‘Write a short description of a new experience or a place you’ve never been before.”
That’s an assignment I give my English 101 students. You can imagine the rolled-eyes and blank looks I get.
They insist that they have seen and done everything in Tacoma. And like most people I know, they have convinced themselves that they know all there is to know about Tacoma.
I have days where I come to believe that my routine of places and familiar faces is all there is of my community. But then I open my eyes and see that there is more, much more, to Tacoma than I know.
My students, like many of us, like me on some days, often forget or drive by the remarkable things we don’t see right in front of us. Mount Rainier looms on our horizon, but when was the last time you were up there? Commencement Bay literally frames Tacoma, but when was the last time you were out on it?
Much to the surprise of many of us, over the past few decades Tacoma has morphed from a polluted, working-class “gritty” city to a thriving center for the arts. Did you know that (especially in some out-of-the-way corners) Tacoma has a thriving (mostly independent) theater, music, literary and arts scene?
I love the events of Tacoma’s theater district, but many of my students could not afford them. Fortunately there are many free and affordable activities for all ages and interests from free days at the zoo, movies and story-telling at the Tacoma Public Library and free Fridays at the Children’s Museum.
Did you catch the Ethnic Fest and Music and Art event in Wright Park? Or Tacoma’s annual block party in Opera Alley? Have you attended Tacoma’s First Night celebration on New Year’s eve?
How about jazz or poetry readings at the B Sharp Coffee House? Or story-telling extraordinaire by local voices through Drunken Telegraph at the Broadway Center? Or the Third Thursday museums and the Art Bus? Did you know that free passes to most museums are available at Tacoma libraries?
Did you participate in the National Night Out? Have you gone on the free tours of the Port of Tacoma? How about the Maritime Fest? Been on the tour of Tacoma’s magnificent historic homes and buildings lately? Ever walk across the Narrows Bridge? Especially at sunset?
Have you supported our many farmers markets (downtown on Thursdays, Sixth Avenue on Tuesdays, Proctor on Saturdays and South Tacoma on Sundays)? And don’t forget the massive Puyallup Farmers Market.
Have you been to South Tacoma’s STAR Center? Did you know that Metro Parks has 70 parks totaling almost 3,000 acres?
Many of the larger neighborhoods host summer parties; Hilltop, McKinley Hill, South Tacoma, Sixth Avenue and Proctor held great events this year.
And if you need to get out of town, did you know that for $3.50 each way, you can take the bus to downtown Seattle, or for about $5 you can take a ferry ride to either Vashon or Anderson Island?
These, and many others, are free or low-cost, family-friendly and accessible, and they all, taken together and established over time, make us who we are.
Turn off the TV, get off the Internet, put down that phone, get out of the car and walk around your neighborhood. Or even better, walk around a neighborhood you don’t know and talk to people.
You’ll never know what you might learn about this place you call home.
M. (Morf) Morford is a former reader columnist. Email him at email@example.com.