Walking my alley: Unsafe at any speed

Some 10 years ago, our block, along with many in our neck of the woods, acquired and installed speed bumps. This was all part of some extreme organizing we were doing in the neighborhood. Block clubs, a walking crime watch, grants for exterior light fixtures — you name it, we probably tried it.

Everything worked more or less as expected. The speed bumps work well — and in concert with all our other plans, they worked too well. Things are now all too slow.

Allow me to illustrate. Some Saturdays ago, I was on a mission: To squeak in that eighth workout at the YMCA, so we’d get our monthly discount on our dues offered through our insurance. With “Y” ID in hand, I charged out the back gate at 4:45 p.m.

The first hazard I have to dodge is often — Maureen. (Names changed herein to protect their status in our shadow government.) Don’t get me wrong, Maureen has been a great asset to the block. She and her cohorts specialize in abused-animal rescues. Whenever someone moves within barking distance of her house with pooches they are training to fight, like commandos under a moonless sky her team fans out and by sunrise the mutt is far away in an undisclosed location, tended to by a family that cares. The bereft owner will soon be knocking on doors. “Have you seen my dog?” And we senior residents disavow all knowledge of the operation.

Today, no Maureen, but in the next garage down, a veritable trap-door of conversation — Tim. He’s painting window frames and we fall into griping about the sudden proliferation of graffiti. Then there’s the work he’s doing on his porch. I’m defenseless against the lure of my neighbor’s home improvement projects that I might find myself cornered into doing some day. There seems to be no escape, but then one of his tenants diverts his attention, and I’m off again.

Then my neighbor whose name I always forget stops in his van to ask a question. “Is it legal to shoot pigeons in this city?” Ugh. Good thing Maureen isn’t within earshot. I tell him I’ve Googled pigeon-control devices and that I hope to get those spiky strips to deter them from our dormers. Eventually we grouse about graffiti, too. I mention we’ll be having a block meeting once the weather breaks to plan for murals to deter the vandals. “Can the kids paint ‘em?” Of course, I smile, and then throw in the towel. Actually, I wave my towel and tell him I really gotta run before the Y closes, but I’d get him the block meeting flyer soon.

But reaching my goal this Saturday is far from assured. I have at least one more obstacle ahead of me — the end-all to peaceful solitary strolling meditation … the boulder in front of the ant burdened with a wind-whipped eucalyptus leaf … the malevolent avatar at the other end of the block:

Dad.

OK, OK, I really asked for it, when I convinced him to buy that house at the opposite end of our block back in 1991.

Besides, it could have been worse. One day my progress came to a screeching halt by the sighting of a guinea hen. This somewhat flightless bird was reported missing a few weeks before by its owner near 32nd & Pleasant — about five blocks away as the crow — er, flies. I called the owner up and we came within a feather’s-breadth of catching it before it landed on the roof of Corporate Incentives. We called off the chase. It took so long trying and failing to net the fowl that I completely forgot why I was in the alley to begin with.

Another time long ago — not me, but the relatives in “Krueger North” heard gun blasts from the west, looked across the alley in time to see a guy crash through an apartment building’s second-floor landing window like a scene right out of “Die Hard.” That summer, we lost count of the visits by the 5th Precinct’s Unwelcome Wagon. As necessary as those details were, I don’t miss them storming the latest crack house from the alley side.

By the time Dad and I finished hobnobbing, it was 5:45. Too late to get in more than a quick stand on the scale at the Y. So I turned around and headed back.

Now the hurtles on the way back are equally harmless, like Belinda, our newest neighbor with the grandest plans for her mural, an Oriental fish pond to obliterate the Surenos 13 blotches. We scheme over how to transfer her vision to her garage siding … Malveta, originally from the Ivory Coast, reports shenanigans from the day before on the next block over and hearing about the new 311 line for the first time from me … Benito, the Latino kid in the mauve duplex needing a hand getting his bike chain back on the gear … And all the inanimate objects in between, left out for the scavengers — so much junk, so little room in the garage.

We might not lean over the picket fences as much as other blocks, but we make up for it with these ad hoc committee meetings in the alley. I’ll gladly take such risks over the mayhem of 17 years ago, and mosey along as I count the blessings that come with having good neighbors.

Luther Krueger is a crime prevention specialist for the 1st Precinct and lives in the Lyndale Neighborhood. Contact him at [email protected].