“Art is hard.” Discovering San Luis Obispo’s Bubblegum Alley.
After a day of exploring LA’s amazing La Brea Tar Pits and gorging on its very authentic eats (Korean and Jewish respectively), we decided to head up north in time to catch the Pacific Coast Highway’s wondrous views the next day. I also decided on a whim that I wanted to see all I could of California before I left it for good. San Luis Obispo definitely came to mind. Why it did was mostly because Devin Peralta of Cobra Skulls is from that part of California. I know I’m disgustingly obsessive with the very few people that I like, you don’t have to point it out. Also, on top of that fandom influence, SLO happened to be very close to where we were going to get tucked in for the night. I had not heard of the Madonna Inn until a few weeks ago which many have written about and touted as “one of the most kitschy-cool hotels ever.” Of course it’s unjustifiably expensive for me so it wouldn’t have been any use anyway. But if you’re into that, go have fun and make the experience worth the expense. Now on to the Bubblegum Alley which I wanted to tell you about.
While I was looking up places to check out in the area, my slow phone returned this neat-looking landmark that continues to stir local controversy. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to see anything since it was late at night, and furthermore, we were slowed down because some streets downtown had been closed off for a local celebration. I never did figure out what it was about but I give more community plus points to SLO for that.
To this creature of the night’s happy surprise, the alley was actually well-lit for nighttime visitors. What you see above is Bubblegum Alley which is lined with pre-chewed gum left by passersby and gawking visitors. It is considered to be the most-talked-about landmark of San Luis Obispo. The history of how this gum-sticking tradition got started is sketchy like most histories are. Truths are often disappointing and not as dramatic or creative as we want them to be. This tradition is believed to have been started in the 50s, so I imagine I was looking at gum that have been stuck there for over 60 years. How cool and nasty is that?
However, it remains to be seen whether this landmark will stay a part of the San Luis Obispo downtown charm. Many shop owners complain that these gum-covered brick walls are unsanitary and disgusting while local politicians continue to fight to have these cleaned up. Why these old farts decide to lead joyless lives in a warm and sunny place is way beyond me.
The Alley has attracted quite a bit of attention and a lot of visitors over the years. One might even argue it is the main reason why people visit this not-very-active city that felt more like a small town. I personally feel this landmark fosters a sense of community that is missing in many parts of the US.
Fortunately not everyone is being a tightwad about this whole thing which was very likely started by a bunch of bored kids trying to make something happen. Funnily enough, the Chamber of Commerce which I can’t imagine to be composed of vibrant individuals takes the juvie side on this one. This local emblem of the human spirit has even gone on to inspire a professional artist, Matthew Hoffman, to make the largest piece in the Alley — “Projectbubble Gum” which is his gummy self-portrait above. A poet from Arroyo Grande, California who wishes to be known as “M” also went on to publish a beautiful poem called “An Ode to Gum Alley.”
So what do you think? Is it art or just another eyesore? If you dig it, the great people of Seattle have also started their own Gum Wall.