When people complain they’re depressed, stressed, or just plain bored, I give them two words of advice: “Go bowling.” If they live in this area, I use five words: “Go bowling at Circle Lanes.” I’ve found that nothing cures the emotional doldrums like going to a place where people are having fun, accompanied by the rumbling of bowling balls and the crash of pins.
Bowling is a feast for the eyes and the ears. And, thanks to Circle’s low prices, it’s also a great place to enjoy a $3 draft. This past winter, Circle Lanes cured my cabin fever. My son Mark and I enjoyed the atmosphere and competition. The electronic scoring machines appeal to his geekiness, while they actually improve my game.
Back when I bowled in a league at Circle, I had the lowest average — except for the woman who threw off the wrong foot. I knew that a repetitive motion was needed to be successful but I rolled it a different way every time. Then I saw that the electronic scorers display the mph of your shot. I learned that if I rolled it at a certain speed, I’d get strikes and spares. Bowling is even more fun when you get a decent score.
I also learned I was not alone in escaping the polar vortex at Circle. Counter guy Marty Considine told me that severe winters are very good for business. Sometimes they had a waiting list for lanes, so patrons would shoot pool for 8 bucks an hour, until one opened up. At $4.40 per game, the bowling is also affordable. During the summer, severe heat and low rates ($2.50-$3) draw bowlers to the air-conditioned confines.
The decline of league bowling may be causing alleys to close across the U.S. But thanks to the popularity of open bowling, business is up at Circle. They still host leagues, of course. The oldest one was founded by IRS agents in 1961.
Retired agent Gene Kucia has been bowling at Circle for over 20 years. The 80-year-old maintains a 150 average, despite some nagging injuries. He said Circle’s location near the CTA made it ideal for the agents. They would park their cars at Circle Lanes in the morning, take the “el” to work and return in the evening to bowl.
The agents also found Circle to be affordable and friendly. They take advantage of the low prices and kind treatment to hold their annual banquet at Circle. Although bowling is primarily a social outlet for Gene and his friends, he proudly showed me the watch the American Bowling Congress gave him for rolling a 298 game in 1993.
Marty acknowledged that they host many banquets and birthday parties. They are also home to the WSSRA bowlers every Saturday. On Sundays, Circle continues the venerable tradition of placing red pins in front to give customers a shot at a free game. The only difference is the red pins are now “virtual.”
So, if you’re trapped in a virtual world, shut down the computer, put down the remote and enjoy the three-dimensional world of Circle Lanes. If you check out the team names, you’ll find the best in sports: Split Happens, Just Plain Ugly and I Can’t Believe it’s Not Gutter.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.