Sometimes I take the back alleys

Alley rat
My son demonstrating that alley-loving may be a learned behavior
We all know I am an avowed city girl, right? Backstory: grew up in the forest, moved to the city, then moved around to different cities, then settled in the city near my forest. I continue to make all sorts of logistical sacrifices to living my city-center lifestyle, including but not limited to having my son sleep in a walk-in closet and paying way more than I should for a mortgage. I love that I can walk out my front door and immediately be immersed in a flow of hungover hipsters, aging gay professionals, halfway house residents, Microsoft executives, and part-time yoga teachers/body workers/dance instructors/etc. who live in my 'hood.

But even as an avowed city dweller who loves swimming through people-stew every day, I still find myself sometimes taking the back alleys.

I love living in the city, but sometimes I just want to quietly walk from here to there. I don't want to be asked if I have time for Greenpeace ("not today" is my guilt-free brush-off) or deal with the glazed, traumatized people smoking cigarettes outside the hospital around the corner. I love my neighbors, but I don't always want to chat about the new paint job on our building or how great Cindy's garden is looking.

Sometimes I take the back alleys because I'm rushing to dance class, wearing stretch pants covered in dog hair and last night's eye-crust. Call me vain, but I like to put my best foot forward — and when I'm wearing my Danskos instead of my Fluevogs, I don't always want to run into that former coworker or potential client. Sometimes I just want to scuttle down the middle of the alley like a filthy fitness crab, heading to dancechurch.

Sometimes I don't have the energy to deal with the passive-aggressive cluster-fuck that is Seattleite eye contact. We have no idea what to do with ourselves when crossing paths with someone on a sidewalk, and so the general rule is to look away (eyes cast down! smart phone! cars that might be passing!) or perhaps give a tight, awkward smile that says "Oh hey, I'm not staring at you. Yeah, hi. Uh. I mean bye? Ok, uh, whew: that's over." Sometimes I just want to walk with my head up and smile, without worrying about anyone else.

Sometimes I'm doing something semi-illicit (picking underwear out of butt, sipping from flask, having quick smoke) and doing so walking down a busy sidewalk would make me feel like a brazen scofflaw. Sometimes I want to struggle quietly by myself as I untangle the angry worm orgy that is my knotted headphones. Sometimes I just need a fucking dumpster to put dog poo in.

I love living in the city and hope to continue living in the city in some capacity for the rest of my life. But that doesn't change the fact that sometimes you need to carve out a quiet country road for yourself, even in the middle of an urban area. Alleys give me the privacy I need, in the city bath that I love.

  1. So glad I'm not the only person who does this. I don't live in a city, but in a "main line" town where I have walked everywhere for the last 13 years, where most of the mail carriers know me, and where many old school chums still live. Sometimes a girl just wants some anonymity!

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  2. My husband and I take the alleys a lot. We live in a major city and we find the alleys so much quieter and quicker. Navigating the city via Alley ways (on bike) was one of the first adventures my husband and I had together. We'd zip across town without anyone else around. Now we find our selves taking walks with our kiddos in their wagon in those same alleys.

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  3. As a life-long New Englander, it seems both US Coasts are guilty of this eye contact awkwardness (as well as people in general not giving an F about anyone else). Since I can't figure it out for the life of me, I've decided to move to the middle and give that a go for a while. About to be making my new home in a Midwestern city where, in my experience, people don't avert their eyes nor do they suppress a friendly smile or a quick "hello!" I can't wait.

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  4. Have you ever been to York (the one in the Uk, obviously!)? Their back alleys are called 'snickleways' and they're fascinating. A little less busy, and some really surprising things pop up down there. Perfect for de-wedgifying (its a word now!) an discovering, say, a fabulous pig sign, a refurbished medieval banqueting hall (both swinegate I think), or a surprising shortcut between bits of the city that shouldn't link up according to all logic.

    Now there's a collaborative article in the making – great alleyways of the world!

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    • I LOVE the shortcuts! I have two mid-block shortcuts that I take almost daily when I'm walking my dog.

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    • I love discovering things in alleyways. Just like last weekend we were walking home from the farmers market and needed to get home quick so we decided to use the alleys to save time. We came across this amazing old carriage house which still had the old tie for the horses. So cool.

    • Dude, I noticed these in downtown Prague. Loved those hidden alleyways that led somewhere useful! Saved so much time from having to walk all the way around the oddly-shaped blocks. :)

  5. I think the avert-eyes-at-all-costs-syndrome is North America-wide.
    We went on our honeymoon to Jamaica and everyone we walked past would smile and wave and ask us how we were doing.
    That experience was so refreshing, I've been making it a goal to smile more at strangers when passing them on the sidewalk.
    Oddly, I find women are more likely to return smiles and nods. I'm not sure if it's the demographics (I live in a city where the majority of the population is East Indian), or if it's just because women are more inclined to be nice to other women?
    Whatever the case, I always feel better when I smile at people. :)

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    • And possibly most cities world-wide.

      On my first trip to Queensland, Australia, I remember being very surprised when strangers I walked past in a small country-town street would smile at me and ask "How you going?"

      Turns out, now that I've been here for almost a decade, that it's a common greeting, similar to the UK's "Alright?"

      (And the typical answer to the Aussie question above is "Good thanks" or, if you want to go that little step further, "Good thanks, and you?")

  6. Trapped in the 'burbs currently but soooo miss alleys!

  7. I went to college in a small town where the school was mostly isolated, so you really only interacted with people affiliated with the college and local bohemes. Everyone walked around with their heads up. Most people would offer smiles or vague acknowledgement.
    My current city isn't very foot trafficy, but people are still polite and friendly, on the streets and in stores. So much so that my boyfriend from Connecticut still remarks on it.
    But I still wish I even had back alleys to travel.

  8. I'm stuck in the burbs after having to move across the country. Eagerly waiting for November 1 when our lease is up to move to the city :)

  9. Everything you love about living in a city is almost exactly everything I hate about living in a city. I'm meant to live on a few acres in the country, where the neighbors are too far away to casually run into and I can wander around the property naked if I feel like it. You city people never fail to baffle me.

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  10. My new small town has alleys, and I love biking though them and seeing people's gardens, old buildings, etc.

  11. I just moved to Melbourne and i am just reveling in the city/alleyways/laneways structure. Compared to my hometown this place is massive and exciting and I am just so excited because I love the city so much! exclamation mark!!!

  12. As a native New Yorker recently transplanted to San Antonio, TX, I almost feel like ALL the sidewalks are alleyways to some extent since I'm often the only one walking on them! Yes, there are the dog-walkers and play-in-their-yard kiddos and once in a while a stumbling drunk person, but usually, I feel like I'm the only non-driver. I feel both SUPER-hidden and SUPER-exposed at the same time. All the people in the cars passing me can see me pick a wedgie or stumble in my Dankos over a cracked curb, but then they speed by and are gone and I'm by my lonesome.

    Well, "lonesome" excepting the many, many stray dogs and cats infamously wandering and lounging even on the "busy" streets.

    Also: South Texas city dwellers are NOT eye-contact-averters! If you do see another pedestrian, you say hello. Also: drivers (non-sketchy ones!!!) will stop and ask if you need a ride when it's hot out. We're still in the U.S. but man, it's a different pedestrian scene here!

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