Alley Walkin'

I've long been a walker, hiking all over the eastern seaboard and the Appalachian Trail as a kid.  It is a slow, exploratory, head-clearing exercise, allowing one to experience the world at a human pace and a human scale, unfiltered by car windows or unnatural speed.   

As long as I can remember walking, I can remember taking shortcuts.  It never seemed logical to me as a child to follow sidewalks if I didn't have to.  For one thing, the street I grew up on didn't have sidewalks, leaving me at the mercy of cars cutting through our neighborhood to avoid traffic elsewhere.  Walking also allows a freedom that cars can't match -- your feet can take you on the straightest urban line, exploiting the gaps and seams of public space.  

Chicago is a city of alleys, providing a service network that keeps cars off the streets and trash from accumulating in front of buildings.  Several people have commented on this since I've moved here, pointing out with pride that Chicago is so much cleaner than New York.  It also means that people leave great volumes of useable stuff out in the alleys, a boon to a practiced dumpster-diver like myself.  All of the appliances and metal trash is immediately scooped up by a competitive, hard-hustling population of scrappers, who comb the alleys with shopping carts, trucks, and bikes in search of metal they can recycle.

This past weekend, I undertook some low-level urban exploration, wandering the alleys of my neighborhood for about two hours, perusing the garbage, checking out the fantastic garage-roof decks, and collecting some pictures of the resources available.  I hope to make a regular practice of this photographic hunting, and post some of the prizes here.  

Proof, contrary to some commenting critics, that milk crates exist, free for the taking, without stealing them from behind stores.

Vintage suitcase, with some clothes still in it.
Some nice, old, single-pane and as-yet unbroken windows.
Broken air compressor, full of copper and a lot of steel for the scrappers.
Couple of big, flat sheets of double-corrugated cardboard, perfect for making some chairs.
Not free for the taking, but I appreciate the careful preservation of removed bricks for later re-use.
Beautiful vintage coffee can, the only find I took home.  I couldn't find a date on the internet, but it was priced at 79 cents for a pound, and the label touts the "new plastic lid", so I'm guessing it's north of 30 years old.