Tacoma grows on you

With most of the wonders of Tacoma, you have to get off the main thoroughfares and look for them.

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

I’ve finally figured out the perfect metaphor for Tacoma.

Other cities have gleaming and distinct towers or monuments to local architecture.

Seattle, for example, has its office towers and, of course, The Space Needle. These beckon travelers from the freeway, or even from the air.

Tacoma, from the freeway, for the casual observer, stuck in traffic or whizzing by, has little to offer. We have few visible irresistible landmarks for tourists or visitors.

As potential visitors drive by on I-5, the one building that defines our landscape is the Tacoma Dome.

The Tacoma Dome is our answer to the dazzling curb appeal of Seattle.

I love the Tacoma Dome, but its wonders are on the inside, barely even hinted at from the outside.

Heading north on I-5, before the city center, not much is memorable. You can see strip malls and hotels and the Tacoma Mall. All of these hold attractions but few if any, are primary or unique destinations. Nothing stands out and says TACOMA!

Our most unique piece of architecture, our leaning tea-pot tower we know as the glass museum, is barely visible, if it is at all, from the freeway.

As with most of the wonders of Tacoma, you have to get off the main thoroughfares and look for them.

Our attractions are not for others. Our parks, restaurants and gathering places are for us, and for use not for show.

Seattle holds mythical, near legendary figures and businesses. From Starbucks and Boeing to Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos – and monumental failures like Washington Mutual.

The towers of Seattle gleam as you pass them on the freeway. Seattle is like Oz as it stands out from the miles of strip malls north and south of it.

Seattle holds promise – and if we believe the naysayers in the media – (especially those east of The Cascades) anarchy and menace.

But Tacoma? For years, Tacoma has been the city to pass by on the way to something much more interesting and promising.

And if you are looking for fortunes, a hustle, or even for trouble, feel free to keep going.

Tacoma is a place of work, a place of exploration, discovery and, most of all perhaps, a place to call home.

There’s nothing glamorous about home. In fact it is often the place young people want to get away from.

But it is also often the place that never stops calling for a return.

I could not count the number of people I’ve known who have lived here, but moved on and have spent most of their lives trying to get back.

Some finish their careers, some wander back and some come back with energy and vision to start that dream business.

There’s something about that steady, not-always-promising and rarely intimidating sense of possibility here. Other cities may operate at higher stakes and with much more visibility, but Tacoma is the place for those of limited means and energizing vision.

We don’t have many large employers, no monolithic Boeing or Amazon. We have a much more reflexive and responsive network of teams and individuals that work together.

Pierce County’s largest employer is not even in the city. JBLM has the highest number of workers in the county. And if you know JBLM at all, you know that it is a sprawling place with jobs at all levels of pay and responsibility – some temporary and some semi-permanent. They are good and usually steady jobs, but you won’t find the counterpart to Microsoft-millionaires there.

And you won’t find many Microsoft McMansions in Tacoma or Pierce County either.

But you will find affordable homes. Yes, you might have to look harder than a few years ago, or drive a bit more, but in our era of working from home, living far from an urban center is not the career killer it once was.

The Port of Tacoma, historically one of Tacoma’s largest and most stable employers, keeps thousands of businesses going – some directly and many more on an ancillary basis.

Boeing dominated the Puget Sound economy for decades. Amazon dominates the landscape and economy of Seattle – especially the South Lake Union area. Starbucks, as we all know, is recognized worldwide.

Tacoma has few, if any, corporate stars at this level. What we do have is a network of thousands of smaller independent, but not separate, businesses that operate on their own, but with a level of cooperativeness, if not cohesion rarely found in larger cities.

The greater Tacoma area has resources and possibilities of a large city, but with the pulse and vibe of a small town.

You may have noticed that Tacoma businesses (and agencies and individuals) mostly know each other.

We may or may not be competitors, but we are all swimming in the same sea, and pulled or threatened by, the same currents.

Other cities have distinct landmarks that identify them and set them apart. These are usually, if not always, visible from a distance.

Tacoma has no such landmarks. You have to take a close look to see what is special about Tacoma.

As Travel Tacoma has pointed out, we have the city, the sea and the mountain.

Our views (and we have many) are more from the inside out, than the outside in.

And we have no singular skyline. We have stunning views in every direction.

Most cities face one direction. Tacoma faces every direction. How many cities offer fabulous views of both the sunrise and sunset?

How any cities have a mountain range to the east (The Cascades) and another to the west (Olympics)? Our horizons are visible, but distant, defining without being confining.

How many cities have a massive park (over 95% wilderness) literally surrounded by water?

Or more than 20 miles of beach access – most of it public.

Tacoma, to use a phrase, grows on people.

Tacoma can be a frustrating and annoying place, but past a certain point it becomes home.

The dreary weather rolls in and seems to stay forever. We put up with it and escape into Netflix, books or projects.

Those distractions keep us sane and connect us even more with our setting.

And like a family home, at some level, no matter how far we may go, we never fully get away from it.