Colorful Kegling

Russell was in town for the weekend, and at his request on Sunday we went bowling at the HP (for “high performance”) Lanes Bowling Center off Cleveland Avenue.  Knocking down the pins was fun, as always, but our little taste of modern bowling made me realize how dramatically the bowling experience has changed since I was a kid.

Our bowling alley in those days in the ’60s was the legendary Riviera Lanes in Akron, Ohio. It was a place for people who were serious about bowling.  The bowling balls were all black — the only nod to color appeared on the 6-pound balls for little kids, which had red and blue triangles on them — and the only noise was the balls rolling down the alley and scattering the pins.  To complete the somewhat somber, focused atmosphere, against one wall there was a huge photograph of President Nixon, with an intense look on his face as he began his approach to the foul line, bearing the title “Our Bowling President.”  It helped to lock in the belief of most of the keglers that bowling was the all-American sport.

HP Lanes is . . . different.  For one thing, the “house balls” are as colorful as Easter eggs.  The area above the pins is a riotous, Mardi Gras-like study in pastels, and there was rock music playing at a pretty healthy volume.  There wasn’t any photo of a bowling president around, either.  The only link to the bowling days of yore was the color of the lanes, the ball delivery system, and the American flag.

Mixed Messages

Yesterday we went bowling at Russell’s suggestion — which turned out to be a good thing because it caused us to miss the Ohio State debacle.  

But I was struck by the mixed messages we got as part of the kegling experience.  Outside, the sign says bowling is fun, fun, fun!  Inside, the screen above the lane presents a grim warning about the dangers and risks of bowling and sternly advising us that by proceeding we were accepting the “conditions of play.”  I’m surprised we weren’t required to sign a waiver and release form, too.

The disclosures made me chuckle, because I’ve been bowling for about 55 years now and I’ve never seen anything close to an injury.  It’s a sport where people who may be complete novices put on strange shoes, hurl heavy balls down slippery surfaces, and frequently drink a pitcher of beer while doing so.  What could go wrong?  But I’ve never seen anything worse than a pratfall.  I agree with the outdoor sign — bowling is fun.

Beer King

IMG_0589Tonight we had a firm event at a bowling alley.  It was fun, but I noticed a number of the people in our group daintily sipping wine.

Wine?  Seriously?  At a bowling alley?  That’s like wearing black patent leather shoes with a brown suit, or using a cigarette holder to stay away from some unbrand smokes.  No, I’m sorry . . . bowling mandates a few beers.  That’s what I had, and it made me feel like the Bavarian beer monarch — I think it might be Gambrinus — who graces one of the streets of the nearby Brewery District in Columbus.  Even in America, with its rich tradition of monarchial opposition, could get behind a rosy-nosed king with a stern yet approving look on his face and a goblet of suds in his hand.

Bowling and beer go together, like mashed potatoes and gravy or grilled cheese and tomato soup.

July 4 Kegling

IMG_6111What could be more patriotic than a little bowling on Independence Day?

Grandpa Neal would be proud.  It turns out that Russell is really starting to enjoy bowling with his friends up in the Motor City, so when he came for a visit this weekend he wanted to roll a few frames with Kish and me.  Yesterday afternoon we went down South High Street to Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl.  It was largely deserted, but we had fun and there was red, white, and blue to be found in the riotous colors that were everywhere we looked.  It was a useful reminder that you never want to have your home decorated by the same person who also has devised the color scheme at a bowling alley.

It was the first time I’ve been bowling in a year and a half, and in my first game I had my worst game in decades — a 104.  I’m happy to report, though, that I righted the ship and followed it up with a 155 and then a snappy 209.

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The Fireballs And Their Trophy

When I was a kid UJ and I bowled in a youth league at Riviera Lanes in Akron, Ohio. It was a 16-team league of 12 and 13-year-old boys. Our team was called the Fireballs, which we thought was a pretty cool name. It was a more innocent time then, and we were oblivious to the connotations that more mature people might assign to our team’s moniker.

It was a handicap league that bowled on Saturday mornings during the school year. Every week you bowled a three-game set against another team and earned points for each team victory in each game. It was fun, but we were, at bottom, competitive adolescent boys who really wanted to win. We would follow our team in the standings and watch our individual handicaps move up and down based on each week’s performance.

To our mild surprise, our team was pretty good. We weren’t the best team by a long shot, but we soon were among the top five teams in the league and we stayed there as the season wore on. Winning a trophy at the end of the season became a realistic possibility. In those days, trophies weren’t simply handed out to every participant. You had to earn them, and in our league only the top three teams got one. Ending up in at least third place became our goal.

Finally, we got to the match that would decide whether we would get that coveted trophy. I felt pressure like I’d never felt it before — not in a spelling bee, not in a school play, not messing around playing baseball in our neighborhood. A real trophy was on the line! And bowlers are up there all by themselves, with no referees or teammates to blame. I remember standing in the approach area, hoping desperately that I wouldn’t throw a gutter ball, miss an easy spare, or trip and do a humiliating face plant. We all felt that pressure, yet we were somehow able to get up there, win the match, and finish in third place.

It made us feel good about ourselves, and when we received our trophies — small pedestals less than a foot high, with a gold bowler on top and a third-place plaque at the bottom — it was sweet. I took it home and put it in a prominent place on the dresser in the room UJ and I shared.

Grandpa’s Bowling Team

IMG_3667I ran across this classic photo recently and had to share it.  It’s a picture of Grandpa Neal’s bowling team, circa the mid-1920s.  That’s him in the middle of the back row — the slender, square-jawed fellow who still had some hair to part.

A pretty somber bunch, aren’t they, with their little bow ties, and long-sleeved, buttoned-up white shirts, and carefully shined shoes?  I doubt if they ever called a beer frame or engaged in any horseplay that might detract from their ability to pick up the ten pin.  Bowling was serious business in those days, when Akron was one of the centers of the bowling universe and dozens of teams competed for bragging rights in the Akron Masonic League.

Grandpa Neal loved bowling, and he participated in the Akron Masonic League for more than 60 years, until well into his 90s.

Disturbing Bowling Alley Artwork

IMG_3408Don’t get me wrong — I love bowling.  I’ve bowled for as long as I can remember, starting when UJ and I, as kids, bowled with Grandma and Grandpa Neal.  I like bowling alleys and bowlers, too.

Still, there was something vaguely disturbing about this bit of bowling alley wall art found in the locker area at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl.  It’s not exactly calculated to dispel the common myths about kegling and encourage occasional bowlers to become regulars.