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Bowling Alley Food

(post, Trista Cornelius)

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Facing dwindling days of summer fun, my man got the urge to go bowling.  "Okay," I'd say, "plan it, and we'll go."  Can you hear my enthusiasm?  It's not that I didn't want to hang with my man, it's just that bowling alleys meant dark, dank, dingy, smoke-filled, and sticky. Blech.

Well, my man followed through, and feeling like kids skipping school, we found ourselves at the bowling alley on a workday afternoon.  The humid, rainy weather had me wishing to be on the couch with my library books.  'He really wants to do this,' I kept reminding myself so I'd keep my glumness to myself.  We parked underground and walked toward the neon entrance sign flickering like something from a low-budget horror film.  I took one last deep inhale of parking garage fresh air and braced myself for the dim smokey cavern that waited at the top of the stairs.

"Hear that?" my man said before opening the door.

"Mmmm?" I replied, breath held, eyebrows raised in response.  Then, I heard it too, the pounce and slide of bowling balls gliding down the lanes overhead, hefty pins cascading like a brief, fierce summer storm.  Cool.

Bright light led us up the stairs to clean, cool air.  I exhaled and smiled in relief.  I'd forgotten Oregon does not allow smoking indoors anywhere.  A horizon of at least 20 lanes spread out before us.  A few other couples playing hooky took up a few of the lanes.  A hip, twenty-something asked us, "How many games do you want to purchase?"  It had been so long since I last bowled with any real attention to the act that I didn't know how to answer.  "Well, if you're thinking of a beer run or two," he smiled, "Two games is about minimum."  

We purchased two games, slipped on our totally un-smelly shoes and picked out our balls, his dark blue, mine orange, both --sticky.  Well, some things shouldn't change.  

After playing, what do you call it, two rounds?  Anyway, after each of us--uh, threw?--the ball twice, we caught each other's glance.  "Beer?" my man asked, "It's PBR!"  In artisanal/micro-brew-happy Portland, PBR is kind of his signature drink.  "I'll take a couple sips of yours," I said.  I've mostly lost my taste for alcohol, but I saw curly fries on the snack bar menu and thought they'd help me wash down a few swigs of PBR. We also decided to take our chances with the hummus plate, mostly because we were thrilled to see something vegan on the menu.  It's just that hummus plates make up the one vegan option at many restaurants.  I'm always grateful to have a vegan option and shouldn't complain, but they're often so unimaginative:  glop of hummus, pita triangles, a few olives, and some feta cheese (that my man usually takes for his salad or sandwich).  

"I'll call your number on the loud and abrasive intercom when your order is ready" the hip, twenty-something snack bar cashier said.  She wore glasses and a cool dress and seemed kind of shy and reflective.  I liked her immediately. 

We continued to bowl, and my mood shifted from sluggish and extremely self-conscious, to whoops and hops for each strike (mostly the man's but occasionally mine), to strutting back to our table vowing to join a mixed league, wear my grandmother's bowling shirt and use her blue bowling bag to tote her baby blue ball engraved with her first name.  The plastic cup of PBR we shared might have had something to do with my strutting.  The pale, lightly carbonated beer suited my palate so well, my man had to go back for a second cup shortly after our food arrived.  

"Number 41, your order is ready" the PA system boomed over the cavernous hall.  I ran up to the snack counter.  "It feels like winning the lottery," I told the cashier.  She smiled encouragingly at my joke.  I realize now that she'd make an excellent elementary school teacher.  Although we had no further conversation--mostly becuase the hummus plate overwhelmed my expectations--we waved goodbye to each other when my man and I finally left as if we were good friends who would see each other again soon.

"Wow!" I said when I set the food down.  The curly fries were exactly what they should be--fried crispy and dark with spices and coiled tightly--except they weren't the one-pound large size I'd wanted to order and managed not to only because the cashier described them as profoundly too much for two people, so it seemed a little embarrassing even though I knew we would have eaten them all.  

The hummus plate--sheesh, fancy restaurants ought to take a lesson from the bowling alley!!!  Sure, the pita were in triangles, but they were delicately toasted, just bits of golden brown around the edges like the cook had held them with tongs over a gas flame one at a time.  And yes, the glop of hummus rose from the center of the plate, but it was a generous glop, smooth, rich, and hearty.  Giant green olives mixed with smaller kalamata olives.  Crunchy, thick wedges of pickled purple onion mixed with roasted red peppers next to large chunks of vibrant white feta cheese.  

We devoured it all, even the last drop of the beer.  After we bowled our two games, we relaxed in the swivel chairs, eyeing our street shoes but hesitant to change out of our playing-hooky-uniform.  We gazed at the scoreboard like other couples gaze at sunsets.  My man seemed particularly relieved to achieve a score over 100, like it established some mark of acceptibility for him, like it would be safe for us to show our faces again there some day.  

The novelty of throwing a heavy ball down a well-oiled lane, the soothing grease and salt of swirly fries, the light effervescence of cheap beer, and the colorful and filling hummus platter might just make the perfect once-a-month, mid-week, shake-us-out-of-our-doldrums date.  Too bad my grandmother's bowling shoes don't fit me!