Before we began last year’s trip to visit a bar and a church in every state, we talked about adding other things to the trip. After all, we were pretty sure this would be the only time in our lives we’d go to every state in a year, so why not go to as many different places as we could?
We eventually decided to go to the movies in every state (though at first we were iffy about whether we could manage this). We went to libraries in most states, but not in Nevada, our first state. We talked about the possibility of playing miniature golf (Mindy’s always called it “putt-putt” golf) in every state, but we knew weather would probably keep that from happening. And we talked about going bowling in every state. It seemed doable, but we decided we couldn’t afford the expense and the complexity of one more thing -- thus missing out on the wonder of candlepin bowling on the East Coast.
This week, though, we finally made it to a bowling alley. We didn’t bowl, since the lanes were full of league bowlers. Instead, we went to the bar at AMF Rodeo Lanes, a bowling alley in nearby Clovis.
The bowling alley was packed, but there were only two people at the bar when we arrived. We ordered our drinks -- I had an Angry Jack (Angry Orchard cider with a shot of Jack Daniels with cinnamon sugar rimming the glass). Mindy decided to try Peach on the Beach. Though there weren’t many people sitting at the bar, Kiel the bartender was keeping quite busy. Between frames, people came to the bar to order a mug or pitcher of beer to take back to their lanes. When he had a moment, Kiel told to us about how a bowling alley bar is different than other bars.
Rodeo Lanes is Kiel’s first experience as a bartender. He has a full time job, so he bartends just a couple of nights a week. He told us that on weekdays, league bowlers provide most of the alley business. When people came for their beers between frames, it was apparent Kiel knew many of them. Kiel is a bowler from a bowling family; that’s how he got to know the management of this bowling alley and, eventually, started working there. Since he’s new to bartending, he told us that he’s grateful for Google on his phone when someone asks for an unfamiliar drink. There’s a recipe binder behind the bar, but he said looking drinks up on his phone was a lot faster.
We were glad we’d made his job a little easier by ordering from the menu, but a little later, Mindy realized she could have made his job even better by ordering a milkshake. Making those is his responsibility as well, and Mindy’s always glad of an excuse to drink chocolate.
Kiel told us that the rain of the past winter had been good for the bowling alley. The long rainy season had encouraged people to look for indoor entertainment for longer than usual. He said that during the summer, when the weather was nice, business would dip, and that it would be slow whenever there was a big event in town like a concert SaveMart Center or during the Clovis Rodeo. Weekends bring a different crowd than comes during the week with the league play -- there’s a little more bar business but that can be “hit or miss,” according to Kiel.
Though cocktails and wine were on the menu, there are large plastic beer containers behind the bar. They hold almost twice as much as a pitcher, and Keil said they’re especially popular during the summer. You have to be in a group of at least three to be served the big container -- no solo drinkers. I suspected the main business of the bar was beer, so I asked.
“95% of the orders are for beer,” Kiel said. We did, though, see a couple of guys order something different.
“Doing man stuff.”
After awhile, I asked Kiel the first of our questions, “What makes for a good bar?”
He answered, “I don’t go out to bars too much.” Instead, he told us what he likes about this bar. “They have atmosphere with the TVs going. They remodeled about a month ago and have nice new chairs. And they got this,” he said, slapping the cooler behind the bar. “Cold glasses and cold beer are make or break.”
I asked what made for a good church and Kiel said, “I’m not very churchy. I don’t believe you have to go to church, not that I have anything against it. I have faith. I went with my ex-fiancee and her family to church.
“I don’t have a problem with going to church, but some people take it too far.” He liked the pastor of the church he attended, because he wasn’t “too pushy or demanding.” He told us about a guy who he felt was too pushy, a fellow employee at another place he worked. During a break, this other guy tried to give Kiel a Bible and talked about how their Jehovah’s Witness boss was going to hell. Kiel didn’t appreciate that. “If you need to go to church, that’s fine. It really helps some people, and that’s amazing. But your beliefs are your beliefs,” he said.
Mindy stayed in her seat while I introduced myself to the other couple sitting at the bar, Brady and Tosha. I asked what they thought made for a good bar. Brady responded first, “The thing we look for is friendly people. We like to be regulars, but not in a bad way. We look for friendly bartenders and employees.”
“I’d agree with that,” Tosha said.
Brady went on to say he liked it when a bar had a signature food item, even if it was all “bar food” such as fried items or pizza. “I expect bar food but I want it well done, like a slider. If a place is known for something, we’ll order it every time. Like this place that had mac and cheese with lobster. It was amazing.”
And what would make for a good church? “That’s a tough question,” Tosha said.
“It’s a people thing,” Brady said. “It should be friendly and accepting with no judgement.”
“And there should be diversity,” Tosha added.
“Community,” Brady said.
“If they are doing events to help the community, I can get behind that,” Tosha said.
As we got ready to go, more people were sitting at the tables in the bar and playing the games. It seemed the place to hang out when their bowling was done. We had a good time with good people at Rodeo Lanes, and it gave us a glimpse of an alternate reality where every week we’d post at “Dean and Mindy Stroll Into a Bowling Alley.”