5:55 p.m. A crowd of six people waits outside the gates to the Mission Bowling Club, which is opening in five minutes. The guy who’s first in line looks like a Motorhead roadie more than a bowler, with his faded black hoodie and ZZ Top beard, but he’s not a casual fan. He’s brought his black canvas bag.
“Is that your bowling ball?”
“It’s my bowling ball AND my shoes!” Motorhead says.
— C.K. Hickey
6-6:10 p.m. And they’re open! People walk inside, followed by more over the next 10 minutes. There are about 12-13 people in all.
Mission Bowling Club has a man sitting by the entrance to check IDs as customers walk in. He’s super-friendly.
“Hi, how’s it going? Can I see your ID really quick?” he asks.
He’s checking everybody because they serve alcohol. One of his female co-workers checks in.
“I’ll be curious to see what it’s like, when it’s, like, nuts,” he tells her. “I’m so amped up right now.”
— C.K. Hickey
“Yes,” yells Bryan, lifting his right arm to reveal a red and blue number one tattoo on his forearm.
He’ll have to do better if he wants to be number one tonight.
His friend Ricky, whose fluffy blonde mustache blurs his face, lounges on a vintage-looking brown leather couch lit by dim overhead lights and red candles on either side of the couch.
This doesn’t look like a bowling alley, except that Ricky must still wear the traditional lumpy red-and-black bowling shoes.
As his ball hits the pins, an animated bowling ball in a green and orange dress scampers onto the screen and twirls.
— Jamie Goldberg
6:25–6:40 p.m. At the bar, the noise of the ice bouncing back and forth in the bartender’s shaker covers the sound of pins being hit and the mildly loud rock and roll music. Of the more than 40 people inside the bowling alley, 12 are near the bar.
A tall bald man flirts with a woman as she sips a yellow cocktail in a champagne glass.
He paces nervously around her, frantically drinking his mojito. Occasionally, he leans over her shoulder as she eats her $15 burger.
To make her laugh, he imitates the characteristic movement of a desperate bowler trying to telekinetically influence the direction of the ball by twisting his legs. It works; she laughs insistently, sometimes stroking his arm.
But her main focus is still on her food.
“Let’s take it a step further,” he shouts … right before a friend joins them.
— Francisco Perez
Hmm, what’s going on out there in the Mission Bowling Club, wonders the scruffy chef with chestnut-colored hair.
He watches the action from behind the counter — the plaid-wearing, combat boot-sporting and beanie-capped guys and gals beaming, gulping down margaritas. Strikes, missed pins, terribly missed pins.
Satisfaction. You’re doing your job, man, he thinks. As long as they’re happy, his boss is happy.
The chef’s efficient. He’s tired. He’s bored. But he’s here. “I don’t know what to expect tonight,” he says. He clinches a black sharpie in his right hand.
A once-white towel, now stained with tawny and toast spots, is tucked underneath his left armpit. A fudge cake comes to his attention. He pours a bubble concoction atop the dessert. The towel wipes the sides clean.
Do I tell the scrawny, skinny jean-wearing boy who ordered the fudge what I just witnessed? Nah, the kitchen man has to keep the customers happy.
— Christy Khoshaba
Six lanes, 16 bowlers — eight women, eight men. A lot of tattoos, skinny jeans, tight shirts and square-rimmed glasses. Everyone wears uniform royal blue-and-silver-striped rental bowling shoes, including the lone outlier, a 50-something-year-old man who’s a bit overdressed, a ponytail pulled back over his balding head.
They don’t bowl well. A mustached man uses two hands to plop his ball down the lane. A woman throws two straight gutter balls. No one has breached 100. One man throws a lone strike. He celebrates with a squirmy dance and a big smile back at his friends. Next.
— Matt Sarnecki
7:10–7:25 p.m. At this point you may think the Mission Bowling Club is a place to go bowling. You’re wrong — at least partially wrong. At 7:10 p.m., around 15 people are playing. More than 20 are drinking.
At the bar, a bunch of bartenders serve beers and cocktails. They’re helpful and friendly, and introduce themselves to the customers.
Look at the menu. Look at the drinks. The $10 house cocktails seem to be successful, explains a bartender in a white shirt. And what about the food? Are people ordering the $15 Mission burgers? Yes. “One dollar goes to help youth-related causes,” the bartender reminds me.
The place keeps getting more crowded. Non-bowlers mostly stay at the bar or go to the loft upstairs, where you can have dinner while watching the action. Two men upstairs look like they’re analyzing something. They point. They confer. They may be talking about the crowd, the decorations or maybe the bowlers.
On the ceiling, two big lamps light the drinkers. One light is a pin; the other a ball.
— Marta Franco
7:25-7:40 p.m. For four bucks, bowlers have their choice: a pair of blue, gray and white genuine leather-soled shoes with bright white laces and an embroidered shoe size on the heel, or a pair of blue, black and silver leather-soled shoes with black laces and a shiny red number.
“They’re brand spankin’ new,” says shoe renter Jonna Mahalchick, who’s handed over mostly 7s for the girls and 10s for the guys. “The whole fleet.”
The fleet of 100 pairs has come from Murrey International, a bowling company in southern California. Now they sit stacked in 34 different cubbies, waiting for feet. Some cubbies are empty.
“We’re just grabbin’ them, we’re not worrying about where we’re puttin’ them,” says Mahalchick. “But at the end of the day, we’ll make ’em look pretty.”
The smallest size of the night has been 5; the biggest, 12.
Six used pairs are lined up side by side on top of the cubbies. “We’re just lettin’ those air out for a bit,” Mahalchick says. Her hand rests next to a can of Lysol disinfectant spray that kills 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria.
“Yes,” she says, eyeing the can. “We disinfect the hell out of ’em.”
— Molly Oleson
7:55–8 p.m. The building looks nothing like the bowling alleys I’ve seen before. It’s quiet and there are plants outside.
I walk confidently up to the patio entrance.
“Hi, how are you? Can I see your ID., please?”
I panic, realizing I didn’t bring an ID.
“I’m sorry, it’s our first night with a liquor license and we have to be really strict,” says the young man with long blond hair who is perched on a stool.
I panic. No ID, no entrance.
So I sprint back to the office, wondering why I didn’t bring an ID.
— Alicia Avila
8–8:15 p.m. Victory dances and high-fives abound in the alley despite the gutter balls. The laughs and cheers of patrons fill the air and linger with the strong smell of fresh-cut pine trees.
A tall man in a black beanie kneels as he throws the ball at the pins. No luck.
“Maybe I should never bowl,” he says as he turns to his friends.
“No!” pleads a friend as she gently massages his shoulder.
“I’m terrible,” he says, then dances happily.
One, two, three, four bowlers line up one after the other, as if in synchronized order.
Boom, boom, boom. The balls hit the polished wood floors and, as if they were participating in an organized dance, all the bowlers turn and toss their hands in the air.
— Alicia Avila