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Snake Alley: Worlds Crookedest Street

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Snake Alley: Worlds Crookedest Street

World’s crookedest street?

The holiday season is one of the busiest travel times of the year. But if you just haven’t had enough of going over the river to grandmother’s house. Maybe you want to try driving to Iowa—Burlington, Iowa to be exact. This fall Chicago Public Radio’s Gianofer Fields will take us on a not so little road trip along the Lincoln Highway. But first, she has to get there.

The hardest part about starting any road trip isn’t plotting all the routes, booking hotels and surviving picking up the rental car. The hardest part about starting any road trip is the first stop. Pick the wrong place and it could taint the rest of the ride. Here’s a little secret. Always stop at the first welcome center you see. They have to be nice to you. It’s their job. Donna Meierotto is coordinator for the Burlington Iowa Welcome center and she was convinced that nobody would want to hear what she called her “chicken voice,” on the radio. One oh please, two big brown bats of my eye lashes and three seconds later, I was rolling for sound.

MEIEROTTO: Burlington’s number one tourist attraction is snake alley. It is the crookedest street in the world.

Not so fast Donna. According to several co-workers including my editor; the world’s crookedest title belongs to Lombard Street in San Francisco. I’ve never seen Lombard street, so I have to err on the side that’s going to get me the fewest nasty e-mails about which street is in fact the crookedest in the world. I remain neutral.

Anyway, back to Burlington. Tip two for insuring a successful first stop. Don’t be surprised if the staff at the welcome center doesn’t know all that much about what’s in the welcome center. Like, oh, I don’t know….why is snake alley so sssnakey?

MEIEROTTO: Actually if you want to come over here. I am going to push this and it explains to you why...

RECORDING: The alley is composed if curved limestone curbing and locally fired blue clay brick. The limestone and bricks were tilted to allow better footing for the horsed. Consisting of five half curves and two quarter curves and rising 58.3 feet from Washington street to Columbia street. It is listed in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the crookedest street in the world.

To be fair, Donna actually knew a lot about snake alley but her knowledge was based on events scheduled to take place during the summer. The Welcome Center sits on the banks of the Mississippi River. So she knew all about that and artist walks and ice cream socials and a bunch of other stuff that happens on the alleged crookedest road during tourist season. But I was there in the Fall and asking about the why of Snake alley, got me the button. When I asked about her fondest memories of snake alley...

MEIEROTTO: You really need to go see it.

So I did. Snake Alley is just a hop, skip and a couple of quick turns away from the welcome center and had it not been for the hand painted sign, I would have completely missed it.

At first I thought it would be awsome to drive down Snake Alley but this is going to take both hands on the wheel and all of my concentration. So I’m going to stick the mic in my purse and see what happens.

What happens is that you can barley hear me so I’ll have to translate.

FIELDS: It’s not that bad…with a little car. This is easy. In Chicago, this would be a skate park.

I haven’t even made it to the Lincoln Highway and I’m already having a great time. With about 2000 miles to go on this trip, I’d better pace myself.

I’m Gianofer Fields, Chicago Public Radio.

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