I’ve bowled since I was very young. I bowl in leagues and tournaments to this day. I’ve probably spent more time in bowling alleys than on golf courses or maybe even on rivers. So why haven’t I written about it yet? That’s a complicated subject. Mostly because of all the explaining about the game I feel I would need to do to make you understand, which would be boring. So I’ll try not to do that too much and hopefully make you laugh a time or 10.
This week in Calgary is the PABCON (Pan American Bowling Congress) over 50 tournament. Ok, get that image out of your mind right now. No, it’s not a bunch of old people in walkers dropping the ball and exclaiming “my dentures fell out again!” Let me give you an example of the talent. My guess is a bunch of you have played golf. Some of you are probably pretty good. If you are a younger fella and found out you were in a match against a 65 year old, you’d probably feel pretty good about your chances. Until they told you that 65 year old is an ex touring pro and multiple national champion. Then you would want to maybe cut the grass that day instead of get destroyed on the golf course. The bowlers in this tournament are representing their countries because they are among the best of their countries. The level of play is actually pretty stunning. Countries involved include Argentina, Columbia, Panama, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Mexico, United States, and Canada. (Side note: Always take the opportunity to meet the guys from the Bahamas. Pure entertainment. You’re welcome).
The tournament goes over 5 days, and on day 3 they bowl trios. There are 32 male senior bowlers, so they need one extra guy for one of the teams and one full team to fill out the squad and keep things flowing properly. None of these are competing and are called “pacers”. The job of a pacer is simple. Stay out of the way and don’t be a distraction. More on that later.
I was at the tournament watching on Tuesday when Dave, the proprietor, asks me if I am available to be a pacer on Wednesday. As I would be bowling with some of the best bowlers in this hemisphere and hadn’t touched a ball in 3 months, the potential for total humiliation was off the charts, but hey, 6 free games of bowling. I’m in! Dave says:
“Ok, even though you are just pacing, you have to follow the same rules as the other bowlers.”
Dave: “You have to dress nicely, no jeans or shirts, a collared shirt, no drinking, smoking, or swearing. 2 lane courtesy. And you can only bring 6 balls. Remember, you are representing Canada.”
Me: “No swearing? Have you met me Dave? Sorry, I’m out.”
Dave: “You can swear under your breath.”
Me: “Can my lips move?”
Dave: “Only if you are not looking at any one.”
Me: “Ok, I can work with that. I’m in.”
There is a lot to unpack in that statement. No drinking, smoking, or swearing? Uh, Dave, ever been to a bowling alley. You just described the essence of the sport didn’t you? I know that’s what many of you are thinking. Let me do a little debunking here.
This is a national tournament. You can’t go in looking like, well, a recreational bowler all in shorts and concert t-shirts running out to have a smoke every 10 minutes while spilling beer all over the place for people to step in. And on the subject of beer: remember above when I said national champions and stuff? Like any sport, performing at the highest level and drinking are not really compatible. If you suck, a few beers might make you loosen up and bowl better. If you totally do not suck, a few beers can make you suck enough to have no chance at winning. To the outside bowler you may still look good, but the real bowlers know. My dad had no trouble taking advantage of the drinking good bowler. If he was bowling someone as good (there were not that many of them around) or better (REALLY not that many of them around) for money and they were drinking, he would just bide his time knowing that as they got drunk not only would their game deteriorate but they got loose with their money also. He would always have a beer nearby, but didn’t really drink it. He only pretended to. I asked one day “don’t you feel guilty about taking advantage of drunk people?” He said “son, if they are so stupid that they can’t control themselves enough to stay off the booze when gambling, I have no trouble taking their money.” One day I should do a post about my dad and gambling. We are not talking about a little money here.
The smoking is just about time. As in regular society (and about 80% of the bowlers function just fine in regular society!), the number of smokers is way down in bowling too. But since you can’t smoke in the lanes anymore, between games people will sometimes run outside for a quick puff. In a tournament like this you cannot make people wait, so it is banned. Which is great. $100 matches in the early 60s. Serious bucks.
