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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Highway to Heaven

I'm in love, and my husband knows about it. He found out over three years ago when we moved to the place I'd always wanted to live: Tacoma. By now he hardly pays any attention to my sighs and dreamy expressions. I thought about this condition of mine late yesterday afternoon as my long and tedious journey south on I-5 finally neared its end. After making it down the stretch from 405 through Milton, my heart rate began to quicken as I made the big curve into Fife. No... (sorry, Fife residents, whoever you are) not because of the flat and sprawling expanse of crowded roadways, businesses, casino signs, and bill boards. It was because I knew I was on the home stretch. Way off ahead to the west, where the clouds were parting, and beams of sunlight pointed down in straight lines, right out of some religious painting, there awaited my beloved city of Tacoma.

Have you ever noticed what happens when you finally near the Puyallup River, after the long, boring haul over that commercial dessert you've just passed through? You see a little sign that says "Entering Tacoma" and suddenly the roadway curves seductively and rises, and you feel your car whooshing over the bridge as if by magnetic attraction. It's like a recurring dream: I see the Tacoma Dome and I'm taking the City Center exit, north onto 705, the shortest, sweetest little freeway in the country. Where did all the traffic go? Oh, that's right. This is the highway to Heaven for the lucky few. Have I really been good enough to deserve living here?

As 705, then Schuster Parkway, sweep me past the elegant bridge at 21st, the old train station, the museums and downtown mix of vintage and modern buildings gleaming in the afternoon's glow, I feel the day's tensions melt away. The city slides by and suddenly I am down on the waterfront, heading north along Commencement Bay. There are woods on my left, Mt. Rainier at my back. Ivy tumbles over walls. Nature and good old American enterprise live side by side. The train clatters along while an eagle circles slowly overhead, and out on the water ships wait for cargoes to be loaded or unloaded. The road is low here. I can imagine being in a canoe in the 1800s, gliding over the water, feeling the cold of it, and seeing the higher, tree covered masses of land rising up from it, surrounded by it.

I came to my senses when I started up 30th and had to watch for pedestrians. I waited at the light in front of the old Spar Tavern, with easy patience, while people crossed the brick covered street, on their way to have coffee or shop or do a little business. Then the long ascent up the 30th St. hill began, where one inviting home after another cherishes, and becomes part of, the view. As always, I looked to the right, northward, at the vista I love most in the world: a paradise between two mountain ranges, puzzle pieces of green land and blue sea, and Vashon Island, my birthplace, where a piece of my heart will always reside.

The Proctor District came next. I thought about stopping in at the Pacific Northwest Shop to say hello and find the perfect gift, or Culpepper's Books, where rare and wonderful treasures from the past are matched with new owners, by people who love them. But I wanted to get home. There was still time for me to walk my dog on the high streets of my neighborhood, where I can see the Olympics and the Narrows Bridge. But it had been a good ride, on the Highway to Heaven, and a time to remember to be grateful for the life I have here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and to remember to keep that feeling of being in love everyday. My husband isn't jealous. He's a man of few words, but I know he loves Tacoma too.


Anonymous said...

I make that drive everyday (well 5 days at least) and have done so for 8 years - must admit - I love my drive! The stresses of my day are gone. Also living in the west end only a few blocks from a vista that looks out at the Olympics and Narrows Bridge - BEAUTIFUL! We are lucky people!

susan said...

Wow, I had no idea anyone would feel that way about Tacoma! I'm not that familiar with the place, but I've never heard such nice things said about it! Sounds like you chose the right place to make a home. :)