Category Archives: Reviews

Tacoma’s First Underground Tour

My friend Jenya and I before embarking on the Underground Tour

I’m not one for tours. For the most part I like exploring things on my own, but when I saw Angela Jossy’s announcement of a ‘Once In A Lifetime Underground Tour of Tacoma’, I had to go. The Facebook page spoke of the legendary Shanghai Tunnels, the vaulted sidewalks, Old City Hall, and Never Never Land figures. For those who are unaware of some of these Tacoma legends, here’s a bit of background.

The Chinese Tunnels are among Tacoma’s oldest legends. Depending on who you’re talking to they were for literally shanghaiing unruly customers at shady bars, sending the unsuspecting patrons to the basement, through the tunnel and onto a ship down on the waterfront or they were for smuggling Chinese workers after their expulsion from Tacoma in 1885 or they were used as  opium dens. But as many stories as there are, there is a distinct lack of evidence of these tunnels.

Old City Hall is one of Tacoma’s oldest and most beautiful buildings. Sadly, due to a series of unfortunate events, Old City Hall is now vacant and in some areas unsafe. It’s future remains uncertain.

Walk the streets of downtown Tacoma and look down. Occasionally you’ll see thick opaque glass. These are the vaulted sidewalks of Tacoma. In other words, there’s something under that sidewalk.

And then there was Never Never Land. As a child I remembered going to Never Never Land at Pt. Defiance Park. There was a meandering trail through the woods where various figurines acted out parts from famous fairy tales. It was kind of cool but kind of creepy. Never Never Land closed many years ago and left behind empty areas along the trail where once stood Little Red Riding Hood or the Three Little Pigs. Recently even the trail was removed leaving almost no evidence that Never Never Land ever existed.

Given all of this, I was excited as hell to go on this tour. Unfortunately in the days leading up to the tour, Angela had to cancel the Old City Hall portion of the tour due to lack of cooperation from the current tenants. She also reminded people that any tunnels were long ago filled in and we’d only be seeing the entrance to one and that this was not going to be like the Seattle Underground Tours. None of this deterred me.

It turned out that Jenya, an old friend from high school who I hadn’t seen in years was also interested in going on the tour. We met up in the early afternoon to catch up and then headed downtown.

We were supposed to pick up tickets any time after 3:00pm at the Gritty City Gift Fair at 9th and Broadway. We arrived at around 5:30pm. When we got there, the earliest group we could sign up for was 7:40pm. We met up with a couple of other friends and went to PSP (Puget Sound Pizza) for a couple drinks and some awesome pizza while we waited.

We came back at 7:30pm to find that the 7:20pm team was just now leaving. We wandered around the Gritty City Gift Fair. I ran into Kris Brannon otherwise known as Sonics Guy as well as ThanksGIVING founder Heidi Stoermer. I also saw Fingerprint Confection Owner, Clay Richart along with his wife who were selling their amazing caramels at the Fair. It was like a 5 Question Friday gathering.

A previous tour returned. We were told to grab the hard hats from them and be sure to sign the release form. I heard one returning person say that the tour was ‘underwhelming’. Not knowing this person, I had no idea what they expected it to be so this didn’t really bother me.

As the time crawled past 8pm, I became a bit concerned. Luckily the tour started a few minutes later. It turns out that two of the tour guides had gone home. One had hurt their ankle and the other, we were told, um, stepped in a puddle. The result was that Angela and another guide whose name I did not get were taking almost two tours worth of people at once to help get things caught up. We followed her down the hill to Pacific Avenue then took a left towards South 7th Street.

As we approached Meconi’s Pub, we were split into two groups. One went into Meconi’s. The other group (my group) was taken around the back of the building to find a man named Darryl who would show us where to go.

Around the back was an open door and Darryl. He led us to a spiral staircase covered in plastic sheeting that went down to the basement. In this basement, there were dozens of figurines. Every one of them creepier than I ever remember them being. The idea that at one point these were meant to entertain children is disturbing. That I was one of those children is even more bothersome.

Here are some photos of these almost forgotten relics:

Three Little Pigs

Big Bad Wolf

Assorted Characters

Ummm…

Past the figurines walking towards the direction of the street was a dark area where the flashlights were absolutely necessary. The stone floor was wet. There was thick glass above us in certain areas that I recognized as part of the sidewalk. These were the vaulted sidewalks of Tacoma. You can’t really see through the glass, but it was clear that if it was day, the sunlight would have provided at least a little illumination.

