Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Photo Bin - November 2016


This month's photo bin is a bit of a departure, although, given the slippery nature of these things, it's difficult to define exactly what it's departing from. Doesn’t matter. Truth is, a significant piece of my past came to an end last month and I’m feeling a bit melancholy about it. The bin seems as good a place as any to pout.

To a large degree, I grew up in the place. Not your typical incubator, a bowling alley, but it was mine from the age of eleven. I spent my happy time there, every Saturday morning, in junior bowling league. We learned to compete. We learned to be good teammates. We learned that kicking the ball return was bad form. We learned to be ready when it was our turn. We learned that throwing harder wasn’t necessarily better. We learned to make adjustments in increments - five boards on the approach, three at the arrows – both a lesson in geometry and a life strategy, though on occasion you had to scrap it all and let it rip from deep inside. We learned to cope with winning and to handle losing, perhaps our most important lessons.


When I could drive, I began to bowl in the adult leagues and I learned the same lessons all over again, but in different contexts. I scrubbed my first fender in the underground parking lot. I went to the university across the street while participating in leagues three nights a week and working three others, tucked behind the pinsetters, fixing ball returns, clearing 180s and deck jams, re-spotting foul-fallen pins and pretending to study my calculus in between calls.

I got my only A, those first three disastrous semesters, in a PE bowling class. I called the instructor's bluff on the first day and picked off, cleanly, a ten pin, then a seven, and upon re-rack buried a strike. He penciled the grade in and that was that; the highlight of my academic career.

I left the university, for a while, but not the lanes. I met my first serious girlfriend there. I met my first wife. My boys slept soundly in their portable bassinettes to the lullabies of crashing pins and ran the concourse as soon as they were mobile. We just let them go, knowing that they were safe and that growing up there was good.


I threw a 300, August 10th, 1987 (it says so on my ring), back when a 300 meant something. Only the second in the house’s then thirty-year history. Back before the days of perfect urethane surfaces, blocked oil patterns, and space age bowling balls. Old school lacquered wooden lanes and beastly Brunswick machines built by the Otis Elevator Company. Back when anyone over the age of five put three fingers in the ball. I threw it on lanes 11 and 12, a pair that I’d never really cared for. To this day, nearly thirty years later, I can account for every moment from the eighth strike on.

The place was my haven for thirty years, but life changes and I let it slip away for other things. In truth, lots from that time has slipped away, I’m afraid. But I’ve always known it was there. Now it’s not.


Progress is a beast that preys on the old and the weak. An ancient alley, wood and old iron, ultimately gives way to our society’s insatiable need to consume. There’ll soon be a new, sterile Target for the college kids to buy their “stuff” in place of that touchstone for a number of generations.

The doors closed on November 28th. I went back one last time, the day before. Business had ceased, but the place was filled with folks, like me, coming back to remember. Most milled around the approaches, the lanes, the concourse. I snuck into the back, behind the machines, and sat for a while…

…feeling right at home at Western Lanes, once again.

Thanks, Mary, for this shot.


What is a Photo Bin?

6 comments:

Mary said...

Lovely tribute to a time gone by and a place with its lessons we will not forget. Thanks ...
Live Free ...

Linda Royer said...

Why am I surprised by your eloquent evocation of times past? I'm touched by glimpsing a piece of the puzzle that is you and so appreciative that you are willing to share this with us all. Ah the memories......Hugs

Robert Daniel said...

Moving piece, Mike. Lots of memories there, and of course at Brothers Pizza also.

Roger said...

Time moves forward but memories last forever
Great writing!

Mike Sepelak said...

Thank you, Mary, for being patient and humoring me on that last visit.

Linda, the memories were thick there. Hard not to be eloguent, to the point of maudlin.

Ah, Brothers Pizza, Robert. I had enough pepperoni and extra cheese pizzas there, over the years, to feed a small army. Jimmy Russos was a great friend and benefactor. For years I bowled on the Brothers Pizza bowling team with Jimmy, Bob Swinford, Bill Hayes, Nate Woodlief and, later, Dennis Delgious. Damn, such memories. Thanks for that!

Absolutely true, Roger. They last forever.

jean-paul Buttigieg said...

Wow....great memories here too.I played bowling for some years when I was 25 or so....I remember buying a beautiful blue bowl and white shoes to my wife who was really good at bowling.I divorced fisfteen years later and don't play anymore.I will go back on an alley someday (: