Re-Creating Indiana Jones' Boulder Run In D.C.'s 'Alley Of Doom'

Oct 4, 2012
Originally published on October 4, 2012 10:19 am

At a back alley in Washington, D.C., an innocent bike rider came upon a Prius driving right at him head-on. The Prius, in turn, was being chased by a 10-foot boulder.

The bike rider had accidentally stumbled into "The Alley of Doom."

For one day, anyone who showed up to this alley in the U Street neighborhood of Washington, D.C., could take a free turn at playing Indiana Jones — donning a fedora and whip and fleeing from a gigantic, rolling boulder.

Laurenellen McCann came up with the idea — in her day job, she works for the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit in D.C. This activity is entirely unrelated. [Note: Laurenellen McCann was also an intern at NPR in the fall of 2009.]

"The biggest hindrance to the idea was figuring out how to make the boulder," she said. "I went through everything from decoupage to weather balloons, but it was always a problem thinking about how someone would roll it. Then I remembered some random YouTube clip I saw about Zorbing."

Zorbs are giant, inflatable plastic balls that people can climb into to roll down hills. McCann figured she could cover a Zorb with brown bedsheets and turn it into a makeshift boulder. To make it happen, she obtained a grant from the Awesome Foundation — a group that gives $1,000 grants to people with quirky ideas like this.

The day of the event, folks trickled in from all around D.C. — a mix of parents and kids, 20-somethings and Indiana Jones superfans. Some heard about it online; others stumbled across the alley accidentally.

Different runners put their own spin on the iconic scene. (You can see lots of pictures on Flickr.) One group donned Mexican lucha libre wrestling masks. One man used a unicycle and grabbed onto a rope to swing away before the boulder could hit him. One couple staged a dramatic scene in which the man bravely sacrificed his life to push his partner out of harm's way.

Heidi Debeck filmed the boulder runs, and came away with a newfound respect for one of Indiana Jones' particular skills.

"Watching these gives you so much more appreciation for the fact that Indiana Jones never leaves his hat behind, because it falls off all the time," she said. "Pretty much every time somebody's run, I think it's fallen off — unless the person has held it to their head."

For Joel Finkelstein, who showed up with his kids, ages 7 and 4, this game was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

"I loved Raiders of the Lost Ark my whole life. It came out when I was 6, and I saw it every weekend that summer when it was in the theater, 16 times," he said. "Every time I went to a playground for 10 years as a kid, I would run from an imaginary boulder, absolutely. It's pretty cool to have a real one."

McCann, who organized the event, doesn't describe herself as an Indiana Jones superfan. She said for her, it's more about creating a space where neighbors and strangers can come together and play.

"There's a couple of grandmas out here, just hanging out, smiling," she said. "People can tap into that feeling."

McCann said she's especially interested in finding different ways for grown-ups to cut loose.

"As adults, we think we play because we go to bars, but that's different. And I'm not hating on the bar experience, but there's a big difference between going to a bar and having a beer and running around in an alley dressed as Indiana Jones."

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Now to another iconic movie and a memorable scene that came to life on a recent afternoon in a Washington D.C. alleyway.

NPR's Travis Larchuk, another T, brings us this postcard.

TRAVIS LARCHUK, BYLINE: Step one: Inflate a 10-foot high plastic ball.


LARCHUK: Step two: Cover it with a bunch of brown bed sheets. Now you've got yourself a giant makeshift boulder.

Step three: Start the boom box.


LARCHUK: This is The Alley of Doom. For one day, anyone who showed up to this alley in Washington D.C. could take a free turn at playing Indiana Jones. Grab a fedora, a whip, and run for their lives from a huge boulder rolling right at them.


LARCHUK: All right.

But first, sign the release form.

LAURENELLEN MCCANN: We're getting release waivers, because nobody is getting sued from this.

LARCHUK: That's Laurenellen McCann. She created The Alley of Doom. She did it with a grant from the Awesome Foundation, which is a group that funds quirky projects like this.

Five runners showed up in wrestling masks. One family hopped into a Prius to drive away from the boulder.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Our car is going to run from...

LARCHUK: Joel Finkelstein brought his kids, but he was clearly the most excited.

JOEL FINKELSTEIN: I loved "Raiders of the Lost Ark" my whole life. Every time I went to a playground as a kid, I would always be running from an imaginary boulder, absolutely. It's pretty cool to have a real one.

LARCHUK: Creator Laurenellen McCann isn't as much as a Jones super fan. She says The Alley of Doom is really just an excuse to get people to come out and play.

MCCANN: You know, there's a couple of grandmas out here, just hanging out here, smiling. Their kids aren't even running but people can tap into that feeling.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Well it wasn't the bulls, but we did all right.

LARCHUK: McCann plans to publish step-by-step instructions so every city can create its own Alley of Doom.

Travis Larchuk, NPR News.


INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News, I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.