We all had our different ways of celebrating National Bowling Week. I'm not here to judge yours. I'm sure it was appropriate. But I feel reasonably confident that my chosen method of celebration--the one-day, five-borough bowling tour--was pretty unique. I'm sure there are other adjectives that could replace unique there, but this is my blog. Feel free to use whatever adjective you like on your blog.
My original plan was to celebrate by bowling in a different alley each night of National Bowling Week. Then I realized that it would probably be wiser to focus on doing the freelance job I had so I could have money to take with me on my trip to San Francisco at the end of the month (no bowling planned, but I'm not ruling it out). So bowling had to take a backseat as I deftly navigated my way through a thrilling page turner about the skills of high-performing employees.
Then I hatched my plan to bowl in each of the five boroughs of New York City on the last day of National Bowling Week. That day was dubbed World Record Day by the organizers of National Bowling Week, and the idea was to set the world record (pretty sure there isn't one) of games bowled in a day across America. And they were even giving people a coupon for a free game at their local bowling center. Really, though, what's the fun in bowling just one game? Wouldn't it be way more fun to take your bowling ball and shoes on public transportation all across New York City and bowl ten games in five different alleys?
These are rhetorical questions. Please don't answer them.
My strategy was to start with the most time-consuming leg of the journey, which meant that Stop #1 on the tour was going to be bringing it all back home to Staten Island. I wanted to bowl in alleys where I'd never been for the tour, but I cannot do that on Staten Island and probably will never be able to, as I don't imagine any new bowling alleys will be built on the island of my birth anytime soon. As it is, there are only two remaining lanes on Staten Island: the ones at the former Showplace Entertainment Center (where I spent many a teenage night either at the lanes, at the movies, or at Showtime Pizza) and Rab's Country Lanes (the site of a few Saturday-night contests with Paul Marcello, my best friend in high school). There were several more around when I was younger, but those days are long gone, and the people of Staten Island aren't bowling like they used to.
This is as good a time as any to pour one out for those alleys no longer with us. So, let's do it:
*Victory Lanes (my all-time favorite bowling alley)
*Columbian Lyceum Bowling Lanes (where my mom bowled in a league, and where I bowled in my only nonschool league, briefly, as a youngster...I can still smell the place)
*Sunset Lanes (speaking of smells, though I'm not sure I ever actually bowled there, the stench of the grease-covered grill of the snack bar as I watched my aunt and uncle bowl still lingers)
*Rab's Bowling on the Green (where I bowled in high-school intramurals...we won a trophy one year, but I gave it back because someone on my team messed up the scoring in the pre-computer era)
*Colonial Lanes (also not sure I ever bowled there, but I did go to a wrestling convention in the bar area, where I met Jason Hervey from "The Wonder Years," who was dating Missy Hyatt at the time)
And in the non-Staten Island division:
*Ten Pin Lanes, Windham, NY (where my first bowling ball started coming back with chunks missing one day)
*Ide's, Ithaca, NY (site of many epic battles with Ithacan Sports Editor Jeffrey W. "Big Daddy" Kane and the legendary Ithacan Brave Attempt at Building Staff Unity Night)
Anyway, back to the living. Rab's Country Lanes is located on Hylan Boulevard, a few short blocks from the Dongan Hills stop on the Staten Island Railway line, so it made for a more convenient start for the trip than Showplace. Plus, its proximity to good pizza (Il Pomodoro, with the nonslice Goodfellas also nearby) was a bonus.
Rab's was also running a buy one game, get one free special, which fit into my plans perfectly. Though I suppose it would've been a better use of time to just bowl one game at each place, I find it almost impossible to just bowl one game. One game is just a warm-up; I need at least two (preferably more, but I had a rock show to get to at night) to be happy. And, true to form, at each place I bowled, I scored higher in the second game than in the first.
I threw my first ball of the day precisely at the stroke of noon, and the first game started off pretty well. Then I started tanking hard in the middle and ended up with a slightly embarrassing 124. Still, I met two of of my goals: (1) not to bowl below a 100 on the day and (2) to beat the 60-year-old woman bowling a few lanes to my right. It was touch and go in the first game, as she rallied late, but I ran away with it in the second game, where I finished with a 155. The second game also brought the first highlight of the day: a split conversion (I think it was a 5-7, which isn't super-hard, but, hey, it's super-hard for me). Unfortunately, I had no one to share my glee with, or, really any witnesses at all. But I saw it.
