Rain fell on Sunday and the dry run got wet.
Nobody seemed surprised or disappointed, however, and there was faith that the sun would shine when actual paying guests filled the seats of this 22-seat minibus.
The day is coming, this summer, when people who don’t know the difference between Proctor and Pantages – and who would not dare to pronounce the written word “Puyallup” – will pay $49 and take a three-hour trip into the heart and history of Tacoma.
Sunday’s drive was just a test.
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Officials at Seattle-based Tours Northwest wanted to make sure they had their facts correct and that they hadn’t inadvertently ignored any relevant attractions Tacoma might offer a first-time visitor.
Ten people – mostly involved with the hospitality industry – were along for the ride.
With 28 employees, Tours Northwest operates 13 buses and vans. Operations primarily center in King County, especially inside Seattle proper, and specialty tours take guests to Mount Rainier and the Boeing plant in Everett.
“This is still slightly more than a rough draft,” said tour guide Mark McCormick, pulling away from Sunday’s starting point downtown.
“Put yourself in the situation of someone who doesn’t know about Tacoma,” he said. “What is it about Tacoma that really stands out? What is it about Tacoma that is world famous?”
He named four candidates: Dale Chihuly, Almond Roca, Point Defiance and the Narrows Bridge.
Officials at the company had previously visited the city, studied its past and driven many of her streets. The tour they have devised comprises a collection of facts, places and faces of the city.
Fact: Charles Wilkes commenced his survey of Puget Sound in 1841 at a body of water he named Commencement Bay.
Fact: Nicholas Delin built a sawmill in what would later become Tacoma in 1852.
Fact: Job Carr built a cabin.
And there beside the van was a replica of the cabin Job Carr built. There’s the house where Bing Crosby was born. And there’s the house where, in 1992, moviemakers filmed “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle.” Visitors seem to like old homes, so the tour wound its way through neighborhoods in the Seminary District, Proctor and North Slope.
Famous Tacomans: Bing Crosby, John Ehrlichman, Irv Robbins (of Baskin-Robbins), and Ron Cey.
Trees: sycamore, chestnut, palm and monkey puzzle.
And Stadium High School, the bowl, the names of the presidents who have spoken there.
Wright Park, the conservatory, the Karpeles Manuscript Museum.
The Pantages, Woolworth’s, the University of Washington-Tacoma. The Brewery District, the Washington State History Museum, Union Station.
Having parked, the group walked across the Bridge of Glass.
The frequency of the tours will depend on demand, said Steve Powell, general manager of Tours Northwest, who was along for the ride. A wedding party has already been scheduled, and regular tours will likely begin in the summer. Sales in Seattle are made mostly through hotel staff, primarily concierges, and company brochures. Traveling north, the van passed Tacoma’s totem pole from the road below.
Fact: Puget Sound waters fuel the country’s largest bivalve fishery.
Facts: The state bird is the goldfinch; the state flower is the rhododendron; the state insect is the dragonfly. There’s the Weyerhaeuser mansion, off to the right. And that’s a caribou, there at the zoo, on the left.
At Owen beach, were the rain not falling, there would have been a wonderful view of the Mountain.
Fact: Washington’s is the largest ferry system in the United States, serving 26 million people each year.
There’s a Douglas fir, a western hemlock and a western red cedar.
On the way to the bridges, we watch an extended video of Galloping Gertie, galloping on Nov. 11, 1940.
Fact: Men who built the bridge ate lemon drops to quell motion sickness.
Fact: All that galloping was due to something called “aeroelastic flutter.”
Fact: Nobody died when the bridge fell, but a dog named “Tubby” was lost.
“We’ve spent several weeks thinking about what people need to see, and want to see,” said McCormick.
After making his first trip in search of itinerary, he said he realized “there was a ‘wow’ aspect to the views. This city ‘shows’ a lot better than we thought it would. We wondered if we could find enough for a two-hour tour, and we found at least three hours. We quickly decided a three-hour tour was in order.”
The group viewed the bridges from Narrows Park, on the western shore.
“The tour opened my eyes,” said Melvin Perez, front office manager at Tacoma’s Courtyard Marriott Hotel.
He’ll be telling his guests it’s worth their time. He also expects to require members of his staff to take the tour, to fully acquaint themselves with Tacoma.
“It inspires repeat visits. It can extend visits,” said Tammy Blount, president and CEO of the Tacoma Regional Visitor + Convention Bureau.
“It’s a benefit when we’re working with convention groups – they’re always looking for companion programs or pre- and post-event programming. It helps meeting planners draw more delegates to their meetings.”
McCormick said he would like to know about some of the places the company might have missed, that tourists would find interesting. He wants to hear some stories he could tell.
For instance: What was that about Harry Houdini’s girlfriend?
“Something about a house, and Houdini’s girlfriend.”
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535