Hansen: The dark alleys of Laguna Beach

No one likes to admit they have a dark side.

But like alter egos, the alleys of Laguna Beach parallel our lives.

We rely on them for privacy. We use them as shortcuts. We park in them illegally.

Both in residential and business areas, there are an impressive amount of alleys in Laguna — all underutilized and most in disarray. But there are some really cool ones too.

With a few exceptions, almost anywhere you live in the city — north, south or downtown — you have alleys nearby. Not only that, they represent a part of your life you don't normally acknowledge.

Like when you wear baggy sweatpants to take out the trash.

Or sit on a crate to take a break at work and smoke outside.

Or store used motor oil because you don't know where else to put it.

We never admit our normal, small sins; instead, they collect in alleys.

Alleys are public thoroughfares but we treat them as private. There is an unspoken agreement that what happens in alleys stays in alleys.

So we put stuff in the back of our minds — behind our garage, parking area or business — hoping it will disappear: dilapidated holiday gear, broken basketball hoops, busted treadmills and rusted bikes.

It's our drop box of wishful thinking and stubborn reality.

The backside of our existence is the great equalizer. Nothing says equality like an alley. You can have a nice, perfectly manicured house in the front, but in the back, you get the truth.

Wetsuits hanging over railings. Shampoo bottles in bathroom windows. Home-based businesses working out of garages.

And that's fine. It's a type of reality that creates the intimacy that brings people together.

Some residents use their alleys as a watering hole, hauling out a barbecue and a few coolers on any given Saturday.

The residential alleys are almost always interesting. They are trusted footpaths, really, where neighbors gossip and walk their dogs to avoid traffic.

But what could be improved are the downtown alleys.

The alley between Ocean and Forest avenues, for example, could be so much more. Right now, it's a dismal place, used only for employee parking and vagrants.

Why not clean it up?

There are many examples of famous alleys that are cultural destinations in cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and others, which tout "underground" clubs, hidden restaurants or funky street merchants.

Instead, we have dumpsters.

Allow graffiti art and urban greenscapes.

Let BJ's put in some outdoor seating.

Allow Hennessey's to have unplugged Sunday afternoon sessions.

Encourage more pedestrian friendly activities using the alleys we already have.

And it's not just downtown proper. Ramona Avenue is one big alley that goes all the way down Coast Highway almost to Ralphs. Then it picks up again with the alley that runs from Thalia to Calliope streets. North and South Laguna have similar opportunities, although not as pronounced.

If we leave the front street facades for a minute and go to the alleys, we will see our true selves.

We don't admit it but we are living a pretty tawdry life behind the scenes.

And that's another reason downtown Laguna Beach is what it is — not completely alive and smelling a little stale.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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