Bowling Alley Etiquette

I’ve never really thought about it before, but you can tell alot about a person by how they behave in a bowling center.  They often have alcohol available to them, they often meet up with friends for some frames and fun.  But in this lies a lot of information about a person. 

I recently quit my job of six years to rediscover who I am and do artistic things like write music and draw and paint.  I’ve taken a job working in a bowling center as a mechanic to help pay the bills.  I enjoy the work, although it is more physical than the last job I had.  It’s the difference between making your living with your back and making your living with your brain.  I made a much better living with my brain, but I was seldom sore after a work day.  I’m almost always sore now.  Anyway, since starting this job, I have discovered some things about the general public that I’d like to share with you.

Let me preface all this by saying I’ve grown up bowling.  I started when I was six or seven bowling in a AJBC league in Millington, TN.  There used to be a bowling center on the Naval Training Center base there.  It has since been torn down, its equipment moved to another center in the Memphis area.  Anyway, this center had no automatic scorers until much into my adult years.  The lanes approaches were elevated from the pit area where the bowlers sit and wait their turn to bowl.  You had to keep your own score, as I mentioned before.  And there was a beer machine in the center.  There was a pool room upstairs, and a snack bar.  It had a small pro shop where  you could get a ball, bag, towel and shoes, as well has having your ball drilled while you waited. 

Fast forward to 2011.  The center I work in has a snack bar.  It also has a real bar.  It serves beer, wine and mixed drinks.  Not surprisingly, the bar usually does half of the business on a weekend evening.  It has automatic scorers, bumpers that rise and fall automatically, if a bowler wants them, when the bowlers turn comes up.  It has approaches that are flush to the floor, so that handicapped people can bowl.  It also has several ramps for use by people in wheelchairs to roll the ball down so that they can enjoy bowling like the rest of the people who aren’t handicapped. 

But there is something the new place doesn’t have that the place I grew up in did have.  An expectation that its customers would behave like humans.  I remember going with my parents when they bowled and seeing all the drunks bowling.  These people were funny in a way, and sad in other ways.  But the worst thing I ever saw one of them do was kick a ball return.  (That happened a lot, actually, and up until a few years ago, I myself partook in that activity out of frustration.)  I never saw one of these people walk down the center of the lane to get a pin out of the channel, or to retreive a ball.  I never saw them throw three balls down the lane at one time and giggle about it.  I never saw them punch the wall when they made a bad shot.  The reason for most of these is that the operator of the center would make them pay for the damages.  That doesn’t happen now.  People come into a bowling center and feel like they can destroy anything they come in contact with.  I saw three college kids throw balls down the same lane at the same time.  This can damage the equipment.  They probably know this, and don’t care.  They throw balls when the rake is down sweeping deadwood from the pin deck.  Sometimes they throw them hard.  And the management or owner doesn’t even try to hold them responsible for damages to the center.  We repair holes in walls suspiciously sized to fit a human fist. 

Another thing that doesn’t happen in the new center is that people don’t pick up after themselves.  They leave trash and glasses, shoes, and bowling balls all over the house.  I see little bits of paper and popcorn all over the floor.  Spilled drinks tracked all over the approaches. 

I know.  You’re thinking “Who cares? I paid my five bucks a game.  I should be allowed to do anything I want.” 

I’m talking to you.

It’s apparent that people these days have no respect for the property of businesses.  The bowling center is a microcosm for this.  The equipment is insanely expensive.  It costs a lot of money to pay someone to fix stuff customers have broken.  And people wonder why it costs five bucks a game.  This stuff doesn’t belong to you.  The balls, shoes and the building and equipment doesn’t belong to you.  There was actually a time when this meant something.  If you rented a car, you tried to return it in as good a shape as when you rented it.  Now, rental cars are abused.  I must admit that I am guilty of this.  The only thing that stops me from going a hundred and twenty miles an hour is the mechanical limitations of the engine.  And the cops.  But I do clean the car up before I return it, if I can. 

I see parents in the new bowling center allowing their kids to run wild.  They don’t hold them to any standards of behavior.  It’s a public place.  And people are watching.  People like me. 

I can judge people pretty well.  I have a gift of a gut that tells me when someone is a good person, and when someone is a dirtbag.  It’s kind of liberating, but it’s also kind of a curse. 

My son bowls in a youth league on Saturdays.  Here is where I figure out why the grown ups (twentysomethings usually) that come in on Saturday night act like they do.  Many of the kids in this league are pretty good kids.  They act like they are in a public place.  They stick around and are ready when it’s their turn.  This is considerate of other people.  But there are a lot of kids whose parents demand NOTHING from them.  If they want to leave the pit area and go to the game room, fine.  If they want to toss popcorn in the air and screw up the footing of other kids, okay with the parents.  If they want to act like asses and kick ball returns, cool.  Parents demand nothing in the way of behavior from these kids.  It’s only a bowling alley, after all. 

If we as parents don’t demand anything from our kids, we will get just that.  Nothing.  And people see how they behave, and make judgements, not only about the kids, but about us as parents. 

So, the next time you are at a friend’s bowling birthday party (and I recommend these.  They make the center a ton of money), try to behave like you are a customer in a zoo, not an actual exhibit.  Because people are watching.

And they are determining something about you.  And your parents.  Even if you don’t care what others think of you, you should care what people think about your parents.  I fall into this category.  People can say anything they want about me,  but my parents both sacrificed twenty years of their lives to raise me.  I owe it to them to behave like I have some upbringing. 

We call it “home training” in Memphis.


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