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1995 | 07 | 28 | Articles | The News & Observer | Features | Sports
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The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
July 28, 1995
Page D1
By Stewart Ugelow

RALEIGH - Spare us the arguments.

You’ve seen everything that’s playing at the movie theaters. There’s nothing good on TV. The clubs are too crowded, the bars too boring.

So you go bowling Friday night.

Over on lane four of the Western Lanes Bowling Center, Terence Harding and T.C. Thomas are preparing for the latest installment of a competition that’s been going on since 1986. The stakes are bragging rights and an occasional "beer frame." They come to the bowling alley about twice a month.

"All of the bowling alleys are full on Friday nights," Harding says. "This is probably the only one you can get into."

It’s 10 p.m., and about 40 people are still bowling on nine of the 24 lanes.

As the night advances, those with the youngest kids have departed. The only sounds in the alley are the satisfying thunk of ricocheting pins, the whirring of the automatic pin resetters and the occasional outburst at a bowling ball gone awry. There’s no wailing about the difficulty of fitting five fingers into three holes tonight.

Instead the alley is packed with twentysomethings, college students, teenagers, even a few families with older children. Most have stopped by after dinner, attracted by the alley’s location on Hillsborough Street, the cheap games and even cheaper beer, and the ready availability of lanes. There are no leagues at this time of night.

"We’ll usually go to a movie or a bar," Graham Donaldson, 27, says. "This is something different."

Bowling is a different way to spend a Friday night. But there’s a lot more going on here than just bowling.

Along one wall, a television shows children’s videotapes. Scattered throughout the alley are three pool tables, two pinball machines and seven video games. For the Nintendo generation who might find real bowling too, well, real, there’s even a video bowling game. It’s the one with the words "Bowling is Fun" in red and yellow letters. At the far end is the Cloud and Fire Express, also known as the C.A.F.E., a place for kids to hang out with no alcohol and no smoking allowed.

In the center of it all is Bill Goodwin, the self-described "Counter Man," who keeps an eye on the bustle. He collects fees, hands out score sheets (Western is one of the rare places where computerized scoring hasn’t taken over) and painstakingly explains the rules of bowling to a few foreign students. The change machine is broken and he’s kept busy supplying quarters for the game machines.

Goodwin works the late shift on Friday nights, from about 5 until midnight. He knows most of the regulars who come in the fall, but tonight he doesn’t see any familiar faces.

No, tonight the alley is full of people like 18-year-old Rama Moori and his friends.

"This is my first time bowling," Moori said. "And I’m leading!"

Bowl, baby, bowl.

Actually, there are few other sports where it’s possible to do so well your first time out.

There are 10 pins. One ball. Ten frames. Three hundred possible points.

Bowling is an ordinary person’s game. You don’t have to be an athlete to be good at it, although a little hand-eye coordination goes a long way.

It’s a sport unlikely to bring fame and even less likely to bring fortune. Quick, try to name a famous bowler. Hard, isn’t it?

The best-known bowlers are probably Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble who, when they weren’t hiding from Wilma and Betty at the Water Buffalo Lodge, spent their free time bowling.

For those of us who can’t manage a 90 mph fastball, dunk a basketball or throw a football in a perfect spiral, there’s something deeply satisfying about hurling a heavy object some 60 feet and watching the pins just scatter.

And there’s so much style involved.

Beginning bowlers tend to bowl in straight lines, with a sling-shot motion. But the more experienced bowlers, like Harding and Thomas, can make the ball hook and weave as they desire. It’s skill, not luck. And it shows.

Harding is brash, a showman. He’ll bowl, turn around with his arms outstretched, and smile impishly. Behind him, the ball crashes into the pins. Strike.

Thomas bowls strikes, too. But he is a graceful bowler, with a long looping motion. He bowls like he talks, with a quiet elegance. He’s Barney to Harding’s Fred.

But the best part of bowling isn’t even the bowling.

It’s the shoes.

There are precious few places where it’s acceptable, even encouraged, to wear shoes that don’t match. Short of moonlighting as a clown, bowling is probably the only chance you get to slip on such delightfully garish footwear. The red left shoe doesn’t come close to matching the tan right one and never will.

Sadly, the design of the shoes has less to do with freedom from fashion than it does with keeping the shoes from walking. So to speak.

"You’d be surprised, for college kids it’s a big hoot to walk out of here with rental shoes," Goodwin says.

The real sign of a serious bowler isn’t someone who brings his own ball. You can tell someone is in for the long run when he brings his own shoes.

Thomas has his own bowling shoes, but they haven’t done a lot to help his game, Harding teases.

Thomas does not protest. Instead he asks Harding, "How bad are you going to beat me tonight?"

Harding doesn’t answer. He just bowls.

Both are excellent bowlers and the strikes pile up. Harding finishes with 200, Thomas with 175. Harding has carried the night, as usual.

He wins at bowling and basketball and just about everything else. With one exception.

"Usually I win at horseshoes," Thomas says. "But he’s blessed with good luck."

It’s the shoes. It’s gotta be the shoes.