Photo: Michael Zajakowski

There are 1,900 miles of alleys in Chicago, more than in any city in America. Before the pandemic hit, I thought of these shadowy byways as little more than repositories for garbage and rodents. Now they’re a refuge. Sometime in late March, prompted by maskless mouth-breathers on the crowded sidewalks around my Near North Side home, I began ducking down alleys on my daily walks, in the name of greater social distancing and less seething. And I quickly came to appreciate the contagion-free solitude they offer. While the views aren’t great (lots of Dumpsters, and the occasional discarded love seat), I can often stroll for blocks without encountering another human soul. And these days, that’s what matters most. Until I see a rat. Then this whole experiment is off.