For the past few years, every time I drove past the shuttered Palace Lanes on Bellaire Boulevard, I hoped somebody would buy it, fix it up, change the grease in the snack bar, and reopen the bowling alley.
Not gonna happen. The owners have announced that they've sold the building to investors who will re-purpose the location as an undisclosed, "family-oriented" facility.
Like many Houstonians, the last time I went bowling was too long ago. It's odd, because I remember always having a lot of fun — and a couple of weird incidents — at Palace Lanes.
One time, Big Brothers Big Sisters had a fundraiser there, and they asked me to bowl against former Houston Oilers quarterback Giff Nielsen at the ridiculous time of 7 am — so a sponsoring radio show could talk about the event in morning drive time. One game, winner take all.
At 7:15, my phone rang. "Where are you?"
I'll tell you where: in my bed sleeping. I forgot.
But you know how guys are, we're disgusting. I was up and out of the house in two minutes flat. Palace Lanes was only three or four blocks from my house. I didn't even drive, I just hopped on my bike and pedaled over.
Still rubbing the sleep from my eyes, with no practice balls, I bowled a 245 game — one of my highest scores ever. I had Nielsen beat by the fifth frame.
Here's where the story gets a little creepy: As I was leaving, Nielsen called out to me. He was holding our score sheet and wanted to give it to me — with his autograph. Gee, thanks.
That was only the second time somebody gave me his autograph without me asking for it. First was Milo Hamilton. He gave me a stack of his baseball cards, each signed "Milo Hamilton HOF." I thought he had personalized them to me, but realized that "HOF" meant "Hall of Fame."
Another time, there was a women's tournament at Palace Lanes, and I covered it for the newspaper. I mentioned "bowling alley" and "gutters" in my story. Boy, did I hear it from the tournament organizers. I was supposed to say, "bowling center" and "channels." Well, excuse me. The next day I was back to "alley" and "gutters."
Ken beats a tennis legend
Another time, Martina Navratilova was in Houston for a tennis tournament and — I don't know how it happened — she challenged me to a bowling match. Fine, meet me at Palace Lanes.
This ain't tennis. I beat her by a few pins. After the match, she took a sweet photo holding my baby boy. Martina was one of the nicest, funniest athletes I ever met. And one of the greatest tennis players of all time. She was Serena before Serena, a dominating physical force with a impenetrable will to win.
Now, I need somebody to sneak into Palace Lanes before they start work on it — and steal the 16-pound house ball with the number 182. It's easy to identify: there's a deep gouge next to the thumb hold. I always searched for that ball. In fact, I would try to hide it when I was done bowling, so nobody else would use it.
Here's what I'm probably going to miss most about Palace Lanes: those greasy burgers and French fries. There's nothing like a great bowling alley burger. Just remember to eat those fries with your left hand (if you're a righty), otherwise your ball might hit the pins on the fly.
Those burgers and fries were so yummy, one year the former editor of the Houston Chronicle took his wife to Palace Lanes for dinner on their anniversary. And she didn't complain one word.
Meet your Houston Astros
With spring training around the corner, here's your chance to snare autographs of your favorite World Series Champions Houston Astros at the Tristar Collectors Show, this weekend at NRG Arena.
Among the champions scribbling their name and posing for photos: Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, the "Nature Boy" Josh Reddick, Lance McCullers, Derek Fisher, Will Harris, Ken Giles, Luke Gregerson, Collin McHugh, Jake Marisnick, Brad Peacock, and Chris Devenski.
It's practically a team meeting with manager A.J. Hinch and prospects Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley coming. More? How about Astros Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell? Pitcher Joe Musgrove has been traded from the Astros, but he wants to be part of this, too.
Also appearing to sign autographs: new football Hall of Fame inductee Robert Brazile, NBA legend "Dr. J" Julius Erving, Barry Sanders, Dick Butkus, and a whole bunch more sports stars.