An Ode to Shitty Bowling Alleys

There’s just something about them.

I love the shitty bowling alley. The yellow, often fluorescent lighting, the sounds of yipping children and cursing men tangled in the satisfying rumble of falling pins, the mechanical hum of the machines. It’s one of those few things that feels fully American without feeling awful.

When I say “shitty” bowling alleys, I don’t mean that as a pejorative. I mean no frills. Fountain sodas and microwave concessions, maybe a bar with cheap draft beers, some nachos, an arcade shoved into a corner. The fanciest I’ll let slide is a neon and black-light lighting rig for cosmic bowling on the weekends. Maybe a new sound system.

I want to bowl in a comfortable, deteriorating setting, with no highfalutin ideas about itself. 

The new, “adult” bowling alleys are fine. They’re good for dates, parties, trying to bring someone home when an outdoor mall is the biggest attraction in your town. That’s why you go to Lucky Strike. But what I love about the old ones is their simplicity. I want to bowl in a comfortable, deteriorating setting, with no highfalutin ideas about itself. And I want to feel alone, but part of the building. Together but separated, by our lanes. When you go to somewhere like Highland Park Bowl or Brooklyn Bowl, there’s gonna be hot people. I’m not trying to look at any hot people when I’m throwing rocks. I’m looking at the lane, brother. Hot people can fuck off right now.

The old, frayed-lace shoes have a history you can feel. Maybe a history of bacteria and horrid scents, sure. If that kind of thing bothers you, I doubt you’d wander into any bowling alley like this in the first place. The chipped, abandoned balls that once belonged to Kimberly, Big Hoss, and Delvin K., are now house balls for amateurs to pry their fingers in looking for a fit. It’s a big, colorful mess, and I love it.

I like to get stoned in the parking lot and then take a lane to myself. I order a tallboy and put my shoes on. I like to look at the old, craggy faced men who bowling once meant something to. They limp around lazily cracking 200 a game, angry about something they can’t remember. They’re lane lizards, and they’re solid gems. Even if they laugh at my form, snarl at my weak wrists. That’s their thing, and I love them for it.

Here’s to the shitty bowling alley, with those shoddily animated videos when you get a strike or a spare, or the mean, wound-salting ones for when you MISS a strike or a spare. So salty, bowling alley television display! Here’s to the smelly shoes and the symphony of noise, the running middle schoolers and the hairsprayed beehives. Here’s to the heritage Midwest alleys existing in stranglehold small towns where you can still smoke. I’m glad these places exist, and I’ll cherish them until they’re gone, which, just like all good things, eventually will be.

Thanks to Kindland.

Alan Hanson Author
California son Alan Hanson is a writer living in Los Angeles.
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