Friday, September 20, 2013

Ethiopia: On a Roll at the Bowlarama... or Not

I hadn’t been bowling in ages, so when I got the invitation for a friend’s bowling birthday party, it was a no-brainer.

It would take place at the only modern bowling alley in town, Bowlarama at Laphto Mall.  “Twelve fully automated bowling lanes in Addis Ababa,” the advertisements boasted, “with state of the art Brunswick bowling equipment.”

“This bodes well,” I thought.

In addition to Bowlarama, I had heard tell of a second bowling alley in town.  This one was decidedly not modern, supposedly still utilizing children in the back to manually reset the pins.  I never tried this one which was frowned upon by the diplomatic community for its inherent child-labor problems.

In any case, I met up with some friends, and we carpooled out to the Old Airport district on the day of the party.

The night would turn out to be a series of hiccups, and the first happened as soon as we arrived.  Our group turned up at the counter, and finger-pointing quickly ensued.  The organizers on our side claimed they had booked ahead, and the Bowlarama staff claimed they hadn’t.  It didn’t really matter who was to blame, though, for by now the lanes were mostly full.

Gutter ball number one.

Undeterred, we crowded about 25 people on two lanes.  I don’t like bowling with more than four or five people on a lane, as the pace is just too slow, and I tried to sit out.

“Come on! It’ll be fun!” my friends pressured, and I schlepped up to the shoe counter like a good sheep and checked out a pair.

All the lanes needed some urgent care, and the one on which I ended up was perhaps the worst of all.

For starters, the lights had long since gone out on the scoring computer.  Of our entire group, only one friend and I had any clue whatsoever about how to manually score a game – and to be honest, this friend was struggling quite a bit herself.  We split up so that each of us could manage one of our lanes.

Gutter ball number two.

The lane issues didn’t end there.  My lane was permanently missing pins 6 and 7 (third row, right, and back row, left).

Gutter ball number three.

When we started bowling our first round, these missing pins immediately started a debate.  My thought was that a gutter ball should be worth zero; a strike – eight pins, in this case – would be worth ten points, and any ball between a gutter and a strike would qualify for two extra points to account for the two missing pins.  Others objected to this, insisting that the two “free” points should only be awarded in the case of strikes.   This made no sense to me, however, and since I was the one holding the pencil, I won the debate.

I was last in the line-up, which meant I had about two years to wait before my first roll.  Putting my free time to good use, though, I moseyed over to the snack bar.  The menu was pretty impressive, but when I tried to order a drink, I got some sad news.

“Unfortunately,” the attendant explained, “we are out of alcohol.”

Desperate, I gestured toward the beer tap on the bar.

“Empty,” he told me.

Gutter ball number four.

I returned to my lane with a coke in hand, and soon thereafter, it was my turn.

I selected a ball, approached the lane, and started into my run-up.  And I nearly ended up with a face full of maple.

Not only was the lane not polished and slick, it was actually sticky.  Forget about working a glide on such a rough surface.

Gutter ball number five.

Even though it ended in failure, my lane approach didn’t go unnoticed.

“Nice job there, Tinkerbell!” my colleague shouted.  “That’s some fancy footwork!”

I didn’t have time for the peanut gallery, though; it was time to redeem myself!  For my second attempt, I stood like a statue at the end of the lane and swung the ball a few feet in front of me.  It landed dead center, traveling at a decent clip.  Then, about three-quarters of the way down, it hit a pothole and popped into the gutter.  Doh!  I earned a big fat goose egg for my first round.

Gutter ball number six.

My teammates weren’t doing much better than I was, and if a stranger had glanced at our score card, it would be reasonable to assume this was a 5-year-old’s birthday, and not a party for someone six times that age.  Even worse, we were all as sober as deacons.

About halfway through the never-ending game, the birthday portion of the evening kicked off.  We sang the song, cut the cake; and someone appeared with a few pizzas.  Then we were playing with greasy balls the rest of the night.  Bowling with dirty hands is a lapse of etiquette to be sure, but at this point, we had pretty much hit rock bottom anyway.

I eventually ended up with a miserable 88 in what was one of the worst games of my life.  Sadly, though, it was still good enough to claim victory on my lane.

The birthday boy, perhaps unaware of the waning enthusiasm of the group, asked if anyone was up for a second game.  Everyone avoided eye contact; people started checking their watches; crickets chirped.

It was settled: We would change venues!  Sayonara, Bowlarama!

I pulled off my bowling shoes, and reported to the counter to collect my real shoes.  Bowlarama, it seemed, would have one more surprise waiting for me.

“Sorry, bro,” the guy told me, “they’ve already been claimed.”

“Excuse me?” I asked, very much unamused.

“Someone already got them,” he repeated.  “They’re not here.”

This was just dandy.  Gutter ball number seven!

Unwilling to go home shoeless, and in no mood to explain proper shoe safeguarding to the clueless clerk, I set out, scrutinizing everybody’s feet as I walked.

After a few minutes, I spotted my wandering footwear on a young Ethiopian man who was bowling the far lane.

“I think you’ve got my shoes,” I told him.

“Oh, really?” he replied.  “I got them at the counter.”

Apparently when the clerk took my shoes and exchanged them for bowling shoes, he put my shoes in a cubby hole.  Then someone came by later, turned in his shoes, and received my street shoes as bowling shoes.  Amateur hour!  My shoes didn’t even look like bowling shoes.   They were Converse low tops.

The man with my shoes, who was pretty much innocent in the scandal, was quick to give them up.  I hit the shoes with a generous spritz of antibacterial spray at the counter and made a beeline for the door.

I’ve said it on several occasions, but on this night it was especially apt:  Thank goodness for the after-party!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I enjoy your realistic stories