Cul-de-sac Alley

I happen to think we live in the best part of town.  Others might not agree, but screw them.  We bought our house about seven years ago, and in that time I’ve started to understand how people become territorial about their neighborhoods.  I never really got that before.  It’s probably because I’ve never lived in the same house, or even in the same neighborhood, for more than four years at a time.

It used to baffle me that people organized themselves into violent gangs based on their street addresses.  I still can’t fathom the violence part, but I can see how, when anchored in a geographical location by whatever forces–economics, peer pressure, inertia, comfort–people become defensive of their own ‘hoods and critical of others’.

And sure enough, even among our yuppie friends, we talk like a bunch of street punks about those people who live in neighborhood X or suburb Y.  Well–we don’t talk about popping caps in people’s asses or anything.  We say stuff like, “I don’t see how they can stand the traffic out there,” or “I could never live at the beach–it’s like a big frat party,” or “I can’t even tell one of those stucco McMansions from another.”  I’m sure they say things about our neighborhood like, “I’m just not crazy about all the homeless guys sleeping behind the grocery store.”

We live in one of the old neighborhoods in our city where gentrification has been on the march for the past decade.  You would think that the improvements would have slowed down during the recession, but as someone who spends a LOT of time walking around with kids and a dog, I get the feeling that people are feathering their nests rather than moving on to fancier parts of town.  There are fewer houses being “flipped;” but there are a lot of homeowners renovating places that they realize they’ll be staying in for a long time.  Homeowners like us.

When we found out we were having twins, on Nov. 5, 2008, we immediately set to doubling the size of our little shotgun shack.  And even though I did most of the work myself, we still had to empty our coffers and max out our credit in order to build the addition.  So we’re fully invested in the neighborhood.

The reason this is on my mind right now is that I’ve been feeling rather smug about having chosen (I use that term loosely because really, it’s not like we could have moved or anything, given the current housing market) to double down on our neighborhood and commit ourselves to raising kids here.  Our friends in other parts of town may have big lawns and “good schools” and “no open-air drug/prostitution markets within a mile of their homes;” but we have a lot of stuff that’s way cooler than that.

I can harness up our dog to the Radio Flyer and pull the kids to a park that includes several playgrounds, miles of nature trails, baseball fields, soccer pitches, tennis courts, a velodrome (!), bocce courts, a disc golf course, etc., etc.  Not that they are able, at 20-months old, to take advantage of all those amenities; but someday they will be.  (There’s also a thriving gay cruising scene at the park, but that only happens after dark.)

I can also strap the girls into the bike trailer and take them to the zoo, a whole selection of museums, more playgrounds, and several kid-friendly alehouses.  Screw a bunch of suburbs!  I haven’t put gas in the minvan for three weeks!

Lately, the thing that I’ve been appreciating most about our neighborhood is the dead-end alley behind our house.  Sure, sometimes we find unsavory things back there (I will spare the gentle readers the details, but let’s just say we’ve found evidence of all sorts of human dramas having unfolded), but it’s nothing that a little cleanup with a long stick can’t remedy.  Yes, it’s true that some people think a blind alley is a great place to dump unwanted furniture, but an unprejudiced aesthetic sensibility can find visual value even in a clutter of couches and desk drawers*.

And the sweetest thing about our alley is its dead end, right near our house.  With no through-traffic, I can play with the kids for hours back there without any worries about traffic.  Our crazy dog runs loose while the kids ride their trikes (the trikes I built for themin the alley) and kick balls.  They dig with their little plastic shovels in the gravel-filled potholes, and delight at the echoes of their own shrieks in the carport under the apartments at the end where the alley dumps out into the street.

The alley is also the place where we get to interact with the neighbors from the next street over.  They all watched our addition go up, and have seen the girls go from insensate bundles to squealing dynamos that clomp thunderously around on our deck.  They’re used to Stella charging up to them and barking even though she has known them since she was a puppy.  I owe them all for tolerating the noisy inconveniences of concrete trucks blocking their garages and power tools running nonstop for over a year.  And they owe me for the free labor, consultations, and tool loans I’ve provided for their home improvement projects.