After stopping for a Sicilian slice at Il Pomodoro, it was back on the train to the ferry for my next stop. I was debating where I should head next, when I realized, while on the ferry, that there was really only one subway stop appropriate for the journey.
So it was on the 4 train to the Bronx, where I would roll a few at Ball Park Lanes, in the shadows of Yankee Stadium (or, for a little while longer at least, Yankee Stadiums). I'd always wanted to bowl there, but its proximity to the Yankees' park and, more to the point, Yankee fans, kept me away. With the Yankees out of town, though, it was the perfect time for my initial Bronx bowling experience.
I might place Ball Park Lanes at the top of the list for the day. First of all, it's a two-floor alley, which I'm always partial to. Second, it's maintained the old-school bowling-alley feel, with very few concessions to modernity. And, lastly, they have a giant signed picture of Urkel-esque PBA champion George Branham III behind the counter.
I was my most consistent at Ball Park, throwing a 147 in the first game and a 154 in the second. Ball Park was also the only place where I bowled next to a guy identified as Vicious on the automated scoring system. Vicious and Jerry G were in their last game when I arrived just before 3, and there was much entertaining banter between them, as well as the guy a few lanes down who lamented that he has to get his bowling in now, because where he's going (Myrtle Beach), the closest alley is 45 minutes away.
Vicious was upset that Ball Park was not honoring his World Record Day coupon (I was saving mine for one of the more expensive stops on the tour), and declared his intentions to write to the ABC (American Bowling Congress, for you non-keglers out there, and that's non-bowlers for all you people who don't know what a kegler is out there) to express his disappointment with the Ball Park staff. I thought about joining in on the conversation and explaining my quest for the day, but I needed to keep my socializing in check if I wanted to reach my goal. So it was back on the train--this time the D--for the quickest turnaround of the day.
I don't particularly like any of the bowling alleys I've been to in Manhattan, so it seemed like a good idea to stick with the plan of going places I've never been. And with Harlem Lanes only a few stops from 161st St., it was a no-brainer. I'd heard that Harlem Lanes was a lot like Bowlmor (not a particularly ringing endorsement), but I figured I'd give it a shot. Plus, I'd never actually set foot in Harlem, which I'd always been slightly ashamed of, so it gave me the chance to at least walk past the Apollo.
And then, it was onward to the Lanes, which are right above the Alhambra Ballroom. Harlem Lanes is indeed very Bowlmor-esque, which means slightly trendy and very expensive. So it seemed like a good time to use my free-game coupon (I suppose I could've been a jerk and used one at every alley--there was a disclaimer of one coupon per customer, but there was no way of policing that--but is that any way to salute the sport of bowling?). The coupon said it was up to a $6 value, so I was prepared to pay the difference, but the manager just gave me the free game, which was nice. Still, at $8.50, it cost me only 50 cents less for one game at Harlem than it did for two at Ball Park.
With a short approach and a very cramped bowling area, I was nervous that my game would suffer. But I threw a strike on my first ball (right around 4 p.m.), after which one of the teenage-ish girls next to me, bowling with bumpers (for shame, young ladies), looked back with her eyes wide open. Unfortunately, my game went downhill after that, and I ended up with a 137. I caught fire in the second game, though (and saw the day's first dropping of the ball on the backswing from one of the girls next to me), and wound up with the best game of the day so far, a 170. My fears of bad bowling at Harlem Lanes were unnecessary.
Then, after taking the 2 train downtown, there was a pause for churching.
With God now firmly on my side, it was time to make a decision: Brooklyn or Queens? I was going to have to backtrack across one or the other, which was unfortunate for travel purposes, but there was really no way to avoid that. After some hemming and a little bit of hawing, I went with Brooklyn and hopped on the N train.
Maple Lanes is a few blocks away from the New Utrecht stop on the N, and though I wasn't sure if I'd been there before (I remembered bowling somewhere in Brooklyn, but couldn't recall if it was Maple or Melody), a few minutes outside confirmed that I would indeed be bowling in a new alley. Exciting! And the old-school look on the outside had me further excited.
