An Orbit Obit: Interstate Lanes

bowling sign

On April 30, 2015 I blogged about Interstate Lanes. The piece was posted exactly a year before the bowling alley’s last day of operation. At that time, I had heard rumors that alley operations would cease, but I was resistant to considering it. My denial was strong enough to let me enjoy one more year of the bowling alley. Over the course of that year, I didn’t step foot into the place until the last day of business, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t happy to see it each time I drove or rode by. I’ve also appreciated knowing the people of North Portland, who really needed a bowling alley, had one close by.

interstate entrance

bowling mural (1)

Huddled for warmth and bowling!

Needing one last taste of bowling atmosphere I headed over to Interstate Lanes in the afternoon of the last day of operation. I needed to see the red neon outlining the windows and the other decor left over from a bygone era. Whether it’s ’70’s, ’80’s or 90’s it’s hard to tell but bowling chic is comforting. The multicolored, multiple bowling, bowlers mural was magical. A kind of magic that’s hard to let go. That was part of the beauty of the bowling alley, the ability to escape into a bowling world and shutting other world out. There’s the clatter of falling pins, blaring classic rock and the mechanical sounds of the machines cleaning up pins and spitting back bowling balls. I think Interstate Lanes was clued into my bowling world concept. On one side of the alley, the interior decorations resembled giant bowling balls rolling over cityscapes–a bowling world takeover? The intergalactic mural on the outside of the building spoke to my world domination through bowling theory.

One side empty (1)


I bombed into the alley on that last day with my camera phone blazing trying to get the right shot of the congenial note on the door reading:

Interstate Lanes will close
at midnight tonight for the last time.
We want to thank all of
our loyal customers for supporting
Interstate Lanes for so many years.

The worker at the counter gave me the hairy eyeball. I was self-conscious but I’ve since come to realize that people who blaze into bowling alleys with phone cameras held high are annoying. I wanted one last peek at the the bowling gear vending machine. I stood in front of it only to find it empty. Bowling gear purchased from a machine like tape and powder and maybe ball cleaning supplies has always amazed me. Next to the machine was a glass case with bowling pins on sale for five bucks. I had no cash on me. One side of the alley was empty but the other had a few bowlers who seemed to be enjoying themselves. I watched a girl bowl. Seeing her knock down nine out of ten pins felt satisfying. I looked at the ceiling. It looked stained and worn out. It hit me. After that evening’s cosmic bowling session the alley would lock the doors and never open them again.

bowling pins for sale (1)

A short history of my visits to Interstate Lanes and my experience with bowling in general reveal a mild obsession. I was once in a bowling league. There’s nothing like the pressure of trying to pick up a spare with one pin left and a match on the line. As you can imagine, I whiffed and it’s haunted me to this day. The PE credit I picked for a college bowling course offered little improvement to my mechanics. We grew up with a grandmother who watched duckpin bowling on Saturdays. Years later we had to break the news that the bowling coverage was being cancelled. Working in a group home I had opportunities to watch bowling and I appreciated the talents of the guy who throws the ball down the lane without using the finger holes. I made two visits to Interstate Lanes: once, just after we moved out here and again when a subsection of our book group decided to meet there. With only three members present, a haphazard discussion of Being There broke out during our quest for strikes.

I’m going to miss that place. It seems obvious now why the paint was peeling outside. There was no reason to spruce up what’s going to be torn down. An apartment building will never have the charm or character that this bowling alley had and yes I can accept the economics of it all but I don’t like the idea of people having to hoof it over to Big Al’s or out to Gresham to go bowling. Maybe Grand Central is not so bad. It seems strange that a bowling alley closing puts a hole in my heart, but I know I’d feel the same about a movie theater shutting down or other forms of old school entertainment. What gets me sad is that sooner than later I’ll drive up Interstate to see a hole in the ground. Bulldozers or wrecking balls will have quietly moved in and not so quietly done their dirty work. A year ago I was writing about bowling alone, which seems like a strange and impossible concept to me, but now I’m writing about not bowling at all, at least not in North Portland.

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