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When ‘Cosmic Bowling’ was the future of the sport

This mysteriously ghostly photo by Eric Reed, illustrating the phenomenon of 'Cosmic Bowling,' ran in the July 29, 1997 Argus Courier.

DAVID TEMPLETON,

Some fads come and go as quickly as it takes to fill a box with abandoned beanie babies. Others challenge the odds and startle the critics by sticking around for decades, gradually morphing from fads to trends to traditions - even if the names they go by change a bit over the years.

In July of 1997, when the Argus-Courier ran writer Katya Cengel’s journalistic description of “Cosmic Bowling” – then all the rage at the local Boulevard Bowl – even the bowling alley’s owner was predicting a short lifespan for the youth-and-family-aimed activity. As described in the article (see sidebar for excerpt), “Cosmic Bowling” was originally little more than after-hours bowling to loud music in a dimly lit room, with rudimentary effects like fog machines and disco balls.

Though much has changed at Boulevard Bowl since 1997 (do keep reading) - including the bowling alley’s local ownership and its name - “Cosmic Bowling” is definitely still drawing late-night bowlers. The nocturnal phenomenon has long since become known as “Extreme Bowling,” and now attracts as many partying singles and couples on date-night as it draws teens and families.

“Oh yeah, it’s as popular as ever,” says Alec Ingulsrud, manager of the facility, now redubbed AMF Boulevard Lanes, reflecting the center’s acquisition by Bowlmor AMF in 2003. Headquartered in New York City, Bowlmor AMF is the largest chain of bowling alleys in the world. Extreme Bowling, it turns out, is popular at nearly all of them.

“In our center, we’ll have half of the lanes dark, turn on flashing lights, black lights - the whole thing,” says Ingulsrud, showing off a supply of “glow balls,” bowling balls that glow in the dark, or react to ultraviolet light. “We call it ‘glow bowling,’” he says.

According to Ingulsrud, late night bowling – primarily on Friday and Saturday nights, when the center is open till 1 a.m. - provides an attractive environment for teens and families, and for singles and groups, to hang out in a place with a safe, party atmosphere. Taken together with other weekly offerings, such as Tuesday nights, when bowling, shoes, beer and pizza can be had for $2.22 a game, pair, bottle and slice, the American pastime of bowling has clearly been working hard to keep young folks interested.

There’s one thing the local bowling alley doesn’t have, however.

“We have no wireless,” admits Ingulsrud. “Honestly, it might be a while before we get it here, but it’s something we’re aware of, and are working on.”

Longtime Petaluma residents will probably remember the Croci family, which originally built and managed the Boulevard Bowl, and the tragedy that struck the family about five years after the referenced article was published. In September of 2002, Kim DeLongis was killed at her home in Petaluma, and her husband, Michael DeLongis, was charged and eventually convicted of her murder. Kim’s father, Richard (also mentioned in the attached excerpt), passed away in October of 2002. Michael DeLongis (oddly featured in a prison-shot Ted Talk, discussing his passion for transcribing books into braille) is currently being treated for an undisclosed ailment at a correctional system medical facility in Vaccaville.

But let’s get back to bowling.

“The stuff I’m personally most excited about, is the new augmented reality effects coming to bowling,” says Ingulsrud. “It’s basically a series of high-end projection systems that screen images and effects onto the floor and the walls, like maybe a rushing stream of water going down the lane. And then it uses additional projections to give the illusion that the ball is parting around the ball as it goes down the lane toward the pins.”

Such technology is only a couple of years old, Ingulsrud allows, and it might take a year or more till it finally comes to Petaluma.

“It’s definitely a future thing, but it will be here eventually,” he says, adding that, for him, the future can’t come soon enough. “This new technology is really cool looking,” he says.

(Contact David at david.templeton@arguscourier.com)