And only 6 balls? Why for the love of God would anyone need 6 balls. Well……. I’m not sure how many I have right now. At the bowling alley alone in my 2 lockers I have a dozen. There are at least 2 or 3 more at the other bowling alley in Calgary and maybe 3 at home? That’s a pretty fair guess. Average price? $275 per ball all drilled up. I know what you are thinking “wait, WHAT?” Without getting into center of gravity, preferred spin axis, radius of gyration, symmetric vs asymmetric weight block, positive axis point, type of cover stock and solid vs. pearl finishes, and completely ignoring both type of player (cranker, tweener, stroker, speed dominant or hook dominant) and the wide variation in lane conditions/oil patterns, lets just say bowling balls are complicated. And highly engineered. Different balls do different things on different conditions. In a tournament you have no idea going in what oil pattern they will put down. The oil pattern and the way it deteriorates over time and play dictate the ball use and as the tournament wears on you will certainly change balls to compensate. An important part of the game is to pick the one that will give you the most chance of striking when you don’t throw it perfect, in other words just trying to maximize the amount of error you can have and still have a good result. So while 6 sounds like a lot, it actually isn’t. That or I just can’t decide between the blue swirly one and the purple solid one. Or that clear one with the rose in it. That one is the coolest.
Now the last one. 2 lane courtesy. That means that not only do you not bowl when the person to either side of you is up, you don’t bowl when anyone 2 lanes away from you is up either. No, that’s not so people have time to have a drink or a smoke, or comb their big hair (ok, maybe sometimes the big hair thing is valid, particularly in Texas), it’s to limit distraction to the competitors. It’s not as extreme as golf, but the game does require some pretty intense concentration at the highest level, like any sport. To succeed, you are trying to consistently hit a spot maybe 2″ wide with your 15 lb. ball at a consistent angle, which means at release your feet have to be in an exact spot on the lanes every shot, both side to side and front to back, at pretty much the exact same speed and the same amount of rotation on the ball. Do all of those things and you will strike most times. Miss one of them, and while you may strike from time to time, you won’t do it near often enough to win. So yeah, concentration and distraction are big deals. And 2 lane courtesy is hard. Because not only are you doing it, everyone to either side of you is doing it also. It’s like this big orchestrated dance. Do it right and it’s seamless. Do it wrong (and I did not grow up with 2 lane courtesy, so don’t have the dance 100% down yet) and people glare at you. Or walk off the approach, drop their ball on the rack, then glare at you. If your one purpose at the tournament as a pacer is to stay out of the way, of all the things Dave said (except for the swearing), this to me was the most intimidating.
I knew this would get long. Sorry. I’ve really cut a bunch out to this point, I promise!
Ok, so enough with the setup. Let’s get to the actual story.
As I said previously, Dave asked me to be a pacer with my friends Skip Lyttle and Ruben Garcia for the trios matches. I think I was like his 4th choice. The other three had legit reasons for not showing up. Traffic court. A t-time. A hearing to deal with back child support. You know, typical bowler reasons for not being able to make it. As I was the only one not encumbered by unbreakable golf dates or prior court appearances, I made the cut. It was an admittedly low bar.
As Skip is Canadian and Ruben is from Mexico, and with me being binary American Canadian, we decided that I would bowl under my American citizenship so we could be team NAFTA. Once I mentally switched personas back to American some weird attitude changes started to come over me. I had this hard to resist urge to get a twitter account and tell everyone how great I was, pay off some adult film stars I had gotten to “know”, and maybe obstruct some justice while I was at it. I also said sorry a lot less often, but “fixin” a lot more. Like in “I’m fixin to do me some bowling.” But this was offset by the fact I suddenly had a much smaller tax bill and I was a lot warmer. We asked Dave if we could be Team NAFTA and he said “no.” So we were Pacer Team 1 (has a nice ring don’t you think?) and I was “Pacer 11.” A life long dream fulfilled.
