Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I’ve been a bowler on and off since my teens. I started bowling in youth leagues at 13 or 14. My first job was as a porter and occasional maintenance guy at a bowling alley. My second “real job”* was also as a porter and occasional maintenance guy at a different bowling alley.

*I don’t count the epic FAILure that was one summer as a cutlery salesperson.

I even managed a stint at the pool hall/game room of yet another local bowling alley as a stopgap when I was in college.

One of the perks of working in a bowling alley was…well, free bowling. And I took major advantage of this as a kid. I mean, what else is a broke-assed 16-year-old working part time for minimum wage going to do with his free time? I once bowled 29 games in succession on a Sunday afternoon.

I bowled a league every year until I was about 20, at which time it got a little more difficult. The main issue with league bowling is the commitment: the standard league runs from about September to May.

That’s committing the same night every week for a SCHOOL YEAR (roughly 36 weeks).

It’s tough, and it’s the main reason some bowling alleys are closing and others are forced to reinvent themselves.

I came back to bowl for a few years in my late 20s, and I had a good time with the friends on my team. However, every year I found my enthusiasm waning big time around February with, like, 14 weeks to go.

Like many things in life that are fun yet time-consuming, eventually burnout sets in. I had fallen out of love with bowling. Something I used to do on a weekly basis had become an occasional happening at best. Eventually, it didn’t even register on my mental list of fun ways to spend a couple hours on a weekend afternoon.

But the week of Christmas, before the “snow events”, I got out of work early. When I pulled into the garage, I happened to notice my bowling stuff. I hadn’t used it in over a year and a half.

I thought, “What the hell.”

I got to the bowling alley and put on my shoes. My bowling ball no longer fits quite right, a combination of a little weight loss and a little reduction in finger size caused by…well, not bowling.

But I made it work. My second throw after all that time off followed an arc out toward the gutter, then hooked abruptly right into the pocket. My first strike of the day.

As I got warm, the ball came off my hand with more speed and more spin. It started to feel “right” again. I had the familiar feeling of people’s eyes watching—the kids two lanes over; the employees behind the counter—as strikes lined up consecutively on the overhead monitor.

The first real game I’ve bowled in 18 months was a 237.

It was exhilarating to suddenly be back in that element.

I followed with a 215 and a 256. 708 series? Like riding a bike.

I paid for my games and went home. It took me all of 40 minutes to bowl.

When I got home, I opened the hatch of my car. Before I reached in to pull my bowling stuff out of the back, I paused for a moment.

I looked at the deceptively heavy black bag, and how many memories I have tied to bowling in general.

I thought back to the satisfaction of bowling well just moments before, of giving the scrawny kids two lanes over a bit of a show.

I smiled and put the bag back on the shelf, in a place slightly more conspicuous than where it was before.


Chimpotle said...

I bowled from pretty much first grade until I got to high school. Recently started again when my brother moved back to town.

Unless you have a real desire to bowl sanctioned games, most alleys now run 16-week leagues, which isn't quite as bad. We're taking this stretch off, but will probably get back in a league this summer. The one last year gave us a card good for 3 free games a day on top all summer.

JJSKCK said...

The 1/2 season thing is good to know, since that means it would be over just before my interest wanes. There weren't too many of those even a few years ago, so it's good to see they're adapting. Are most of the 1/2 season leagues non-sanctioned?

Jared Brustad said...

Collin's birthday party will be at a bowling alley for a 3rd year in a row.

JJSKCK said...

You'll be happy to know my 30th birthday party was at a bowling alley (along with mini golf and go-carts).

Chimpotle said...

Pretty sure all the 16-week leagues are non-sanctioned. Which also means the dues are considerably cheaper.

Craig said...

How interesting that you posted about bowling. I was dealing Saturday night, the first time in several months, maybe even a year. But sure enough some guy on the table recognized me from bowling and asked me if I was still bowling and what I had averaged. I'm always amazed at how many people you meet and know through bowling.

JJSKCK said...

That's very true, Craig. I don't see people that often, but when I do we always have a laugh or two about Dave Short.

Steaming bowl o' Calderone said...

Sheesh! I think I might have cracked 180 back in high school. I could never develop the hook that everyone else seemed to be able to do easily - but my straight ball was killah!