As I’m writing this, on the first of May in the year 28 A.N. (Anno Noah, aka the 28th Gregorian-calendar year of Joakim Noah, aka 2013), the weather in Chicago is capital-A Amazing. Almost mouth-on-penis amazing. Unofficially, I pronounce this day the start of alley season. As most Chicagoans know, the weather here ranges from unpredictable to unpredictably shitty, but once the sun comes out for its 3.5-month visit, there is no better city in the world.
In the winter, it’s tough to get good photos of alleys because the sky is in a perpetually blackened state that reminds me of visiting Mordor, or worse, Sweden in March. It’s also difficult to mouth-mulch three bags of Doritos and shotgun a can of A.M. vodka in an alley because the cold makes my hands feel like I’m fingering an ice sculpture of Ann Coulter. That’s why it was so rewarding to fire up my new whip and cruise down some alleys this past weekend. Which apparently can be an intimidating sight, since I found this under my windshield wiper last week:
One of my stops was the wooden alley located behind the Cardinal’s residence in Gold Coast. The best part about this spot just may be that the wood blocks give off a pleasant, non-garbagey smell. It’s almost like the smell air holds minutes before a summer rain, and it’s wonderful. Which also got me thinking about how in the middle of summer, most alleys smell about as nice as a shit-stained diaper.
The main reasons for this are the garbage-cooking summer heat and the fire-alley effect, which according to Stormwater, boosts the temperature of cities by 6 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than rural areas. Chicago’s dark rooftops and pavement absorb and radiate heat, creating an urban heat island which “results in higher energy use for cooling buildings, causing atmospheric pollution to create ground-level ozone.”
The Chicago Department of Environment is actually working to ameliorate this effect by “constructing light-colored roofs, using alternative energy sources, increasing green space, and installing rooftop gardens.” The most effective measure, which you may start seeing in your own alley soon, is the installation of alternative paving that consists of fine gravel packed into one-inch rings. Though it might prove to be a bit messier, the surface reflects less heat and is also porous, helping to avoid the type of flooding that Chicago experienced this spring. It’s something I’m going to keep an eye out for while I’m hauling road beers on late-night alley strolls this summer.