I’M reasonably sure that there are no competitions that recognize the most beautiful alleys in America. If there were, Columbus would win hands down.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that all Columbus alleys are beautiful. Some of them, in fact, are eyesores.
But there are a few in the downtown area — Friendship Alley on Washington Street between Fourth and Fifth and that curved and brick walkway between the old SIECO building and Kirr-Marbach headquarters also on Washington Street, for instance — that are downright picturesque.
Another that holds quite a bit of promise is the alley that splits Washington and Jackson streets between Fourth and Fifth.
Ironically, it parallels the downtown parking garage in that area. By their nature, most parking garages are not architectural delights, but this one is better than most. It’s what’s on the other side of the alley, however, that sets it apart, and the merchants who either own or manage the buildings in that area deserve all the credit for making this back street unique.
There’s a range of beauty that includes a landscaped backyard and the entry to a small restaurant specializing in soups that utilizes old but beautifully crafted doors dating to the 19th century.
It is, however, the most recent addition to this alley that makes it special — a long mural painted on the side of the Columbus Bar that captures a scene inside the establishment with some patrons (past and present) depicted in various poses sitting around the bar. It is a piece of whimsy that just adds to the ambience that the downtown has developed over the past five years.
There’s only one thing spoiling this particular alley and keeping it from becoming one of the most beautiful in the country should such a competition be dreamed up in the future.
Now I will be the first to admit that cigarette butts are not foreign substances in Columbus alleys.
What the heck, they’re all over town — especially the downtown, both the business and residential areas. They are discarded on sidewalks, street gutters and lawns. They’re dropped by smokers as they walk. Sometimes they stop to squash them out. Other times they just walk on, leaving wisps of smoke in their trail. There are some intersections in the city where you can come across large piles, the residue of car ashtrays dumped by some vile litterbug stopped at a traffic light.
The collection in the alley near that beautiful mural is especially noticeable, not to mention repugnant. I mean, who knows where those butts have been or whose lips last touched them?
As litter goes, cigarette butts rank at the top in terms of being most objectionable. They’re also extremely difficult to pick up, and there are so many that one could develop a permanent bent-over posture just by going from one end of the alley to the other in an effort to be a good citizen.
The reason that there are so many in this particular alley, I suspect, is that we’re trying to get people to stop smoking.
Don’t get me wrong. Getting people to stop smoking is a good thing. The city of Columbus has a modified ban on smoking in public places. So does the state of Indiana.
Some businesses and organizations are exempted from both bans — bars, for instance — but in Columbus, especially in the vicinity of that alley, the businesses have taken it upon themselves to contribute to the smoking cessation effort.
The Columbus Bar, for instance, has had a smoke-free policy since 2006, and that was before either the city or the state had adopted modified smoking bans. It also was the owners of the Columbus Bar who took it upon themselves to add that mural to the downtown decor and brighten up what could have been a typical downtown alley.
Yet, the whole spirit of that decor and the nonsmoking environment has been spoiled by untold numbers of cigarette butts.
I don’t know who’s responsible for the litter. Maybe it’s just some passing pedestrian. It could be customers of one of the smoke-free establishments getting in a few drags between beers. It could even be employees puffing away while they’re on their breaks.
Whoever it is, they leave a mess.
It’s impossible for those who clean up the alley to keep up with the accumulation.
Maybe it would help if we would adopt the policy adhered to by so many drill sergeants during basic training years ago when recruits would be allowed to smoke on breaks but would have to extinguish the residue at the end and put the butt in their pocket when a container wasn’t nearby. A more practical approach might be to place outdoor receptacles along the alley where smokers could extinguish and deposit their butts.
I just hope somebody does something to get rid of the littered butts. They’re keeping us from winning the Most Beautiful Alleys in the World contest.
Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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