Cranky’s Guide to Bowling and Life

I remember the strange visceral thrill the first time I “snuck” into a bowling alley with my best friend, Jack Stares.  It wasn’t that the bowling alley had an admission, or banned grade school kids from bowling, it was the simple fact that it had been made clear by my mother that, “We don’t go there. It’s not a nice place.”

This was the same vague warning that went along with almost anyplace that my mother deemed “low brow” or “below us.”  But it wasn’t until much later in life that I figured out the real reason to the “Miller family aversion to bowling.”

But at this moment, I didn’t care…I was standing in the “Gateway Bowl” and drinking in every sight and smell that the glorious, modern, and seemingly foreign wonder of wood and plastic had to offer. It was a lazy, week-day, summer afternoon, and there were fewer than 1/3 of the “24 modern lanes” with their “automatic pin-setter technology” and “Visi-Score” display scoring, in use.

I watched an older guy (everyone was older when you are 11) go through an intense ritual of drying his hand on the air dryer, slowly fitting his hand into the gleaming, black ball with the red swirls cast into it, and then pausing, while staring intently down the alley at the pins glimmering before him.  There was “easy listening” music playing softly in the background, barely audible over the din of balls being rolled on other distant lanes, and the mechanics of the ball return and pin setters clearing and setting pins. But as the man began his approach toward the pins, his arm swinging back in a graceful arc, I remember holding my breath in anticipation of the outcome.

Three short steps, resembling those of a dancer getting ready to take off into a leap…and then his body lowered, and his arm glided forward, his left leg bending at the knee while his right leg curled behind him in a pose unlike any other athlete I had ever watched before.  The ball started down the far right side of the lane, and I immediately began to anticipate a gutter ball. But instead, the ball, under the influence of an amazing side spin that slowly pulled its trajectory to the left, over the slick, oiled lanes, began arcing toward the center of the lane. As if directed by God or some other force unseen, the ball jerked to the left at the last second, to the middle of the pins, just left of center on the first pin. And with a tremendous dance that seemingly defied physics, all ten pins fell to the back of the alley with a sound that made me jump and laugh at the same time.

I was hooked. I suddenly wanted to try this new, “taboo” activity, more than anything else in the world.

I immediately went up to the counter to ask the cost, and was told that it was 35 cents a line, and 50 cents for shoe rental. This was in 1965, and to a kid who earned an allowance of 25  cents a week, and made 25 cents per lawn he mowed (for the growing list of “customers” for his vast lawn mowing empire), this seemed reasonable enough…if he hadn’t just spent his last $2 on a model kit of a Fokker Dr I Tri-plane, and a tube of plastic cement, from Darlene’s Toys and Hobbies.

But at that moment, I vowed to find a way to become something nobody else in my family had ever become…a bowler.

I was athletic as a kid. My bedroom was lined with trophies from Little League All Stars, and my first year of Pop Warner football (we were district champs). But bowling was simply something I had never been exposed to, in any way.  Like most families in the 60s, we lived off of one income, in our case, my Dad’s paltry teacher’s salary ($800 a month in those days).  “Pay Day” meals for us were a choice of McDonald’s burgers and fries (“no Coke…we have water at home!”) or if you wanted to “push the envelope,” TWO burgers, but no fries.  Regular meals featured lots and lots and lots of casseroles, made with garnishes of tuna or chicken, and always with a Campbell’s Soup base.  You could feed a family of 6 for about 50 cents a meal back then. Which made “McDonald’s” seem extravagant. But I digress…

However,  you can only imagine what the REAL barrier for my Mom and Dad was for bowling…money.

However,  now that I was “earning my own spending money,” (after expenses of 25 cent per gallon gas that would get me through as many as 15 lawns with a single gallon), I was pulling in almost $3 a week.  Even after half went into my “college fund” (which was spent dry in the first term of my actual college career), I was flush, and ready to “experience a world hereto denied.”

I’d like to say that I “bootstrapped my way” to the junior bowling tour that summer.  But the simple fact is, I found out that bowling is an art-form that requires a LOT of practice.  I remember the first time I broke 100…because, until much later in life, it was the ONLY time I broke 100.

I remember trying to find any of my “peer group” who bowled. None of them did. So I was a lone kid…on a lone alley…blowing through “Model, HO Railroad, and New Bike fund money” at a clip that finally forced my Dad to question what I was doing, and if I had acquired a gambling habit, or was addicted to glue sniffing (it was a different time).  When I told him the truth…he seemed relieved and appalled at the same time.

He then recounted how he had been a “pin setter” at the local alley in his home town as a summer job, earning 25 cents a day (huge money for a kid in 1948), but that he had never bowled, as he thought it was a complete waste of money when you could run, bike, swim, hike, and row a skiff on the Columbia for free.

Point taken.

I have tried to bowl seriously a handful of times in my life. I took bowling in college as an elective…and even in the best shape of my life…only rolled one game (out of hundreds) over 150.

The last time I bowled with my grandkids, I din’t break 100, and had a sore shoulder for days.

