Bubble Gum Alley is tucked in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo. anthony_goto/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

6 fascinating facts about California: grumpy governor and Bubblegum Alley edition

1One of the most popular tourist attractions in San Luis Obispo is a downtown alley with walls covered by half-chewed gum.

Bubblegum Alley’s origins are murky, but some historians say it evolved from a prank by students in the 1950s into a full-fledged landmark.

Visitors wander along a kaleidoscope of stickiness that stretches across both alley walls, 15 feet high and 70 feet long. It’s disgusting.

Atlas Obscura | California Through My Lens

White crosses along Fort Irwin Road are stenciled with the dates of vehicle accidents.

Frank Foster

2About 50 simple white crosses line a dusty road leading to a military post in the Mojave Desert.

They’re not for soldiers killed in combat, but motorists who died in crashes along the 31-mile Fort Irwin Road linking the Barstow area and Fort Irwin National Training Center.

The accidents have been blamed on the design of the two-lane stretch. Paved in the 1940s, it had no shoulders and sat flush with the desert. When a driver drifted even slightly off the pavement, a wheel was likely to catch in the sand and send the vehicle tumbling.

The placement of crosses by Fort Irwin officials was initially meant as a warning to other motorists. They were left as memorials, some with children’s toys placed on them. Crashes became less frequent after safety upgrades were made about 13 years ago.

L.A. Times | 500px

The world can thank California for the Popsicle.

Nicki Dugan Pogue/CC BY-SA 2.0

3The popsicle was accidentally invented by an 11-year-old boy in San Francisco.

In 1905, Frank Epperson mixed some sugary soda powder with water and left it out overnight. In the morning, he discovered the mixture frozen from the nighttime cold. He grabbed hold of the wooden stirring stick and gave it a lick.

He declared it the Epsicle, for Epperson and icicle, and began selling the invention around the neighborhood, and years later at an amusement park. In 1924, he took out a patent on his “frozen confection of attractive appearance.”

Eventually, Epperson’s kids convinced him to change the name to what they called it: Pop’s ‘Sicle, or Popsicle.


4In 2009, Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano heckled Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at a gathering in San Francisco, shouting “You lie!” and telling the Republican leader “kiss my gay ass!”

Later, Schwarzenegger sent a letter to lawmakers vetoing a bill that Ammiano had sponsored. But it was accompanied by another message.

The first letters at the start of seven consecutive lines spelled: “Fuck You.” Schwarzenegger’s press secretary called it a “strange coincidence.” A mathematician put the odds that it was unintentional at roughly 2 billion to one.


Inmate firefighters left an assignment while battling a wildfire in Guinda on July 1.

Noah Berger/A.P.

5Prisoners make up roughly a third of California’s wildfire-fighting force.

More than 3,700 inmates, men and women, earn less than $2 an hour to do grueling work — typically digging containment lines or clearing brush — and sometimes risk their lives. Their labor is estimated to save California up to $100 million a year.

That’s in part why criminal justice reformers are critical of the program. California’s inmates serve voluntarily. But critics say the inherent power imbalance leads to exploitation.

The Atlantic | N.Y. Times

Ronald Reagan at Eureka College in 1929.

Eureka College

6Before his political rise in California, Ronald Reagan played football at a tiny college in rural Illinois.

During an away game in 1931, two black players were refused admission to a hotel. Reagan took them to spend the night at his house.

One of the men, William Franklin Burghardt, recalled in an interview with the Washington Post that Reagan told their coach, “‘Why don’t you give me cab fare, and I’ll take these two guys home with me.’ He only lived 10, 15 miles away. So that’s what he did. I just don’t think he was conscious of race at all.”

Reagan and Burghardt remained lifelong friends.

Washington Post

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