Thursday, December 15, 2011

So, Six Buddhist Monks Walk into a Bowling Alley...

The monks had never bowled before but had seen my neon bowling pin from the sidewalk as they were walking barefoot down Carrollton Avenue. An interpreter explained that Buddhist monks try everything once to gain experiences in life and asked if they could bowl. Well, there they were barefoot in their saffron robes throwing balls with two hands down the lane. I told him that I had wished I’d had a camera and used the photo in an ad. The caption would read, “People climb the mountains of Nepal to ask the Buddhist monks the meaning of life, the monks climb the steps of the Rock’n‘Bowl.”

That story, told by John Blancher to a tourist who happened into the bowling alley in 1994, touched off a series of events that has made Rock 'n' Bowl a New Orleans institution. The tourist was a writer who had been sent to New Orleans by National Geographic to get the pulse of the city over the course of several months. His 19-page article contained one page on Rock 'n' Bowl (including the story about the monks). Over the course of the next year, CNN, USA Today, Life Magazine, Southern Living, Rolling Stone, and the Today Show all featured a story on the bowling alley. "To this day, hardly a month goes by that someone is not reporting a story on the Rock 'n' Bowl" (John Blancher at (I wonder if today's entry would count as a story for the month of December.)

When we (Richard and Karen Allsing, Kate, and I) "climbed the steps of the Rock 'n' Bowl," we did so at the new location on South Carrollton Avenue. We passed the display of souvenir bowling shirts (above) and saw the alleys a short distance away.

But between the display and the alleys was the first of the contrasts we observed in this surprise-filled venue.

OK, finding the formal serving bowls and trays behind the bowlers can be understood (as Dick learned) as being part of the leagues' Christmas parties, but other contrasts seemed less explainable as due to "seasonal" factors.

The bar seemed pretty typical as bars in bowling alleys go, complete with neon beer signs, but then there was the sign for Evangeline Maid Bread ("Stays Fresher Longer") and the ornate (for a bar) chandelier.

And, interestingly enough, the bread sign seemed to be mounted on the roof of a one-room structure next to the bar.

I just had to see what this room-within-a-room held.

I'm not sure if this room of pictures and religious articles would be called a shrine or a meditation room, but I think the room signifies the role of "the invisible had of God working his magic" in the life of John Blancher.

Blancher pointed to other events (the 10-year lease on the original property that was up in May of 2005 and would not be extended [just before Hurricane Katrina] and the timing involved in the purchase of the new property) that convinced him that God was at work in his life.

(Blancher's extended History of Rock 'n' Bowl is an interesting read [].)

I'm sure this statue (left) also has meaning to Blancher, but its position in the hallway entrance to the building was of interest to me, in part, because it was just above this figure (left), whose history is unknown to me.

Another seemingly unusual pairing is the nativity scene with the juke box. But, once again, the presence of the creche makes sense in understanding Blancher.

But this was Thursday and Thursday night meant Zydeco night. We found a table and prepared to listen to Nathan and Zydeco Chas-Chas. With its trademark rubboard percussion, electric guitars and R&B influences, zydeco is distinct from the fiddle-driven music of neighboring Cajuns.

In the hands of a dedicated musician and songwriter such as Nathan Williams (left),
"zydeco is one of the most expressive sounds in roots music." Dennis Paul Williams (below), Nathan’s brother, and rubboard player Mark Williams (second photo below), a cousin, are shown here.

In his webpage, Blancher tells of the amazing recovery he made in repairing the building, replacing destroyed equipment, and getting electricity to Rock 'n' Bowl months ahead of other businesses and homes.

Opening night was November 10. It was magic! There was not a single light on S. Carrollton from Claiborne all the way to the lake. Not a light had been lit on the Interstate. In total darkness, with carnage everywhere, a single neon bowling pin shone. Seven hundred people showed up that night. There were more hugs, kisses, and tears than you could imagine. We had all lost so much. Yet there was this feeling among all there that we hadn’t lost the Rock’n‘Bowl. It was a wonderful, magical night!

Yes, it's funky; yes, it's filled with contrasts; but above all, Rock 'n' Bowl is a community institution. As I think back on the evening at Rock 'n' Bowl, I think we were fortunate to be touched by that spirit.

And the music was pretty terrific, too.

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