The Bar Chronicles: #3, The ‘Pinboy’

Bar Night 2

‘…bowling really blossomed, particularly among blue-collar types, in the 1950′s and 1960′s after the introduction of the automatic pinsetter’ John McDuling

It was ‘bar night’ for three ‘old’ friends at a local pub in Rochester, NY, ‘The Lost Borough’. Our plan, enjoy a couple of signature brews and add another saga to ‘The Bar Chronicles’. The pub was busy, ‘trivia night’, complete with a booming voice emcee, eager crowd and ample beer to encourage gamesmanship. It added up to a rowdy atmosphere with plenty of hootin’ and hollerin’.

We selected an ‘ale’ from a ‘flight’ and forged ahead with our own game of ‘remember when’, parrying back and forth with personal recollections of our earliest work experiences, our first actual paying jobs.

We were delivery boys in pickup trucks and shoeshine boys on Main Street. We were floor sweepers in a haberdashery and washed cars at a used car dealership. And we were pinboys’ in a bowling alley, at least one was.

‘Pinboys’, a romantic word in a nostalgic sort of way. I was too young to remember ‘pinboys’, but one of us was the right age to be one. He was a teenager and his work station was at the end of a bowling lane where he perched himself on a bench above the pit. When the pins exploded off the deck from the impact of 16 pound balls rolled down the lane like fodder shot from a cannon, he quickly jumped into the pit and went into action; rolled the ball back, cleared ‘deadwood’, or reset new pins for another roll.

Generally, a ‘pinboy’, or pinsetter, managed two lanes, hence speed was an asset, and a priority. Younger boys with small hands could handle ‘two pins a hand’ while the older boys managed three. With pins in place, he’d jump back to his seat, step on a pedal to lower the rods, or pin holders, and wait for the next roll. A good day returned 8 or 9 cents a game, and an afternoon of work brought in some extra cash for this young man’s coal mining family in the post-Depression coal mining region of eastern Pennsylvania.

Tell me about your first job. Did you like it? What did you learn? I cleaned metal paint pots for a painting company and abhorred it. But I learned lessons of responsibility and discipline that comes from hard work, and stays with you for life. I got paid, but it wasn’t ‘romantic’ like my friend’s job, a ‘pinboy’.  I wish I could have been a ‘pinboy’…alas, I was too young.

Srbottch
Srbottch.Com

 

The Bar Chronicles: #2, Coal Was King

Bar Night 2

‘Coal Was King’

It was coal country and there were bars on every corner. My dad came home from work, black face, sometimes unrecognizeable. I had to get outta there…and I did.” (A friend)

We had our second ‘bar night’ recently, my friend and I, leaving the house for a couple of hours of ‘senior bonding’.  Two beers, this time. The choice, again, Guinness, and the setting, Thirsty’s, a small but vibrant ‘watering hole’ in the heart of Pittsford, NY, across from Starbucks and steps from the Erie Canal.

Thirsty’s doesn’t have a sign over its front door, doesn’t need it. On a week night in December, business was brisk, with patrons of all ages in good spirits, days before the Christmas holiday.

It was unusually mild weather for the start of a western New York winter and the crowded pub was warm.  We arrived just as two barstools were vacated.  With dark beers in hand, we raised our mugs to the other’s good health and the conversation began.

Personal stories that take us well back in time are often fascinating. Telling them with the background din of other ‘spinners’ and patrons reaching between us for their beers, added to our evening experience in this iconic village bar.

My friend’s narrative was no exception and the pictures he painted are still unfolding in my mind’s eye. He took me deep into the coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania while offering a glimpse of a young man’s life in a mining family. All of this ‘time travel’ while perched on wooden stools, a beer in one hand and the other stretched out and anchored on the bar to mark our borders from the pressing crowd.

Coal was king in eastern Pennsylvania in the 1930s. The mines flourished while the earth gave up its mother lode of solid black gold, albeit reluctantly. Miners, often immigrants, worked tirelessly in an environment fraught with danger, scraping and shoveling, removing coal layer by layer, loading it into ‘cars’ to be hauled above ground.

In the shortest days of winter, workers entered mines in early morning darkness, leaving their frozen breathes at the ‘drift portal’, like a gentleman checks a coat. At day’s end, the pitch darkness welcomed them out, camouflaged as they were with dust, black coal dust, on them and in them.

“Another round, fellas?” The call snapped us back. Without a word, we threw down the last bit of beer, paid our ‘cash only’ tab and relinquished our prime seats. It was late, two beers down and our eyelids were heavy. I reached back for a last handful of bar snacks as we put another good evening behind us.

The streetlights cast feint shadows over the historic canal, empty now, reduced to a mere ditch in winter when it’s murky waters are drained.  As we walked, I looked at my friend through tired eyes and thought about the different paths we’ve traveled. Life is an adventure and it makes for good stories, good bar stories.

srbottch

Dedicated to my friend, Steve P, and story tellers everywhere.