I remember looking around back in the day for a place called “Skid Row” because I’d heard my family speak about it so often. They knew well that so many of their acquaintances were headed there, so I was curious as to where it actually was. I imagined it was maybe a place for ice skaters where they could skate really fast on the ice and then skid to a stop. In a row … or something. Sounded like a lot of fun.

But I eventually learned that Skid Row was not a fun place to be, and it seemed as if an awful lot of my family’s acquaintances ended up there, or at least that’s what my folks and lots of other people said. “Oh, he’s a lush and is just gonna end up on Skid Row.”

It appeared to me that anyone who didn’t measure up in some societal way was doomed to live at that strange address.

Skid Row was, and I guess still is, a sort of mythical place somewhere, anywhere, that isn’t exactly Beverly Hills, although Beverly Hills people can also end up there, I hear. It’s a desolate, shabby place where homeless or alcoholic people “live,” a rundown area, not well cared for, sad and awful, although no one can say where it actually is. People down on their luck might end up on Skid Row and it’s unpleasant, even though it has no fixed address.

Are you getting all this?

But guess what? Turns out “Skid Row” actually was once a real place, back in the 1800s. It was in Seattle, Washington and the name started out as Yesler Way and is apparently today called Pioneer Square.

All those years ago, Yesler Way was the main street where logs were transported, or dragged or rolled, any way men could move those logs to market, or a sawmill. The logs would skid along with the help of timber workers, so perhaps someone oddly compared that skidding action with folks who both mentally and physically were having a hard time of it in their lives. I know it’s difficult to get all this, but it could have happened.

Keep reading. I’ll try to explain more.

Apparently, there were lots of very real skid rows. The lumber business was huge back in the day, especially in the northwest, and transporting logs wasn’t ever easy. Rivers were used but where there weren’t any, huge trees, all branches and bark removed, were greased, laid side by side for miles, picked up and put down over and over so that the money logs could be rolled, slid or drawn to their destination over these greased, recumbent trees. These rows of “greased skids” were called Skid Roads, or eventually Skid Rows.

History still isn’t sure why those greased logs were associated with people down on their luck, although it’s thought that desperate people would hang around those skids hoping for work. I read about a lexicographer (a person who puts dictionaries together,) named Godfrey Irwin. He defined “Skid Row” in 1931 in an article entitled, “American tramp and underworld slang,” as “the district where workers congregate when in town or away from their jobs.”

I’m not sure why Skid Row means someone who is having a difficult time financially or one who has to live with the help of a breadline, but I guess back in ’31 it did. It’s that old “sliding down” thing again.

And one other thing that ended up as a sort of negative cliché: These skid rows were built on the wrong side of railroad tracks although I’m not sure who determines which is the right or wrong side of railroad tracks, but someone did, so that too added to skid rows being a not so great place to end up.

Everyone knows that living or being born or ending up on the “wrong side of the tracks” means that one is undesirable. It gets complicated. I suppose sliding down to a sawmill, maybe on the wrong side of the tracks, moving in a downward manner was somehow equated with society’s hopeless beings. I wasn’t there, folks, but I’m trying to understand this.

This is all sort of a stretch, but then so many of the mysteries of history are, but it is consistently interesting. So even though it technically doesn’t exist, I think it prudent we all stay clear of Skid Row, wherever it may be, because it just doesn’t sound like a desirable place to be.

I intend to avoid it.