Alleys have been a passion of mine since before I can remember. The bigger the city, the more intriguing the goings on in these places where we think no one looks. Cars we're proud of grace streets, but rusted heaps gather spiders and stray cats behind houses and apartments. Sitting out on the front deck for a cigarette and cup of coffee involves at minimum a robe, at best a full ensemble. A deck overlooking an alley requires only the scantest of boxer briefs. In an alley, children wail or play with abandon.
Near the turn of the last century, many brick buildings went up to house and provide working space for thousands of new Seattle residents. The architectural details rival anything in Europe, especially in what we call Pioneer Square. I've spent many minutes, day and night, trudging down these rat-infested passages, sometimes waiting for a drunk friend to finish stealing kisses with a bartender on break, while I look up at winding iron staircases that lead to nowhere and wish I could go there. Boredom with the wait starts up a staring contest with a relief carving of some or another city founder. By day there are always delivery trucks struggling over intricately patterned cobblestones and flowery, iron grates. The rats are politely hiding.
By contrast, alleys in newer parts of this city are all but neglected. No paving or stone, or any other attempt at aesthetic improvement, distracts from the filth and smell. This is where I indulge in pure voyeurism. This is where people hide from police, steal from their neighbors, stash broken toilets, cry their eyes out or find a working vein for some freshly cooked heroin.
What we do on the street we want to be everyone's business. Nothing we do in alleys counts as part of who we are--even something as innocent and productive as taking out the trash.