The virtues of a cheap night out [video]

    There was a time when my wife and I bowled every Monday night. 

    We weren’t part of a league and we never were the kind of people who rolled strike after strike.  When we started we struggled to break 100 on most games.  Some friends lured us there for “dollar night.”  Yes, dollar night as in bowl a game for one dollar, even get a Yuengling draft for a buck.

    For a couple years, we became regulars.  Our bowling improved, we could top 150 and one day when the planets were aligned just right, I broke 200.  But I never knew how much I would end up looking forward to driving over the bridge to Brooklawn, N.J. for dollar night, not until I rounded up the usual suspects for a reunion of sorts.

    It’s been more than 10 years since we hit the lanes each Monday.  We were about 26 when we started, not even married yet.  For job reasons my wife and I moved out of Philadelphia 12 years ago and then we had kids.  Suddenly, going somewhere on a weeknight after 9 p.m. seemed impossible.

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    But every once in a while, I would get a hankering.  So I recently called up some of the friends I used to bowl with to give it a shot.  One college buddy who has since moved to France was even going to be in town on a business trip that day — must be a sign from the Bowling Gods.

    The big night came; I fetched the bowling ball and bag from the basement, dusted it off and struggled with the bag’s zipper.  Even when I first found it at a thrift shop, the zipper always was finicky.  I had offered to try to book a sitter so my wife could come; she wasn’t interested in staying out late and sleepwalking through the next day.

    The only thing that really seems to have changed a lot at Westbrook Lanes since we went all the time is you can’t smoke inside.  Back then a trip to the lanes often demanded two showers to get the smell out of my hair.

    Surprisingly, my friends from the old bowling crew and I picked up pretty much where we left off.  Two are professors who are no longer scrambling to earn tenure, but they still have great tales of sweating through field research in Death Valley, for example.  The college classmate who lives in France has two sons over there but still loves talking about the Phillies and crack jokes about my job at WHYY. These days I’m more prone to stories about my sons than the latest political intrigue from New Jersey.  But even that produced a surprise connection.  Turns out, my college classmate was a camper and counselor at the small, sleep-away camp where my older boy is heading in June.

    And I’m convinced it wouldn’t have been so easy had we gotten back together just anywhere.  There’s something about playing a game you really don’t care about that makes the conversation flow effortlessly, even when you haven’t seen people in years.

    I’m sure there are lots of other things I could try, friends have been trying to recruit me for Quizzo night for ages.  But there’s something about bowling.  Maybe it’s the bowling shoes my wife gave me for Christmas years ago.  They are by far the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn.  Too bad I would ruin the soles by wearing them outside.  Just another reason to check out dollar night, I guess.  I shouldn’t wait so long next time.

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