Published on June 13th, 2014 | by M. Morford4
Parkland is (still) burning
If you think the common attitude of most of the greater Puget Sound area (especially Seattle) towards Tacoma is a smoldering, condescending compilation of terms defining Tacoma as a gritty, not-worth-visiting, noxiously smelling burg with a thriving case of abused-child syndrome, you don’t know Parkland.
Parkland is gritty, volatile, abused, and misfit squared. And Tacoma looks at Parkland the way Seattle looks at Tacoma.
Framed on the southern side by one of the largest military complexes in the world, with thousands of acres of military reservation and open woods, suburban Lakewood to the west, Mt. Rainier and the Cascades to the east, and Tacoma to the north, with, of course, the cultural oasis of a university, Parkland has a pulse of population, energy and impulse like no other.
Back in the 1960s and ’70s, the woods south of Parkland surged with hillbilly moonshiners, hippies, anarchists, and later, meth labs. The vast stretches of mind-numbingly identical, cramped cul-de-sacs belie the PTSD-fueled anarchy simmering just below the surface.
Where else in Pierce County could you buy a Confederate flag? And who could forget the strings of military surplus stores where any teenage boy could buy military surplus survival gear, weapons and even bomb-making supplies under the counter.
Where else, back in the 1980s at least, could you, for $20, buy a beater car (unregistered and probably stolen), drive it in a drunken frenzy all over the rough dirt roads of the military reservation and leave it wrapped around a tree or hanging off a cliff? (I never did this, but I know people who did and I saw many of the cars out there, there may even still be a few).
The kids I grew up with had lived all over the world, called nowhere home and had grown up with either no authority or military style discipline – at least when dad was around. Unlike Tacoma, and certainly Seattle, this area bore the brunt of the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
At least when I was there, the stakes were high, the opportunities endless and possibilities surged.
Parkland was the place where Huck Finn met Frank Zappa and then they both met Nikola Tesla. Most of us who were young then operated under the assumption that we could invent, create, survive, or destroy anything.
The death rate was high back then, but most of us lived (or died) as if there was no tomorrow. And for many, there wasn’t. Parkland was transitory, cross-cultural, and defined by class and race a generation before it was cool.
The view of Parkland, as one drives through Pacific Avenue, is much like the drive north through Tacoma on I-5. Unflattering. But you’d never imagine what lives just a few blocks away from the main drag.
Pacific Lutheran University held a continuous flow of Midwest wholesome optimism that offered (usually) vain hope and refuge for the locals.The ivory tower of brick and ivy-crestedPLU was a constant reminder of what the rest of Parkland could, or could never, become.
Most imported PLU students had little reason to venture much beyond Garfield Street. And yet it was the mix of all these elements that produced the cauldron of masculine, surging, nothing-left-to-lose creativity.
For those who survived, or moved on, or even who focused and prospered from that strange, erratic, seemingly infinite energy, earned a determined wisdom, a weary, clumsy tattoo of the soul found nowhere else.
Perhaps Art Chantry summed it up best with his “Parkland Is Burning” poster.
I’m sure it still is. And I hope it keeps on.