Vaulted Sidewalk

We walked back past the Never Never Land figures and up the stairs to switch places with the other group. Once inside Meconi’s we were led through a door, down another staircase to another vaulted sidewalk. This one had a substantial pool of water on the ground. I assumed this was the puddle that took out a previous tour guide. I walked through it with no problem.

Back in Meconi’s we walked through to the back of the bar where we went through another door and another staircase. Here there was a wall of brick and cement framed by a doorway. This we were told was once an entrance to a tunnel that went all the way to the docks.

In the 1880s, this area of Tacoma was full of illicit activities so a secret tunnel to the docks wasn’t even a little far fetched.

We left Meconi’s and head back up towards 9th and Broadway by way of the Spanish steps, near the old Elk’s Lodge that McMenamin’s has recently purchased and promised to turn into what might end up being one of the best night spots in Tacoma. It seemed fitting to end the tour through Tacoma’s past with a glimpse of what’s in Tacoma’s future.

The entire tour took about twenty minutes or so and if I had been expecting something out of Indiana Jones, I suppose I too would have been underwhelmed. As it was, I had a great time with my friends exploring forgotten bits of the City of Destiny. That to me was more than worth the $10 price of admission.

As a side note, Angela Jossy recently found out that they’re not destroying the vaulted sidewalks in January like she thought and there may yet be time for another round of Underground Tours for those who missed it this first time around. If she does, I’ll post that information on this article when I have it.

I’d like to publicly thank Angela Jossy and everyone else who helped her put on this tour.

- Jack Cameron

Test Drive: Chevy Volt

I drive a 1965 Ford Galaxie. It gets roughly 11 miles to the gallon and it’s about 20 feet long. It’s made out of American Steel. It has a 390 engine in it and when something goes wrong, I open the hood and can almost instantly see what the problem is because the 390 is not a complicated engine. They have not made a car like this in decades. It is an antique. And I love driving it.

A few weeks ago I was sent an invitation from a Public Relations company. They wanted me to attend an event in Tacoma where they were showcasing the Chevy Volt. I agreed to attend.

The event was being held at Griot’s Garage on South 38th and Union. For those who have not been, Griot’s is to your car what Metropolitan Market is to your kitchen. If you want to wash your car and can’t stand the spray from a garden hose, Griot’s has a $134 nozzle that will give you the most even spray you’ve ever seen. Don’t get me wrong. Griot’s is an amazing place, but it’s not for cars you drive to work. It’s for cars you love.

As I arrived at the event, I noticed a half dozen Chevy Volts and a table with a sign up sheet and various promotional materials.  One Chevy Volt was by the table with its doors and hood open so you could inspect the vehicle.

I signed in and mentioned the name of the person who invited me.  I was told she was out on a test drive but that I should ‘definitely’ wait for her. I agreed and wandered around the display car.

The first thing I noticed was that under the hood instead of an engine there was a X-Box. Later I would be told this was an electric engine with a gas powered generator. But looking at it, it appeared to just be a plastic box under the hood. In the trunk, there’s a gigantic extension cord with a standard plug in at the end. This immediately made me feel like this was a very large toy and not a real car at all.

Under the hood of the Chevy Volt

Eventually, Amanda arrived. Amanda was the one who had sent me the invitation. Amanda was probably fifteen years younger than me, blonde, and but not ditsy. In other words she was exactly the sort of person you’d want showing your product.  As we got into the Volt, she told me about the various features of the car.

When I get into my Galaxie, I have to pump the gas a few times, then turn the key, which turns the engine over and if it’s not too cold, it’ll start right up with that familiar rumble that lets you know you’re driving a big car that can kill people. When you turn on a Chevy Volt nothing really changes. There are various readouts you can pay attention to if you like, but I was too busy being amazed that the car was now going in reverse out of the parking space and it was barely making a sound.

The Volt even has a device that is basically a horn, but it’s not for people cutting you off. It’s to let people know that you’re there. I pulled into traffic and got the car going about 30mph. I noticed that the acceleration was quick and effortless.

