1:6:13 Alleys

I have a special fondness for alleys. Among other reasons is the fact that my adult life--as a grad student at UCLA--began when we lived in a one-bedroom, walkup apartment over a garage on an alley in Santa Monica. The garage renters below had a boat and were rarely around, so garage-activity was minimal.

Santa Monica is blessed with alleys and though they take up increasingly valuable land, they take services for houses and apartments off the street. I think such services as collection of garbage cans or utility poles with electricity, phone, and cable lines make better sense in alleys than streets. I wish I could say the same is true where I live now--Portland, Oregon--but it's overwhelmingly alley-free, save the North sector, where alleys are a delightful surprise (as pictured here).

[north portland alley]

Alas, alleys can't be retrofitted to a town. They're either in the original platting or not. So Portland will continue to have an intractable conflict of neighborhood trees, storms, downed power lines, and power outages. With alleys, this would be drastically reduced. And I won't even mention the hassle of going down a narrow neighborhood street, cars parked on both sides, with a garbage truck blocking your path.

Besides the service conveniences of alleys--I should also mention how much easier it is to drive your car into an alley garage as opposed to a driveway across your lot, or what's much worse: that bastardized compromise of a snouthouse with a garage-wide door cheek-by-jowl with your house front door.

Ultimately, for me, it might be the feng-shui rightness alleys offer. When you see the front of your house, you want to see landscaping, a walkway, steps and a front door not utility poles and garbage cans too.

But there's also something slightly voyeuristic about alleys I like. It's as if when you walk down an alley, you have a chance to see where people live behind the façade. That is, the good front is the manicured lawn, the Malibu lights playing off the house front (as in Santa Monica, okay?). But walking down the alley, one sees the unkempt: the car in the open garage someone is working on. The bushes at the fence in dire need of pruning. In other words, what's been let go. Thus, I like the dichotomy alleys offer the casual walker. The formality of the street view counterpoised against the informality, casualness, even sloppiness of the alley view.

There are a number of reasons to live in Portland, but the presence of alleys never has been, never will be, one of them.

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(click to enlarge image)

The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

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