Oberlin Blogs

The Oberlin College Lanes: A Good Place to Bowl

September 29, 2014

Karalyn Grimes ’16

The Oberlin College Lanes, opened in 1963 as a six-lane bowling alley for Oberlin College students, is the best-kept secret on this campus. It is also my place of employment throughout the school year, and for the duration of my magical Oberlin summer.

A view of the five lane bowling alley from behind the cash register

A view of the house from behind the counter.


The Lanes are a well-oiled (pun intended) efficient machine run seamlessly by Trevor Hagedorn, the Assistant Manager, and Tom Reid, the Associate Director of the Student Union. Trevor, who is my immediate boss, is a laid-back red-haired Californian who has an excessive amount of bowling knowledge and background. I successfully introduced him to Welcome to Night Vale this summer, so that was cool. Trevor is pretty new to Oberlin, so if you see him, tell him about all the neat things he should do! Tom on the other hand graduated Oberlin in the 1980s and has managed the Lanes ever since. He met his wife at the Lanes, he knows everyone who bowls, and he almost single-handedly has fostered the practically sacred environment of the space. The Oberlin College Lanes' success is definitely due to a collaboration of people, but I want to give credit where credit is due and say that the lifetime Tom has devoted to this place is incredible and a large part of what makes this place special. Tom teaches a class formally known as Bowling I but its true title is Life Advice with Tom Reid where, Incidentally, you Learn How to Bowl, and I highly recommend that everyone take it.

A note of the words: "Stay committed to the game plan. Communicate with each other as the lanes transition. Make the most of every shot – keep on plugging, no matter what. When things get ugly, focus on the way out of the mess instead of how bad it is at this moment. Stay relaxed, positive, and have fun."
This is a note I found that Tom had written to the team before a tournament. Like I said, the man gives solid advice.

So, you ask, what is this 'sacred environment' so deeply felt when one enters the wooden door entrance to the Lanes in Hales Annex? Well, let me introduce you to The Ethos of the Lanes:

Everything here (I say here because I'm typing this from behind the counter) has a certain place and a specific way of being done. Every single thing we do here is to provide Stellar Customer Service. I like to think that my job is to give people happy memories. To that end, we are meticulously clean, responsive, and helpful. Our pencils face the same direction, green font facing up. Our money in the cash register all faces the same way, greeting the customer. If a patron gets a particularly difficult spare, it is not unusual for the Lane Attendant to let out a heartfelt "Nice shot!" from behind the counter. These things constitute the quintessential Lanes experience, felt by everyone that comes here, from an open bowler off the street to our house pro, Chris Lochetter.

And then I have my own spiritual connection of sorts to the Lanes. My own rituals, if you will. I have my closing ritual, where every time I Kex the lanes (a type of dusting), I play Beyonce's If I Were a Boy as loud as the speakers will let me. Then there are the quiet down times where I only hear the hum of the air conditioner, or Lane six's horrendous squeak. These moments are the most comfortable silence I have ever had the pleasure of existing within.

The Lanes are also one of the only (if not the only, I'm convinced it's the only) college-owned but community-dominated spaces in Oberlin. Which is wonderful because the people I get to interact with on a day to day basis are my fellow members of this community, this town, people living entirely out of the bubble, and hearing them out and listening to where they're coming from, in addition to providing them with Stellar Customer Service is one of my favorite things about my job. That, and the pinsetters. Oh, the Pinsetters.

All six of our pinsetter machines are our original A-2 Brunswick Pinsetters, installed when the Lanes opened fifty years ago. They're ancient, grinding, indestructible beauties. (Not totally indestructible. Please do not roll your ball so that it hits the rake, that hurts the machine very much.) Pinsetters came to me at a time in my life where I was feeling fragile and defeated, and those sturdy inflexible machines taught me a lot about strength. Working on a machine, being the mechanic on duty, it is the most satisfied I ever feel. Pinsetters have processes, the same grind over and over again, day in and day out. And then sometimes they mess up and you run back there and give 'em a little grease and love and it's all good again. In many ways I view my studentdom like this. Same thing all the time until I crack from the stress, do some self-care (cocoa butter is like my pinsetter grease), and then get back at it.

The author smiling for a selfie
This is a selfie I took while working on four. That smile is pure joy and self-satisfaction.
A close up shot of pins in a conveyor belt
An up close look at the machine's conveyor belt and turret.

I haven't said much about bowling here, but that's because for me the Oberlin College Lanes is about so much more than just bowling. But to indulge all you bowling-doubters, I'll say this:

When I started working here, I knew nothing about bowling. Unlike all of the other Lane Attendants who have taken Bowling I with Tom, I had zero previous experience bowling. I averaged a fifty and only got the job because Tom liked me when I interviewed for the Cat in the Cream. (The Cat staff passed me by but it's all cool because working as a Lane Attendant gets me free Cat cookies!) Trust me when I say that I feel you when you say, "But bowling? Reeaaaallly? Just not for me." And trust me when I respond, "No, really, bowling is for you. Bowling is for everyone."

Bowling, in my mind, stands alone as the embodiment of the working-class sport. That is where its history is rooted, and we at the Oberlin College Lanes have definitely not forgotten that. Oberlin College Lanes is about relationships and community. We are a place to come together, destress, and share in the fun of rolling a game. That is, after all, what bowling is ultimately about. And the Lanes, as our motto declares, is a pretty good place to bowl.

If you would like to enjoy more of the magic of the Lanes, Lola Lorber ('13) made an amazing short documentary entitled Love of the Lanes. You can watch it on Vimeo here: http://vimeo.com/66023126

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