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This must be the place: ‘Subway steam like silhouettes in dreams’

Cold Springs Creek Road. Garret K. Woodward photo Cold Springs Creek Road. Garret K. Woodward photo

Last Thursday, it was decided to go bowling. Galaxy Lanes & Games on the outskirts of downtown Sylva, in a somewhat dormant shopping plaza buffering the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway and greater Jackson County.

Myself, my girlfriend, Sarah, and another couple, who are dear friends. They’ve made a habit of bowling once a week as a way to switch things up in their social lives, but mostly because who doesn’t love bowling? Fun for all ages, in method and in truth.

Walk through the entrance into Galaxy Lanes. The overhead music radiating through the speakers some late 1990s or early 2000s rock, pop or hip-hop melody. Limp Bizkit. Britney Spears. Ja Rule. You get the idea and you’ve also probably got one of those artists’ melodies stuck in your head right now because of reading this.

Meander along the endless racks of community bowling balls. Plastic spheres of bright neon colors. Many with numerous chips in the armor due to misuse or overuse. Finger holes of all sizes. Small for kids and the like. Enormous for god knows who. I grab for two balls. One heavy ball for potential strikes. One lighter ball for more accuracy in cleaning up my lane for a potential spare.

Place the balls at our lane and now head for the bar counter. Bucket of cold domestic beers. Six for $12. What a deal in this day and age, this current economic climate, eh? Crack’em open and salute the athletic endeavor at-hand. Type in our names on the digital scorecard above. Hit “Start Game.” Proceed into friendly competition.

Much like attending a baseball game, bowling is one of those unique experiences where although you’re either watching something or participating in something, you also have moments in-between the action to catch up with friends and loved ones. The same type of actual, genuine conversation that hits deep depths, similar to that of coffee with an old friend in back booth tucked in a diner in Anytown U.S.A.  

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Quality time with quality folks, which is something all too often either lost or forgotten in our modern world of white noise and endless distraction at the hands of technology. Hide out in the diner booth or the bleachers at the baseball field. Hide out at Galaxy Lanes as the outside world is none the wiser to your whereabouts. Galaxy Lanes — the escape we all need, but usually forget exists.

By the second frame of the first game, we’d settled in to our evening. Comments made about the nostalgia of the overhead music. All of us millennials remember when those Limp Bizkit, Britney Spears and Ja Rule tunes were brand new, usually seen and heard for the first time on MTV’s long-gone after-school video program “Total Request Live” (aka: TRL). It’s host, Carson Daly, was my initial inspiration to someday become a music journalist.

Flashbacks of my hometown bowling alley, the Bowl Mart, in the Canadian Border town of Rouses Point, New York (population: 2,225). Although the Bowl Mart is also long gone like TRL, the deserted structure is still standing on the edge of town — paint peeling exterior walls, a parking lot filled with cracks and weeds emerging from said cracks in the aged, crumbling pavement.

It may seem hard to imagine, but, back in the day, the Bowl Mart was the play to be and to be seen, at least when it came to my middle and high school years. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was where all the cool kids, wallflowers, punk rockers and whoever else would head there each weekend — this beacon of irresponsible enlightenment in the darkness of the high ocean waves of cornfields and desolation that is the North Country.

In those days, we were wayward, haphazard teenagers. No plans for the future, at least not yet. No real responsibilities, either. Wives, kids, mortgages, dead-end jobs and unrelenting bills were way beyond the horizon of our youthful intent. In those days, it was shitty weed from local dealers in trailer parks smoked in the parking lot of the Bowl Mart. A couple Coors Light cans snatched from your grandfather’s garage fridge. Head in and bowl a few games, maybe even get a cute girl’s phone number, written down on a piece of paper to call on your landline house phone.

Most of those teenage faces from the Bowl Mart are still up there in North Country. They’re parents to teenagers themselves now. They’re employees of some local business. Some own small businesses. Boating and four-wheelers in the summer. Ice fishing and snowmobiling in the winter. CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada” on Saturday night TV. Cold Labatt Blue bottles in the refrigerator.  

Sure, times were “simpler” back then. Hell, there was even a government surplus when it came to the national budget. But, there were still wars being fought in countries we’d only heard of in social studies class. There were still cultural, societal and moral battles over a person’s politics, skin color, sexual orientation or what a woman has for control (or lack of control) over her own body. The clock keeps ticking faster and faster, even if it seems like “same shit, different shovel.” 

I don’t yearn for the past. But, I do, however, think of it often. I know we all do, but the old soul sentimentalist in me will pull back a few more layers than most. I want to make sense of where I came from, even if a lot of what happened and with who it was with seems skewed in hindsight and, perhaps, a little unfair as to how the cards fells, the dominos toppled or the cookie crumbled.

By the second game at Galaxy Lanes, I had found my rhythm, literally and figuratively. Whirlwind thoughts on a rainy day in April 2024. Knock’em dead strikes here and there. A handful of spares. Mostly open-ended frames of seven or eight pins down, the neon pink ball somewhat useless when I needed to pick up a spare in the clutch moment. No matter, good company surrounded me. Hearty laughter and new moments carved out the time spent together. Gratitude in abundance.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

Leave a comment

1 comment

  • Cute story, but how many English teachers had to die in the process? My brain hurts!

    posted by Rheneas

    Tuesday, 04/30/2024

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