An outsider might look down our alley and think it had little to offer.  But to me it’s every bit as friendly as the cleanest cul-de-sac in suburbia.

*I actually want to find and exterminate the people who dump their junk in our alley, if you want to know the truth.

About BetaDad

BetaDad is a fortysomething stay-at-home dad who is sometimes allowed out to build stuff out of wood or teach college students how to write. Most of the time he just chases his toddler twin girls around though. He Dad can also be found at his personal blog as well as Daddy Dialectic, Dad Centric, Insert Eyeroll, and Man Of The House


  1. I hope that wasn’t a police helicopter. Hey, home is wherever you are that makes you and yours happy. It’s awesome you can do all of that work on your own, too.

    I recently got new furniture and set the old stuff out on the street. People came and took it so I didn’t have to drag it to your alley… I mean, to the dump. Wasn’t that nice of them?

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    • BetaDad says:

      I’m afraid that was, in fact, what some culturally insensitive types might call a “ghetto bird,” but what we call our “security detail.” Some of those fancy gated communities have rent-a-cops in golf carts–we’ve got real cops in choppers.

      Thanks for not dumping in my alley. We also “street” unwanted furniture and appliances, etc. And it usually disappears quickly. I don’t know why people have to dump stuff in the alley where no one sees it but the people who live here. Grrr…

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  2. ChickyBaby says:

    I love the sound of your neighborhood but what I really want to know is… Is that a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog or an Entlebucher? Either way, awesome.

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    • BetaDad says:

      Stella is a 120# Swissy! Entlebuchers are about a third of her size. She’s great at pulling a wagon, but has some serious emotional problems. For reals. I’ve written extensively about her on my personal blog, if you’re ever interested in her case history.

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  3. gmac says:

    I barely stayed dry to the end of this article. It stuck a chord…ESPECIALLY w/ the consultations and the tool loan. I couldn’t have done the fence with out you! I miss the ‘hood like crazy and glad the cool kids are sticking around.

    • beta dad says:

      GMAC! Nice of you to drop by. We miss you guys too. The new neighbors are all right, but they don’t keep their garage open as much as you did and they don’t have kids. I always thought it was probably an effective crime deterrent to have you guys back there powerlifting with the garage door open.

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  4. Reminds me of the South End neighborhood in Boston where we had our oldest (We still have her, I mean that *I* had her via c-section. But not in the condo. My insurance wasn’t that good.). It was in the process of gentrification but was only one block over from certain death. We had winos and alternative lifestyles in the ‘hood that blew the socks off run-of-the-mill alternative lifestyles. We could walk to Fenway Park; I could sprint to my pediatrician. And we had a very active community association. Loved it, miss it, and if it didn’t cost a few black market organ sales to stay there with more than one kid, I’d move back.

    Oh, right, and the car? I sold mine. The Hubster only used his during the week for work commute. *singing* Those were the daaaaaays.

  5. That dog aparatus is fantabulous. Must get. Who would be better? Black lab or crazy border collie? HMMMMmmmm…

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    • beta dad says:

      Either dog could do drafting, I’ll bet. I guess it just depends on how fast you want to go and how much weight you want to pull. You can do team drafting too! You can get all the gear through

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  6. muskrat says:

    Sounds like where we stay at in the ATL. Until we accidentally became a family of 6 in a 3-bedroom, I had your attitude of “screw the ‘burbs and its traffic and lack of character–we’ll just get on the waitlist for the charter school!” But now we really need more space, and the prospect of private tuition for this many kids is just plain daunting. So, we’re on the market with crossed fingers.

    I still feel like we’re kindred spirits, though. Hope I haven’t ruined my cred.

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    • beta dad says:

      Good luck with the house-hunting. We act like hardcore urbanites now, but just wait until it’s time to put the kids in school. We’ll probably be running for the suburbs. Or another state.

