Allen shook his head woefully. "No, what you see adds up. Bowling's still very much what it used to be. And, not to be cruel, but as you can see, they're not very good-looking people. They're not well dressed, and they're not in great shape." Allen paused. "But they're good people. They're very good people."
I surely don't know what the future holds for bowling. But I know that the one thing that bothered me on my visit to this peculiar little universe was that bowling seems to be so very embarrassed about itself. In many respects it denies the very people who constitute the heart of bowling, who love bowling, who support bowling, who are bowling. I think bowling will prosper in the long run only if it just lets itself be bowling. We don't need another pseudo-golf or -tennis. We already have golf and tennis for that.
The single most jarring thing I experienced in bowling was when watching Husted, the aforementioned up-and-coming pro, bowl. He's a very good-looking and bright young man, from an upper-middle-class family that happened to own two bowling centers. He had a four handicap in golf, but after high school he went right out on the PBA tour. And this is what Husted wears when he bowls: a snappy red Nike sport shirt, tan pleated khaki pants with a brown leather belt, a wristwatch with a brown leather strap and argyle socks with Nike bowling shoes that look exactly like tennis shoes. This is not proper bowling attire! This is like wearing a three-piece suit, a fedora and wing tips to play second base for the White Sox. Bowlers don't even wear their names on the back of their shirts anymore when they're on TV. Bowling changed things for the benefit of stiffs who don't like bowling. Now to see real bowling shirts you have to go to a museum. "I genuinely lament the passing of the bowling shirt," says Pluckhahn. "Tell me, what exactly have we gained now that our bowlers wear golf knitwear?"
Sometimes I thought that, of all the people in bowling, Pluckhahn, the one who is paid to live in the past, enjoyed the finest sense of what the game truly is. Then, too, everybody I met who isn't in bowling but deals with the bowling industry adored the people in bowling. This included folks in television, in the beer business, in the sporting goods industry. Compared with people in other sports, bowling types were everybody's favorite. And it was easy for me to see why. To quote Dr. George R. Allen, "They're good people."
"They're so enjoyable, so down-to-earth, so unpretentious," says Jeff Kramer, a Nike marketing manager. "And you know what I can't understand? Why do the people who run bowling want to appeal to yuppies? Nobody ever liked yuppies. But here bowling already has the best people in the world, and they keep pushing to replace them with yuppies."
The funny thing is, too, that in much of the sports world these days, everybody lauds everything blue-collar. In fact, the only place where you even hear the term white-collar anymore is in the context of white-collar crime. An athlete would probably quit the team if he heard his coach say that he was "a real white-collar player." But the best thing you can say about an athlete is that he's a real blue-collar player. Today, blue-collar means a day's work for a day's pay. It means hustling, dependable, devoted, honest as the day is long. It means: America. Or anyway, the way America was supposed to be when we were taught about America. All the phonies who own or coach or watch in other sports, all the nouveaux and the yuppies, all the white-collar guys who have not quite yet been convicted of white-collar crime, all of them are searching high and low for genuine blue-collar types, and here bowling has all the blue-collar, and all it wants is to be identified with the service economy. Can you believe the irony in that?
The next time I chat with President Nixon, I'm going to ask him what he thinks about that. It's a fine how-do-you-do.
Set 'em up.