I even sucked at Wii bowling…scoring much the same electronically as I did in real life. Go figure…

I now live a life that allows me to belong to Country Club and golf as much as time will allow.  One round at even a discounted public course costs more than a couple of month’s earnings with my lawn mowing business back in 1965.  I could certainly afford to bowl.  But I now realize that there was more than money that separated me from the “old guy” (who was probably 20 years younger that I am today) and the kind of bowler I became.

So, when the Pin Pals came around to TSTO…it took me back to the days when bowling leagues and fraternal organizations both required funny shirts with your name embroidered on the back…and realized that bowling was a birthright. And that my family was simply not cut from a genetic line of people who loved being in a smoke-filled room, wearing someone else’s shoes, and never, ever, ever understanding the physics of spinning a ball across a lane for a strike.

I still love bowling alleys.  There is something magical about them…and “so Americana.” Like drive-in movies….they are a fabric of an era gone by that has not been improved upon by “modern advances.” I wish I was a better bowler. But, I realize that it’s now a novelty…not an avocation.

BUT WHAT ABOUT YOU????  I KNOW there are bowlers out there. Not the “hipster” types who do “bumper bowling” with disco lights, while sipping $6 microbrew beer.  REAL bowlers…who drink “Bud”,  or “PBR” and have their own balls, and shoes, and monogrammed shirts…and have rolled more than one 300 in their lifetime.   TELL US ABOUT YOUR BOWLING prowess or “time at the lanes.”

ON ANOTHER NOTE… our book campaign has stalled a bit.  We only have a week to finish this up…so please consider donating to those for whom .25 a day is a way of life…

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31 responses to “Cranky’s Guide to Bowling and Life

  1. I went bowling for the first time in my life the same day the Pin Pals update hit TSTO. I like to think that I brought on the update, this can’t just be coincidence 😉
    Anyhow, since I never went before, my score was abysmal (43 for the first game, 64 for the second – or something like that), and my last place was completely uncontested.

  2. Bowling for me was always more fun in theory than in practice. (although the cosmic/black light bowling might be a trip!) But my 90 year old mother in law is on a Wii bowling team in her retirement home. She’s totally got it dialed in! She often bowls in the 280s, and I’m waiting for her to roll a 300 game one of these days!

  3. Bowling!!!! I love bowling. Don’t even ask me why because I don’t know. I’m not real good at it, have never been in a league. It’s just something my wife and I enjoy. We try and go at least once a month. I would like to go more but other things seem to get in the way. lol.

    And now I’m checking prices on line to see who has open bowling, when, and how much. Hehe.

  4. Josephine Kick@$$

    Great storytelling as usual Patric (not insinuating made up😊). You should write a book 😂- I know, you already have. This brought back some happy memories from when my son was in a carrier, not much more than 3 wks old. His father worked the swing shift, and he & his coworkers made a bowling league. There’s not much to do at 11:30 pm other than hit the bar, which these guys really weren’t in to. Back to my son… although the noise wasn’t like it is when the alley was at full swing, we took up 3 dbl lanes for the league. He slept through it all (like a baby 😂). Being the only woman on the league, as most of the men were single or had to work early I looked forward to the attention I got, I was a stay at home mom. My in-laws would watch my 7 yr old on the nights we played, so it gave me the freedom to play. We ended up buying me my own ball (a fingertip grip, so much more comfortable), my own shoes, rosin bag, and beautiful bag to hold it all 😊 I did manage to bowl one 300 game! My average was still only 123, which was fine since we did play with a handicap. It was good times at a moment in my life that I needed it. I don’t remember ever winning much more than 2nd place by the end of the season, but it was more for the enjoyment & wind down for the guys. After a couple of seasons some of the main players were either promoted, changed work shifts, or ended up in relationships that made it not possible to play any more. I’ve bowled a few times since, but it ended up like Sally. 3 games & done 😂 I’ll go & watch now, but due to my back am unable to play. (Maybe in the future😃😃) There is a business chain of entertainment activities across parts of the U.S. called The Main Event, I highly recommend taking the kids/grandkids. They have Laser tag (dragging my grandson out of is next to impossible 😂), a beautiful bowling alley, a huge rope climbing experience, pool tables, restaurants, and every kind of video/simulation/accuracy/claw, etc games you could imagine. They even have ski bowl! (My favorite 😂). The only thing they don’t have is pinball machines (I so wish they did). The package prices aren’t outrageous either! Anyway… I kinda strayed off track on that, so back to Patric’s post. I really enjoyed learning about your experiences, and it made me happy that it triggered fond memories of my own 😀 Thank you 😊

  5. Frankly I do not like to bowl but my ex company boss likes to organise bowling team building outing. I took up a course on bowling later and even got a bowling ball drilled to my fingers size and bought a pair of bowling shoes and gloves after the course. This is in preparation of future bowling outings in any other companies. I got coordination problems between my arms and legs.

    However, I have not used the ball, the shoes nor the gloves after the course as I felt embarrassed to be fully equipped when my skills are just novice. The shoes has worn out by itself after 20 years of unused. The ball is still in the storeroom.

    The hobby is also an expensive one as you are flushing money down into the drain each time you bowl.

