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Bowling in the HUB
At the University of Washington

Say, did you know there's a bowling alley in the basement of the Husky Union Building?

For your on-campus entertainment dollar, nothing compares to the tenpin scene in the HUB Games Area, where, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you can play as many games as you want for a measly two bucks! (Shoe rental included!) Compare that to any other establishment in town (where it often costs over $3 per game), or, for that matter, any other form of amusement. Even at the regular student rate of $1.82 per game, it's still cheep, cheep, cheep!

Of course, there are some drawbacks. The scuffed-up, multicolored house balls are in bad shape, as are the rental shoes, which come in ugly faded neon tones. (Nobody would want to steal them, as is often a temptation at some other venues, but perhaps that's the idea.) The air conditioning isn't particularly effective and the lightly oiled lanes are usually dry and dusty. After a game or two, you're likely to have a sweaty undershirt and a visible layer of grit on your hands. Also, the ball return on lane 11 can be sluggish.

Bowling Tip #1: Aim for the 1-3 pocket (or, if you're a southpaw, the 1-2).

In addition to the lousy equipment, don't expect to enjoy the typical bowling alley ambience. There's no smoking, no alcohol, no pull-tabs and no lotto. Nor is there a restaurant, pro shop or a toy crane machine. There isn't even any music, and the walls mostly are bare and the floors are tile. The minimal décor cries out for something along the lines of a nifty tiki theme (like at Leilani Lanes) or a giant painting of the woodsy 19th century Pacific Northwest frontier (as at the recently defunct Lewis and Clark). Instead, the room's only adornment is on the wall above the pin decks: a "mural" featuring boring, clip-art quality images of lighthouses, mountains and trees. Oddest of all, despite the cacophony of balls crashing into pins and occasional clatter from the nearby air-hockey table, people actually study in there!

However, without the trappings of a traditional bowling alley, you can better focus on your game. The HUB is a great venue to hone your delivery technique or work on your hook, hopefully beefing up your average in the process. (Later on, you can impress your pals with these newfound skills at Sunset Bowl or Imperial Lanes.) Besides, the friendly folks at the check-out counter will print out your scores on request and they have plenty of Band-Aids for blistered thumbs, and they are ever mindful of disinfecting the rental shoes.

For better or worse, the frame-by-frame scoring isn't displayed on overhead screens, but rather on the color monitors down by the ball returns. Novices may appreciate this touch, since their lowly scores won't be visible to everybody in the room. The monitors also show the speed of each ball thrown, measured in hundredths of miles-per-hour. If a game is going badly, you can liven it up by seeing how fast you can hurl the ball.

Bowling Tip #2: After releasing the ball, your arm's follow-through motion should be in the direction you're aiming.

The monitors also feature stupid little cartoons reflecting the game's current action -- if you throw consecutive gutter-balls, it shows a picture of standing pins covered in cobwebs. If you make a split, it exclaims "Awesome Dude!!" For every turkey (three consecutive strikes), it shows a turkey. They also have their own pin-indicators, which illustrate the remaining pins needed to convert a spare. (The pindicators are disabled on the old Brunswick Astroline ball returns, as well as the lanes' automatic foul detectors.) Yet, while scoring is automated at the HUB (and at nearly every other bowling house), it's a virtue to know how to keep score, as it's becoming something of a lost art.

Tucked away in the room's southeast corner is a neat old Brunswick "Automatic Ball Polisher." Put your ball into the top-loading machine, close the clear plastic lid and drop a dime into the slot. The device brushes the ball as it spins it around for a two-minute cycle, whirring and shaking like an outdated clothes dryer. It's a hoot to watch, though whether it actually works is another issue -- your ball might come out filthier than before.

For a break from the bowling action, you might step over to the pinball machines on the room's south wall. Left to right stand Medieval Madness (one of the all-time greats, despite the game's horrible "ye olde" theme), World Cup Soccer (so-so), and the lame Revenge from Mars, a Bally "Pinball 2000" unit, which has an annoying video screen above the playing field (as well as a warning to epileptics). All three machines charge 50 cents for a three-ball game or five plays for $2, which, depending on your skill level, might be blown pretty quickly. The rest of the HUB Games Area, it should be noted, has numerous video games, pool tables, ping-pong tables, a foosball table, a dartboard, and a CD jukebox.

Bowling Tip #3: Know your pins by number.

In spite of the shortcomings of the HUB lanes, bowling remains universally fun. No matter where you are, slamming a 16-pound Black Beauty into a rack of maple pins is always cathartic. The sport is great for blowing off steam between classes or clearing your mind before a long night of studying. It doesn't matter whether you're an ace kegler who can convert a 7-10 split or a gutter-balling novice who doesn't know the Brooklyn side from the Jersey side. Most anyone can get a kick out of pretending they're Fred Flintstone, Jesus from The Big Lebowski, Homer Simpson or the Kent-born, Tacoma-bred, and recently departed Earl Anthony, the Babe Ruth of the PBA.

And, with the HUB's fantastic Tuesday/Thursday discount, ten games can be squeezed into an hour, or you can simply play until your arm falls off. Over the course of a few weeks, that blister on your thumb will become a callus, your scores will certainly improve, and by the end of the quarter, you might even get your first deuce (that's a 200 game, worthy of a "200 Club" pin from the nice people at the checkout counter). And maybe, just maybe, you'll someday roll 12 consecutive strikes for that perfect 300.

In any case, we students are lucky to have this cool recreational outlet on campus. There's no time like the present -- take advantage while you can.

Originally appeared in The Daily of the University of Washington, September 4, 2001.

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© 2004-2011 Steve Mandich