Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bowling for Memories

Before HDTVs, multiplex cinemas, and smart phones, there was bowling. In the 1950s, bowling was really coming on strong, although they peaked in the 1960s, with about 14,000 across the country. They even televised early bowling matches with pro-legends like Carmen Salvino and Dick Weber. Bowling was popular because it didn't require any special equipment, was relatively cheap, and something families could do together. It was also a popular activity for first dates. The rapid growth of television put a lot of neighborhood movie theaters out of business, and in their places sprang up bowling alleys. Our alley of choice was Lucky Strike Lanes on Atlantic Avenue and Crescent Street.

Lucky Strike was an older bowling alley that looked run down compared to the newer, modern alleys being built. It was so old that for a while they had lanes set aside for Duckpins, a form of bowling that uses smaller pins and a smaller ball. This was the game that Rip Van Winkle is reputed to have invented, and I wouldn't be surprised if Rip rolled a few games at Lucky Strike. When we first started bowling there, they still had pin boys who would climb up on a ledge behind the bowling pins and manually reset the pins after each frame. Most of them were not boys but hard drinking men who probably couldn't get any other work.

Lucky Strike had a snack stand and a bar that sold beer and soft drinks. I think beers were fifteen cents a glass, and every few frames someone would holler out "beer frame", and whoever had the worst score that frame was shamed into buying the next round. You would think that, understandably, after a few beery games like this, that scores would begin to decline. The lanes were so old though, that after tens of thousands of heavy balls rolling toward the pocket, there was an indentation worn into the wood such that any ball drunkenly flung down the alley would settle into this groove and voilĂ , a strike.

At some point we formed a team and even got a sponsor, a neighborhood Hoffman soda distributor. Our team shirts were a cream color with the sponsors name written in green letters on the back. (Yes, that's me at left at around age 16, before my back gave out.) We couldn't afford to buy our own custom-drilled balls so we had to use whatever house balls were on the racks. It was a bummer if you got there and somebody had already claimed your ball. Eventually I found a ladies' ball that fit me pretty well, and I could always be sure of finding it since it was a lovely lavender color. We rented shoes for fifteen cents; no extra charge for the fungus. We had a couple of good bowlers, but most of the teams in the league were comprised of older men who bowled us under the table.

When the nicer lanes appeared, sadly, Lucky Strike closed its doors. Guys wanted to take their girls to the gleaming chrome and neon palaces opening in Brooklyn like Maple Lanes on 60th Street and Gil Hodges Lanes in Mill Basin. Games were only a quarter back then, so for around five bucks you and your date were good to go for a night of entertainment including bowling and food. We would often go with groups of guys, and sometimes a few girls would join in. It allowed us to mingle with the opposite sex without the pressure of going on a "date".

My granddaughter likes to bowl, and the alleys today are great with kids. They have ramps to roll the balls down so they have enough speed to make it to the pins. They also use bumpers near the gutters so kids don't throw gutter balls. They are fabulous places with indirect lighting, full restaurants, automated, electronic scoring, and not a pin boy in sight.


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Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Funny, one of my first dates with a young lady was bowling! Then when I got into it, it was the last thing I wanted to do on a date. Of course as a Married man, I don't go out that much anymore, but MY back still does!

Jim Pantaleno said...

Bada bing bing.