On a recent drive through the area, I found this sign for a torta place in the Plaza Fiesta neighborhood. The name looked and kind of sounded familiar... and lo and behold, it is our elastic green childhood friend Gumby!
The sign says Gambi but the misspelled name didn't deter me from stopping and finding out what Gumby's name and likeness is doing on a sign for tortas calientes in Merida.
Well much to my surprise who should open the door of the sandwich place but Gumby himself! Leaning on a yellow rubber cane, but in otherwise apparent great health, he asked me in and prepared a torta cubana for me as he told me of his latest adventures.
It turns our that our Gumby aka Gambi is getting on in years and is retired permanently from television. "It was Scooby Doo that started it" Gumby says, slicing a red onion. "the animation just kind of went downhill after that." Green tears begin leaking down his green cheeks. "Don't get me wrong; I'm glad I got out when I did" he says and then adds "it's the onions".
After seeing his program decline in the ratings department and having it reduced to occasional showings on retro channels like Nickelodeon, Gumby took a long hard look at his career and decided that he had had enough. He asked his friend what he tought of the idea of retirement. Pokey was being auditioning for a small, but pivotal part in a new Nick Park flick and so was not as pessimistic and tired as Gumby, and told him as much. It was then that Gumby came to a decision. He would take his earnings from years of being stretched thin on U.S. television and move to someplace relatively close but still far away enough to feel like he was in a different world altogether.
Gumby finishes piling pierna, ham and cheese on the open faced baguette and drops the other half of the bread on top. His one giant green finger group is slick with grease from the pierna. He smiles, that Gumby smile we all know and love. "The secret to a good torta, you see, is to heat it like this" he says as he crushes the torta under a heavy smoking hot metal sandwichera.
"So yeah, I came to the Yucatan and found it was a perfectly relaxed place, no politics, no worries. And I opened this torta restaurant." He adds: "Business has grown to the point where I don't even have to touch my royalty payments from Hollywood, although it isn't all that much."
However, At first, Gumby found the hot Yucatecan climate disagreed with his body and found it hard to adapt. "It was so hot when I first came here that I would find myself bent out of shape many times" he exclaims, rolling his eyes as he recalls those early days. But then, air conditioning became more and more common and soon Gumby was completely acclimatized.
I ask Gumby what he misses the most about the U.S., about television, about his years as a star. his eyes tear up again. This time I suspect it's not the onions. "What I miss most is the camaderie Pokey and I had while filming all those programs. He never got that part with that English guy - they gave it to a dog instead and Pokey was heartbroken. I called him up and said, 'come down here and get away from it all' told him he could stay as long as he wanted. But he never did."
Taking out my wallet to pay for the torta. Gumby waves it away. "Don't worry about it". I thank him and shake that funny hand of his.
Who would have dreamed that Gumby would end up in Merida? Amazing little town, this.