Just before the trios started, Dave says on the PA:
“I want to thank my friends for being pacers here today. We have Skip Lyttle. Raise your hand Skip. rick reeves…” If I could figure out a way to make the fonts smaller, I would. I have since listened to a playback of this (there is actually video). He basically whispered my name. He might as well have said “my 4th choice, Rick Reeves” no “raise your hand Rick”, nothing. He couldn’t get verbally past me fast enough. I didn’t really notice it at the time, the but I did notice….
You know how at an NBA game, or an NHL game for my northern friends, if the opposition scores a goal or basket the announcer says his name in a totally deadpan voice. “rick reeves” was that voice. Well what came next should have been accompanied by dimming of the house lights, swirling spot lights of different colors, starting the NBA home team intro music (da da da dada dada da da da DADA DADA, ya’ll ready for this). Dave’s voice drops in frequency to full on announcer voice.
Dave: “and introducing everyone’s friend RUUUUUBENNNNN GAAAAARRRRRCIAAAAAAA!!!”
At this point he should have had walk up music start, like “La Bamba” or something. Dave’s voice was the voice of the home team scoring. For me, I got opposing team scoring voice, except quieter. I look at Skip and say “What the actual hell? ( I can’t swear, remember?). What are we, Ruben and the Jets or something?” I look at Ruben who acknowledges all the love by raising his free hand, while his other hand clutches the breakfast sandwich crammed deep within his mouth. Your friend Ruben Garcia ladies and gentlemen. Just because he is acting as unofficial translator to the Latin American teams and is a tournament sponsor doesn’t mean he should get special treatment does it. I mean, I wore a nice bowling shirt and got all the way through practice without swearing. Where is the love Dave? Where is the love?
The pacer has one job. Don’t be noticed. Generally, I would not consider that a strong suit of mine. And as a team we failed pretty spectacularly at it. I can hear many of you asking “oh my lord, what have you done now?” Nothing! I literally did nothing. Ruben and Skip? Not so much on the nothing. After game 1 Ruben left to get a coffee or water or something. To make sure we don’t step in anything wet when walking around and then stick and maybe fall on the approach, we put covers over our shoes. There is another way to stick and fall. Forget to take the covers off the shoes. I don’t know if you have been witness to someone sticking hard then going down at a bowling alley. It is not graceful. Ruben’s fall was spectacularly not graceful, taking not graceful to a whole new level. Full on face plant, then belly sliding onto the lanes and wiping up oil with his shirt a few feet out into the lane. I’m pretty sure people noticed, as evidenced by several of us rushing to his aid and asking “are you ok” as he sheepishly gets up. At the time, all you can say is “shake it off buddy” which he does after several shaky frame. At no point did I tease him. Skip did say: “I hope no one is playing inside, Ruben wiped up all the oil with his shirt” The not teasing will end, and will become pretty ruthless. He knows and expect sthis.
You know how else you fail to not get noticed? Throw a 300 as a pacer. While REALLY trying to throw the 300. I would not call it the most demonstrative 300 I’ve ever seen, but Skip did let those of us around him know that something big was happening with the hand slapping and minor walk outs on the last few balls. I will give him credit for avoiding the crotch chop, cuz I know he wanted to. One of the Canadian team members not bowling told him something to the effect “that’s the best 300 I’ve ever seen that didn’t mean anything!”
Anyway, that’s my first bowling story. We saw some fantastic bowling and I had beyond a great time bowling with Skip and Ruben and all the other competitors. Thanks Dave for asking me. Maybe next time I can work my way up to second choice. Skip, that was a fantastic meaningless 300, and Ruben I hope the oil comes out of your shirt. Bowling humor. Who knew?
Wow, it’s fun to make fun of people other than myself, I may do this more often.
And if you guys from the Bahamas or Panama read this, I’m coming to visit. I’ll come bowl a few games with you, but really, I’m coming for the bonefish!