The places we love.
The first place I loved, outside of my own home, was the local movie theater. It wasn't because I loved the movies or even saw that many of them. I loved this theater because it was the first place I was allowed to hang out at with some level of autonomy. My friends and I would get our parents to drive us under the guise of seeing whatever was playing. Once there, we would wait until they were out of sight before meeting up with other local kids to see what entertainment that night could offer. Sometimes we saw the movie, sometimes we walked up the highway to the diner, or over to the Texaco to try and buy cigarettes from the four-fingered attendant. Eventually, we got cars and the novelty of this place faded away. No longer serving our teenage needs.
In college, my place was an off the beaten path dive bar with cheap pitchers and a killer jukebox. Here I spent countless hours, discussing the future with the hope and idealism that only a college town can provide. This place was poorly run, mostly managed by the bartenders while the absentee owner attended to a second location several states away. We mourned this place every time it closed, adjusting our schedules until it re-opened again. One time, it closed for "renovations" in an effort to make it more appealing to the general student population. The updates turned out to be some paint over the threadbare carpet with a big "R" for Rutgers. While nursing a pint, a couple walked in with their dog who promptly marked the spot and let everyone know what he or she thought of the changes. I laughed at the time but recognized the impermanence of the place.
It was during these years that I started to venture down to the Asbury Lanes. Looking back, I'm guessing it would have been sometime late 2004. It was a weekend matinee and I was one of maybe 20 people there that day. It was oddly bright, overly kitschy and smelled of stale beer and tater tots. I loved this place immediately. And for the next decade, the Lanes played host to some of the best and worst nights of my young-adult life. The stories I have are colorful and plenty. Like my beloved movie theater, I rarely bowled; like my college bar, there was always cheap beer and loud music. As a place, the Lanes was constantly evolving and trying out new things (like a short-lived sushi venture). But no matter what was happening or what my mindset was, walking into the Lanes felt comfortable and welcoming. Yet, like the places I loved before, I knew it couldn't last forever.
When the Lanes closed in 2015, I sensed the end was nigh. I wished and wanted to think that it could come back again. A phoenix. That I would be able to recapture that special place and how it made me feel once the doors re-opened. Of course, this wasn't possible. There's a big difference between painting over the carpet and gutting a whole building. There's a big difference between striving to preserve a local landmark and truly understanding what the place meant to the community. The new Asbury Lanes is just that. It's new. Maybe it should be re-named. Maybe it should have been demolished and turned into condos. I can't go back and make those decisions. They weren't mine to make.
Before it was my movie theater, it was a drive-in. Something that people before me remember fondly. Today, it's still a movie theater albeit a different one. One of those fancy places with reclining leather seats and premium snacks. My college bar was most recently a Mediterranean grill or a deli. Or something. The Lanes might still be a a bowling alley but that doesn't make it my bowling alley. The places we love can't stay the same, just like we can't ever stay the same. Sometimes the place we love have to evolve and become the place someone else loves. That doesn't cheapen the time we spent there or the way that place made us feel.