Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Wall Where Your Wad of Chewed Gum is More than Welcome

Posted by Angie Luvara, SEATTLE, WA -- I grew up with a smelly older brother, and my father is a football coach so I spent hours with his football players as a child—from the locker room to the field to the weight room. I myself am an avid runner and have pairs and pairs of old, smelly running shoes lying around. In other words, I’ve been around a lot of germs. Given this history, it shouldn’t be difficult to imagine that I’m the furthest thing from a germophobe. I firmly believe kids should be allowed to get dirty—it boosts their immune systems (so I’ve heard). You can tell me a gross story while I’m eating and it won’t even phase me. Even the bloodiest of injuries won’t stop me from going into fix-it, problem-solver mode. However, Seattle’s Gum Wall stopped me dead in my tracks.
While on a cross-country trip with a friend of mine, I innocently posted this status on Facebook: “Made it to Seattle!” One of my Facebook friends responded with “Go see the Gum Wall”. That’s when my journey to nastiness began. I found myself in the middle of the Pike Place Market following a friend of mine who knew exactly where the Gum Wall was. Despite its descriptive name, I was still not prepared for the sights and smells I experienced when we turned the corner. What lie ahead of me was about 50 feet of brick alley, covered in varying shades, shapes, sizes, and smells of gum that reached 15 feet high.
As soon as we turned that corner, and I was hit with the strong scent of pancake syrup (yes, pancake syrup, and I haven’t eaten pancakes since), I was immediately disgusted. As we walked down the alley, and I saw parents issuing gum to their children to chew and subsequently adhere to the wall, I wanted to rescue them from the impending ickiness of touching thousands of others’ previously chewed pieces of gum when they went to stick theirs on the wall. And at the point when a piece of wayward gum that missed the Gum Wall and landed on the ground tried to hitch a ride on my flip flop, I was ready to go.

The Gum Wall sits right next to a theatre. Apparently theatre employees tried on several occasions to scrape the Gum Wall clean, only to have new germy and colorful wads return. In 1999, the Pike Place Market deemed it a tourist attraction, and theater employees gave up their attempts to keep the wall clean.
Nonetheless, despite all the nastiness I encountered at the Gum Wall, I secretly enjoyed some parts. I’m always attracted to vivid colors and, if I tried really hard to forget the whole previously-chewed gum thing, the Gum Wall was kind of pretty. In fact, my most favorite part was a ledge that someone had lined with varying shades of heart-shaped gum wads. I know, I know. I’m a sucker for anything heart-shaped. After all, “luv” is the first part of my last name! But, by far the most fascinating part of the Gum Wall was the idea that one tiny, socially frowned-upon act (sticking your used gum to a wall) could grow to such magnitude that thousands of others are drawn to commit that same socially frowned-upon act every year. On the inside, my heart was going “Score one for the social deviants…and the gum wads.”
Angie Luvara is a photographer and Managing Editor of Social Shutter. She is also a new Doctoral student in Sociology at Georgia State University. To view more of her photography, go to her blog at

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