Andrew Johnson 

The crack of a baseball bat. The swish of a basketball hoop. Sports often reward their participants with satisfying sounds as they compete. Just as pleasing to the ear is the thunderous yet hollow clatter of ricocheting pins upon contact with a hefty bowling ball.

This is the sound that emanates from each lane as you walk into a bowling alley – any bowling alley. It’s the sound of birthday parties, it’s the sound of too many drinks on a Tuesday night, and it’s the sound of families, too restless for board games, taking out their frustrations with one another on the ten vaguely humanoid shapes lined up 60 feet away. The more precise the roll, the louder the sound. You are surrounded by these echoes and the low growl of the ball as each one rolls down the smooth hardwood toward its target. 

Unlike many sports, bowling often slowly morphs into a social activity rather than an athletic one. Professional competitors remain loyal to the letter and law of the rulebook (which, I imagine, is kept in Arlington, TX, the location of the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame, behind plate glass like the Book of Kells) and retain focus throughout each frame, even while watching teammates and opponents, but many participants, myself included, take the opportunity to converse with those with whom I share a booth. Good and serious intentions may create a spirit of competition at the start, but, in my experience, the intensity wanes, especially as food and drinks are consumed.

Bowling presents as a uniquely American sport, though that is far from the truth. It originated in ancient Egypt, and bowling alleys exist all over the world today. Perhaps we have been fooled by the hegemony of our historically insular culture, the likes of which have produced such films like Kingpin and The Big Lebowski. Perhaps it has been ingrained as a Nixonian quirk of patriotism during a particularly tumultuous time in the United States. Perhaps, too, it evokes a romanticism of a past time when cigarette smoke hung in the air, the frayed shoes squeaked uneasily, and the canned nacho cheese flowed like molten iron. All of these may be true, and yet, it is popular everywhere, especially among residents of Worcester. 

Unfortunately, there are no alleys in the city anymore. Residents still bemoan the lack of candlepin options in the surrounding area; an activity that was once a source of pride given that candlepin bowling was invented in Worcester. However, there is reason for optimism. A new development under construction near Polar Park, called “The Cove”, is reported to feature a bowling alley, with candlepin, no less. One day there may once again be a place for local enthusiasts to roll on Shabbos or any other day without traveling to the suburbs. But today is not that day. The Cove is expected to open in the summer of 2024.