Tacoma is not Seattle, and neither is Washington

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

I love visiting Seattle, but I’ve never had a burning desire to live there.

I love what the city offers, but I’m always glad to get back home to Tacoma.

When I travel to those nether regions (relative to  urban King County) like Cle Elum, Chehalis or Raymond, I find that, even as I don’t really identify with them, we are united against the smug, rude, pompous, shallow (and usually obvious) Seattle person with too much money and too little respect for the locals.

We, those from Tacoma, are in a different category (most of the time) from the presumptuous gloss of pretentious Seattleites (with their custom-made, color-coordinated rain gear that costs as much as a used car in Clallam County).

We may be “city people” or as many from the east side of the “Cascade Curtain” might put it “Coasters” (since we live on the ahem, “coast” of  Puget Sound. The actual coast may be a hundred or so miles away, but if you live in Eltopia or Moses Lake, any big body of water might seem like an ocean to you.

Artistic tributes to Seattle can be found all over Tacoma. This one is from a mural at Point Ruston. You will find few Tacoma references in Seattle. Photo: Morf Morford
Artistic tributes to Seattle can be found all over Tacoma. This one is from a mural at Point Ruston. You will find few Tacoma references in Seattle. Photo: Morf Morford

One professor from WSU, at the beginning of the school year, has his students draw a picture of Washington state.

Those from the west side focussed on Seattle, drew a line down the approximate middle and showed a vast emptiness on the east side.

Those from the east side drew a vast shape (with no Cascade Range in the middle), their home towns and a few others – but no Seattle. (1*)

We, on the west side, see the Cascades virtually every day and feel our lives (and livlihood) defined, if not protected by them.

Those of us from Tacoma might be “west-siders” but we are not Seattleites.

Our well-used parkas and mud splattered (and not-so-new) cars might be a giveaway, but we are usually welcomed as outsiders – but not (usually) treated like alien invaders.

Some of us might try, but few of us from Tacoma can carry off the gloss and swagger of a Seattlelite. Our “grit,” for better or worse, is there for all to see.

Seattle hipsters are even worse. With their five dollar lattes, groomed beards, man-buns and pedigreed pets, they leave a trail of smirks and stereotypes everywhere they go.

One of the many ironies of hipsters abroad, and by that I mean out of their usual habitat (Seattle) and in the hinterlands of Selah, Packwood or Zillah, is that Starbucks, either loved or reviled at home, is something like a cultural oasis.

Next time you are in one of those small towns in Eastern or Central Washington (or even more, a bit further east into Idaho) take a look at the cars. You can guess that any Prius, Lexus or (certainly) a Tesla, or anything electric, is almost certainly from King County. It’s a stereotype I know, but in most of our state, any vehicle not a dusty truck marks you as an outsider.

And if you listen in, notice the hesitant, though sometimes contemptuous, requests for artisan this or organic that.

And if you look a bit closer, the smooth hands and clean fingernails of those from King County are in stark contrast to rough and calloused hands of the locals.

Philosophically, it becomes obvious with a glance that no matter what the issue, whichever way one group votes, the other will oppose it.

The cultural divide cuts through every issue from breakfast to weapons. (2*)

But you don’t need to go as far as Hoquaim, Oroville or Nespelem to feel like a foreigner in your own state. Some corners of Orting, Buckley or Bucoda will do just fine .

Sometimes (actually most of the time) when I go to Seattle, I feel like I missed the memo on the dress code. I might as well wear a “Dork from Tacoma” lapel pin.

Meanwhile, in Elbe or McKenna I feel like a city slicker slumming out in the sticks.

I try to shake off the feeling that I probably make double or triple the income that most of them do, and that my car is probably ten years newer than theirs, but they are both probably true.

Seattle has the Space Needle as an icon. Tacoma has this.      Photo: Morf Morford
Seattle has the Space Needle as an icon.
Tacoma has this. Photo: Morf Morford

In Tacoma, I drive about three minutes to a grocery store while they drive forty-five and I see more movies (in a theater) in a month then most of them do in a year.

Broadband and wifi (and cell reception) is everywhere I go. For them, any one of them is yet another wasteful, intrusive indulgence.

You won’t find much interest in thousand dollar iPhones in Carbonado or La Grande. They don’t need a Fitbit to keep them in shape. They just keep moving

You, as a visitor from the urban “coast” will find little pockets of home, Leavenworth is largely a “colony” of Seattle. Mt Rainier National Park, oddly enough, is largely populated by Seattleites or other “Coasties.” Gated communities tend to be self-selected communities at odds with their larger neighboring cultures.

Vashon Island, though once predominantly Japanese and rural, is now barely either. The Japanese (and their strawberry farms) are long gone (but their annual Strawberry Festival continues (http://business.vashonchamber.com/events/details/vashon-island-strawberry-festival-2018-60381).

Vashon Island, like Port Townsend, has largely become a semi-urban Seattle. For more on the Puget Sound urban/rural divide look here – https://crosscut.com/2017/10/seattle-pugetopolis-washington-state-divide-urban-rural-cities

Seabrook (north of Ocean Shores) is another example of a Seattle “colony” (https://www.seabrookwa.com/).

Basically any town with exhorbitant real estate prices, flocks of Subaru wagons and artisan coffee shops is – or is becoming (no matter how far it might be from Seattle) – just another colony.

I don’t like to think of Seattle as a cultural island in the state of Washington, but it is and most people in Seattle seem to want it that way.

It’s not gated, but it might as well be.

The problem though, is that more and more people in Seattle don’t fit there any more either…


(1*)   You can see the full article here – https://www2.kuow.org/program.php?id=24022


(2*)    In 1920, men in Washington voted on whether women should have the right to vote. Every single precinct east of the Cascades said “no.” King County, even then the most populous (and liberal) county, said “yes.” 60% of Pierce County said “yes.” A full history of women’s suffrage can be found here – http://www.washingtonhistory.org/files/library/SuffrageTimeline.pdf.

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