The bowling alleys of my youth were — not dingy, that implies lack of cleanliness — but they were plain.
The colors were muted, the lighting basic. The pins were white, except during promotions where a blue pin was mixed in. Get a strike with a blue headpin, you win a free game.
Basically, they were someplace you went to … bowl.
I get it’s not that way anymore. The bowling alley is a “bowling and lounge” establishment, even if that means not knowing where to go once we checked in at the front desk because we couldn’t see where the lanes were.
I thought they were on the other side of the arcade, maybe around the corner, but they were actually in other direction, past the bar.
They’re entertainment venues, places to have a party. I even tried “Rockin’ Bowl” once, years ago. I didn’t mind the music and disco lights so much as it was so dark I couldn’t see my target. Those arrows are kind of small, you know.
If you’re hungry, you don’t go to the front desk for a candy bar, or the snack bar for a hamburger. It’s still basically bar food, but you place an order with the waiter, and he brings the food to you.
When the benches weren’t wood, they were of some indeterminate plastic compound, maybe sold in bulk from NASA experiments that didn’t turn out quite right.
Now they’re couches, and there’s not even a place for the person keeping score to sit. After all, it’s all on the screens overhead, between the bowl game and a boxing show.
But seriously, I don’t mind. They’re pleasant places, certainly comfortable, and what places we go to for entertainment are the same was when we went in the 1980s?
The local movie theater my wife and I go to has trays where you can eat the food that you ordered, and plush reclining seats. I can’t even remember the last time my feet stuck to the floor.
Newer baseball parks are meant to be palaces, with wide concourses, great views, various food options and all the amenities they can conjure up (with the aim of separating you from as much money as possible, of course).
Even older ballparks — Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium, Wrigley Field — have been updated as much as possible. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be charming nods to the game’s history; they’d be relics that fans would want to be rid of as soon as possible.
Once you pick up a bowling ball, all that matters is this: 10 pins, 60 feet away, a gutter on either side and seven arrows, each five boards apart. Put the ball in the right spot, and you’ll find success. Miss, and you’ll have trouble.
Yet for all the modern touches, no recliners and table service can save a bad movie. The nicest ballpark can only do so much if the game is a snoozer.
And once you pick up a bowling ball, all that matters is this: 10 pins, 60 feet away, a gutter on either side and seven arrows, each five boards apart.
Put the ball in the right spot, and you’ll find success. Miss, and you’ll have trouble.
In the beginning, that was the hard part.
I only bowl sporadically now, maybe once every few years, but I was always good at figuring out quickly what the lane wanted, where I had to put the ball. I didn’t always do it, which is why I topped out as a pretty good bowler with a 175 average on Friday nights, but I rarely had trouble coming up with a plan.
This was different, though. If I stood on the spot, the ball went past the target. If I moved my feet a board to the right — and the boards are about an inch wide, so we’re talking some fairly fine adjustments — it wouldn’t get there.
It took five tough frames, half a game, to figure out I needed to move a half-board left — basically the equivalent of putting my middle toe on the edge of the board instead of the middle — and then I started to get locked in.
Fortunately, my motion is so simple, it’s basically muscle memory. There aren’t a lot of moving parts to get in sync.
I finished the first game strong, even though a 130 isn’t the kind of score I look for, and then surprised myself with a 192 in the second game. After all, it had been a few years.
But that was the kind of score I’d be happy with in an eight-lane facility under a restaurant or an arcade and miniature nightclub with some bowling alleys attached.