In the spirit of my doctor fucking off, I decided that today was a perfect day to go back to the bowling alley to see what was left. My wife joined me, and it happened to be on St. Patrick’s Day so the place was filled with randos in green drinking cheap colored beer. The wonderful, familiar smell hit me first thing walking in the door as we walked past the bar to the restaurant counter.
It looked mostly the same outside but the insides were gutted. The chipped linoleum tables and dingy red plastic chairs were all gone, replaced by bowling lockers. No more sitting inside to eat your food. It was bewildering for a moment and I asked the bored girl behind the counter when they took out the tables and chairs. She didn’t know. I asked her how long has she worked there and she said for about a year. I took a chance and asked if there was anyone who had worked there for a long time, and she said, “Oh yeah. Sue.”
“Is Sue here by any chance?”
I’m kind of freaking out right now. “Can I talk to her?”
“Sure, let me go get her.”
The girl disappeared into the bowels of the kitchen and a minute later, the face of an older lady peeked around the corner, a confused but curious little smile on her face. My wife standing behind me saying, “Oh my God, this is so cool.”
I said Hi to Sue and asked her a bunch of rapid-fire questions. She started working in the kitchen 40 years ago, almost as long as I’ve been alive. I told her about coming with my mom on Thursday ladies’ league nights, and she yepped and remembered. I told her about how I and the gangs of other bored kids used to get in trouble running around from the arcade to the long hallway at the very end of the building where we would have paper airplane flying competitions and sometimes get into fights and she yepped again and remembered it all.
“Kids are still getting in trouble down in that hallway,” she said.
Sue told me about the Kalafats, Peggy and George, long since retired. About the tables and chairs being removed and the lockers put in about six years ago. I thanked her for taking the time and asked if I could take her picture and she got a little embarrassed. I wondered about the last time a stranger had asked to take her picture. Maybe never.
We couldn’t eat inside the restaurant so went down to the bar. We laughed about meeting Sue, how it was a little surreal that she just happened to be there, like my own personal time machine taking me back to 1985. I wondered if she’d had her tattoos since then or if they were new. What else had changed in her life during that time, if anything?
We sat there looking around the bar, watching the impatient bowlers come up to the order window to get a drink, looking over their shoulders every few seconds to see if it was their turn to bowl yet. The girl behind the bar running back and forth, working hard. She made two Jack-and-Cokes and my wife pointed out that she wasn’t stingy with the Jack. I liked that and gave her a little extra tip.
Our burgers came, and we ate them pretty much in silence. I couldn’t even finish my beer, but it was a massive 32-oz. plastic cup of Bell’s Two-Hearted, which was a notable change. They definitely didn’t have locally-brewed IPA on tap there back when we were bowling in leagues 20 years ago. And the burgers came on a fancy Kaiser bun and weren’t as greasy as I recalled, but still pretty great.
There was a table of about nine people hanging out behind us and they asked the bar girl to change the TV to the Notre Dame women’s basketball game. When we left, none of them were watching basketball. They were all looking at their phones and my wife wondered if they were playing a game together. It was strange and I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t really say anything.
I’ll be 42 in three weeks and maybe I’ll have a mid-life crisis soon and start up a food truck business. My original idea was a School Lunch truck in an old school bus that serves meals like pizza and corn and a little square of brownie on a plastic tray. But maybe it should just be something simple instead.
The Rolling Diner, specializing in burgers and fries. Maybe I can hire Sue to run it with me.
Steve Lowe is the author of seven books, including YOU ARE SLOTH! and the soon-to-be-reissued MUSCLE MEMORY.