Bowling For Summer

Teenage rites of passage, every town/city has one or more places where the kids hang out.  Places like Pop’s Diner in the Archie comics, or Arnold’s, on Happy Days.  Places to go to talk, to hang out, to learn social skills, contention, co-operation and independence.  My little home town had a couple of them as I grew up.  Owners and ambience of a couple of restaurants in town changed.  The kids used to hang out over there, but now hung out over here.

One of the nicest, and yet strangest places, where I invested ten years or more of my life, was the beach bowling alley.  I’m still doing research to see who owned it, and/or the land it stood on.  Only open for a couple of months a year, a lot of youngsters, both native and tourist, had fun and grew up in this establishment.

It was located about two miles from the main street, and sat even with beachfront cottages, but where a small point put the water more than a block away.  Did the town build it?  Was the property owned by the town, the province or the Feds?  I was born in 1944, and it was built in 1951, when I was seven.  It wasn’t much later that I ran free and discovered it.  I was perhaps nine or ten.

It was open on weekends from the 24th of May till the first of July, then seven days a week till Labor Day.  I didn’t know that there was a seasonality to insurance, but a local insurance agent and his wife ran it.  They had a daughter, and five years later, a son, both of whom learned to work with/for their parents.

They all lived in a tiny apartment above the snack bar.  You didn’t dare leave the place unattended.  The building itself had a square concrete pad as the floor at the front, ten lanes wide.  The rest of the building was constructed of wood, and none too tightly.  You could see openings between the lapstrake siding strips.

It had screened *window* openings with flap-down shutters which were closed and bolted overnight, and over the winter.  It had double, screened batwing *saloon* doors.  These screens kept out the worst of the insects, but were useless, because of the snack bar at the front.  Nothing fancy, they served hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries by the ton, bottled pop, milk shakes and ice cream cones.  To get the most of walk-by trade, there were non-screened windows at the front where they could deliver food outside.

The bowling lanes were up two steps, and sat on wooden pylons driven into the sand.  These were Canadian, five-pin bowling lanes, a surprise and treat for American tourists.  The five-pin balls are so small that even children easily learned to bowl.  Every day, the lanes and approaches were mopped for sand.  No bowling shoes were supplied, or required.  Bowl in running shoes, flip-flops or bare feet.

Ten-pin sets were available on two lanes, for those who insisted, but the games cost more.  No mechanical pinsetters back then. The place employed pinboys, who did it manually.  I never applied for the job, because it tied you down from 11 AM opening till 1 AM closing.  What I did was show up whenever I had some spare time, but no spare change.  I would make it known that I was available for a limited time to replace anyone who wished to go for a swim or visit his girlfriend.  I could get an hour or two of cash-paid work, then get on with my day.

There was a foot-operated treadle system which raised steel pins to locate the wooden ones, but that was awkward, and actually slowed the job down.  If you could set the pins really quickly, sometimes you got a tip on top of the standard pay.  Hazards involved with the job were errant balls.  Sometimes you would jump down into the pit after someone had thrown three balls, only to find a bowler who, (usually, but not always male) angered at missing a pin, would grab another ball and whip it down the lane.

The same kind of thing could happen with drunks who were obnoxious, or just couldn’t count, as well as muscle-bound jocks, trying to impress their buddies or girlfriends.  The No Lofting rule was often ignored.  I set pins for one guy who bounced the ball and smashed the light above the pins.  I had another who whipped the ball so hard it touched nothing.  It sailed past my head and went out the open window behind me.  I had to climb down the back of the building and locate it in a sand dune.

In the open centre of the floor, with its back to a steel support pillar, between a row of six or seven pinball machines, and the L-shaped diner counter, sat a jukebox.  The money the proprietor must have realized from those coin-slurpers!  The pinball machines got the occasional rest, but the jukebox was never quiet.  The guys came to meet girls, and the girls came to show off to the boys.  Somebody from one of the sexes was always feeding the music machine.

One summer, when I was about 16, there were two girls who liked to show up and dance.  Jeff Foxworthy claimed that any female who wouldn’t dance with a drunken redneck was “stuck up.”  These two would have nothing to do with any guy, townie or tourist, handsome or ugly.  They just plugged dimes into the jukebox and danced with each other, non-touching, of course.  Whether justified or not, they were soon labeled as dykes.  They came in one evening and put on their usual revue, and the audience, females as well as males, tossed pennies on the floor near them.  They left without retrieving the coins, and never came back.

Ah, the halcyon days of youth and summers.  I resent having to grow up.