San Luis Obispo’s quirky Bubblegum Alley
SAN LUIS OBISPO, California – Walk down the wrong alley on Higuera Street in downtown San Luis Obispo and you could find yourself in a sticky situation.
It’s not street crime about which you’ll need to be concerned. Indeed, this sleepy college town in central California – called “SLO Town” by the locals — isn’t exactly known for being a hotbed of nefarious activity. No, there isn’t a local chapter of MS-13.
Instead, you’ll want to make sure you keep your hands off the alley’s brick walls, which are covered with thousands of pieces of already-been-chewed Bazooka, Juicy Fruit and Trident.
Welcome to Bubblegum Alley, a curious tourist attraction where adults can act like children – stick their used gum on a public wall — and no one will chastise them.
There are different stories about how and when Bubblegum Alley originated, but most believe it started in the 1950s as part of a high school tradition that – well — stuck. Over the years, the city tried to discourage the practice, as many locals considered the place an eyesore.
But downtown business owners realized it was attracting tourists, who brought not only their gum, but dollars as well. Now, a local bar owner steam cleans the alley once a month to keep things relatively sanitary. And a nearby candy store does a booming business selling gum to tourists who wish to leave a mark in San Luis Obispo – at least until the next steam-cleaning.
As for me, I’m not much of a gum-chewer, so I just looked at the mass of used gum on the alley’s wall rather than add my own contribution. When posing for a picture, I did place my hand on the wall so as not to look like a stiff robot. As soon as my hand made contact with the sticky goo, I realized it wasn’t my smartest – or most hygienic — move.
But the remnants of the pink Bubblicious came off after a thorough hand-washing. As I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring downtown SLO Town, my visit to Bubblegum Alley reminded me how much I enjoy exploring rather bizarre and offbeat landmarks.
In terms of magnitude, history and beauty, Bubblegum Alley may fall short in comparisons with Niagara Falls, the Pyramids of Egypt or the Louvre in Paris.
But try sticking your used Juicy Fruit on the Mona Lisa – if you can get close enough — and I’m guessing the authorities won’t look the other way.
Anyway, something to chew on.
© 2018 Dan Fellner