Backlands 1 (Credit: Celia Her City)

The backlands: this is the Chicago you only see from the el.  Its alleys, fire escapes, backyards, and balconies are unselfconscious because all-but-invisible, save for the instant you peer down on them from the frigid el platform or a moving train.

There’s a gnarly, ugly, decrepit, character to much of the terrain: the untrimmed vine, the dying tree, jumbles of wires or garbage cans.  But with them come offerings of the unexpected, the whimsical or ingenious: the gardens people devise on tiny fire escapes; the signs meant for you to read as you rush by.

You glimpse the unwanted but, with it, many other things that keep the city running: the electrical grid, garbage trucks, construction crews.  Secret parking lots.  Boarded-up doors and graffiti bespeaking adventures and openings now inaccessible and archaic, layers of life quilted on to the city’s bricks and boards, congealed into something more enduring than little ol’ me.

Backlands 2 (Credit: Celia Her City)

Skyway perch

Skyway perch (Credit: Celia Her City)

The Chicago Skyway has always fascinated me.  It’s a high-arching toll bridge that runs over the industrial hinterland hugging the Lake south of the city.  It’s nearly unavoidable if you want to go to Indiana or Michigan because it’s by far the fastest route there from the city.

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to take good photographs of the Skyway scenes.  It’s wouldn’t be safe to pull over on the bridge itself, and its structure obstructs many of the views.  The approaches to it are steeply sloping, so the resulting pictures are angled in funny ways.

It’s too bad, because the area around the bridge is an ungodly mix of aging industrial and maritime sites.  There are marshes and canals nearly invisible in the thicket of hoists, bridges, and junk heaps.  The area, so strewn and cluttered, nonetheless foregrounds interesting views of the Lake and city skyline.  So I always do try to take pictures when I’m on the Skyway, even though they don’t usually turn out.

I managed to take this one that isn’t too bad.  It shows some strange little buildings that are somehow necessary to a massive hoist that is near the Skyway and, for some reason, nearly as tall as the Skyway itself.

Someday I would like to go see this no-man’s-land at ground level, but for now this one picture will have to do.

PS  This picture on Wikipedia shows the location of the hoist next to the Bridge.