Not our alley, but it looks similar.
  • Not our alley, but it looks similar.

I wouldn’t exactly recommend spending your first night in a new neighborhood in the alley. But it’s probably the best way I’ve found to meet the neighbors and learn about a place. Maybe it’s because for most of my adult life, I’ve been a renter in city neighborhoods where they don’t have the Welcome Wagon. Cookies are probably nice, but the alley is far more interesting.

We were spending the night in the alley in Rogers Park because of a series of unfortunate events that included a tree falling on my boyfriend Jeff’s car during the storm last Friday night, power outages also due to the storm, and everything about the move Saturday taking way longer than it should have (partly because we were moving into a third-floor walk-up). It culminated in the movers driving off at 1 AM, leaving all our heavy furniture in the alley and Jeff, his mom Marilyn (who had come in from Iowa to help us), and me there with no way to move it. None of us is very strong. Which is why we’d agreed to shell out for movers in the first place.

But at least the sky was clear and the movers hadn’t touched the couches since they unloaded them from the U-Haul, so we could guard our stuff in comfort.

(No, I don’t know what was up with the movers. I’m not going to mention the company by name until we hear their side of the story, but if you happen to stumble on their listing on and go through all their ratings—as I should have done—you will see that this wasn’t the first time they had pulled something like this.)

At 2 AM on a Saturday/Sunday, people are still coming home, or they’re taking their dogs out for the last walk of the night. They’re mostly a little tipsy, but not trashed. A few guys from the next building over offered to help us, but we’d already agreed that hauling all this stuff up three flights of winding stairs was a job for professionals. Another guy came by with his dog and told us about how he’d just moved from Flint, Michigan, a few weeks ago. The impetus for the move was the bullets that came through his bedroom window one night and lodged in the wall just over his bed. He’d been working as a tutor for a developmentally challenged kid and had been making good progress, but he decided this was last straw.

Around 3:30, Jeff finished unloading the U-Haul and decided to take it back to Park Ridge. Only it wouldn’t start. We called the emergency help line. They told us they’d have someone out to give us a jump within the hour.

At 4 AM, the really trashed people start coming home. And unfortunately, our U-Haul was blocking the parking spot belonging to one group of trashed people. They weren’t happy, even after they maneuvered the car in. They were so unhappy, in fact, that one of the women jumped out of the car and ran at us screaming. Being midwesterners, we apologized profusely. That just annoyed her. So I tried being not-midwestern: I asked her why her night had been so bad. It turned out they had gone out for her boyfriend’s birthday and he’d almost gotten into four fights. Then I told her why our night had been so bad and showed her our furniture. And then she agreed our night had been worse and we hugged it out. (This is already one of the proudest moments of my life.) Then they went off to sleep.

At 4:30, the U-Haul guy came by to jump the truck. He was a mover, too, and was with a friend who’d bought him a beer to help him recover after three moving jobs. He had three more the next day. He still felt bad for us.

Around dawn Jeff took the U-Haul away and went to a hotel since he hadn’t slept in about three days. U-Haul set us up with another mover who promised to work us into his schedule. All we had to do was wait.

The sun came up. We couldn’t actually see the sun, but the sky turned some really pretty colors. People started heading out to early-morning jobs. We got doughnuts and coffee and Diet Coke at the 7-Eleven around the corner. Our neighbor across the alley came out to take out her garbage. We told her we’d admired her backyard from our dining room window, and she invited us in for a tour. She’s been working on it for about 25 years. It’s got trees and flowers and little stone walking paths, and it’s almost too beautiful to be in the middle of a city. She also warned us about the neighbors who get angry when other people use their garbage containers. It’s a very charged issue in our alley, which is a good thing to know when you’ve got dozens of cardboard boxes to get rid of.

We met our next-door neighbors and their dogs, one of whom had just had a puppy (which we didn’t get to see). They told us it was OK to take couches up the front steps instead of trying to maneuver through the back, and that the stairs were wide enough that someone had once gotten a grand piano up there. One of the downstairs neighbors came out and chatted with us about the super and the landlord, whom she liked. (So did everyone else we asked. It was kind of amazing.)

Some scavengers came by in a pickup truck already piled up with stuff and held together with chicken wire. It stopped being unusual to see people out and about. We even saw some people from the night before. The boyfriend of the drunk girl from 4 AM came out to check on his car, looking very worn out. An older man with long white hair and a beard pointed to our stuff and the building. We started to tell him the story, but then we realized he was deaf, so we switched to gestures.

The movers showed up. Their names were Chuck and Sean and they immediately became two of my favorite people in the entire world. They work for Safe-N-Sound Movers in Waukegan and I highly recommend them to anyone who is looking for someone to move their stuff.

After they got our stuff upstairs, we could leave the alley. After 12 hours, it felt very liberating. But I also felt a surge of love for our corner of Rogers Park. How can you not love a place where two women can sit on a couch in an alley all night and no one bothers them or tries to steal their stuff, where instead people stop to chat and offer to move couches that belong to complete strangers? And I’m really glad that I feel this way, because Jeff and I have agreed: we are never moving again. We say this every time, but this time, we really mean it.