I just returned from a little trip to Chicago to visit my brother and his wife. It was the first time I have gone anywhere without Owen so I was naturally terrified but excited at the same time. I realized once I got there that it is possible to have an adult life while still being a mother. I think this was the first time that I realized that things do change and babies grow up and they don’t always need their mother. It was a good lesson for me as well as for Owen. We both survived without major emotional injury. Grizwald, however, seems to think every time I go near the front door I am leaving him again
I had a fabulous time and we did lots of eating and drinking and futzing around. One thing that kept coming up over and over was this “thing” people in Chicago do. I assume it has been going on for a long time because the system is quite efficient. It all revolves around the alleys. Apparently when you don’t want something anymore you just “put it in the alley” (I have this in quotes because every single person I talked to about it said this exact line). It’s essentially your own personal donating station. Almost every street has an alley of some sort so wherever you live you have access to this. You can put whatever you want in the alley and a truck with a few guys in it (they seem to control most of the stuff) or anyone who gets to it first will come take it.
This “put it in the alley” thing came up a bunch when I was there with multiple people. It was like every day conversation between Chicagoans. For example, “I don’t know if I want this plant stand anymore. I think I’ll just put it in the alley”. Stuff like that.
Alexis (my brothers wife) told me that a few years ago she had put this yellow dresser in the alley at their old apartment and just a few months ago she saw this exact dresser it in another alley waiting for its next home.
Anyone can find stuff in the alley, it’s not just the truck dudes. People go looking for stuff all the time. Alexi’s parents took me through their entire house to show me all the things that had gotten from the alley. It was actually quite a lot of stuff. I think that from the time I got to her parents to the time I left “the alley” was brought up at least 5 times. Just normal conversation.
I became obsessed with it. I wanted to walk the alleys of Chicago and find some gem that I could take home with me. I was secretly hoping I would find some amazing piece of furniture that I would have gladly paid the shipping on just for the story alone. I expressed my fascination with this phenomenon while at dinner at Alexis’ parents house. Her mother told me I wouldn’t find much since pick ups were Fridays (this was Sunday) and usually at the end of the month. I said I wanted to go anyway just for the experience. I love that she knew this information as if it was part of their bi-annual garbage schedule you get in the mail. That’s how crazy it is.
Alexis’s sister Emilie took me for my virgin alley crawl. I was so excited I didn’t even complain (at first) about the 95 degree weather we would be walking in. We walked through probably 7 or 8 alleys. I wanted to get a feel for the kind of stuff people put in the alley. Literally anything and everything seemed to be out there just waiting for its next home. And the cool part was that it wasn’t stuff that was broken or run down or heavily used. Most of it was in pretty good shape. During our walk we ran into a few of the “pick up” trucks that seemed to be either following us or trying to get ahead of us. We were actually beeped at by one truck as if to say “get the hell out of here you amateurs”. At least that’s what I thought. Maybe they were honking at Emilie who was wearing a very short dress and 6 inch wedges.
Her mom was right about not finding a lot of stuff but I did come away with this lovely bird drawing and a VHS tape of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie (I used to love them and went to their concert for my 16th birthday). We also found a box for a brand new breast pump and thought it would be funny to give it to Alexis since she is having a baby. We brought it back and everyone was oohing and aaahing over the sweet find. Too bad it was just the box because this alley system is so awesome that even a breast pump next to a garbage can would be a good find and probably used without hesitation.
Overall I had a great experience with the alley picking. If I lived there I think I would make a point of doing the alley crawls every weekend. I love it. I want to hear more stories from people who find things in the alley.