The Weirdest Damn Building in Tacoma, Washington

I have no idea what the place is.

I have no idea who built it.

I have no idea what purpose it serves, if any.

I only know that, just outside the south side of the Tacoma Dome parking lot, north side of Bull’s Eye Indoor Shooting Range, there stands a building advertising dentistry for 25 cents.

It is, in short, the most beautifully bizarre and weirdest thing in the city of Tacoma. The only possible competition I know of, in fact, is the mysterious suspended bike of Ruston.

As you can see in this photograph, there’s a blue door, a tooth promoting 25 cent dentistry, and a dental chair perched atop an overhang. I don’t know whether the dental work is done on that chair or whether it’s purely ornamental (I hope for the former).

I imagine an old man with a twisted spine and a lab coat two sizes too small for his body scrambling up to the chair at night and performing dental surgery by moonlight. For all ailments, the same solution: removal of every tooth in the mouth.

And yes, that is an enlarged toothbrush just above the door, as well. Let’s not forget that bizarre piece of evidence.

The door is always locked and, far as I can tell, gives no indication as to what is inside.

Also, on the broad side of this most bizarre of buildings is another strange sight, facing an alleyway with a crumbling warehouse on the other side.

Several “windows” are marked out with blue tape, but no actual windows are there. I would say that the tape had been put there as outlines for carpenters to cut actual windows into, but that doesn’t make sense. You don’t cut windows into a building from the outside, far as I know.

Besides, these tape-windows have been on this wall for at least three years. I recall first seeing them that long ago.

There’s no way this oddity is accidental. Somewhere out there is a beautifully mad surrealist who has turned this building into a work of psychotic art.

I’m throwing this story out into the Supreme World Net to see what kicks back. Someone out there, surely, knows the story behind this place.

Contact me. Tell the Northwest Nomad from where this strange place comes, and why. I’ll buy you a beer, and if I buy you one, it’ll probably become twelve.

Is 25 cent dentistry any good? I must know.

Until then, thank you, Weird Architect, Builder of the Strange, whoever thou art who made this mystery a reality. Tacoma owes you a debt of curiosity and wonder.

 

The Tacoma Book Center: So Many Corners

A tousled-headed man wandered into the horror section of the Tacoma Book Center with an armful of books and a chagrined look on his face.

“Jeez,” he said, looking around the stacks, “another secret room? This place has so many corners, I keep getting lost.”

His turn of phrase struck me as strangely poetic. So many corners. It’s the sort of vaguely surreal wording you might find in a Borges poem, or a Tom Waits song ­ – the sort of thing that simultaneously hints at multiple layers of meaning and no meaning at all.

“I find something new ever time I come here,” I said. “I think this place grows at night.”

We shared a chuckle. He looked at the book in my hand, Clive Barker’s The Great and Secret Show. “Is that any good?”

“This is a great book,” I said. “I’ve read it three times already.”

“You’re browsing a book you’ve read three times already?”

I busted up laughing. The irrationality of what I’d been doing hadn’t struck me until he stated it, but even funnier was his knowing grin – the smile of man who understands the hopeless absurdity of being an out-and-out book nerd.

It was an encounter that encapsulated all that I love best about the Tacoma Book Center.

In age where the big bookstores have all the soulless glamour of a Las Vegas casino, the Center has character.

I’ve always thought of it as the Eric Hoffer of big bookstores, rough hands and an aching back, muddy boots, but way smarter and more vital than the well-manicured University guys could ever hope to be.

I can imagine the Tacoma Book Center standing on Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, just down the way from Lee Chong’s grocery.

Far as I’m concerned, there are few-if-any places in the world as magical as libraries and bookstores. And the Center isn’t just a bookstore; it’s a good bookstore, in the parlance of Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s got soul.

It also happens to have 500,000 books.  Yes, you read that right: half a million books. You can get lost in its stacks. I have gotten lost in its stacks.

Every time I go to the Center, I find myself wondering how many people have browsed those shelves before me, exploring all those sleeping worlds waiting to be born inside reader’s heads. Where will their ghosts go after the building is gone? I don’t know. Nobody does.

The sad truth is that the store will someday be gone; or at least will house something other than books. Larry, the Center’s owner, told me the other day that, while the rumors of the death of print have been greatly exaggerated, the industry is having a hard time finding young blood willing to take the business up. The great old stores are dying with their founders.