Amanda told me how the Chevy Volt has a 35 mile range. That’s 35 miles on pure electricity with a full charge. If you drive more than 35 miles, then the 9 gallon gas tank kicks in and uses a generator to create electricity for the engine. So even when you’re using gas, it’s still electric. She said that with the gas tank and a full charge you could go as far as 900 miles between charges if need be. She mentioned how there no transmission.

“No transmission?” I said, “So what would happen if I suddenly threw it into reverse right now?”

Amanda gave me a look. “I…uh…don’t know.” I smiled, letting her know I wasn’t going to test it. She then told me about a feature the car has for stop and go traffic just as we were getting to a light. I shifted it into this mode and noticed that as soon as I took my foot off the gas pedal and the car braked just a bit. Once you got used to it, it was very nice.

As we returned to Griot’s, I realized that this was basically a car from the future and my car was a car from the past. It was somewhat amazing that the two devices were both considered cars. In just about every way, the two vehicles are opposites. One is gas powered. One is electric. One is a Ford. One is a Chevy. One is from two years after JFK was killed. One is brand new.

I thanked Amanda for her time and let her know that I would be writing about this.

I love my 1965 Ford Galaxie. It’s a joy to drive. And even though it breaks down from time to time, I enjoy fixing it. (I just replaced a lower radiator hose on it.) And yet, I can’t help but be drawn to the Chevy Volt. It’s not a pretty car. I don’t particularly like the style, but the smoothness of the drive, the easy acceleration, and sheer user friendliness of it are almost intoxicating. At $34,000 I won’t be purchasing one anytime soon. However, I’d be freely willing to trade my 1965 Galaxie straight across for a new Chevy Volt. If Chevy were to agree to such a deal, I’d write about that too. But I won’t be holding my breath on that one. Word is that they’re barely able to fill orders for these cars as it is. Looks like you’ll be seeing lots more Chevy Volts on the street and if  you look, from time to time, you’ll see one or two Ford Galaxies.

- Jack Cameron

Vicci

Funny story. About two weeks ago, I was contacted by someone representing Vicci Martinez. They gave me a link to download her new album a couple of weeks its release date in the hopes that I’d write about it. I downloaded the album, listened to it, and wrote a review. I was going to post that review this past weekend but somehow my computer ate it. So I had to start over.

This turned out to be a good thing. After listening to the album a bit more, my opinion of it has changed. Last year, when Vicci Martinez was on the Voice she was nice enough to participate in a 5 Question Friday interview. And they’d been nice enough give me an early preview of her new album. I didn’t want to make Vicci and her people mad at me but I wanted to be honest.

So my first review talked about how Vicci used to be a barefoot girl with a guitar belting out songs on a small stage in various local venues and how her new album, ‘Vicci’, has such a high production value that you kind of lose that girl behind a bunch of processed music. It was a somewhat easy thing to write. I mean it’s a story we’ve already heard a hundred times where the little indie artist gets signed to a big record label and loses all her indie cred.

I can’t really say how happy I am that I lost that review because I wasn’t really paying attention. This isn’t an artist selling out. This is an artist buying in. Sure, there aren’t a lot of things I like better than a girl with a guitar and a song, but even though there’s production value dripping from every track on ‘Vicci’, each of the songs would easily work acoustically. And the songs themselves are solid.

I know that these days people tend to just pay attention to singles and not the entire album, but I’m going to briefly talk about each of the songs on the album in the order they are on the album. I’m not really a music reviewer and I don’t read music reviews so I have no idea if this is the sort of thing I’m supposed to do or not. Luckily, I don’t care.

‘Vicci’ starts off with ‘Come Along’ which features her costar from The Voice, Cee-Lo Green. It’s catchy as all hell. It’s one of those songs that just sinks into your head and you find yourself singing along without even meaning to.

Next up, is a song called ‘Run, Run, Run’. Vicci has said that this song had a lot to do with her moving from her hometown of Tacoma to LA in pursuit of her music career. I can hear that in the song. And it definitely has a California vibe to it.

‘Out of Control’ is a song about a spiraling relationship. It’s a bit clichéd and not really the sort of song I enjoy.

Luckily, the next song, ‘I Can Love’ is probably my favorite song on the album. Vicci says, “Sometimes we don’t feel our best, and we can let things and people bring us down.  This song is about empowerment and to remind us that we do have hearts and we should use them.” That sounds about right. If you’re looking for a song to lift you out of a bad mood and remind yourself what you’re capable of, this is just what you’re looking for of. On top of that, Vicci’s voice knocks this track out of the park. Great stuff.

