Duck Pin Bowling and Pinball, two past times from my childhood that are slowly fading from our post art deco industrial landscape. I grew up in Glenmont, Maryland, just a bit outside of Washington, DC. It was a great place to grow up near. Just a short walk across Randolph road from my home was Bambino’s Pizza, next to the Laundromat, where the pizza was good, but the steak and cheese subs were the best.
On the other side of the Laundromat, was the “Cue Club”, where you’d make your way downs a sketchy blue cinder block and concrete stairwell, and find 12 pool tables, paid by the hour, and 3-4 pinball machines. I’d check out the crowd before entering Cue Club, knowing some of the local toughs and greasers were cool, but some would go out of their way to harass you. Finally, just across the parking lot, was the Glenmont Arcade, where down stairs was Tuffy Leeman’s Duckpins, one of the best Duckpin Bowling lanes in the US.
The world record highest scoring 3 game was set there in 1978. Although it is possible to score 300 for a perfect game, a perfect game has never been bowled, and the highest single game score stands at 265.
I’d more often than not, choose to hang out at Tuffy’s as a teenager throughout junior high and high school. Alphonse “Tuffy” Leeman was an accomplished 1960’s Giants NFL running back, who bought the place as an investment, and who was later inducted in the Football Hall of Fame. He was a Glenmont local. The choice was between Cue Club and Tuffy’s and would depend on what pinball machines each place had, and what the patronage hanging out around the machines was for the night.
It was something I looked forward to when I had a dollar or two of quarters to spend. It was a real sensory overload, at Tuffy’s. A veritable people watching mecca with the crowd of bowling leaguers being a mix of working class patrons, and families, taking to the lanes in rented shoes. Crankers running down the lane, delivering high arcing wind-ups of near pirouette like delivery, trying to render the pins to splinters. And there were the Strokers, with a direct and sensible delivery without flourish focused on targeting precision. All, in the end, hurling softball sized bowling balls down the lane at short and squat versions of bowling pins, called Duckpins. The aftermath of throwing the ball was a crescendo of pins spinning, mechanized resetting of bins, balls returned through an art deco inspired finned ball return, like a chromed version of an early 1960’s Cadillac.
It was a blur of continuous motion across their 20 lanes. Wave after wave of a cacophonous clacking and crashing, followed by joyous celebrations of achievement, to foul mouth cursing at balls gone awry, with a loud, scratchy intercom directing the bowling staff to check on Lane 8 or some other bowling emergency. The air within the place a melange of wood oil, shoe disinfectant, beer, cigarettes, and deep fried bowling alley food. It was a teenager’s paradise, a world away from home just across Randolph Road.
In the background, the pinging and clattering of pinball machines, for the non-bowling patrons, occasionally accentuated by a loud “POP!”, as a winning a special, or high score awarded a free game. I didn’t bowl much, it was about pinball for me.
There is something more real about pinball than video games. You are more connected to the action and to the physics of the game. A good player could play a single game for over a 1/2 hour for a quarter. The play action was like a mechanized Rube Goldberg device, where you needed to figure out what sequence of bumpers, target hits, ramps, and knocking down cards, would win you a free ball, or a free game. Beyond playing the game, you had to know the unwritten etiquette when playing. If you didn’t follow it and offended the wrong guy, you could literally be beaten.
- Reserve Using Quarters – First, if you wanted to play a machine that was currently occupied, it was ok to put a quarter on the playfield glass, to indicate you were in line to play. If the player was cool, he’d put his quarters on the glass, so you knew how many more games they were planning to play. Really cool players would offer to let you join the next game, since pinball normally had up to 4 players.
- Give the Player Room – You never stood too close to a player, you had to give them their room, even in a crowded room.
- Don’t Stand In Sight of the Player – You needed to stand to the side or to the back of the player and not disrupt their field of view. If they felt that you broke their concentration, you’d hear about it and get blamed for any bad ball play on their part.
It is a bygone era now, but it was fun while it lasted.
For posterity, pinball, and duckpins, a “daily post” challenge.