The Monday night bowling leagues at Elsie’s in northeast Minneapolis were shut down with the rest of Minnesota entertainment in mid-March, a month before the end-of-season laughs and trophies could be shared at the annual banquets.
The new seasons for a pair of 32-week leagues — the Women’s Classic and men’s Monday Nite Imperial — were able to start the 2020-21 season as scheduled a week after Labor Day, with concessions made to the pandemic.
Traditionally, there would be eight five-person teams with a pair of those teams competing on two lanes. The competition would take place in one shift and require two-plus hours.
In our Virus World, Elsie’s switched the leagues to two shifts, with one team occupying two lanes, then two open lanes, and another team, and two empty lanes, etc., across the 16-lane house.
What this has meant, in the unlikely event the Imperial League had its version of Walter Sobchak, volatile Walter would not be close enough to detect that long-haired rival Smokey had gone over the line and should mark a zero, as Walter (John Goodman) did so forcefully in “The Big Lebowski.”
Maureen Faber, from the Sunset Drive team in the Women’s Classic, confirmed this lack of ability to observe an opponent by saying: “We don’t even know which team we are bowling against until the night is over. All the fun has to be among ourselves.”
The Monday nighters and others throughout the week had been rolling as scheduled with these limitations through the first two months of the new seasons. There was apprehension being expressed by both women and men that league bowling could come to a premature end to the season with Gov. Tim Walz ready to announce renewed restrictions on Tuesday afternoon.
As it turned out, Walz announced a guideline for 25% of capacity, and Elsie’s already was there because of already-stringent Minneapolis rules.
Tom Slattery, the only original member of the Imperial League still competing, said: “We’re bowling with four-man teams for the first time, because of the number of guys who decided to sit out because of the virus.”
Slattery’s UPS team was tucked away in the two lanes on the far right corner on Monday. The league still carries the name from when it started at the defunct Imperial Lanes on Central Avenue in 1980. It moved a couple of other times before landing at Elsie’s in 1992.
Five winters ago, the UPS team made quite a free-agent acquisition. Mike Tripp had moved from Indiana to the Twin Cities as a Target Corp. employee. He dropped in at Elsie’s and asked if there might be a team looking for a bowler.
“We were bowling short a man, so I said we’d take him,” Slattery said. “First night, Mike shows up, we shake hands and I say, joking, ‘What’s your average … 220?’ When he had to think about it, I knew we had made a good pickup.’ ”
That was Tripp’s league-leading average, 220, entering Monday’s three lines. I watched most of the first and he had 10 strikes, including three in the 10th for a 259.
Late movement. Pocket. Pins flying. I’d seen enough to proclaim, “That guy can roll, man.”
On Tuesday, Slattery said: “You should have stuck around. He had a 257 the next game, and then 279. Early in his third game, Mike left a pin and he was upset. He said, ‘There goes my shot at 800.’
“He had to settle for 795, with 30 strikes.”
Down the way, Lynn Anderson was fulfilling her duties as major-domo in the Women’s Classic League. “I started bowling at Elsie’s at 17 and I’m still here as the league secretary at 73,” she said. “We’ve tried to keep going with five-woman teams, unlike those guys down there.”
As with most bowling leagues, there’s an interesting mix of sponsors:
Murray’s, the legendary steakhouse, has had a team in the Imperial League for two decades, with the boss, Tim Murray, as a regular competitor.
The Northeast Yacht Club, the dive bar across the street from Elsie’s, is proudly displayed in red shirts as the sponsor for the women’s team.
Me: “Do you ever stop in the Yacht Club for a beverage?”
Kathy Heidelberg, sarcastically: “Yeah … once in a while.”
The Sunset Drive also has interesting team shirts, based on the slogan emblazoned across the back: “Our drinking team has a bowling problem.”
Anderson took in the eight lanes of activity for women and men and said: “This is the only activity all week for some people. Elsie’s doing a good job with the rules. I hope we can keep going.”
The Monday nighters did survive the state’s new COVID rules on Tuesday, although with one adjustment required:
Last call will now be 9:30 p.m. for the second shifters, in order to beat the new 10 o’clock close for bars.
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