Mister Boomer recently came across some startling statistics that made him think about growing older. We all know the history of what our grandparents and parents witnessed in their lifetimes; yet now, it appears, it’s our turn to look back at things that were but are no longer, or at least may not be much longer.
The biggest example, of course, is the 45 RPM record. It was an invention released during the boomer years, and now doesn’t exist at all. Broadcast TV was in black and white when we were young, but then color broadcasting slowly began to take over. Now, if a movie or TV show is in black and white, it’s either ancient or for art’s sake. There are more examples, to be sure.
The startling news Mister Boomer came across, however, had to do with bowling. Truth be told, not many of us have given the sport that much thought through the years. It was something that always appeared to be there, from our early days on through. It was a regular part of our cultural lexicon. Ozzie Nelson went bowling (without his tie, no less!). Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton were on a bowling team in a league. So were Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. Bowling was just something the working class did. We even had a TV show called “Bowling for Dollars.”
Fred and Barney mix bowling with a commercial in the days before Flintstones vitamins.
This Brunswick commercial from 1961 shows how bowling had been advertised as a wholesome pursuit for boomers.
Mister Boomer did not join in any youth leagues during his Wonder Years, but his brother did. As a result, Mister Boomer often accompanied his brother to the local lanes where he went to practice. Mister Boomer was never a great bowler, but there was one day when the bowling gods smiled on his lane. Brother Boomer was a pretty good bowler, but on this particular Sunday, the strikes were flying. Eager for a second game, Brother B began with a strike. Mister Boomer stepped up and aimed at the pins. He released the black rubber ball and, after the familiar roll-rumble for a couple of seconds, watched as all the pins crashed down. Brother Boomer stepped up and rolled a second strike. Mister Boomer did the same. A third strike followed for his brother, and another for Mister Boomer. By this time, a small crowd had started to appear behind the boys. In the fourth frame, Mister Boomer’s brother smashed the pins like it was an everyday occurrence, much to the delight of the viewing gallery. Getting nervous from the onlookers, Mister Boomer took his time and did his best to concentrate. Boom! Four strikes in a row! Both Boomer Brothers were tied, but alas, it was not to be for Mister B. His streak ended at four, a personal best to this day. His brother, however, went on to number five, then six, then seven! The crowd went wild! But in the eighth frame, their glee subsided as he missed a strike by three pins. The crowd dissipated as the brothers finished their games.
Now there is news that bowling alleys that once took in 70+ percent of their revenue from league play have seen that revenue reduced to around 40 percent. In general, bowling attendance has dropped below that of previous decades. That explains the transformation of the “bowling alley” of our era to the “family fun center” that it is today. In Mister Boomer’s area, the bowling centers have gone so far as to drop the word “bowling” from their names altogether, though a couple still retain “bowl.” Most have gone upscale, with gourmet foods, redesigned interiors and prices to match. Those that have targeted families have been forced to present their venues as the ultimate place for children’s parties. One has to believe that Ozzie Nelson — family man that he was — might approve, but Ralph, Ed, Fred and Barney might prefer their bowling experience to be the male bonding experience they had enjoyed — without their wives and children.
It remains to be seen if the final chapters are being written on a sport that was so much a part of our youth. Who knows … the boomer generation may yet revive leagues, even if they only exist through a flat screen TV and a Wii console.
How about it, boomers? Do you still go bowling, or have your bowling bag and shoes been relegated to the garage or attic?