It was a big alley with lanes on both sides of the building. I was given the option of bowling on the lit side or the Cosmic Bowling side. Looking for something new and preparing for what I assumed would be more Cosmicity at my last stop, I went with the Cosmic side, resulting in my first ever time Cosmic Bowling with absolutely no one else on the lanes.
And I'm thankful there was no one around to see my first game, as it was pretty rough. But you know how it is when you haven't bowled for awhile. After all, it had been almost three hours since I'd thrown my last ball at Harlem. The rust (and increasing thumb and wrist pain) showed, and I wound up with the day's low score, a 121. I knew that there was only one way out of the rut. And that way led directly to the snack bar.
Maple Lanes had the best-looking snack bar (technically, the Maple Lanes Coffee Shop) of the day, so I'm glad I waited until Brooklyn for my first fries (I had also toyed with the idea of getting fries at every snack bar, but then saw the headlines "Area Man Dies of Heart Attack While on Five-Borough Bowling Tour" and decided against it). The waitress and cook still wear paper hats, you can get a bottle of black cherry soda, and the fries are solid. (Paper) hats off to the Maple Lanes Coffee Shop.
The Magic of French Fries prevailed in Game 2, as I bested my Harlem Lanes high, finishing with a 175, giving me the spiritual boost to finish up the journey with a long subway ride (first transfer of the day, the N to the F) into the mysterious borough of Queens.
Because I have no sense of where anything in Queens is, I invariably end up getting lost whenever I'm there. And that's not good when you've been on the go since about 10:30 in the morning, carrying a bag with a bowling ball and shoes on your shoulders across the length of New York City. So, as I gamely tried to figure out west from east and north from south, and came up wrong several times, I began to fear that the five-borough bowling trip would meet a bad, untimely end (or at least that I would not make it back to Manhattan for the Yayhoos show at 11 p.m.). But I regrouped, got my bearings, and, after spending some time wondering why Queens doesn't abandon its stupid 69th Street/69th Road block system in favor of, say, naming streets after former Mets (wouldn't it be much more enjoyable to tell someone you live between 69th Street and Rafael Santana Road?), I finally arrived at my final destination--the 34th Avenue Lanes--at a little after 9:30.
I was so exhausted by the time I made it to Queens (the mix of Cosmic Bowling and general lethargy blinded me to the fact that there were bumpers on my lane for my first throw) that I didn't take many photos of 34th Avenue Lanes, though there wasn't really anything particularly extraordinary to capture. It was a solid, big alley, with one, non-Cosmic area seemingly devoted to a league and other pretty empty. There was a group of people a few lanes to my left, and they seemed to be confused as to why I was bowling alone in Queens at 9:45 on a Saturday night and why I was occasionally taking pictures. Again, the thought crossed my mind to share tales of my daylong quest, but the combination of the fact that I didn't think I was smelling all that fresh and the belief that they would be decidedly unimpressed kept me silent.
The first game started off pretty disastrous (open frames in four out of the first five), but a double in the 10th made things respectable, leaving me with a 137. Knowing that I had now officially bowled in all five boroughs in just under 10 hours, I was able to loosen up in the last game of the day. I came out strong but then blew it in the 5th, missing the head pin on my first shot. I regrouped, though, stringing together some spares (including another, much easier split) and setting up the high drama of the 10th. I needed a strike on the first ball to have a chance at getting the high game of the day. Done. Another strike would give me the high game. No! One pin standing. If I miss it, I tie the day's high score. If I get it, High Game of the Day. At 10:03 p.m., the last ball was thrown.
Was there any doubt?
Amazingly, I got back to the subway station without any trouble, hopped on the F, got to the Mercury Lounge at 10:45 p.m., and finished the day with a gloriously sloppy and fun rock show by the Yayhoos. Hail! Hail! Rock and Bowl!
Oh yeah, and then I got three hours' sleep, hopped on a train to Philadelphia, had brunch with my friends and their kid, went up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, went to a rock show that lasted almost nine hours, went back home on a 2 a.m. Greyhound, and got into my apartment a shade before 5 a.m.
But that's another story.