It’s the Tuesday after Labor Day. I find myself driving down interstate 101 from San Mateo to Los Angeles, California. I spent the weekend in the Bay Area with my oldest and dearest friend Eugene, and his kick-ass-take-no-prisoners family. High on domestic good times, heading home and back to work. Harlow is with me. She pants anxiously in the back seat wondering where the car stops next while up front I work on my road rage issues. Another cherished chum, Tommy, plays over the speakers through my iPhone as I drive to the wonderfully, anxiety decoding podcast he records, What’s That Smell?. I suppose I am greedy, my lust for life difficult to satisfy, so wanting more still I target a stop for an adventure and lunch. Just a slight detour, I tell myself, as Harlow and I make our way down the Golden State.
San Louis Obispo is a city located in the Central Coast region of California. Like most California towns it centers around a Spanish style mission built in the 1700s. The Mission San Louis Obispo de Tolosa. The main thoroughfare reads sleepy college town; plenty of quaint shops, craft beer bars, restaurants and clothing stores. It’s easy access to Central Coast Wine Country and tourist destinations such as The Madonna Inn. But Harlow and I target a far loftier cultural experience after I park the car: Bubble Gum Alley.
Here is a direct quote from Wikipedia, “According to the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Improvement Association (BIA), the origin of the gum is “a little sketchy”. Good enough for me! With it’s origin in question, let me paint a picture. In the middle of downtown San Louis Obispo there is literally an alley way, unassuming at first glance, with both walls from top to bottom covered in bubble gum. Bubble gum of every color that has been chewed into a ball and stuck on the wall. Bubble gum is holding notes in place . Bubble gum is stretched stringy and strategically placed to form pictures, words, and symbols. What to make of it? The alley way is nasty and reeks of piss. The walls are gross and art and alive with texture and color and filth. It’s litter and Andy Warhol inspired pop art. It shines beautiful and brilliant never straying far from it’s street garbage roots. That there is a debate as to it’s origin and relevance is perfect. But the tourist guides are right, oddly it’s a thing to see. Harlow is rather impatient. Mostly I am grateful she is not eating the gum or adding to the sent of urine. I linger longer then one might in this confusing piece of living modern art. Part of me longs to be chewing gum so I could add to the installation. I think I am a fan. Colors dance and it invokes a playful childlike silliness. Eventually I give in to Harlow’s impatience and exit the alley way. As I leave, I step in gum. Fitting.
Harlow and I lunch at the outdoor patio of Luna Red. It sits just below the Mission. Palm trees, multi primary colored umbrellas, Spanish tile, and fire engine red plastic chairs fill out the decor. It has a high end cabana club feel. There’s even an outdoor bar. Our waitress warmly greets us. She is tall, red hair, wearing sunglasses, a thick green skirt that fans out, and blue tunic styled top. Her clothing and physicality remind me of a schoolmarm from an old Western. I ask her how her day is going and she immediately tells me “not good”. She proceeds to list off the days’ challenges which include; lack of sleep, too many errands prior to work and a day where everyone is returning from a holiday weekend, but not her! I apologize cause apparently that’s what I do. She glides off and flows effortlessly in between tables. She never removes the sunglasses and I can’t help but wonder what her eyes look like. You can never really see a person unless you look in their eyes. Harlow guzzles a bowl of water provided then goes on the hunt for crumbs that might have fallen at our table or those nearby. She’s hunting under a table of older women behind me. As I extract Harlow I hear, “we have to remember what Pastor says, it’s not for us to worry about defending our church”. You can feel the weight in her voice.
I enjoy a glass of the Press Gang Cellars “Savanna Rhea” 2017 Rose’, (strawberry, currant, coriander, acid, dry finish) and the tuna ceviche, (tuna, cherry tomatos, celery, onion, pepper and chips). The ceviche is so watery it’s almost soup. It showcases aggressive lime and salt flavor. But I like me some salt and the fish is melt in your mouth. I scoop it up with a chip and wash it down with a gulp of rose’. Maggie, that’s our server, continues to be gracious and attentive, interested this visit in knowing a little more about Harlow. Currently she is stretched out on the Spanish tile in the shade, panting peacefully. I take all the pride in my darling pup. I think how I like the name, “Maggie” and don’t hear it much anymore. A little more salty citrus fish marinade, a few more sips, a long lingering gaze at the Mission that casts a shadow over us. I’d like to come back and spend a little more time exploring San Louis Obispo, in the meantime, successful pit stop.