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What really happens in the darkness of a back alley?

Joyce Walter writes about being forced to use the back alley while a water main was being replaced
Reflective Moments by Joyce Walter

When the water main replacement work began on our street, we and most of our neighbours were forced to make more use of the back alley, that place that previously was mostly ignored except for garbage collection day.

Our back alley is nothing special, nor can I say it is any uglier than other alleys I have seen in the city. On our end and side of the street there is no access from the alley into our yards unless fences are dismantled. Contractor employees had assumed we could park in our back yards or at least had some other access to alleviate the discomfort of no front street access. They were surprised with the limited choices we faced.

For two months we found ourselves spending a fair bit of time in this alley, an alley defined as a narrow passageway between or behind buildings. It is so narrow that new garbage trucks with that specialized equipment for lifting bins cannot be used in our zone. So narrow that vehicles cannot meet and successfully pass by. So narrow that stray cats can disappear before the first “sssst” can be completed.

The forays up and down this stretch of our neighbourhood pointed out to us that garbage is prolific behind some fences and seems to multiply before and after collection day. In rubber gloves and with bag and rake in hand, we collected cups and containers, wrappers and other detritus, none of which came from our garbage bags. I knew that because we don’t buy coffee from either of those establishments, and the food wrappers were also unfamiliar. Regardless, they were gathered so passersby wouldn’t get a poor opinion of our bit of alley splendour.

The alley, in daylight hours, wasn’t such a scary route but once the sun went down, I’m afraid it turned into a scene from a slasher movie. At least in my mind, that same mind that recalled me being afraid of the dark while growing up. Suddenly I recalled not wanting to walk by myself after dark, being afraid of what lurked behind the hedges and fences.

There were no street lights back then to illuminate the way, just as there are no lights in the back alley of today. And the flashlight in my purse came with a suddenly dead battery. I took one terrified look down the dark alley after an evening meeting and as fast as my arthritic legs could carry me, I hurried around to the front sidewalk, where street lights showed the way, aided by extra lighting from the church yard. I was out of breath when I rushed into the house and locked the door behind me.

During the alley experience neighbours chatted and waved and commiserated about the lengthy process of water main replacement and its inconveniences to our daily lives. And we chatted about the possibility that skunks populated some yards in the area, at least judging by the occasional odors.

The final nail in the alley’s coffin came when a neighbour told his story of avoiding the back alley when he indeed saw a skunk walking towards him in the alley. In fact, he said, the animal tried to get into our yard and was foiled by the fence.

That information was incentive enough for me to take the long walk to and from our vehicles, staying carefully out of the way of large pieces of equipment being operated with precision and excellence by workers employed by the various contractors.

I just wish our household had qualified for a new sidewalk, similar to new concrete installed in front of several houses on our block. 

My nose is out of joint because our sidewalk now looks shabby in comparison. No wonder I was tempted to leave a handprint on the newly-poured concrete just to the north. I overcame that temptation only because I was afraid a skunk might just come walking by.

Joyce Walter can be reached at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.  

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