Striking Out on the Town
Eugene’s bowling alleys are home to all kinds
words by Kate Loftesness | photos by Trask Bedortha
|Phil Cruz at Southtowne
|Lanny Thomason at Southtowne
|cosmic bowling at firs bowl
|George Schafer, Joe Morales and Glen Mandzak are Bowling For Beers
|Erich Quist at Southtowne
The thunk of heavy balls hitting hardwood floors, the clank of machinery constantly in motion and the clatter of bowling pins cascading to the floor echo throughout the lanes of Firs Bowl in North Eugene on a Monday night.
Although Fridays and Saturdays draw a younger crowd with the neon lights of cosmic bowling and the promise of weekend recreation, Monday’s 10 Pin League sees a different breed of patrons indicative of the loyalty and longevity of Firs regulars.
“There’s a whole bunch of old guys here,” says Terry Stimac. Stimac commutes once a week from Creswell to bowl in the 10 Pin league. He says the old guys are patient teachers and encourage family bowling.
“They teach the younger guys how to bowl,” he says.
Don Carter, 77 and wearing his matching team Oregon Electric Systems black polo, has been bowling in a Monday night league on and off since 1971, and has been at Firs since 1993.
Connie Hollis, a cook in the Firs Diner, has been working here for 26 years. “A lot of bowlers have come and gone,” she says. Some have passed away, and kids have grown up under her watch.
“There’s not as many kids interested in leagues now as there used to be,” Hollis says.
But Stimac, who earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in psychology from the UO, has kept bowling a family activity. His youngest son, 22, has just taken up the sport again as an adult and bowls with his girlfriend.
Although Stimac once won the Division II city championship after his first year bowling, he insists, “I just had one really, really good day. So it can happen.”
As for why he still bowls with his league team, the Mainframes: “They just keep me around for the handicap!”
Firs Bowl, 1950 River Rd. (541) 688-1558
Blacklights illuminate neon balls flung down bowling lanes towards pins set beneath painted geometric patterns of green, blue, yellow and pink rectangles on the back wall of Strike City Lanes.
Strike City has seen some changes lately, extending cosmic bowling times as well as the bar area, knocking out a few walls to create a much bigger space. The Spare Room Pub makes Strike City the only bowling alley in Eugene with a full bar, which is accessible from inside the bowling alley and has its own outside entrance.
The bar features a new menu of organic burgers, paninis and entrees, two pool tables, two big-screen TVs, tables, booths and couches.
At 8 pm on a Saturday, the bowling crowd has a lot of youngsters. Employee Brad Stephenson says this is pretty typical, but it will pick up later in the evening. “We get some families, some high-schoolers … a little bit of everything,” he says.
Brian Hendrix and Bobby Garnsey, both 22 years old from South Eugene, bowl a frame while drinking beer out of plastic cups.
“We were looking for something to do,” Garnsey says. “Bored!” This is the first time they have bowled at Strike City, but they are excited about the atmosphere.
“I just found out they have a bar here,” Garnsey says. “It makes two reasons to come here.”
Strike City Lanes, 1170 Hwy. 99 N. (541) 688-8900. www.bowlstrikecity.com
“Tick tock on the clock, but the party don’t stop, no-o-o-o-o!”
A group of young girls sing along to the Ke$ha song playing on the radio in the bright fluorescent lights of Emerald Lanes before running off to another group of young people and the arcade games.
The lanes, all full, entertain people from all walks of life on this Saturday night. A crowd made up mostly of middle and high schoolers traveling in packs is interspersed with an occasional toddler and plenty of adults.
Behind the counter where patrons can rent shoes or buy equipment, Brian Zientara waits for customers. He has worked at Emerald Lanes, near the Oakway Center, for six years and says it’s an all-ages crowd all the time.
Emerald, which doesn’t do cosmic bowling, houses 14 total leagues on six nights a week. “We have the most leagues in town,” Zientara says.
On an overwhelmingly teenage Saturday night, you don’t exactly expect to find top tier bowlers, but Zientara used to be a professional. When asked if he’s ever bowled a 300, he instantly responds, “Fifteen.” However, he’s cut back on the intensity of his bowling since then.
“I just kind of got burned out on it,” he says. “If you’re going to be at that level, it’s like a job.”
Emerald Lanes, 140 Oakway Rd. (541) 342-2611.
Tuesday is Casino League night at Southtowne Lanes in South Eugene and the loud atmosphere and adult crowd suggests the name is not too far off.
Kathy, a five-year veteran of the league in a red sweater and matching skort, is happy to talk about her league, “but I’m getting ready to bowl!”
After her turn, she high-fives her teammates and comes back to explain that she joined the league after moving to Eugene from Alaska.
“I like the socialization. I like the competition and it’s just a night that I relax after work,” she said.
A group of burly, intimidating men in black “Bowling for Beer” shirts are a little more outspoken. “This is the best league in town,” they agree. They’re the self-proclaimed loud ones of the league. “The only louder ones are the winos over there,” says Glen, pointing to a team of women he says is called “Ladies’ Night Out.”
Boomer Johnston works the front desk and calls this the more conservative league. “More waters and Pepsis,” he says.
Southtowne seems to have a night for everybody. Monday sees the college crowd, he says — fans of loud music and a party. Wednesday has a younger league that drinks more beer, and Thursdays are slow. Johnston calls Friday and Saturday a “mixed bag” of families and young people from all walks of life, and Sunday is “casual family bowling.”
Southtowne Lanes, 2486 Willamette St. (541) 345-8575. www.southtownelanes.com