Obama bowls for votes at the Pleasant Valley Lanes
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Those worried about America's dwindling civic engagement, take heart:
Barack Obama does not bowl alone.
Obama and Casey arrived at Pleasant Valley Lanes, about a five-minute bus ride from the Texas hot dog shop, to cheers from the patrons. (They interrupted a sweet 16 and a family birthday party, as everyone briefly abandoned their games to be met and greeted.) Some patrons lined up near the doors and shook hands with Obama. Others kept bowling, but Obama and Casey dropped by to say hello.
The family birthday party they interrupted, actually, included Sue Rhoades, the vice chairwoman of the Blair County, Pa., Republican Party (and an employee of Steelers legend/Obama surrogate Franco Harris). She and her brother-in-law Barry Rhoades both had birthdays yesterday. When someone told Obama Rhoades worked for Harris, he yelled out, "Franco called to wish you a happy birthday?" (Rhoades told your pooler that indeed, Franco did call, after he was finished campaigning with Obama in Pittsburgh.)
The two senators wandered around for a while. Talking with a Foot Locker employee (in uniform under his jacket), Obama asked, "What are the new kicks everyone's looking at?" "The Jordans," he was told. "The Jordans? That's old-school. What about the LeBrons?"
While he was talking with bowlers, Roxanne Hart, 43, who said she was a homemaker from Altoona, Pa., asked Obama if he would bowl with her. He and Casey changed their dress shoes for bowling shoes -- blue and white Velcro for Obama, size 13 ??, and a more traditional red and blue (with day-glo green laces) for Casey. They wound up at a different lane than the one the campaign had intended him to use. Obama, Casey and Hart all entered their names into the score-keeping computer; on the overhead monitor, Obama showed up as BAR, Casey showed up as BOB, and Hart showed up as ROX.
As he changed his shoes, Obama remarked, "I just want to put out, the last time I bowled was 30 years ago." "Carter was president?" Casey asked. (Casey, later, said he hadn't bowled since high school.) Bowling first, Casey, taking what Obama had declared to be a practice roll, sent his ball off to the left gutter. "Uh oh! Uh oh!" Obama shouted. "He did that on purpose so I won't look bad." But Obama had already told the afternoon gaggle that he's not a good bowler, and your pooler has the sad duty to inform you that he was true to his word. He picked up a ball, held it reasonably confidently, approached the lane and ... sent it off to the gutter on the right. "We're just warming up," he said.
They traded equally disappointing rolls for a few frames, while Roxanne -- who clearly wasn't getting the kind of competition she'd been hoping for when she invited them to join her -- set about hitting spare after spare. (Casey actually appeared to improve faster than Obama, who announced he was glad he hadn't put money on the game.) At one point, Nick, an 8-year-old standing nearby, offered to give Obama some pointers. Instead, Obama let Nick roll one ball for him. ("Fist bump!" Obama ordered Nick afterwards.) Other kids started asking to play with them, and he invited them to join in. "We're going to keep on going until we get a strike," Obama said. "My goal is to beat Casey; I can't beat Roxanne."
Most of Obama's shots were more or less down the center of the lane, but he rolled them too slowly to knock down more than six or seven pins at a time. "You notice I'm getting better," he said. At one point, he jokingly asked for a tip from a Secret Service agent. Throughout the game, patrons were taking cell-phone and camera pictures; some had called friends and relatives to the bowling alley when the campaign arrived, and the crowd grew with each frame. Obama was joking with Casey and the crowd, and gesturing at errant balls to try to keep them on target once he let them go.
Hart was undeterred by Obama's lack of skills. "I want to vote for him, I think he'll be an excellent president," she said. Your pooler asked what she thought of his bowling. "What do I think of his bowling? He has potential." Not long after that, Obama knocked down nine pins with one ball. "Almost!" he shouted. "I almost had it!"
"Let me tell you something," Obama said, turning to the crowd. "My economic plan is better than my bowling." A man standing at the next lane over called out, "It has to be." Laughing, Obama walked over and hugged him.
Finally, in the seventh frame, Obama made a spare, cleaning up one pin left standing with his second ball. "Yes I can!" he started chanting, after a couple admirers at a nearby lane started it. "Yes I can!" He and Casey changed out of their shoes. "Alright, I'm quitting now, that's it, that's it," Obama said. He signed two bowling pins for the alley's owners, one made out to the DeVentura family, one to the Montgomery family, writing, "Thanks for the fun and best wishes," on one and something a little different on the other. And with that, the campaign made its way back out to the buses and departed. No stop to watch basketball (the UCLA-Xavier game had been on on a TV above Obama's lane), as we'd been at the bowling alley until close to 8 p.m.
First Published March 30, 2008 12:00 am