LONG BEACH — The Java Lanes were engulfed by the 6:30 p.m. din of the Pago Pago Mixed 5 League. Balls rumbled, pins clattered and fresh-from-work bowlers shouted with the happiness of strikes, spares, beer and another Thursday night.
Although they wore no shirts to identify themselves, the Bushwackers, Pin Crushers, Oops, Ten to Win, Eugene's Machine, California Cooler, Sir Speedy Printing and 14 other teams were carrying on the longtime Pago Pago tradition of congenial competition at the 30-year-old lanes on Pacific Coast Highway near the traffic circle in Long Beach.
The teams were made up of men and women whose 105-to-193 bowling averages were displayed along with season team results on the typed sheets of league secretary Marilyn Snow.
"This league has been going on since I was little; my mom started it," said Snow, 37. "Most of the people have bowled here all along. It's a family league."
'My Way to Unwind'
Snow is among the Pago Pago's better bowlers and her 185 average seemed to assure the third-place Oil Patch Liquor team a good chance for victory in its three-game match against lowly Masters Construction.
Oil Patch Liquor also had Jim Trout. In his jeans, beard and cowboy hat, Trout looked like he would be more at home in a country-western bar. But his ball, thrown hard and left-handed down the blond wood, exploded the pins on Lane 19 with a sharp crack.
"This is just my night out, my way to unwind once a week," said Trout, 38, a truck driver. "I've been doing it so long I don't know what I'd do if I didn't bowl."
He never took off his hat. "It's helped my bowling," he said, adding that with the hat on he doesn't look up when he releases the ball.
But Masters Construction, led by Lynn Peterson, was not about to roll over.
Peterson, a short blonde credit manager, wore a shirt-and-shorts outfit of ocean blue on which swam brightly colored fish.
A Diversion From TV
"This gets you out doing something instead of sitting in front of the TV every night," said Peterson, 33, who has been bowling for 12 years. "You always feel good if you have a good night. If I don't have a good night . . . that's bowling. We don't get mad and kick the ball return."
She picked up her ball and, displaying a hurried style that permitted little attention to footwork, rolled a strike.
"That's what I like," she said.
One of her teammates was her boyfriend, Vic Allen, 24, a dispatcher at Masters. "She beats me most of the time," he said.
"A man hates to be beaten by a woman," Peterson said.
"Your day's coming," Allen kidded her.
But Peterson rolled another strike and Allen missed converting a spare.
"I throw a straight ball every time," Peterson explained. "I aim for the middle arrow, that's it."
No one was keeping score, scratching in heavy lead pencil the numbers and symbols of the game on advertisement-laden sheets. There was no need to. On an overhead TV screen, Peterson's strike was displayed as a white 'X' on a blue background and her score was automatically figured.
It was this computerization and the absence of bowling shirts that differentiated this bowling night from bowling nights of decades ago. The carpeted, fluorescent-lit alley itself looked timeless with its coffee shop, bar, lockers, pool tables, pro shop and front desk, behind which were stored the red and green rental shoes. Waitresses descended into the bowling areas with bottles of beer on trays.
There was an air of good sportsmanship. The roller of a strike or spare received a hand slap from teammates and opponents alike.
Vic Masters patted the back of his daughter, Joy Tuzzolino, after she made a good shot. They cherish the Thursday night opportunity to be together.
"My daughter was 8 months old before I saw her; I was overseas at the time," Masters said.
It was the 10th frame.
"Uh-oh, I'm up," Peterson said.
She was back in her seat in no time with a team-high 179.
"I choked," she said. "I knew I needed one more pin to get 180."
Allen finished with 148 and said, "I think I've got a new high game."
Snow had an off game, but it did not diminish the joy her league gave her.
"We've had people meet and marry here," she said. "About 14 couples."
She proudly pointed to the Pago Pago's oldest bowler.
"My high game? A 246 about 25 years ago," said Jess Winfrey, 88. "I have a 138 average now. I got this bad neck."
In the pro shop, Stacey Harris and Mary Wagman, who bowl in leagues other than Pago Pago, shopped for balls.
"I had my own ball but this bowling alley lost it," Harris said.
There were $104.95 black urethane models--the kind the pros use--and colorful plastic ones at $49.95.
"I like the purples, blues and grays," Harris told Troy Kendrick, one of the men who runs the shop.
There were other things besides balls for sale: gloves, shoes, bags, buffing cloths, rosin bags, hand conditioner and the "Mark Roth Book of Bowling."
Harris decided on a blue-gray ball; Wagman picked a violet one because she said that is her favorite color.
"We bowl here three times a week," Harris said.