The fact is that less people are reading print, and when they do read print, they buy their books online. So, even if the books themselves survive, the old way of selling them in physical stores may not.

Well, in response to that I will borrow a line from E.E. Cummings and ask: who cares if some one-eyed son of a bitch invents an instrument to measure Spring with?

Maybe it’s true that the brick-and-mortar bookstore has already been given a death sentence, but, as of today, at least one still stands. It’s on the corner of East 26th and East D Streets in Tacoma, within spitting distance of Freighthouse Square.

I love the store and everything it stands for. So do many others. I run into them every time I go there, this ragtag band of literary devotees. For us, the magic has never faded.

Even if the books are dead, their bones still sing to us from the catacombs.

Bah, that’s a bunch of fatalistic nonsense. Those attuned to the frequency of the Word know what the analysts cannot, which is that no good thing can ever die (thanks Mr. King).

Check out the Tacoma Book Center. You can find books online, but character? Soul? Supplies of that have been running low for years now, and nobody’s restocking the shelves.

Besides, you just might find some good conversation while browsing the stacks. Look for it in the horror section…if you can find it.

First edition hardback copy of Cormac McCarthy's novel Suttree.
My favorite novel ever written. Tacoma Book Center has a first edition of this baby. Gaze upon it, children, and dream.

The Terrible, Mysterious Suspended Bike of the Ruston Waterfront

The Terrible, Mysterious Suspended Bike of the Ruston Waterfront: Weird Melodramatic Poetry Version in Honor of William Blake

Oh, mysterious suspended bike of the Ruston waterfront, who made thee?

Who shaped thy strange handlebars?

Who bound up thy body in wood and left thee, as though in flight, suspended over the Sound?

Where did you come from, you weird artifact?

From the depths of someone’s imagination? Or from some place darker? Are you drawing us toward madness, or bliss? And is there a difference, mysterious suspended bike of the Ruston waterfront walk?

Oh, your strange character has confounded me for generations…generations before my own birth. You hearken back to pre-birth memories, so strange and beautiful and terrible you are.

A surrealist’s dream of lost childhood, or childhood found? Or just an accident with no meaning at all?

Are those wooden posts crosses? The spirit of Dali shivers with delight.

I await you.

In my dreams.

In my nightmares.

Strange, suspended bike of the Ruston waterfront…do you love or fear at all?

The Terrible, Mysterious Suspended Suspended Bike of the Ruson Waterfront: Less Melodramatic and Non-Poetic Version

It turns out I’m not the only person whose fascination has been captured by the mysterious suspended bike of the Ruston waterfront.

Grit City, an excellent Tacoma publication, has done more serious gumshoeing on this topic.

Teaser from that Grit City piece: “Here’s what we know: The bike is a Sears Tote-Cycle and is actually fairly old; probably from the ‘60s. The Tote-Cycle was one of the precursors to today’s foldable bikes.”

I’ll write no more, as I’d just be stealing their content, something the Northwest Nomad will never do (and I’ll fight any man who claims otherwise).

Tacoma Budget Trip: Point Defiance Park

Point Defiance Park is a Great Tacoma Budget Trip

Whether you’re in the mood for swimming, hiking, tossing a football around, taking a scenic drive, or just chilling in the sun, you’ll find plenty of room and opportunity at Point Defiance Park. There’s also the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, boat rentals, and eats, of course, but in this blog post I’ll be focusing on Point Defiance recreation activities that cost little to no money. Point Defiance makes for a great Tacoma budget trip for people on a budget.

Owen Beach and the Waterfront Promenade

Owen Beach, which sits on the shore of the Puget Sound, is one of the main attractions at Point Defiance.

Owen Beach in winter. During summer, there are far more visitors, and the beach is usually a bustle of play.

Children love playing on the drift logs that lay along the sand—and many adults do, as well. The main beach area, seen in the photo above, tends to have the most concentrated crowds. The beach stretches on for quite some ways, however, and the farther you go the less people you’ll find.

 

There’s also a wide lawn with concessions and kayak rental shops, a picnic shelter, and restrooms. Nearly $5 million of improvements are being planned for 2018.

Though the main beach is developed, this location still has a bit wild streak, and it’s not uncommon to see seals and sea lions near shore.

