I left Bellingham in the early afternoon and stopped in Mt. Vernon, half an hour to the south, at the food co-op for lunch and more coffee. After leaving Bellingham in ’89, I lived up the Skagit River from there, near the town of Concrete, where some friends and I co-founded a community land trust called Finney Farm that is still going to this day. Looking up the valley into the fog-shrouded North Cascades brought back a familiar longing. When the weather is nice, it is one of the most beautiful places anywhere. I knew the mountains were lurking up there out of sight. I miss big mountains. Humboldt County’s giant redwoods are nice, but can’t fill my need for awe-inducing visual grandeur the way Cascades glaciers used to. I made a mental note to schedule more summer trips to go climbing. I have always wanted to do the Ptarmigan Traverse.
I think the Washington Department of Transportation must have added tens of miles to I-5 since I was last here, along with the endless stripmalls near Burlington. I was certain that the drive between Bellingham and Olympia was much shorter and quicker, especially with the 70mph speed limit for most of the route. By the time I got to the signs for the Tacoma exit, it was getting late, with less than half and hour of daylight left. I’d been following the #OccupyOlympia hashtag on Twitter on the way down, so I knew there was now a sit-in taking place in the capitol building. I had been heart-set on covering the rally, even if just the end of it, but that seemed silly given that I had to be back in Seattle by early evening.
At the last second, I hooked right across two lanes and took the Tacoma exit. A wrong turn and some backtracking got me downtown. A quick internet search on my phone and a tap on the location brought up a map to the site. A few minutes later I was there.
OccupyTacoma is in a small corner park at a major intersection where Hwy 509 comes in to downtown from the north. While not at a courthouse, federal building or other symbolic location, it is highly visible to thousands of cars each day. There were a couple dozen tents and, like OccupyBellingham, was nearly deserted today. It compared similarly to OccupyBellingham in neatness. There is a nice enclosed kitchen area, porta-potties and minimal clutter. The fence that fronts Highway 509 is covered with signs and banners, giving the motorists stopped at the light something to read.
I only spent a few minutes in the camp, did a couple interviews (below) and then went with Ryan and another guy to a cafe across the street that seems to function as the place to do interviews. Part of Ryan’s story is in the two clips below. Like many Occupiers—and contrary to hostile media and commentators—he has a full-time job, but spends his spare time here. He wants to be a journalist and has enthusiastically taken on his part as one of the citizen-journalist documentarians of Occupy. Be sure to watch his videos below. The story of how he got literally carried away with Occupation is one of a kind.
I like Tacoma. I have a thing for gritty port cities and old brick and masonry architecture. I’m hoping to have time to stop again on the way south. Tomorrow morning after breakfast with a friend, I’ll pay OccupySeattle a visit. Just like this morning, I’m generally prioritizing hanging out with friends over hanging out with Occupiers, but I should be able to find time to do enough reporting to keep it interesting. I’d also like to post more photos and descriptions of the surrounding natural and urban environments, since these Occupations exist in contexts that help to define them. While I have and still do travel extensively throughout this region, I’m hoping most readers will appreciate that extra context.
If you are on Twitter, I’m using my own hashtag, #oi5 (“occupy I-5”) for these posts, which will help find my tweets related to this trip even if you don’t otherwise follow me.