The day we moved into our apartment, the guy, Tim, who had lived here previously was still in the process of moving out. Our moving trucks sat facing each other, blocking the alley and almost kissing. When his was finally loaded and ours unloaded, we talked to him for a little while about the neighborhood, suggestions for places we could get dinner, and during the course of the conversation he offered to leave some of his furniture for us. We didn’t need what he was offering so he left it in the alley and explained to us, if you ever don’t want something, just leave it in the alley, somebody will take it.

I wondered at the time, who would want alley furniture? I guess I believed myself to be above perfectly good, free things, simply because the pick-up locale happens to be frequented by rats during the late hours (We know this first hand because one of our dogs caught one. I was so proud.) I have since come down from my high horse and over the past few years the list of items we have acquired from our alley has grown to mythical proportions. My friends are always amazed over my treasures and some have taken to calling it “The Magic Alley.” Here are a few of the things we’ve found:

-A dresser, solid wood and in need of a bit of refinishing

-$70 heels, just my size, which I constantly get compliments on

Baby Bicycle Seat

– A pop-up Playhut jeep tent (something like this). Sadly I ripped it yesterday, just a little bit when I was commanded by the “driver” to get in despite my insistence that I was just too big

– A play kitchen. It’s one of the plastic kinds popular 10-15 years ago but with a little scrubbing it’s almost like new.

– A green wooden box (which houses art supplies and used to boost The Boy up so he could look out the window when he was smaller.)

-A suitcase. It’s the Roxy brand, blue with flowers. Admittedly a little girly, but easier to spot in the airport baggage claim.

-A Baby einstein kaleidoscope toy

– A baby keyboard to hang in a crib

– Endless clothes and shoes that don’t fit. (If they stay out there for longer than a day, I pick them up and drop them off at the thrift store.)

-A bookshelf (also in need of some repair.)

This isn’t a comprehensive list because I’m sure there are things I’m forgetting and this doesn’t include the things that we don’t pick up. Almost everyday there is something out there: vacuums, furniture, shoes, jumper cables, shelves, car bumpers, clothes, and lots and lots of scrap metal. Our alley is not atypical of Chicago, we are just fortunate that the stuff we seem to find is especially useful, new and expensive.

There is a whole sub-culture of “Scrappers” in Chicago that scour the city looking for metal to sell. They go up and down the alleys everyday, even in the dead of winter, in battered pick-up trucks picking up stuff people have left because they know the Scrappers are coming. Sometimes it’s one or two guys with grumpy looks who almost hit me as I walk to my car. Sometimes it’s a friendly Grandpa who waves to The Boy as he slowly inches along. In the summer, it’s often a family affair, with the kids crammed in the truck cab with their Mom and Dad, listening to loud mariachi music. It’s one of the quirky things that I love about Chicago. There’s even a documentary about it, which I haven’t seen, but I want to.

The other night Michael came home late. The dogs barked incessantly as usual, but it was his unnecessary (in my opinion) banging that woke me up. He came into the bedroom, a huge grin on his face and said, “Want to see what I found?” I was completely awake, all annoyance at being woken up gone. The Magical Alley had provided. A practically new violin; it’s missing a few strings and quite far from a Stradivarius, but still, a free violin and I am already dreaming about taking lessons someday. And a treasure chest, which seems very appropriate, a treasure chest to hold our alley treasure.

The weather is getting warmer, the wind is really starting to blow and The Magical Alley is awakening.