Monday, April 25, 2011

Revisiting Dark Alleys

There were bowling alleys in my old neighborhood when I was growing up. Kingsbridge locals could walk to one nearby, and for a period of time actually had a choice between two. While there are still some bowling alleys in the Bronx and the surrounding areas, their numbers have appreciably declined in these parts over the past few decades.

When St. John’s grammar school offered its students an extracurricular sidebar known as the mini-course, bowling was among the options. I signed on to this particular mini-course and Friday afternoon out—out of the classroom’s stuffy confines and into the neighborhood at large. Lorded over by teachers and parental chaperones, we walked a few blocks over to a place called the Bowling Bar. Located in a subterranean niche on a side street, I was immediately intrigued by its off-the-beaten trail address and drab coziness. In fact, an in-home sized bar stood in the myriad lanes’ rear and was sans a bartender. Actually, the owner of the place wore multiple hats. He took our money, sprayed disinfectant into our rented bowling shoes, and served drinks to the adult clientele when called upon. I cannot say with certainty, but I suspect the night crowds were a bit livelier than fourth, fifth, and six graders bowling alongside nuns and mothers.

Despite bowling a twenty-three and my high score, forty-seven, I nevertheless fondly recall my Bowling Bar afternoons sometime in the mid-1970s. I only wish I had thought to snap pictures of the place before it vanished into the ether of extinct businesses. So what if the lightest balls on hand were way too heavy for my fourth-grade muscle. I bowled backhanded in those days because I couldn’t keep my bowling arm straight when ball met floor. This explains the twenty-three.

A year or so later, the school’s bowling mini-course took its business to a bigger and better known establishment, Fieldston Bowl, somewhat farther away. I believe the Bowling Bar had burned down—or up in its case. And while it long outlasted its local competitor, Fieldston Bowl subsequently became Fieldston Billiards. Bowling in the big city was not only declining in popularity, but alleys assumed an awful lot of valuable space—space that has cost increasingly more to lease in New York City, and a lot of other places, too, with the passage of time.

A couple of other alleys in nearby Westchester County—one in Yonkers and the other in Eastchester—that I bowled in a time or two in the distant past are gone as well, victims of changing tastes and voracious landlords altering the landscape. If there’s a bowling alley near you, cherish it while you still can. For the Bowling Bar and its deceased brethren are legion.

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