I worked for the Elashi family from about May of 1994 until late 1999.
Ali had brought his family to Canada from Egypt in the early 1970s.
Ali had a son and daughter, Sam and Rosa respectively. Sam and Rosa had their own respective families.
Ali had built a small housing development in East Richmond and in this development he built a small plaza. And in this small plaza he built a small 12 lane bowling centre.
I had just returned from Toronto and was collecting UI. And this was back in the day when you had to stop into the office to drop off your cards to ensure that you got your UI payments on time. The UI office had computer kiosks set up where you could scan for jobs and print them off.
I came across a job posting for Lois Lanes in East Richmond.
Yes, “Lois Lanes” as in Lois Lanes from Superman…..
Yes, Lois Lanes did run afoul of the copyright that the owners of “Superman”, but an agreement was worked out and the Elashis were allowed to continue using the “Lois Lanes” moniker. If I remember correctly they weren’t allowed to use the “Superman” font or anything that represented a “superman” cape.
I called the bowling centre and arranged an interview. I got hopelessly lost on the way down so I called the bowling centre and I spoke with Rosa. She had one of the cashiers named Joey come and pick me up.
The interview wasn’t going too well.The consultant who had helped Ali build the bowling centre was there. Al was his name. I would find out later that Al had recommended to Ali that Ali not hire me as Al thought that I was far too scrawny and too unprofessional. Al was especially concerned that I didn’t have a car and that I would have to rely on public transit. Ali didn’t care though. Ali saw something in me that he was never able to fully explain.
Unlike the Brunswick A and A-2 pinsetters that dominated the bowling industry from the 1950s into the 1990s, Lois Lanes used the brand new Brunswick GS-10 pinsetter. The GS-10 was a fully computerized machine that used green polycord to distribute the bowling pins through the machine. As the machine was fully computerized it could do things that the A’s and A-2’s couldn’t such as short-cycles and setting the bowling pins in custom patterns for bowlers to practice with.
That said, the GS series of pinsetter was a very finicky machine. The A pinsetter was originally designed and built by the Otis Elevator company and as such this machine and the subsequent A-2 were designed with lots of adjustments to make up for varying tolerances. The GS machine required very precise tolerances be observed during installation or the machine was going to be a problem child.
And the GS machines at Lois Lanes were as dysfunctional as I was.
When I started at Lois Lanes, the bowling centre was having serious problems. The centre had only been open for three years, but it already had a notorious reputation for the machines breaking down and blacking out frequently. It was known in the Lower Mainland that if you bowled two strikes in a row on these machines that the machine was definitely going to black out.
The head mechanic that the Elashi’s had running Lois Lanes was a nice guy, but he had no troubleshooting skills. He also had no mechanical aptitude. He was strictly by the book and by the checklist and if the problem wasn’t solved by a trouble shooting flowchart he was lost.
I couldn’t believe that brand new machines like these were as problematic as they were. I asked Ali to get hold of the GS installation manual from Brunswick. Pat Hagarty of Brunswick got me a copy of the manual. I stared going through the basic layout, and that’s when I started to discover that various errors were made during the installation. They were small errors, but they all added up. These were errors that the A and A-2 machines could have easily overcome, but the GS machine didn’t have the wide tolerances required.
One of the first problems I eliminated there was the frequent blackouts. When the GS-10 machines are initially installed, the elevators are supposed to be shimmed up on the same thickness of material as the kickbacks (the ‘walls’ that separate the lanes). At Lois Lanes the kickbacks on average were on 1/2″ thick shim material. The elevators were up on 2″X10″ planks of wood. The elevators were up too high to allow the pins to flow into the mouth of the elevator freely. I spent one weekend removing the elevators one at a time, removing the planks, and then reinstalling the elevators on proper shim stock . No more blackouts.
Children bowling at the centre were a nightmare. The kids would roll the ball so slowly down the lane that the ball would either be caught underneath the sweep, or the sweep would drop in front of the ball preventing the ball from reaching the pins. It turns out that the Brunswick installation crew had forgotten to install the “Sweep Up” switch which would only allow the scoring system to sense the ball detector when the sweep was up, otherwise the scoring system would take score every time the sweep interrupted the ball detector beam. To make up for the fact that the “Sweep Up” switch hadn’t been installed, the installation crew moved the ball detector out in front of the machine further than it should be. This is why the sweep was dropping on slow balls. Once I got the switches installed and the ball detectors moved to where they should have been, all of the problems went away. Children’s birthday parties were no longer seen as a curse.
The machines had been installed 1-1/2″ too far forward. Not a big issues, but it made getting the transport band rollers out a massive pain. And it meant that the machines couldn’t spot pins reliably because the swing shafts had to go back too far to make up for the 1-1/2″ error.
As the machines were fully electronic I could do board repairs on them myself, which was a massive cost saver as sending the boards back to Brunswick for repair was very expensive.
