Matt Driscoll

July 4 at Point Ruston is another blow to the Tacoma we once knew. Is that OK, though?

I’m pouring one out for fried food.

I’m pouring one out for the guys in cargo shorts.

I’m pouring one out for all the double-wide strollers, stars-and-stripes tank tops and glassy-eyed patriots with thousand-yard stares stumbling out of the beer garden.

I’m pouring one out for Freedom Fair, gone as we’ve known it, the Fourth of July celebration Tacoma desperately wanted to outgrow.

As The News Tribune’s Craig Sailor reported late last week, a deal between the city and Metro Parks is set to move Tacoma’s annual Fourth of July celebration north along Ruston Way next year, toward the new Dune Peninsula. Intentional or not, the decision effectively makes Point Ruston, in all its opulent glory, the day-long celebration’s epicenter. There’s even talk of a ticketed-admission area for concerts, or investment seminars, or something.

Fourth of July in Tacoma just got a whole lot swankier and starched, in other words. The goal, according to Phedra Redifer, Metro Parks’s regional parks manager, is to “modernize” things.

In an RFP submitted to the city, the agency envisions a “first-class” celebration.

Whether Tacoma is ready or not remains to be seen.

Because here’s the thing about first-class: When you grew up knife fighting for peanuts in coach, it can feel like an awkward fit, especially at first.

This new Fourth of July celebration is going to take some getting used to.

Don’t get me wrong. I like mixed-use developments, reclaimed Superfund sites and canned music piped in like it’s Disneyland as much as the next guy. Throw in a paid-parking structure and a dinner I can’t afford and I’m basically sold.

But, for some reason, there’s a small part of me that’s inclined to mourn Freedom Fair — in all its obscene absurdity.

I have no idea why.

By most meaningful measures, Freedom Fair typically teetered on the ledge of crude. When I told my wife I wanted to take the girls this year — and I mean to Ruston Way, not sitting on a North End planting strip trying to steal a glimpse at the fireworks and act like we belong — the look she gave me said it all:

“You want to do what?”

It’s a fair question. In truth, my grasp on the 4-year-old’s hand was tight as we waded through the humanity so thick it stuck to our clothes (or perhaps that was just the vape plumes), and the fireworks grand finale was predictably marred by some drunken rando with a lighter and a string of contraband fireworks behind the porta-potties. The whole thing felt about as diverse as Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy sharing a fried bologna sandwich.

There’s a lot to improve upon. There’s a lot that needs to be improved.

Still, this is where it gets weird. I told my wife that all of that was part of the point. I knew exactly what I was getting into.

Freedom Fair was reliable, like last calls at Doyle’s. Sure, Seattle’s fireworks typically threatened to steal the show, even from 40 miles away, but stubbornly averting your eyes and focusing in on T-Town’s second-tier aerial explosives was part of it, too — like sunburns and bad arm-band tattoos.

Now, all of that is coming to an end — or at least being revamped in the shadow of Point Ruston.

And I guess it’s that last part that really gets me.

Am I going to miss the hot-tub hucksters and juggalos? I am not, dear reader. Tacoma deserves better.

But, in a city where the ever-increasing cost of living is rapidly changing everything, moving Tacoma’s Fourth of July celebration to shiny, new Point Ruston feels like more of the same.

The truth is we’ve all seen our city evolve in recent years. Much of it has been good. Some of it has been bittersweet. Some of it has served as a painful reminder of the inevitability of change, or progress, or whatever we’re calling it.

Grow up, we’ve been told as a city. I’ve even urged as much. And it’s true, Tacoma does have an opportunity to transform, in a positive way, and perhaps re-imaging Tacoma’s community Fourth of July celebration is part of our needed evolution.

I get it. I really do. But still.

“What is it the community really wants from this annual Fourth of July celebration?” is the query Redifer posed to all of us.

It’s another fair question. I don’t know the answer.

What I do know is there was part of Freedom Fair —in all its depravity and dysfunction —that felt like Tacoma before the Subarus and Seattle money arrived. And like so many other chipped, rusted and imperfect pieces of our history, that’s dead now.

For better or worse.

Matt Driscoll is a reporter and The News Tribune’s metro news columnist. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll lives in Central Tacoma with his wife and three children. He’s passionate about the City of Destiny and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.
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