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.

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Off The Griddle

IMG_6174The griddle is a pretty amazing invention, when you think about it.  Virtually everything worth eating can be cooked on a griddle — from eggs to burgers to hash browns to grilled cheese sandwiches.  When you’re done with one effort, you just scrape the griddle clean, towel it off as the steam rises, and then move on to the next dish.  And, in any true diner, customers get to sit at the counter and watch the griddlemaster working his magic.

Kish and I had heard that you can find that true diner experience at the German Village Coffee Shop, so yesterday we walked down to Thurman Avenue to check it out.  I’m pleased to report that the word-of-mouth is right on the money.  From the paper placemats touting tourist stops in New York City (of all places), to the piping hot mugs of coffee, to the savory sounds of all kinds of food cooking on the griddle, the GVCS has it all.  We grabbed seats at the counter to take it all in.

IMG_6169It was about 12:30 p.m. and we hadn’t eaten yet, so . . . what to get?  I’ve long had a passion for burgers cooked on a griddle, ever since Grandma and Grandpa Neal took UJ and me bowling at Riviera Lanes in Akron on Saturdays, and we would end our visit with cheeseburgers and crinkle-cut fries from Riviera’s in-house diner.  Griddle-cooked burgers have a wonderful taste and finish that you just can’t get with a grilled version.

But yesterday I resisted the burger temptation when I saw that the Coffee Shop had a corned beef hash special, because corned beef hash also is better cooked on a griddle.  Hash and pancakes sounded good.  Boy, was it ever!  The corned beef hash was delicious, and the pancakes were larger than a man’s head, with that perfect golden griddle crust.  I polished off the hash, slathered the pancakes in butter and syrup, relished every bite, and did my best — but standard stack of three was more than I could finish.

As we left, I thought that Grandma Neal would have said that my eyes were bigger than my stomach.  But my stomach was happy, anyway.

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.