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  7. Location, location, location. It sounds like you’ve got a good one.

    Plus I’m jealous of the climate you occupy, whenever I’m either freezing in the winter or melting in the summer. Of course sometimes seasons are nice.

    • beta dad says:

      Yeah–having a perfect climate makes a small house with a microscopic yard very easy to tolerate. We spend at least half of the girls’ waking hours outside and away from home.

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  8. Real cops and a chopper- sounds like a great drama coming soon on CBS.

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  9. Yash says:

    I can’t tell you how much I enjoy your posts. Not only well written, but always entertaining and thought-provoking.

    This one strikes a chord (again). As a former home owner who’s been renting overseas now for over 11 years, the sense of stability and ownership that comes through your post makes me ache.

    Looking forward to reading more!

  10. chris says:

    Glad I came over and viewed the video.. I can see why that alley is cool.. Kinda reminds me of a secret hiding place to hang out.. Your hangout reminds me of our old cul de sac where we’d congregate in each other’s driveways.. lawn chairs,a glass of wine, what a way to spend summer afternoons…

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  11. jacksofbuxton says:

    Fly tippers should be thrashed to within an inch of their miserable lives.And people that don’t clean up after their dogs.

    We live in a cul-de-sac as well BD.Love the fact the girls can go out and play in peace,without worrying about cars.

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  12. Once again, my neighborhood sounds just like yours–minus the velodrome. Still jealous.

    I really like that I can put stuff like broken bike frames and an old dishwasher on my curb, and someone with four teeth and a giant pickup truck will nab it before the trash truck gets to it. I’m proud of my community’s industriousness.

    Who needs a beachfront view, anyway?

  13. Stacy says:

    That sense of community is an awesome thing to have with neighbors. We lived in our last home for 4 years, and only had nicknames for our neighbors, because none of them were inclined to come forth and socialize.

    We’ve been in our new neighborhood for 5 years, and within the first six months we knew our immediate neighbors, their kids, and couldn’t step outside the front door without an impromptu party gathering on our driveway. (yay!) Today, we know everyone on our street and a few people on the streets a block over. I love it! :)

    The other day I was taking the trash out when the FedEx guy dropped off a couple of big boxes on my neighbor’s porch. Without even thinking about it, I called her cell and asked her if she wanted me to leave them there or haul them into my garage until she and her husband got home from work. As I was hauling the boxes over, I gave some thought to how awesome it is to know my neighbors well enough (and vice versa) to facilitate that type of situation.

    If we moved from here, it would be the people we’d miss the most.

  14. MamaB says:

    Ha! I too live in a neighborhood on the gentrification track. I grew up in the burbs and loathe the idea of living in a cookie cutter tract home now. My biggest kick is telling people I live, work, and play in my own neighborhood. It’s especially nice as gas prices go up. I say, screw the suburbs, urban might be old but it was built to last!

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  15. Judi says:

    I lived in a great neighborhood in California and always had helicopters hovering, apparently the bad guys would be going on a major street nearby or a park. It is just a California thang, as far as I can tell.

    People don’t want to leave urban areas as a general rule, it is all about schools. The more people move out, the less tax base you have, schools deteriorate. If you stay, in an area with poor schools, its all private and that isn’t feasible for most.

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  16. Well written and insightful.

  17. I am enjoying this blog :)


  1. [...] The absolute worst moment, and the one that often kicks off a 48 hour screamfest, is on Wednesday morning, when the great stinking scow makes its way down our alley, a mere forty feet from the playroom in the back of the house.  The playroom that features big glass sliding doors and floor-to-ceiling windows so we can enjoy the view of our weedpatch, frumpy detached garage, and the dusty alley beyond. [...]

  2. [...] farmers’ market we go to religiously–every Sunday in fact–has always been a vibrant social experiment set among fresh local fruits and vegetables, food vendors from around the world, small fields of [...]

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