Some us for far more years than we had intended, some of us bound by inertia, some with nowhere else to go.

After decades of bad press, incriminating rumors and lame jokes (mostly referencing the “aroma” of Tacoma), Tacoma occasionally makes its way into the headlines (for something besides crime).

Sometimes, Tacoma, in the eyes of some at least, seems to be secret sauce cleverly hidden behind the milk cartons and moldy lettuce that other cities might offer.

Yes, Tacoma is unique and off the radar. Our sights may not dazzle out-of-towners, but every once in a while a news show or journal finds something they never expected – in any city, let alone in a city they drove past a thousand times.

From gondolas to a glass museum, from vintage cars to Asian markets, to thrift shops and antique shops to stunning mountain and sunset views, Tacoma has all kinds of things other cities could only dream of.

And few of those other cities, especially a large one just north of us, appreciate or explore Tacoma – which for many of us, is just fine with us.

But sometimes we make our way into the national, even international, spotlight.

The Today Show recommends Tacoma. Sort of…

Somehow, the Today Show put Tacoma on its list of the top five “booming cities”. With a series of vague comments related to employment (stating that Amazon and Microsoft are here) and about the weather (“Is it real?”) Tacoma is described as haven for those “living paycheck-to-paycheck”. Faint praise indeed. Crime and homelessness were not mentioned. Neither was the escalating price of rentals here.

Even Seattle recognizes us – sometimes

With a headline like “been to Tacoma lately?” you know that the core assumption is that, no, why would someone from Seattle go to Tacoma “lately”? With glossy photos (and apparently a near-infinite budget) Tacoma (and a few outlying areas) offers wonders few of us natives would encounter. From gourmet food to (literal) mountaintop experiences and much more, Tacoma is displayed as a site like no other. And, as we locals know, it is certainly that. You can see one version of Seattle’s view of Tacoma here.

Tacoma as a destination?

The restaurant formerly known as C.I. Shenanigan’s on Ruston Way in Tacoma will undergo renovations for a new Native/internationally inspired restaurant led by chef Roy Yamaguchi.

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians and Kenmore Air announced plans for new seaplane operations to bring more tourists to the Tacoma area and to increase access to the Tribe’s casino and hospitality operations. Initial routes will connect to Victoria, B.C., and the San Juan Islands. Sightseeing and other charter services will also be based in Tacoma.

Shootings at Pt. Defiance

On the other hand, we in Tacoma have a reputation to preserve. Beyond the glossy formats, in some ways, perhaps, Tacoma will always be Tacoma.

Outside of the glistening tourist attractions and even the tree-lined streets of a few neighborhoods, something nefarious seems to be stirring, just out of sight in Tacoma.

July saw two shootings at Tacoma’s premier park – Point Defiance. One near the rose gardens and the other at Owen Beach. Parks, especially our much-loved Point Defiance, are usually, at a near-instinctual level, seen as places of refuge and escape. These outbursts of violence were seen as, among other things, violations of a near-sacred space in a city with precious few of them.

Tacoma, in short, is becoming a very different place. Even for those of us who thought we knew it well.