The mist cleared, revealing -- for just a moment -- a yellow blob on the sidewalk.
That must have been Juicy Fruit, Keith Gerber said, his commentary meant for no one in particular. As a small crowd watched, another black circle transformed into a color of the rainbow and then disintegrated. This time, it was blue.
"Ah, Wintergreen," Gerber said, not missing a beat before the next blob revealed itself. "That's definitely Big Red."
As York City's superintendent of parks and sanitation, Gerber was among the handful of people summoned Wednesday morning to a quadrant of Continental Square. They'd been called to see Dr. Gum in action.
The machine -- an R2D2-meets-mini-fridge-
meets-vacuum-cleaner contraption on four wheels -- is the latest addition to Downtown Inc's arsenal of beautification tools. Using steam and a cleaning solution, it is capable of lifting the abandoned sticky stuff right off the sidewalk, playground or sign.
So plentiful are those black circles that dot urban landscapes, most people might not even notice them, Gerber said. But, take a moment to look around.
"It's like, oh my goodness, it's everywhere," Gerber said.
Sonia Huntzinger, Downtown Inc's executive director, said she has wanted to purchase a gum-removal machine for a long time, going so far as to carve out a line item for it in last year's budget. But it wasn't until a recent meeting with Tom Wolf, chairman and CEO of The Wolf Organization, that Huntzinger realized her dream could come true.
"He says to me, at the end of the conversation, 'Sonny, what can we do about the gum on the sidewalk?' I said, 'Well, there's a machine out there that actually takes it off,'" Huntzinger said. "He said, 'Well, how much is it?' And I told him. And he said, 'Go get one.'"
The cost of Dr. Gum? $7,000 -- all of which is being covered by The Wolf Organization.
Kind of fun: The machine will belong to Downtown Inc but also be available to city cleaning crews, Huntzinger said.
"It is kind of fun," said Derek Borigo, a Downtown Inc employee who trained with the machine Wednesday. "I think it'll work well."
Borigo and others will begin cleaning downtown sidewalks right away. They'll start on West Market Street, then move on to Continental Square, North George Street and the district around Central Market, Huntzinger said.
"We'll be able to gauge after the first couple of days" how fast the work will go, she said.
Cleaning gum from the sidewalks can go a long way toward improving York's image, Huntzinger said.
"If we clean up even the most, the smallest of details, it presents a better picture. If we clean up the sidewalks, maybe one of the store owners is going to pay a little more attention to their storefront," she said. "It's an upward spiral."
-- Erin James may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.