Thoughts: Back Alleys


I took this picture in Savannah last week.

If you have ever been to Savannah, you know they are famous for (among other things) The Riverfront, a sprawling complex of antique warehouses converted into restaurants, bars and upscale shops. There’s a well-groomed riverwalk with trees and statues and patterned brick walkways. There’s a cobblestone one lane road.

During the day, it fairly sparkles with activity and well-heeled tourists. And at night it is a writheing amoeba of people celebrating or hiding from their lives, wild, boisterous, drunk.

I took the picture early in the morning. I have a thing for back alleys. When I travel to cities, I often find myself peering down the cracks in the skyscrapers, taking pictures. I could probably put up a whole gallery show of back alleys in America.

This is where the work happens. Where craftsmen come and go. Where the trash is hauled away and the new things, bright, clean and often still wrapped come in. This is where the cooks hang out for a smoke. Where there are secret flirtations. Fights. Where the homeless sleep. The alley is where there is no need to be pristine. No need for an act. There’s no magic here.

And yet, there is.

Just as in our own lives, we have a storefront, we have our alley. The place where we struggle and work and fight our way through life. The place where the scars are not painted over, where there is no neon, no faux finish, no bright lights. We wade through the trash of life and hope it gets hauled away. We wait for new provisions. Without the alley, our facade fades away. Life ceases.

In the mysteries I am so fond of, people always escape from the police through back alleys. Even the good guys like Nero Wolfe and Sherlock Holmes have secret doorways to the back alley for those times they need to scurry out of sight of watchers in the street.

We too need those back doors. They aren’t pretty. They don’t need to be. They are something better – real.  They are private. They are ours and ours alone.

And that is why I am fascinated with them. Why I constantly photograph them. There is a personal magic in them that touristy snapshots never capture. They are the dirty, messy, unadorned secret we all carry quietly. Vital and invisible. Gritty and real.

Magic indeed

Be well. Travel wisely,


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