Saturday, July 28, 2007

Down the Alley, the Ice Wagon Flew

I love alley ways. Detroit and its environs have a lot of them. In East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, the town where I was born, we had an alley behind our house. And outbuildings -- garages, storage units, and across the way, an old field. If you walked a little ways, you could find woods above Broadhead's Creek where hobos used to hang out, or so I was told. Lots to imagine!

These days, alleys crisscross a lot of places where I walk, run or drive. I see a lot of strange sights, victory gardens with teddy bears warding off varmints, padlocked gates, broken down cars, all sorts of signs that telegraph something about people's lives. The newer suburbs -- especially those built for the rich, gaudy and afraid -- don't have alley ways and often don't even have sidewalks -- instead, grotesquely huge garages jut right out into a cul-de-sac; the lamer versions are gated in completely. What do people do for mystery in subdivisions like those? Kill each other with shotguns, I suppose.

Regardless of newer developments, the power of alley ways and what Iggy Pop calls "the city's ripped back sides" endures.

From Bo Didley, "Who Do You Love?"

Down the alley, the ice wagon flew!
Hit a bump and I heard a scream
You should should have heard just what I seen
Who do you love?

And from Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues:"

Look out kid
It's somethin' you did
God knows when
But you're doin' it again
You better duck down the alley way
Lookin' for a new friend

The man in the coon-skin cap
In the big pen
Wants eleven dollar bills
You only got ten . . . . .

Top: Marcel Duchamp, "Nude Descending Staircase No. 2" (Philadelphia Museum of Art); bottom: Barbara La Marr (1896-1926), "The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful," who died of tuberculosis and complications from various addictions, including heroin.

Today's Rune: Fertility.

Birthdays: Philippe François Nazaire Fabre d'Églantine, Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Beatrix Potter, Marcel Duchamp, Barbara La Marr (b. Reatha Dale Watson), Rudy Vallée, Malcolm Lowry, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, Bill Bradley, Vida Blue, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, The Walking Man (Mark), Priscilla Chan, Birgitta Haukdal.

Bon voyage!


JR's Thumbprints said...

When I think of alley ways, I usually think of Chicago. Something about their congested streets, something about the garages facing the narrow back alleys, makes me think about all the wasted space in Detroit. However, I'd much rather prefer traveling through Detroit than Chicago.

Bubs said...

I love alleys. When my family first moved to Chicago it was like this cool network of shortcuts, and you'd get a glimpse into all these little details that weren't visible from the streets in front.

Charles Gramlich said...

"Nude descending a Staircase" is one of my absolute favorite paintings. It's such a mix of organic and mechanical elements.

some great alleys in the French quarter.

the walking man said...

Aww geez Erik, you missed the era of the alley, back 20 or so years ago the city switched over to the Courville (curbside) system of garbage pick up to cut out the 3 man trucks in favor of 1 man trucks, alleys used to be the graet place for kids to escape from cops chasing you for something you probably shouldn't have done but sounded like a good idea at the time.

It was where we could go and pitch pennies and smoke. No schoolyard fights at my school if there was going to be a fight the whole school knew of it by 3 when we got out and half the kids would crowd into the alley just off of school property for the usually one sided duel.

But on the other hand now with most of the alley's gone every one gained an extra 5 feet on the length of their property to pay taxes on and no more from the rear break ins or escape routes if you fenced your lot high enough.

But yeah alleys that still do exist in some cases trying to go down them is like moving through an alluvial jungle they are that thickly over grown. Take a machete if you ever try it.



in Detroit speak, "you is really becoming a homie"

Danny Tagalog said...

No mysterious alleys in reconstructed Tokyo. Mystery lies in the outskirts...

Johnny Yen said...

I've always loved that painting.

Growing up in Chicago, we were always playing in the alley-- baseball and everything. There was also a game that I was to find out was specific to Chicago, called "pinners." You throw a ball against one wall and you score, baseball-style, by how high you hit on the opposite wall (single, double, etc.) It's funny, because it's still played here-- my son discovered it a few years ago.

When my family moved to the suburbs, they had no idea what I was talking about. Of course, they also had no alleys out there.

When I was in Toronto with my friend Elk twenty years ago, we found out the hard way that Toronto doesn't have alleys-- when we'd been drinking and had to whiz. We finally found a little sheltered spot, and looked up to discover that we were urinating on the Women's Christian Temperance Union building, much to our amusement.

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