Not the alley I was at, but close.
This weekend I went bowling. It was part of an outing to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I hadn’t been bowling in thirty years! I can date it because I remember the last time was the day of a friend’s wedding.
I think I’ve only bowled three or four times my entire life. So I’m not a good bowler. I can still recall that day thirty years ago and how bad I was. Which made it all the more enjoyable this time, because I was much better. Indeed, I was the only person in our group who bowled a strike! Such satisfaction. I had a great time and I think bowling is fun.
Of course, taking a thirty-year break also led to a bit of culture shock. Hence the title of this post.
Do you recall the bowling alleys of your youth? Or on screen in such movies as Kingpin and The Big Lebowski? Well, I’m sure they’re still out there, but the only bowling alley in my city is part of a larger “Family Fun Centre.” Which basically just means there’s an arcade as well. I thought being linked to an arcade was apt because everything had been done to make the actual bowling alley look like a video game.
In the first place, it was all dark, with lighted strips on either side of each alley in all kinds of crazy colours. There were disco lights over the alleys as well, but luckily they weren’t turned on. Above each alley was a monitor that showed various messages and displayed your score, and a screen by the ball dispenser that you entered your name into and that also kept your score. So much for those scorecards we used to use!
This wouldn’t have been too bad, but the big monitor over the lane wasn’t in synch with the screen by the ball dispenser, so it was always displaying the wrong scores, and in mixed-up order. Plus they kept changing the screen and running various animations on it so you could never just look at it and get any idea of the standings. I also thought it a sneaky bit of business in that, being logged in, it wouldn’t allow you to start off with a few practice balls. Nope, you had to sign in on the computer in order to get the pins to set and after that every ball counted. The system also kept track of how long you’d been playing, so that when your time was up that was it. The system just shut down. Which I guess does the job, but seems a bit tight-assed. Basically the computers are running everything now. They tell you when to start and when to stop and that’s it. I thought bowling was supposed to be a more relaxed atmosphere than this. We were really trying to go fast at the end to get another game in. We didn’t, quite.
Call me old-fashioned, but I much preferred bowling with all the lights on and just keeping score by pencil. The scoresheets were a lot easier to look at and to understand than all these screens.
The other thing that really stuck out for me was the expense. Wow. This is really pricey entertainment. With shoe rentals, a party of four came in at somewhere between $125 and $150 for an hour of bowling. Now admittedly I’m sure the guys running this place took, and are still taking, a huge hit from COVID. And I’m also figuring there’s some significant overhead. But there were only three or four lanes in use when we were there (out of more than 20 available), and it was a Saturday afternoon. That’s not good.
I have to think the lack of attendance is partly being driven by price. It’s a fun game to play for people of all ages and levels, but I can see why, at that price, bowling went into a tailspin in popularity (to the point where it became the central metaphor for Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone).
But this is a problem a lot of places are facing now. Prices are going up everywhere, while the actual goods and services being purchased ain’t what they used to be. We’re paying more and more for less and worse. I’ve talked before about the gym. The same membership rates (if you’re lucky) are being charged for gyms that are cutting back in hours, offering fewer amenities, and making you wear a mask. No thanks. And who wants to eat in a restaurant now with all the regulations and rules you have to follow? Everybody is just getting take-out. Shopping? More and more people have been buying stuff online, but prices at my favourite sites have spiked by around 20% over the last year (something that Amazon led the way on).
Like I say, I can understand why some businesses have to do this, but still the new normal that’s taking shape looks pretty grim to me.