After a power track like that, Vicci follows that with ‘Hold Me Darlin’, a sad song about just wanting to be held. I’m a lyrics guy so what I noticed most was that the chorus not only says “I’m sorry.”, it also says “I’m weak.”  That right there is a vulnerable line. I think anyone who has been in a dying relationship can relate to this song.

It’s nice to have some girl-power songs and love songs, but sometimes you just want a song about sex. “Not Washing You Off of Me” is just that. It’s raw, sexy, and just a bit fun. Though there’s a couple points in the song where it sounds like R2-D2 is doing backing vocals. But the nerd in me has no problem with that.

“I Want Your Kiss” is exactly what it sounds like. It’s not so much about sex as it is about wanting and fantasizing. It’s fun and gets points for using the word ‘superfly’ if nothing else.

“Let Go” is a sad ballad that is just heartbreaking. I’m not entirely sure if it’s about a dead lover or just dead love. Either way, it’s sweet, powerful, and sad. I’m betting this is the most personal song on the album. The line “If you could see me all grown up, would you be proud, who I am now?” is haunting to me.

“Touch That Fire” is one of those songs that I’m sure a lot of people like but it’s just not my style. I can’t point out anything wrong with it. It’s a solid pop song. I just don’t like it.

The album ends with “Little Faith” which almost sounds like something from the poppy mall music of the 1990s. I was a teenager in the 90s so it gives me this nostalgic vibe that makes me smile.

So is ‘Vicci’ the barefoot girl with the guitar that you remember from way back when? Kind of. Early Vicci Martinez music is to the new ‘Vicci’ album what Avengers comic books are to the new Avengers movie. It’s clear that a lot of money has been well spent taking something many people love and turning it into something even more people will love. It’s not my favorite album I’ve listened to this year, but every time I listen to it, I like it more. And I’ve still got ‘Come Along’ stuck in my head.

‘Vicci’ will be released on June 19th.

Click here to purchase from Amazon.com

- Jack Cameron

Ten Miles of Bad Road

Ten Miles of Bad Road

I first met Nate Kirby in 1996. He had just moved up to Tacoma in hopes of catching the grunge scene, but had arrived a couple years too late. He was working at a T.G.I.Friday’s. He was a musician and he needed a bassist. I knew one. And in that way, I’m somewhat responsible for his first Tacoma band, Vuja De. While I was friends with many musicians, I didn’t know many songwriters and those I did know weren’t very good. Nate was the first friend of mine who I thought wrote good songs.

Vuja De lasted for a while. They played a few shows. They were a fixture at the Antique Sandwich Company’s open mic Tuesdays. They rented a house on South 38th Street and had parties that I’d have trouble describing both due to the things that happened and my intoxication at the time.

Eventually Vuja De fell apart and over the years Nate formed a handful of other bands and sometimes just played shows by himself. When he wasn’t playing his own songs, he’d do covers like a country version of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up”. He once did a cover of “I Want You To Want Me” that had the crowd at the Antique roaring like they were at a rock show.

Most recently Nate became part of a band called Ten Miles of Bad Road. When Nate first told me about this band, he said, “This is the first band I’ve ever played with where I feel like I’m the least talented one in the band.” And indeed, this is the first band I’ve seen Nate in where he isn’t the clear star of the band. Ten Miles of Bad Road isn’t like Nate’s other bands. It’s a bit darker. It’s gritty. It’s the sort of music you’d use for a montage of a party you don’t remember. And it’s fun. These guys clearly like playing as much as people like watching them.

Nate’s band mates, Jakob Jess, Alex Hosea, and Justin Hosea help create a sound that isn’t country and isn’t rock and isn’t rockabilly. It’s something else. This is ass kicking music. These guys don’t show up to the party. They are the party.

Now it’s fair to say that I’m friends with these guys and that I’m probably a bit biased about them. But I also would never endorse a band I didn’t like. Even if it were a friend. Because honestly, a real friend will tell you when you suck. Just as a real friend will get the word out if there’s something to talk about.

Of course writing about a band is like talking about food. You really have to experience it for yourself. Luckily, Ten Miles of Bad Road have just released their first music video and their album is coming soon. I’ve posted the video below. It’s been a long time coming, but Nate Kirby and Ten Miles of Bad Road have arrived.