Dear gum, I love you.

Oh yum the gumI just unwrapped the thin plastic film protecting my constant companion from intruders: The Orbit Big Pak, boasting 35 pieces of powdered, chewy, minty sticks of bliss. Yes, I’m talking about my three-letter rock: gum.

Gum and I go way back, back to the days of my girlhood. “Pass me a piece of gum, will you honey?” my mother would ask while driving us around in our silver Chrysler. I’d dig deep in her purse, fishing out one of the many packs of Trident Original, passing her a piece after helping myself to one first.

She’d pop hers loudly while calmly driving in the afternoon sun. I’d stare in awe – perplexed by how she produced such sharp acute explosions with just a pinch of rubbery sugar. She’d patiently try and teach me how, mapping out the process with vague directions like, “Make a bubble and pop it.”

Like many things in life I’m predisposed to due to sharing my mother’s genes, my gum-popping success slipped into place with age. But I won’t do it now – even though I’d surely like to.

I’m on a crowded plane and my mother also bred me to be highly conscious of gum-etiquette. Gum popping with others around was always a no-go. Although, like a true addict, I admit sometimes I slip.

Like the one time I was closing out an empty coffee shop. I had indulged in copious amounts of caffeine and sugar – two ferocious triggers for chewing. No one will mind, I thought, as I went to town with my pops. It’s exceptionally satisfying to hear them bounce off the surfaces of hard furniture. Well, I was wrong about the no-one-caring part.

“Will you please stop smacking your gum?” the disgruntled barista snapped. She had to walk clear across the room to share her request.

But most of the time, I’m content to chew without the smack. Some people fidget, some people crack their knuckles; I chew. It releases the pressure built up from the day’s anxieties. I just heard a report that broken teeth are on the rise due to heightened nerves surrounding the economy. More people are grinding their teeth as a result. I don’t say this often, but I’m actually not worried to hear that news (and I like to worry about news). I consider myself orally protected by my little friend gum. I’ve been releasing my worries through gum chewing for years.

Take now, for example. I have been traveling in Panama for the past week with my partner’s family on vacation. The plan was to be in the hotel lobby at 6:45am, leave by 7am, to catch our international flight home. My partner’s Brother, his Girlfriend, my partner’s Sister, her Girlfriend, and I, all had the task of driving ourselves to the airport in a huge foreign Central American city. And return the rental car. All after a night of cocktails and running around the Panama City club circuit.

Seven o’clock comes and goes. Whoops; turns out checking out of hotels takes longer than saying “Later,” to the front desk while tossing your key on the counter. No big deal – it was a Sunday morning so traffic should be a snap. “It’s just one main road and then the highway. You’ll fly there,” the front desk attendant assured us.

Once in the car we quickly realized another delay: the marathon. It seemed harmless at first – just a few joggers trotting along the street. But that very street was our only known route. And it was completely closed to traffic. Shit.

“Maybe we should just try and follow a street that’s parallel to it and cross it somehow,” someone said. We were collectively trying to critically think through the challenge now posed to us. Adrenaline had begun to drip into my bloodstream, making me feel suddenly alert.

The entertaining-attention-loving Brother was behind the wheel. He’s also fairly fluent in Spanish and historically talented at getting out of some pretty ridiculous situations. Given these facts, I wasn’t all that worried; however, we were still quite far from the airport.

We tried turning around to cross the closed street and hit a dead end. Shit. We tried asking a cab driver to help us find an alternative route. Sister, also knowing Spanish, shouted out the window at the driver stopped on the side of the road. He shook his head, said something I couldn’t understand, and waved his hand. “He said he’s not working and not to pick him.” Shit.

We circled the block and were facing a more congested part of the city. We tried the cab-driver trick again. He followed us and pulled over. Sister jumped out of the car to talk to him and devise a plan.

Brother was shouting encouraging things like, “Wow, Cat. I can feel your worry from here.” Hearing someone articulate how you’re feeling always seems to do one of two things: make you feel that way, even if you weren’t already, or just makes you feel that way even more. Like when someone tells you you’re in a bad mood.

Brother raises his arm. “Cat, look. Here’s the arm on the clock. Tick, tick, tick.”

Oh, he thinks this is funny.

“This is hilarious,” he says while the rest of the car anxiously awaits assistance from the cabbie. Sister gets in the cab, they zoom past us and she’s smiling and pointing forward.

The car exhales as we’re now following someone who actually knows this city, along with a member of our team instructing him in clear Spanish to, GET US THE FUCK TO THE AIRPORT, NOW!

Then the cab tries turning down the main, very closed, street. WTF, MARATHON! Hello, closed street cabbie! We end up retracing our steps – running into the same dead end, and even turning down the wrong-way on a one-way street. Cars facing us honk as we try to avoid collisions.

“This is a shit storm,” Brother said.

Sister’s Girlfriend starts sharing a story of missing a flight. “It was because of a marathon, actually. In London. I couldn’t cross the street.” Oh, that’s just lovely.

“I’ve never missed a flight and I’m not planning on starting today,” I declare – trying to somehow turn that hope into reality.

The cab turns on a main street that’s going in the right direction. Finally, another step towards progress.

The cab puts on his right blinker. Both cars turn to find yellow barrels blocking the road. This happens for a few more miles. He’s trying to cross the marathon route, but each attempt failed. Shit, shit, shit.

Finally we navigate out of the city and onto the main highway. I’ve never been more excited to see signs pointing towards the airport.

Then we slow again, this time for the tollbooth. We hurriedly scrape for change. We pass through and there’s nothing but wide-open road ahead.

“STEP ON IT!” we all shout.

But we can’t.

The cabbie in front of us still has Sister. And is driving at a meek 30 mph.

Brother’s Girlfriend is starting to go crazy in the front seat. “Oh my God, why are we going so slow?!” She reaches over to the wheel and lays on the horn. The cab keeps a steady snail’s pace.

Brother is cracking up.

After a few minutes, we pull up alongside the cabbie. Windows are rolled down.

“MASS RAPIDO POR FAVORE!” Brother shouts.

The driver doesn’t change his stoic expression and motions his hand forward, as if to indicate we can pass him. Umm, you have one of us in your car dude. We’re not just going to leave her to catch the flight.

We approach another tollbooth. We slow to a stop and Sister jumps out of the cab and into our car. Victory! We’re free! Let’s go!!

We riddle her with questions.

“His car was breaking. I could hear it. He couldn’t go any faster,” she says.

We’re now going 85mph and seeing signs indicating we’re close.

We pull off the highway and into the airport’s main artery.

“Car return, car return. Alamo, where are you?” Brother asks aloud. We still need to return the car.

“Right there. That street you just missed,” says Sister.

Brother and Brother’s Girlfriend agree to let the rest of us out at the terminal with the bags and start checking in. Brother and Brother’s Girlfriend circle the airport and try to return the rental car.

Sister, Sister’s Girlfriend and I unload our tons of luggage and shuffle towards the ticket counter. A few minutes later we make it to the front and hand over our passports. Brother and Brother’s Girlfriend come barreling down the hallway. We’re cheering. Travelers are staring. We’re ecstatic. We made it.

I decide to celebrate the victory by going to the next available Travelmart and buy the biggest possible pack of gum.

The clerk holds it up and announces the cost. “It’s $6.30. Do you still want it?”

I stare at him blankly. Time stands still. I’m dumbfounded. He can’t possibly know just how much I want to shove the entire brick of gum between my molars.

I calmly respond, “Yes. Yes, I do.”

Comments 1

  1. martha wrote:

    Great story cat! This made me laugh.

    Posted 04 Sep 2009 at 11:04 pm

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