I first found out about working in Antarctica about 3 or 4 years ago after moving back to the states from the Czech Republic. I was conversing with Brian, another madcap adventure-chasing traveler who I used to live next to in college, about traveling, goals, adventures, etc. He said his goal was to bowl on all seven continents.
Some people want to visit the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Brian wants to bowl on all seven continents. I tapped my chin, looked skywards and took this as a challenge. Of course, my first smarmy response was: ‘yeah man, where’re you gonna bowl in Antarctica?’
This is how I was introduced to a little town called McMurdo. I was determined, not just to bowl there, but to work at the World’s Southernmost Bowling Alley™.
I am a manual pinsetter at the World’s Southernmost Bowling Alley ™, Mactown Lanes. This is not my full time job, although I really wish it were. I work there about every other week. The bowling alley is a small, warped, 2-lane little thing, located in a Quonset hut that also houses a weight room, bouldering cave, craft room, and ceramics studio. This is what it looks like from the outside.
Games are $2, shoe rental is $1. I make something like $4/hr, but we do pull in tips when we get them good and drunk and heckle them a bunch. However, on league nights, sometimes you get that serious crowd where they take out their aggression on the ball and that’s not good. Most league teams are good fun. I like the Bowl Jobs because I think they have a funny name. Food Waste was a fun team as well. The night they played each other in the Toilet Bowl Tournament, I heckled them a lot by duck taping little messages on their balls as I sent them back to. Messages such as “easily bribed with beer” and “you just won a fabulous prize! Come to the pinmonkey perch to retrieve!” or “where are the cheerleaders I was promised?” “is that the five pin???” (The five pin is the hardest pin to leave standing, yet somehow these lanes magically refuse to let it drop and oftentimes it is the lone pin standing. Baffling. )
Open bowling night is Sunday 8-10 I think. Cosmic bowling is Wednesday nights but you have to sign up for that cause that’s a hot night out. Leagues are Mondays and Fridays. Since I have dishwashing hours that are different from the rest of the station, I rarely get to work the night shifts at Mactown Lanes. However, since I usually have to report to the Galley at 11am, I am free at the god-awful time 6:30am to pinset for the night workers who are just getting off work. It’s funny, I wake up, bypass a shower, stumble to the Alley and there’s all these dirty dudes from the Heavy Shop cracking beers and bowling to Duran Duran. They offer me beers but I just brushed my teeth. And I have to go to work at 11. I love them.
This is where they keep score. The bowling alley is pretty normal, just really small. And warped. And impossible to throw a curve or trick style ball. But somehow, I overhear lots of McMurdoans say that they’ve bowled their best games here. I know I have. 157. I owe it to my mom. She was almost pro at one time and her claim to fame is that she bowled with Steve McQueen when she lived in Southern California in the late ‘50s. Twenty years later, I was enrolled in the nursery school at Banner Bowl Lanes in Southington, Connecticut. Twenty years after that, I’m pinsetting at the World’s Southernmost Bowling Alley™! Inconceivable!
I’ve never been too much of a crazy bowler. In fact, I usually suck.
Here’s the ball polisher. It’s not really that popular, but somehow I feel compelled to post it here.
So what does manual pinsetting mean?
Well, a little background here. I heard somewhere that this bowling alley was built in 1965 when bowling was more popular than booty calls. They weren’t about to install a big fancy automatic system in Antarctica at that time for obvious reasons. So the common alternative then was the manual pinset system. Basically, behind the pins, there is a little backboard where the ball lands and the pins go flying back to this little area. Above this, is a platform where the two pinmonkeys perch. After each ball is rolled, I jump down, collect the pins, put them in the rack in the coordinating place where the pins are missing on the lane, return the ball, and jump back to my perch. After the second ball, I jump down and do the same thing again, but then I pull a string to lower the rack and reset. If they bowl a spare or a strike, I hit a cymbal above my head with a stick. Sometimes I flick a light on and off a bit. They like this. I get tips when I show enthusiasm.
Just to mix things up a bit, I donned my bathing suit for this pic with my Friday morning pinmonkey partner, Lavonne, to demonstrate what this Brunswick Manual Pinset Mechanism™ looks like. (Attached is a 30-second movie demonstrating the duties of a pinsetter.)
Apparently, this is the last (or one of the last, depending on which rumors you believe) Brunswick Manual Pinset System™ left in the world. Brunswick offered to buy it from the NSF and replace it with a completely free, spanking-new-state-of-the-art bowling alley. NSF said no. Because then they’d have to hire a guy whose sole purpose would be to fix the bowling alley machine should it break. It’s more cost-effective to hire pinmonkeys. I’m happy about this.
End of part 1