  6. Our family does “kids bowl free”. For a $25 four adults and at least one child can bowl 2 games a day for free all summer long. It’s nation wide. Any Tappers with children, this is a deal and btw you can tap between frames. Cheese fries and soda is extra.

  7. The only times I go bowling was with my colleagues from work.
    My bowling style it quite dangerous:
    – Falling on my ass and a ball falling very very close to my torso.
    – Balls bouncing on the alley.
    – Bowling in the wrong direction. One of met colleagues was even bowled over!
    – My first strike ever was in the alley next to me.

    Conclusion: Bowling is not my cup of tea!

  8. You have heard of FootBall Widows…. not me…. but… a Bowling Widow… now that was me…. the old man…. had 10 bowling balls… which i never could see the different in the roll….~laughing~
    Then there where the leagues……

    I owned one ball… and i was happy!…. didn’t do the leagues or half the time He spent there…. but… have to say….got to miss the old Bowling Alleys…….

    Thanks for sharing…. brought back memories….

    • It is a very specific sport. People that are into it are INTO it! At least with golf, there are a lot of other factors on which to blame a crappy score…with bowling, it’s really just one thing…I suck.

  9. Sally Anderson

    Love your story! I’ve always enjoyed bowling and would go sometimes as a kid but it’s hard to find a fun old-fashioned bowling ally these days. I’ll usually bowl 3 games – 1 to warm up, 1 to be “good” and maybe break 100 or get a strike or two, and 1 last to realize my arm is tired and my score tanks again. This mini-game is super cute and makes me want to go bowling!

  10. brown_supahero

    Reading this makes me miss tsto friends :(. Buyijja

    • Well…we are still VERY active in Buyijja…an getting even more so these days, now that I have begun working with Rotary. There are loads of ways to participate (as well as donate). But, I have to say…that something had to give. I just had too much going on to dedicate daily posts (which can take hours in a day during updates) when the rEAl work needed to be done to keep things moving with Buyijja and the rest of my life. I am very grateful that our projects have been embraced here at Addicts…including widespread support from Alissa.

      But yes… I miss friends as well…mostly for the relationships that we had there.

  11. I haven’t bowled seriously in a couple of years, but I bowled in at least one league (a lot of years it was 2 or 3 leagues) for 20 years of my life. I have one 300 game to my credit and averaged as high as 203 in a single season. I am sure there are bowlers out there who hold more accolades than me, but I am happy to be the first to post!

    • Nice.
      I can only compare a 300 with a hole in one in golf. Elusive…and rare. But, for me, it’s probably more attuned with breaking 80. It takes a lot more skill to break 80 than it does to luck out with a hole-in-one…which I have done once in over 1200 rounds.

  12. i bowled as a teenager and had a 180 average, not too bad
    Later as a adult I met my first girlfriend after my divorce at a bowling alley. Sunday nights 5 dollar unlimited bowling for 3 hours 🙂 good times
    I remember there was a girl that would go on sunday nights that would hold the “pose” until the ball hit the pins. We called her the statue of liberty lol
    The last time I bowled a few years ago, I lined up and stood on my mark, took a deep breath and proceeded to slide too far and hit the lane and fell on my ass. My wife thought it was the fumiest thing ever.
    Now i want to go bowling lol Thanks

  13. I never had my own bowling ball or ever belonged to a league, probably because when I bowled regularly I was in high school and buying a bowling ball wasn’t a high priority. But on sundays during winter, when golf was out of the question, my buddies and I would take advantage of the $2 games. This was in the early 90’s so 2 bucks a game was a bargain. Anyway, none of us were any good, I never could do the spin thing. Tried it once and the ball bounced out the gutter and into the other lane. The thing is I don’t think any of us cared if we were good or getting better, it was just six best buddies hanging out, making “high school” memories the best we could in a small town with hardly anything to offer. So I guess maybe I was wrong, I was in a league. A bowling league of one team. A league of our own, the only one that ever mattered to me. And I wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world.

    • I think the key thing in your post, is the camaraderie that you shared with your friends. I like that aspect of golf as well. All good!

  14. I am in the 50+ age bracket and found myself having to ask a 17 year old how to work something on my mobile phone last week. He was quite amused at my lack of understanding which lead into me explaining that he has grown up with them all his life an when I was his young we didn’t even have colour TV etc etc. I did go on a bit about how things have changed but I don’t think the youngsters of today understand what things were like 40 or 50 years ago any more than I did when I were their age. We all like to think of the past as being better when we got so more for our money or managed to make ends meet with such a small amount.
    We should all consider the future for ourselves an our families and children as one day a child in a small village in Africa could become the surgeon who saves lives or the scientist that discovers the cure for the disease we suffer from. We need to help educate this child and in order to do he needs the books to help him learn.
    I totally support the books books for Buyijja campaign and would ask those reading this post to consider donating towards it.
    Any amount however small could make such a difference.


      Yes…this is WHY we do what we do. For all we know, the next Nelson Mandela or Desmond Tu Tu is being saved in the village of Buyijja….and frankly, I think it is important for them to see a helping hand coming from people who are not in uniform, or asking for something in return.

      Thanks for this post!!

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