It was about 15 years ago when, with my grandson and namesake, Arthur, I drove from our home in Camp Luna to the 900 block of Railroad Avenue, aka Tough Street, there to visit my childhood haunt.
I wanted to give my oldest grandchild a close-up look at the neighborhood and do some reminiscing.
We discussed how the barrio once teemed with activity: kids batted balls, skipped rope, rode bikes, roller skated, played hopscotch and baseball. There was a constant game, despite the condition of the road. The streets numbered above 600 were not paved. Our baseball games were played in a block-long section of the easternmost part of Columbia, ending at the tracks. That was our Yankee Stadium.
What I really wanted to do that day was show Arthur how impressive our little field was. This time it seemed much smaller than I remembered.
We took baseball equipment on our mini-excursion. Having Arthur pitch to me, I knocked the horsehide w-a-y over the tracks the first two times I batted. I was in my mid-fifties at the time. Why is it that while in my teens, knocking the ball that far would have been a dream?
As a youngster, why hadn’t I been able to knock the ball all the way to Tucumcari, or at least KFUN Hill? Why was that feat accomplished easily and often by Don Archuleta, an eighth-grader who started with the Cardinals baseball team? Why could Paul, Waldron, Junior, David, Johnny, Clyde, Jimmy, Tony, Abran, Leroy, Joe and the two Freds murder the ball, whereas I couldn’t — until I reached my mid-50s?
Few neighbor kids owned baseballs, gloves or bats. I did, by virtue of selling Optics and buying equipment, an acquisition that made me popular. A stream of neighbors came to our house, asking if they could borrow my stuff. I wasn’t always invited to become part of the loan transaction.
Things changed. So did the neighborhood. Boys moved away, got married, joined the service, became inutile, passed away. I aged too.
As a kid, there was another kind of ball I enjoyed playing: bowling. I spent hours setting pins at the bowling alley on the 500 block of Grand. There’s still a single door next to a defunct auto parts store that once led to an eight-lane bowling alley.
Early in my stint as a pin boy (the machinery was not fully automated), I learned it was not politically correct to use the words “alley” or “gutter” in reference to the establishment and the game itself. “Please, Art, call them ‘lanes,’” the boss would insist, “and when it lands in that low spot, it’s not a gutter ball but a ‘channeled’ ball.”
The bowling place on Grand usually was occupied by hosts of boys hoping to be assigned a lane or two and earn a bit of cash. The pay was seven cents a line for each person bowling. A team of four, then, bowling a full game, would earn us 28 cents.
On league nights, when teams filled the building and competed for championships, the pickings were great. There were eight lanes, usually taken by the bigger, more experienced boys who chose two lanes. Some of us made a deal with the greedier types by asking to help, for a share of the loot, usually a whole quarter.
It was work. The first time I attempted to set pins on two lanes, I discovered how much sweat one can generate. I helped several times, on the promise that the boy I joined would give me 25 cents. Some boys didn’t seem to notice that if pinboys did a good job, the bowler often rolled a quarter down the lane as a tip. Those I kept.
Being a pinboy almost required us to wear a helmet. Though the pins seldom flew high, on occasion an errant pin would come toward our temple. Sometimes, if those who played on organized “league” teams left early, the boss, Tony Baros, would let us boys bowl free.
Around that time a man named Frank Skibo, touted as a bowling pro, took a job at the lanes. He always seemed to make a good share of strikes and spares. I swear I saw some of the balls he threw not only curve but make an actual “s” configuration.
A lot of those memories came back early this week as I joined my son Diego, his wife, Connie and two daughters, Carly and Celina, at the new three-lane business located in JC’s pizza parlor on the Plaza.
Las Vegas had been laneless for years. And when the larger, more modern 12-lane Vegas Bowl opened up some 50 years ago, Highlands University even offered a one-credit PE course there.
Things have changed in the 60 years since I set pins. The new lanes feature an overhead monitor that keeps score for the bowlers. The ball return is automatic, not dependent on a human down the lane to send the ball back. A machine racks the pins automatically. We even noticed that there’s a feature that acts as a guard and prevents balls from going into the gutter –er— channel.
A group of small kids who were there Saturday often bounced the ball off that rail, making the ball careen toward the pins, possibly improving their scores.
In our case, we hadn’t rolled too many balls before Diego said, exasperatedly, “Let’s all try real hard to break 100.”
Well, blindfolded, all of us ought to have been able to do that. But it happened only for Diego, with 103; Connie scored 97, and the rest of us . . . well let’s not go into that now. And besides, there’s a saying: “It isn’t whether you make strikes and spares, or ‘channel’ the ball but how you play the game.”
We must have bowled quietly Saturday because occasionally we could even hear a pin drop.