Months of inactivity have taken a toll, physically and mentally. I vowed to not take this setback lying down. I turned to Circle Lanes to start my exercise program.

I go way back with Circle Lanes. In the ’80s, we formed a Saturday night league with our neighbors. We were careful to keep the bowling part from interfering with the socializing part. The league eventually folded and I’ve missed it ever since. We still go to Circle Lanes for open bowling and our grandkids love it.

So I returned there with my vintage bowling ball and shoes. Bowling shoes never go out of style because they’re never in style in the first place. I made sure to bring folding money to pay for a game because Circle Lanes is a cash-only kind of place.

Bowling alone isn’t near as much fun as competing with others but it’s intense exercise. It’s always your turn, so you never sit down. I was pretty rusty after a year’s layoff, so I’ll use that excuse for my final score of 95.

Afterward, I interviewed the manager of Circle Lanes, Drew Stutz. His parents Zyg and Bonnie had taken full ownership of the bowling alley in 1988. They are no longer with us, but Circle Lanes is still owned by the Stutz family. Drew grew up in the business and knew everything about running the place. He described a few improvements they’ve made over the years.

The most modern touch was the installation of automatic scorekeepers in 2010. This was for the convenience of younger bowlers who never learned how to keep score. The machines also show you the speed of your shot. This is invaluable because if I crank it down there at 10 mph, I’m more likely to get a strike.

They also modernized the ball returns, so you aren’t distracted by balls returning on the surface. Otherwise, Drew is keeping the “old school” feeling of Circle Lanes, with décor that hearkens back to the ’70s and ’80s.

Circle Lanes first opened on Saturday, June 7, 1941. An article in a local paper boasted that it had 18 lanes, men’s and ladies’ locker rooms and a luncheonette. It’s most attractive feature, though, was air conditioning. Bowling was peaking in popularity and Circle Lanes attracted leagues as well as casual bowlers.

Drew has kept the mix of hosting league bowling during the week with open bowling on the weekends. They often have a 1-2 hour waitlist on Friday and Saturday nights. He attributes the popularity of the place to the fact that people are “stir crazy” and looking to come out for some family-friendly fun.

The pandemic put the kibosh on this kind of fun for a time. The state shut down bowling alleys from March 15, 2020 till early July. Drew reopened but was forced to close down again from November to Jan. 19. They’ve been open since, with restrictions in place to keep bowlers safe.

For example, they operate at 50% capacity, accommodating up to 100 patrons. Masks are mandatory in the common areas but are optional on the lanes. They allow a maximum of five bowlers per lane and do not allow groups to share ball returns. This keeps patrons socially distant. Drew also shut down several pool tables for the same purpose.

Despite the restrictions, Circle Lanes is thriving. Drew said a few bowlers are using the game as a form of physical therapy. He also believes bowling is a good form of exercise.

Bowling can even build up your biceps, depending on how many beers you drink.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.