When I'm disproportionately shocked over an urban thing that's normal to most people, I call it "my Challis coming out." And my Challis definitely came out last weekend when I went bowling with some friends.
I've lived outside of my hometown for nearly three years now, yet this was my first time visiting any bowling alley besides Challis Lanes.
It was a tad overwhelming. We went on "cosmic bowling" night, complete with blacklights, disco ball, smoke machines, karaoke, full-blast speakers and screens upon screens filled with cheesy animations, detailed bowling statistics and the Blazers game. I felt a bit claustrophobic between the flashing lights, the pounding, off-key Moana songs in my ears and the crowds of people all around. I bowled like garbage the first few rounds, but when I started doing better one of my friends asked me why it looked like I actually knew what I was doing.
Apparently it's never come out in conversation with my college friends that bowling was a huge part of my childhood. It’s something I often forget, too: I was on my elementary bowling league from first until sixth grade.
After school on Wednesdays, everyone on the league would meet Mrs. Piva at the front doors of the elementary school. We'd have to wait what felt like an eternity for everyone to get there. When we were finally ready to go, we all followed Mrs. Piva down the hill, past the high school, to the highway. We'd wait on the sidewalk while she marched to the middle of the crosswalk and raised her handheld stop sign to the oncoming traffic. We'd sprint across the highway to the bowling alley parking lot and race inside to be the first one to throw off our backpacks and get our shoes.
A man named Ron, who I found grumpy and intimidating, taught us to bowl. He showed us how to pick a suitable ball, which dot behind the foul line to carefully toe and how to swing your arm to make the ball fly straight over the center arrow.
As we got older, we didn't have to wait for Mrs. Piva at the front doors. We could walk out of class and cross the highway to the bowling alley ourselves. And one day my friend Ken convinced me that standing on the dot at the foul line was childish, and I worked up the courage to ask Ron to teach me an approach. Then I felt like a real bowler.
I was on a team with my cousin. We were pretty proud when we came up with the best bowling team name ever: Eagle Strike. (We didn't copyright it. You can use it if you need a really good name for your bowling league.) In fifth grade, a new girl moved to the school; she and I quickly became best friends. I convinced her to join my bowling team. It turned out she sucked at bowling. I joked that she got so many gutter balls we should have been awarded negative points. But that was okay because she was my best friend. And most of the trophies were for personal – not team – stats anyway.
I got a lot of trophies and medals over the years. My mom and grandma came to watch every game. Not many other people’s family came to watch them, so I figured I must be pretty good, and when I won awards, it made me feel like the money my mom spent to put me in the league was worth it. I kept them displayed on my dresser for years, but by high school it felt silly to display so many chintzy trophies, so I eventually put them in a box and kept them under my bed.
In high school, I quit the league, prioritizing basketball over bowling, thinking it was important to do a real sport (joke's on high-school-freshman me: I quit basketball two years later and never cared about sports again). But we went bowling sometimes for senior year P.E. We'd bring a dollar bill to Mrs. Zollinger, walk across to the crosswalk, split into teams and play as many rounds as possible before we ran out of class time.
We’d bring a couple extra dollars to buy food or milkshakes, since the bowling alley was one of the main restaurants in town anyway. We’d have fun trying to program nicknames into the decades-old computers. We sat on the curved, bumpy, orange-and-cream benches, each person awaiting his/her turn to bowl, sliding into one another or cracking jokes.
The outside of the bowling alley is old and dented. Sometimes the ball return doesn’t work, and the computer often glitches. There are no animated screens assaulting your senses or strangers invading your space. The only sounds flooding your ears are laughing or talking or a ball hitting the floor or the pins (or – occasionally – the ceiling).
It sounds silly, but anyone who's ever lived in Challis will probably tell you that the bowling alley is strangely vital to the town. It's a place to meet, and it's a place to make memories. In the grand scheme of things, it's a very small part of my life, but I don’t think bowling will be the same anywhere like it is at Challis Lanes.