A long waterfront promenade leads from Owen Beach to Boathouse Marina. This walk is fully paved and level and makes for an easy, scenic excursion for people of any fitness level.

Gardens Upon Gardens

In the rush to get to the beach, don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers. Point Defiance is full of them!

The Rose Garden covers more than an acre. In addition to the roses themselves, there’s a wishing well and multiple gazebos to sit and contemplate the beauty.

The Pacific Northwest is known for its greenery, and it’s not always easy to find the other vibrant colors of nature. That’s not the case in Point Defiance. In addition to the Rose Garden, there’s an Herb Garden, a Fuchsia Garden, a Dahlia Trail Garden, and more.


 

     While you’re enjoying the flowers, keep an eye out for the many birds that like to congregate inthis area, especially in the pools scattered around the property.

Few things are better at reminding us to relax and enjoy life than watching ducks go about their business.

These Trails Were Made for Walking

Point Defiance has nearly 10 miles of walking trails.

None of the trails are far from the main park area, and none of them are very rugged. It’s casual hiking.
But, because of the thickness of the vegetation and the contour of the land, you get little stretches where you feel peacefully removed from the hustle and bustle.

No Matter the Season, Point Defiance Always Makes for a Nice Visit

In the wintertime, the park is refreshingly quiet and calm. In the summer, it’s got the energy of family and friends getting out to enjoy that long-sought Washington state sunshine. You can’t ask for much for from a place with free entrance.

Whether you’re in Tacoma or farther out, it’s a great day trip.

Tacoma, Washington: Just the Right Combination of Glitz and Grit

In Tacoma, History and Innovation Blend Seamlessly

Come to Tacoma for beautiful historic landmarks standing right beside newly constructed museums and restaurants. Feel free to wear your best dress or your favorite pair of blue jeans. This city doesn’t ask anyone to put on any airs.

As anybody who has lived in the Puget Sound Basin will attest, Tacoma has a bit of a reputation around these parts. Many see it as the Gotham City of the Pacific Northwest. In that aspect, the city has attained a kind of mythical status, a steam-painted town in a black and white movie that will never be colorized.

Some of this reputation was earned in the city’s past. This place was was built by the blistered hands of longshoreman, fishermen, and the men of the train yard. Later, particularly in the 80s and 90s, the city became synonymous with gang violence.

Those days are gone, though, and downtown Tacoma is a thriving place full of culture and energy.

The rebirth initiated by the construction of the University of Washington, Tacoma’s campus has brought all kinds of worthwhile sites to this city. Yet, underneath these renovations, Tacoma still maintains its gritty character. Amidst the museums and theaters and galleries, there is also the remnant of the industrial heart of this city, still beating, and still beautiful in its rusted, corrugated way.

The City’s Got Soul

This is the kind of city that I appreciate. It’s got its best Sunday dress on, but there’s a bit of dirt underneath those fingernails to show that this place still has a soul. Its daddy didn’t put it through art school. No, it had to work nights at the packing yard to get through.

Stand at the corner of Market and South 11th and you’ll see art murals painted on building fronts, Mount Rainier, and the cranes and boats of a working waterfront, all in one sweep of the eye. Tacoma probably wouldn’t appear in a Beatles song, but it could be the star of a Tom Waits album. Springsteen would appreciate the heart of this place, too, I think.

For all its new culture and energy, Tacoma still is not a city that puts on airs. You can sit in bar and meet real human beings. Far as I’m concerned, it’s got the perfect balance of glamour and grit.

The City’s Better than just Pretty and Nice—It’s Straight Up Poetic

I love this city, and this post comes from the ragged guts of my poetic sensibility, I know. I can’t help it. But there’s a more businesslike introduction to Tacoma, as well, that I wrote for the fantastic folks of Travelicious.

That introduction catalogs all the sites for you potential tourists. It shows you how you can see the Tacoma Museum of Glass, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Chihuly Bride of Glass, and the Washington State History Museum all in one day, entirely on foot. The trip would also have you around the shops, restaurants, and taverns that surround the University of Washington, Tacoma campus.

Follow the link below, adventurer, and see what Tacoma has to offer. All poetic sentimentality aside, this is a great city to visit for a day, a weekend, or longer.

http://travelicious.world/tacoma-washington-a-city-reborn/