Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Moment of Silence

There's a pun here, of course:

Wither

Whither

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Or both?

So the sad reality of the death of recreational bowling hit me the other day, as I was driving through Downtown Ballard for the first time in a year or so. Usually I sneak in the back way, but this time I was going straight into the yuppifying core of once Norwegian Ballard. And I saw, with tear filled eyes, that the Sunset Bowl was closed. Not merely closed, but surrounded by chain link fence, much in the way that corpses are covered in tasteful white sheets. She was dead, and soon to be disposed of.

A little research confirmed what I already knew -- bowling alleys are dying. First Leilani Lanes, then Ballard Bowl, and who is next? Just a few blocks from home, there is Edmonds' homey Robin Hood Lanes (complete with the Friar Tuck Inn cafe and bar!). Is it next? Will the new PCC market draw crowds to the bowling alley, or squish its stalwart regulars out? Will the new younger audience in Edmonds cease to find a trip to Moonlight Bowling or a regular league to their taste?

But more even than mourning the loss of a bowling alley, I have to ask, what do kids do these days? I grew up in a college town with few fun things to do in those heady pre-car days. We could ride our bikes down to the park (in summer) or the pool (in summer). We could go to the library (I hung with a nerdy crowd). Or we could go to the bowling alley and bowl and play pinball and video games. It was underneath the student union (the "MU") at U.C. Davis. A glorious space reached through a wide descending stairway of glitter flecked concrete. It smelled vaguely of wax and phenolic plastics, resonated with the clatter of crashing pins, the ringing of tilted pinball machines, and the sharp snap of a billiard break.

That was the late 1970's and early 1980's for you. Pac Man was still exciting. The Concorde had a future. The Space Shuttle and the Macintosh were anywhere between nonexistent and novel. Reagan was controversial.

Now I'll admit I may well have been there for the beginning of the end. Probably half of our trips to the bowling alley were sparked by a parent adminishing us to get outside, for crying out loud. So we'd pack up our Dungeons & Dragons books, put our character sheets back in their Trapper Keepers , and hop on our bannana seat Schwinns and ride down to the lanes to bowl a few frames.

Cranky college students (we didn't yet realize that they were hungover) would rent us our shoes and break our five dollar bills for quarters to pump into the video games.

Later, it was Stanford and a sign of the times. My freshman year marked the first time in decades that the university had not had a bowling alley on campus. Shortly before I arrived, the apparently miniscule and crappy bowling alley had been closed to make room for a student computer lab. I'm not sure if the student computer lab ever inhabited that space, but it never did while I was there. Instead there was a vague, empty place about which the administration and various student groups bickered in a desultory attempt to find a sufficiently politically correct fast food vendor who would accept the university's stringent lease terms.

So we bowled at a place known not by its own name, but for the large and shockingly red facade of a Thai restaurant behind which the bowling alley was located. There was no relationship, it was just one of those things. "Thai Bowl" offered a wonderful source of relaxation: Thirsty Thursdays. $5.00 admission (later raised to $10.00), after which shoe rentals, games, beers, hot dogs, and nachos were each only 25 cents. Believe me, I drank a lot of Keystone Light (really -- that's what they served for 25 cents!) and bowled a lot of frames there. Come to find out, my second game is my best. I'm tense during the first one. By the second, the beer's loosened me up. By the third, I'm getting sloppy.

258164700_31a51e18c4.jpgThis trend continued in Seattle, where I left the Sunset Bowl over the legal limit more than a few times (don't worry -- I lived in Ballard and it was a long, sobering but walkable trip back to my apartment). We'd end up there, a bunch of us from Amazon, having such important events as departmental offsites. Really. If you knew how much of that company's early growth was fueled not by venture capitol and Bezos' charisma but rather by vast amounts of alcohol, you'd probably rethink that whole "Man of the Year" thing...

But now Sunset is gone. I miss it -- though I wasn't frequenting it these past few years. But I spent my 35th birthday at Robin Hood Lanes. Drinking whiskies and eating burgers from the Friar Tuck Inn (I'm not kidding about that name) and having an odd retro-bowling experience with a few of my friends. A few weeks ago I was at The Garage up on Capitol Hill. Billiards, drinks, and a scene. And, it turns out, bowling. Yes, drunken bowling is no longer ghetto but now cool. It is part of a scene. So part of me has relaxed, knowing that a part of my life will continue. I can bowl again. Twenty (and occasionally thirty) somethings still do this!

Fine, but very 21-and-over. Which raises a new question. What do the kids do these days? We played Dungeons and Dragons and swam and bowled. So when today's youth is done playing Dungeons and Dragons, what do they do? Ok, for starters, I think that D&D is much more of a niche market these days. But really? Do they hang out at the mall (we had no mall)? Do they play X-Box (we had Ataris!)? What the hell do they do? No wonder there is an epidemic of various youthful bad things, they've lost bowling! jpeg.jpg

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