The original motors on the machines for driving the tables were 3-phase metric motors with brakes. The brakes were drum brakes, and they would fail. I sourced a 3-phase metric motor locally that came equipped with a disc brake. The disc brake was far superior and was easily adjustable. Brunswick caught wind of this and it was a few years before Brunswick had switched over to disc brake motors.
These machines had problems with bowling pins entering the ball return system. I used to cut up old transport bands and made flaps that would hang down from the cushion board to keep the pins from rolling into the ball door. Brunswick came out with this kit a few years later.
Coincidence? Probably. But at least I was ahead of the game.
It turns out that the skills I had picked up at Rainbow Games with felting pool tables was beneficial for Lois Lanes as now I could do the tables in house instead of having to call a contractor in.
In 1996 when Ali, Rosa, and Sam decided to install the “Cosmic Bowling” package from Brunswick, I did the installation of the sound system and the lighting effects.
I was an interesting job. It was a very interesting 5 years.
Lois Lanes was a small 12 lane bowling centre, and it just wasn’t going to hold my interest forever.
Towards the end I was doing more work on Ali’s plaza than I was in the bowling centre. And that’s when I decided to take a course in property maintenance, which ended up steering me into the world of commercial property management.
I was contacted by the Elashis in 2009 when they had decided to sell the bowling centre. The machines were in very rough condition as the mechanic hired to replace me didn’t really do any maintenance and let the machines get into rough condition. But this is for another blog entry.
The Elashis were also the first indication that I had that there had been something very horrifically wrong with my family.
The first wasn’t actually the Elashi family. It was the children’s parties on the weekend. I always felt uncomfortable working Saturday mornings around kids. They were always screaming and yelling and goofing off. Most of the time I had expected the parents, especially the fathers to backhand their kids or to at least yell at them to shut up and sit down. And oh were there meltdowns. Kids would have tantrums all of the time. And the parents for the most part weren’t angry at the kid for having a meltdown.
Also, the idea of celebrating birthday parties was kinda odd to me to begin with. To this day I don’t celebrate my birthday and I don’t think that any of my coworkers know which day of the year my birthday is. Shouldn’t be hard for them to figure out as I always take that day off work. But yeah, when I was younger I just couldn’t understand the concept of parents spending a couple hundred dollars on a party and presents and food. I still don’t really get it. But it is what it is.
Ali built the bowling centre with the intention that it would eventually go to his kids and possibly his grandkids. It was always supposed to be a family operation. This was a marked departure from my father who was of the opinion that he wasn’t responsible for my brother and I, that we were always somebody else’s issue.
Ali owned a house in the housing development that he built, as did his daughter and his son. No doubt those houses were built by Ali with the intentions that his family would remain close to him.
Rosa had a son that she sent to a private school in Oregon. Her daughter was a ballerina and as far as I remember her daughter went on to New York for ballet. When Rosa’s son was in Oregon, she’d drive down to visit with him periodically on the weekend.
I had often wondered where I would be now if I had gone to a private school, or even college or trade school or even had I just finished school period. I now understand that those options never would have been available to me, but still, one can wonder, can’t they?
I had never seen anything like this. Ali was building his family. Rosa was building her family. Sam was building his family. Contrast that with Richard who was the happiest when everybody would just piss the fuck off and leave him alone. At the time my brain had great difficulty processing this. This was 10 years after my father had fled the province of Alberta to avoid my apprehension by Alberta Social Services. This was about 15 years before I had obtained my Alberta Foster Care records and learnt first hand just how bad of a parent my father had actually been.
One of the things with the Elashi family that scared me at first and actually brought tears to my eyes the first couple of times I experienced it was their “passionate” discussions. Before the centre would open for the day I’d be working in the back. Ali, Rosa, and Sam would be having a meeting in the frontend. Voices would start to rise and the first time I heard this I thought that there was going to be physical violence. In Richard’s house, when voices were raised like this it meant that physical violence wasn’t too far behind. I think it was Rosa that found me shaken by one of these “passionate” discussions. She assured me that these were just discussions and that no one was angry or upset with the others. She said that if I ever had the opportunity to travel to the Middle East, discussions like this were quite common and they were never in anger, its just that when people are passionate about their thoughts and ideas they raise their voice to emphasize their passion. How true this is I’ll probably never know. But the longer I worked there the more I became accustomed to raised voices not being an indication of anger or impending physical violence.
The bowling centre is long since gone. It shut down a few years ago. Not exactly sure what is happening down there, but it looks like the entire plaza is going to be demolished and new condominiums and a new retail development will be built on the site.
Almost all of the smaller bowling centres that existed back in the 1990s are long gone now. Property values in the lower mainland reached such a fevered level that a bowling centre occupying such a massive chunk of real estate just didn’t make sense.
Bowling is a recreation that got caught between a dwindling middle class and too many other low cost entertainment options. Everyone has video games and movie theatres at home. Bowling isn’t a cheap sport for maintenance. Pins and balls are expensive. Machine parts are very expensive. Labour is expensive. Property taxes are expensive. Just too many things for bowling to contend with.
I left the Elashis in the summer of 1999 and entered the wonderful world of commercial property management.