Wrapping up my third week as a lane server, I’ve gotten to know almost all of the regulars at the bowling alley. And I’m learning that almost everyone who comes in is a regular, not just the league players. With the exception of Thursday nights and weekends, almost everyone in the place between 5 p.m. and midnight either comes in a couple times a week, or used to be one of the bartenders, or is married to one of the managers, or has some other personal connection with the place. I love the human connection at my job. The tips make it rewarding- the people make it enjoyable.
I’m becoming one of the gang with the league bowlers. I know which ones drink, what they’re drinking, and how often they’ll want a refill. I know which ones haven’t drank in years since some of their friends died. Some like to tell me what colleges they went to, where they work, and, of course, if they’re bowling a good game or not. If it’s a bad game, I serve them an order of all the luck I can muster, and they really appreciate the help.
Some of leaguers want to be left to bowl in peace. My job is to walk by, make eye contact, maybe point at them. If they want another beer, they’ll hold up an empty bottle or hand me their empty pitcher. Usually, they’ll smile, nod or wave me on, and I keep moving. But most of the bowlers are really there for the camaraderie, and I’ve earned my spot in the group. They’ll be very disappointed if I don’t stop and talk to them. They want to know how my day has been, why I’m not wearing glasses this time, if I’m getting good tips. If I’m not busy, they’ll try to persuade me to sit down with them. They’ve already learned about my major, my hometown, when I started working, how I like the job, and- inevitably- whether or not I’m single. The really observant ones want to know exactly what the silver ring on my wedding ring finger means and who gave it to me.
Being a friendly young woman serving a group of mostly middle-aged (some younger or older) men (there are women, too, who I might write about later) who are hanging out together being macho and drinking means that I get hit on pretty much constantly. The flirting comes in all forms, ranging from playfully innocent to downright creepy. Some guys try to trip me, hassle me, and complain about everything (with a smirk). I can be sassy and downright rude to those guys, they think it’s hilarious. They’d love to see me frazzled, but are just as happy when I fight back. They’re kinda fun now that I’m used to them.
Then there are the men who are overly friendly in a non-threatening way. Tonight was really slow. Bill could tell that I was bored and figured I probably wasn’t making many tips, so he ordered a tall Bud Select even though he rarely drinks. Then he ordered food, even though he ate before he came to the bowling alley. He let me recommend the chicken strips to him, upgraded to a combo, and let me eat the first chicken strip since he wasn’t really hungry. So I got free food, something to do, and a tip for it. Bill paid for a bunch of stuff he didn’t really want, and loved doing it. Those kind of men are pretty cool.
Naturally, there are creepers. I can’t wait to bring Michael in sometime and show him off a bit in hopes that they might back down a little bit. If it ever got too bad, I could complain. Luckily, it hasn’t gotten to that yet. The creepers try to persuade me to sit on their laps. They try to order my phone number…and various other things. They ask what time I get off work, and I don’t tell them. They offer to get rid of my boyfriend for me. Those men like to pat me on the back, lay a hand on my shoulder, or gently move me aside when they manage to frequently walk past me. Sometimes I joke around with them, but I mostly try to keep it more professional than with any of the other guys. Except, of course, that I make it a point to mention my boyfriend and re-emphasize how serious we are as often as possible. I’m not scared because I know that the Bills are looking out for me and would come to my rescue if the creepers ever really tried anything. It’s a safe place.
Slow nights can be boring, but it’s nice to have a time to chat with people. I get to find out whose kid is selling girl scout cookies and whose knee is sore and whose been pissed about their bowling score all season. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a life outside the bowling alley that somehow merges into this unique culture and community once they walk through those doors and step onto the lane.