Five Pin Flashbacks

For the first time in about a decade, I’ve had a chance to play five pin bowling.

When it comes to remembering ones childhood, we all have a few key places we remember. Games in the backyard, trips to the cottage, that sort of thing. For me, one of the strongest is five pin bowling. My brother and I spent a lot of time there, we were even part of a kids league of sorts, with bright yellow/orange shirts with red or green awards sewn on for various high scores we achieved. Never went into a competition that I can recall, though.

But even outside of the league our grandma often took us there. The score sheet had coupons all along the sides, but only one of them ever held any interest to us – Buy-one-get-one-free McChickens at McDonald’s.

That was the tradition for a time, bowling followed by a drive-thru trip to McDonald’s, where we’d pick up two chicken burgers (mine with extra mayo whenever possible).

But things change. When my grandma had a stroke and I was told she wasn’t going to make it, I took Gillian to our local McDonald’s where we had two McChickens. It was the only thing I could think of doing before flying back to somehow connect. To remember. But even that had been taken away from me, because McDonald’s changed their burgers to be “healthier” and didn’t taste the same. I didn’t want healthy, I wanted my memories.

Back in Oshawa I learned Motor City Bowling had closed down ages ago, so there was no chance to play a few frames with Wyatt. Wyatt missed bowling as well. When we lived in England there were no five pin alleys Gill and I could find. The closest was a half-scale ten pin alley that used 5 pin balls. It was fun, but it wasn’t the same.

It might seem strange to nit pick about five versus ten pin bowling, but the differences are there. Ten pin is like a huge monster truck you hurl down the alley to crush as many little cars as possible. Five pin felt more strategic to me somehow. It’s the little things, like the fact the pins were worth more points the closer to the centre you got (2-3-5-3-2 as opposed to each pin worth 1), the fact you got three throws per frame instead of two, and that you had more control over the ball (especially as a child who can’t exactly heft ten pounds of rock).

But mostly it is because that’s what I grew up with. That makes all the difference.

I recently got coupons online for five pin bowling at Grandview Lanes, and we went with some friends the other day.

It was almost like being in a time machine. The sights, sounds, smells, were very much like Motor City Bowling (albeit a smaller building). The shoes were similar, and though the balls we used were different, they had the exact same kind I grew up with on display at the counter. Grandview Lanes must have been built at the same time as Motor City because most of it had the same 1970s look to it. The only upgrades on it was a 1980s era black-and-green computer scoring screen at the table, and a full colour scoring screen above the alley which showed 1990s era CGI animations whenever you got a strike or spare. About the only thing from the twenty-first century were the players.

Ah, the players. On the lane to our right was a kids game going on. It was cringe worthy. Not because they played badly, but because they used the balls as shotputs. Right in front of the sign that say “DO NOT LOFT BALLS” these kids ran up and HEAVED the balls half way down the alley. Sometimes I swore they tried to hit the ceiling first. I was surprised that by the end of the game the lane didn’t resemble a mountain range or canyon. It’s like they hated the game and wanted to punish the alley for existing.

The lane to our left wasn’t much better. Two guys were playing ten-pin, and I quickly realized they were quite drunk. At one point one stumbled and fell face first onto his lane. There is a certain demographic of men for whom the more alcohol is consumed the better idea bowling becomes. I firmly believe these same people regularly attend baseball games.

Sideshows aside it was a fun day out, and really took me back. All the alley was missing was a couple of old video games like Donkey Kong, Defender, or Missile Command to make it complete.

The Hat is especially suited for bowling.

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