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God’s Country – Part Three

June 19, 2008

After we returned from the park refreshed and rejuvenated, we had dinner and the kids and I headed off to the local bowling alley. Like the city park, the bowling alley is an altogether different experience than one we would have if we were at home. It has only six lanes and one young, very helpful, amazingly polite, teenage girl working the counter. I thought she was a patron when we first walked in. In fact, I wasn’t sure the place was even open.

Ours was the only car in the parking lot, which really wasn’t a parking lot at all, but a short, dusty, gravel strip just in front of the building, with no defined spaces or even a curb, that left the car sticking out into the road a bit beyond my comfort zone. As I got out and reminded the kids to lock their doors (no automatic locks in my car, unfortunately), they laughed and Velma snickered, “Lock it for who? There’s nobody around!”

When we walked in the door, one lane was in use, by the aforementioned young girl and a friend of hers, and there was no one in sight to hand out shoes or take our money. She turned slightly, saw us standing at the counter, probably looking a little lost, and made a beeline in our direction. Her voice was friendly and lilting as she welcomed us and asked our shoe sizes. She gathered the shoes from behind the counter, and I had a moment where I was sure the giggles welling up inside of me would come right out.

The shoes were all different, every single pair–not like the bowling shoes I’m used to. A couple were solid white, with white laces, and looked almost like tennis shoes. My pair were tan with blue stripes, like I’m used to, but had velcro instead of laces. And up above the counter was a sign, hastily scrawled in blue marker, that detailed all of the culinary delights to be had here. Nachos with cheese, $1.25. Super Ropes, $0.75. Soda Pop, $1.00. And a slice of Totino’s Party Pizza, in tonight’s flavor of Combination, $1.50.

Nowhere in sight was the neon lighting or the disco ball that keeps the lanes awash with swirling color at our bowling alley at home. No loud carpeting with cartoonish bowling balls and pins in all shapes and sizes. No large bank of garishly bright blue lockers. No walls and walls of bowling paraphernalia for sale. No game room with pinball machines and Dance, Dance Revolution operating at maximum decibel levels. No army of sullen teenagers, pants hanging down around their ankles, piercings in every possible spot, looking put upon at every opportunity.

In fact, there was nothing on the walls except a couple of posters announcing recent bowling events around the country, and an interesting assortment of trophies. Also conspicuously absent was the heavy smell of smoke, rising from the carpet, seeping from the walls, and dripping from the ceiling, that still permeates the bowling alley we frequent despite the fact that it’s been a non-smoking establishment now for several years.

There was no music, just the sound of the ball rolling and the pins falling, that satisfying SMACK and SNAP as the ball meets its target. The snack machine was still the type the kids thought was antiquated, one that only accepts coins–no bill changer or credit card slot–and it was full of candy bars in all shapes and sizes. No Cheetos or Lays or Sun Chips. No Twinkies or Planters Peanuts or Trail Mix. All chocolate. My kind of place.

I dug in my purse for my debit card, and she smiled at me with a smile that said, “You are clearly not from here.”

“You pay at the end,” she said, “and I don’t have a credit card machine, just cash.” I nodded, feeling sheepish, and put my debit card away.

We spent a few minutes finding bowling balls that fit us and weren’t too heavy, and then we went to our designated lane, lane number six. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they did have a computerized scorekeeping system, and the lanes looked very new, wooden planks freshly polished and gleaming. I typed our names in, and we began.

Our first several rounds were dismal, so dismal in fact that the polite young gal stole quietly over to our side of the alley and gently offered to move us to the side with bumpers. At first I resisted, but the kids begged and pleaded until I finally gave in. We moved to the side with bumpers and spent the rest of the game laughing at the sheer number of times a single throw could bounce off of the bumper sides; at our ability to throw a ball that could miss the bumpers entirely and still land in the gutter at the very last second; and at the odds of throwing a ball that hit each bumper at least twice and only knocked down one pin.

Halfway through game number two, people started to arrive. First came the aforementioned army of teenagers, only they weren’t sullen at all… and they weren’t really an army. Maybe ten of them total. They were freshly scrubbed, polite and respectful, tastefully dressed, there to have a good time. And they actually bowled! Shortly thereafter a couple of families arrived, one with young children, and one with tweens.

They waited patiently as we finished up our game, changed back into our street shoes, and went to the counter to pay. There I got the best surprise of all. The tab was exactly twenty-three dollars and thirteen cents… for four of us! For two full games! And for shoes! It would have easily been over $50 at home.

We walked out into the cool evening air just after nine, happy voices, laughter, rumble of the ball on the lane, and the crash of the pins following us out the door, propped open with a rusted coffee can full of sand, to let the air circulate. There was still some sunlight left, though it was fading quickly behind the mountains. As we piled into the car, backed out, and headed back to my Grandad’s house, we were all smiling. There was no conversation, just contented silence and I contemplated leaving city life behind. The slower pace, the clean air, the friendly atmosphere…

This was the kind of burg where I could spend a lifetime.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2008 6:54 am

    Wow – what a wonderful couple of posts on your vacation. It sounds lovely and you’ve described it so I’m just right there with you. I wish I could be actually.

  2. Rose Ridgley permalink
    June 19, 2008 7:47 am

    Takes me back to when I used to visit my grandmother in the country of PA. She lived smack dab in Amish country… I miss the smells and the sounds of the country… I am glad your kids get that chance to experience all of this!

  3. June 19, 2008 9:11 am

    “This was the kind of burg where I could spend a lifetime.”

    Me, too. It beats the heck out of Phoenix!

  4. June 19, 2008 5:58 pm

    It also explains why your Grandfather lives there. A slower pace, beautiful country and nice people…sounds like heaven…Great writing! Your description of everything takes us with you and I feel like I have had a wonderful vacation…thanks, I truly need one…

  5. June 20, 2008 5:55 am

    Okay, this Really reminds me of my previous home in Arizona…the bowling alley too! The donut shop where mom and dad would go and have coffee and see their friends…the no name grocery store…the sawmill in the middle of town that blew its horn at Noon sharp so that my dad knew to come in for lunch from his retirement-minded putsing around. Nice memories…

  6. June 20, 2008 6:59 pm

    Stephanie!! Listen to you. A few days away and you are Garrison Keillor. GREAT writing!!

  7. Tulip Girl permalink
    June 23, 2008 5:34 am

    Your words take us there…however you may not spend a lifetime there…you MUST stay in this city so that we can keep each other sane.

  8. Noni permalink
    June 23, 2008 7:55 pm

    Stephanie, God’s Country-parts one to three surely describe the land of my youth…great job! It was a wonderful vacation for all of us.

  9. June 27, 2008 6:57 am

    Hey, there’s no shame in bumpers šŸ™‚ I pride myself in consecutive gutter balls! I believe it’s a sign of character and genius to not be able to toss a bowling ball straight…at least that’s what I tell myself.


  1. God’s Country - Part Four « In this house, I’m the Mama…

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