Monthly Archives: February 2014

Tacoma Pill Junkies, A Review

FrontCoverLast night I watched an old episode of the Chris Carter show, Millennium. The episode started with a church in Tacoma and a priest being burned at the stake. Of course it wasn’t really filmed in Tacoma. And the only reason I could see that they set it in Tacoma was due to its proximity to the main character who lives in Seattle (though the whole show was filmed in Vancouver). My point here is that the episode could have started just about anywhere and nothing would be different. This isn’t true with Joshua Swainston’s debut novel, Tacoma Pill Junkies. Tacoma Pill Junkies has Tacoma in its veins.

I first became aware of Tacoma Pill Junkies when I saw a poster downtown for it months ago. I’m someone who enjoys reading and writing crime novels and this site can attest to the fact that I love Tacoma. So a crime novel set in Tacoma is really something I have no choice but to purchase.

If you’ve spent enough time in Tacoma, you’ve met people like the characters in Tacoma Pill Junkies. There’s the hard working single mother. There’s the working man who gets high from time to time. There are the scheming junkies. And the loser with delusions of grandeur. If nothing else, Tacoma Pill Junkies is populated with authentic characters.

It’s difficult to pin down the plot of Tacoma Pill Junkies as it actually has about three or four inter-connected plot lines with overlapping characters and events. This too, feels so much like Tacoma to me that I can’t help but enjoy it. A woman gets robbed in the Tacoma Mall Parking lot. A guy starts selling his grandmother’s pain pills. A serial killer is strangely stalking and killing janitors. These unrelated things drift through the novel occasionally bumping into each other along with a few other subplots.

Tacoma Pill Junkies is a meandering crime thriller with a lot of humor. It’s less an edge of your seat nail biter and more like hanging out with some strange and occasionally dangerous people. (I don’t want to spoil too much so I’m deliberately being vague.)

Swainston’s writing is conversational and inviting. He doesn’t spend too much time on being overly descriptive. His dialog is witty and full of humor. He also manages to convey the thrill of the high along with the underlying desperation of being a pill addict. It’s never glamorous.

For locals who enjoy a good novel, Tacoma Pill Junkies belongs on the shelf next to Mark Lindquist’s King of Methlehem. For those outside of Tacoma, I recommend it as a glimpse at part of the underbelly of our fair gritty city.

You can find out more about Tacoma Pill Junkies and read a sample chapter at http://tacomapilljunkies.com

–          Jack Cameron

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5 Question Friday With Tony, Owner of Little Jerry’s

lj2Last December my girlfriend suggested we have breakfast at a place called Little Jerry’s. I knew nothing about it. I looked it up and found the address. It wasn’t too far from the South Tacoma neighborhood I grew up in, but even knowing where it was and what I was looking for, I must admit I initially drove by the place. Then I turned around and we walked into a classic diner with an outright obsession with the TV Show, Seinfeld.  It also turned out to be one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had.

Whenever I find an awesome place in Tacoma, I want to share it with the world. And so I asked the owner of Little Jerry’s, a guy named Tony, to join me for 5 Question Friday. Here’s Tony:

1. What is Little Jerry’s?

Little Jerry’s is a breakfast & lunch joint. We serve skillets, breakfast stackers, outrageous burgers and sandwiches. . . COME EAT!

2. What makes Little Jerry’s different?

Little Jerry’s is different because of our perspective. . . we don’t fit the standard restaurant or diner mold. We make food that we love to eat in an environment that we love. . . Seinfeld.

3. Why Seinfeld?

We chose Seinfeld because it is and has been our favorite show. Its content relates to so many people even today, 15 years after its final show. It also has so many correlations with food, and around eating, it all just fell into place.

4. What should someone order if it’s their first time at Little Jerry’s?

Someone should definitely try one of our breakfast stackers for breakfast which takes your home fries or hash browns, topped with an English muffin or biscuit, topped with breakfast meat, eggs, and topped with either country gravy or hollandaise. At lunchtime, “The Mimbo” is by far the most popular, a 1/3# burger, fried egg, bacon, nestled between two grilled cheese sandwiches. . . so good!

5. What would you like to see for the future of Little Jerry’s?

We would like to see continued growth and success within our neighborhood, and grow with our customers and their families. We want to serve generation after generation. I want to hear people say, “I came here as a kid too.”

I’d like to thank Tony for taking the time to participate in 5 Question Friday. If you’re a local or even if you’re just passing through town, you owe it to yourself to stop by. I highly recommend it. Little Jerry’s is located at 8233 South Park Ave. If you’re heading towards 84th Street from the direction of the Mall it’s on the left hand side.

littlejerrrys

You can also find Little Jerry’s online at http://www.littlejerrys.com/ 
on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LittleJerrys or on Twitter @LittleJerrys_

If you or someone you know would like to participate in 5 Question Friday, drop me a line at jackcameronis@gmail.com.

–          Jack Cameron

Keeping Tacoma

The streets of Tacoma are safer than they've been in years.

The streets of Tacoma are safer than they’ve been in years.

It’s been 94 days since there was a homicide in the city of Tacoma. In 2013 we only had ten homicides. Tacoma earned its reputation as a dangerous city in the early 1990s when California gang members relocated to Tacoma’s Hilltop. In 1995 I was in Los Angeles and ran into some gang members there. I told them I was from Tacoma and they respected that. Now, a generation later, Tacoma has changed in a lot of big ways.

Downtown isn’t quite the ghost town it used to be. You’ll still find empty shops, but it’s a far cry from the mid-1980s when there were just blocks of empty buildings including Tacoma’s Union Station. Similarly, Hilltop isn’t nearly the crime magnet that it was years ago. You’ll still find gangs and street crime in Hilltop but it’s the exception rather than the rule.

One of the reasons I write about homicides in Tacoma is to simply show how rare they really are. I’ve seen bumper stickers and t-shirts that say, “Keep Tacoma Feared” and while I can relate to that sentiment, I don’t think that’s what Tacoma needs.

I’ve also seen people talking about Tacoma being a ‘second city’ with some sort of endless comparison to Seattle. We’re 30 miles away from a much bigger, much more-well-known city. This is true. Half the time when a movie is filmed in Tacoma, they call it Seattle. Recently when the mayor of Tacoma was interviewed on PBS after the State of the Union, they did it against a backdrop of Seattle’s skyline. There seems to be this idea that we are somehow the Randy Quaid to Seattle’s Dennis. I disagree with this idea.

Tacoma has never been interested in being Seattle. We’ve never tried to be. As a life-long Tacoman, I’ve spent almost no time comparing Tacoma to Seattle. We’re entirely different cities. Yes, Tacoma is smaller and less well known, but what most of us Tacomans know is that we don’t care. We’re too busy doing our own thing to worry about what Seattle’s doing.

Part of the issue as I see it is that Tacoma refuses to be identified by any one major thing. We aren’t just the Port. We aren’t just the Tide Flats. We’re not just our museums. We’re not just our poets. We’re not just our bars or our breweries. We’re just our incredible waterfront or our world class Pt. Defiance Park & Zoo. We’re all of these things and more. The one thing we can shed if we cared to is our reputation as a dangerous town. We simply aren’t anymore. I’m not saying bad things don’t happen here, but compared to a lot of places, it’s a rarity.

You can keep fearing Tacoma if you like. For the rest of us, we’re just going to keep Tacoma.

– Jack Cameron