Most people try to avoid alleys unless they're throwing out the garbage or parking their cars.
Not John Gee of the Old Northeast. The history teacher is a self-described expert on the neighborhood's alleyways. For eight years, he has been walking his two dogs three times a day (his wife insists on it!).
Up and down the alleys he goes with his desert mutts, Bosa and Remi, "ad nauseam,'' he says.
Generally speaking, Gee, 60, doesn't pick up the castaways from people's lives that he sees. He ponders them. He wonders.
Like an alleyway philosopher.
"John just has a really interesting outlook on life,'' said Rick Carson, editor of the Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood News, a quarterly neighborhood newsletter. "He'll look at something and he'll see something most people don't see.''
• • •
Four years ago, Carson ran into Gee, who was on one of his daily dog walks. Out of their conversation, Gee started writing a column for Carson's newsletter called "Ponderings.'' His first column was titled "Garbage 101.'' It was about the trash he spies in the alleys.
"Be assured that sometime during the day or night I will look at the things you discard and will attempt to find some meaning in the mess," he wrote.
"It's not that I am nosy; I just walk dogs.''
• • •
Gee has written many other columns in the newsletter and another publication, the Northeast Journal. Alleys are a recurring topic. There was one titled "An Alley Safari,'' and another, to set the record straight, called "I Am Not a Peeping Tom.''
He thinks the alleys have different personalities. There are dirt ones, paved ones, rocky ones, neat ones, woodsy and sparse ones, all in the same neighborhood. Why? he asks.
Gee watches the passage of time as told by the trash.
Discarded Barbies, a symbol of children growing up. Trashed photographs and clothing, proof of a marriage gone south. Forgotten TVs, an artifact surely replaced by nicer, plasma versions.
"The once proud symbol of all that is American,'' he once wrote about the junk TVs, "is now a victim of all that is American.''
Over the years, he has found $100, mostly $20s.
He has heard rumors of alley prostitutes but has never seen one. He has seen a few people sleeping, though. "That's always disconcerting,'' he said.
• • •
You can blame Gee's alley fixation on his wife of 15 years, Kathy Kronenberg. When the health care consultant's job was transferred to St. Petersburg from New Mexico eight years ago, she insisted on a house with an alley. She discovered a 1941 bungalow on 21st Avenue NE with a nicely paved alley. It became home.
Gee grew up in Elmira, N.Y. There were no alleys. When he saw the house — and alley — he was hooked.
• • •
A couple of years ago, Gee ran out of things to write about the alleys. What writer wouldn't be challenged by writing about the same subject over and over again?
In his columns, Gee has moved on to other subjects like his impending kitchen remodel and the Rays' new stadium proposal.
Even so, people still know him as the alley guy.
And you can still find him there, with his dogs, walking and thinking.
Melanie Ave can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8813.