Old-school bowling

A North Portland fixture

A North Portland fixture

Ever since the fall bowling season ended in December, my friend Brian and l have dealt with a mild case of withdrawal.

To go from bowling every Monday night to quitting cold-turkey has freed up an extra weeknight, to be sure. But it’s also eliminated a regular source of relaxation and friendly competition. I mean, really, how cutthroat can coed bowling be?

On Sunday, Brian and I decided to hit the lanes again and try out a new venue in the process: Interstate Lanes, a ‘50s-era bowling alley in North Portland’s Overlook neighborhood that screams “old school.”

Brian & George

Brian & George

The building looks tired – it’s basically a concrete box with a weathered, rusty sign – but inside we found a lively scene: families, teenagers, young singles, middle-aged women, all gathered together in a place that made you feel you’d stepped back in time.

As one Yelp reviewer put it: “I really like Interstate Lanes for what it is…old fashioned, out-dated, cheap bowling.”

Think of an open book and how the pages lie on each side of the spine. That’s the interior layout of Interstate Lanes.

Entering through an automatic sliding door, you encounter the front desk and cash register straight ahead. And then you do a double take when you realize there are 10 lanes on one side of the building and 10 lanes on the other side, separated by the front desk and, behind it, a cluster of four pool tables.

Ten lanes on opposite sides of the building? Yep.

Ten lanes on opposite sides of the building? Yep.

Beyond the billiards area lies the snack bar, offering the usual jojos and pizza, and restrooms. Up on the wall are the week’s high scorers, their first initials and last names spelled out on one of those old display boards with movable letters.

The ceilings have more water stains than you can count and the automatic scoring screens are definitely retro, displaying none of the fancy graphics you’ll see at newer places.

Though some might find it sketchy, I would disagree .The feeling is intimate, the vibe is friendly and the prices can’t be beat. We bowled four games each at $2 per game – a grand total of $8 per person. Compare that to other places that charge $5 a game or $16 for a two-hour session.

Between sips of Hefeweizen and handfuls of microwaved popcorn, we had our ups and downs after a long layoff from bowling. For every hot streak (or even a lukewarm one), there were plenty of missed spares and 7-10 splits to keep us humble.

Bowling, followed by billiards.

Bowling, followed by billiards.

After we finished, I suggested an impromptu game of billiards and we wound up playing for an hour, giving us ample time to chat about our aging parents (Brian’s mom is about to turn 88, and my dad just turned 89) and their health issues.

All told, we spent three hours in the kind of place that’s becoming more endangered with each passing year. Fewer people are bowling in organized leagues, as the social scientist Robert Putnam observed in his 2000 book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

But what’s taking a heavier toll is the economics. It takes a lot of money to maintain a bowling alley, and I can totally see why an owner would look to sell it to a business or developer looking to build a new retail store or apartments.

Someday, maybe even soon, that may be the fate of Interstate Lanes. Until that day comes, I’m thankful knowing there’s at least this one old-school place to bowl.

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2 thoughts on “Old-school bowling

  1. George, as I get older, I often find myself hearing my Dad reminding me that ” you have two ears and one mouth so listen twice as much as you talk”. Don’t worry, my kids roll their eyes at me just like I did at mine 🙂

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