It seems that in 1964 anyone could find a job in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Quite a contrast to today when Windsor has the second highest unemployment rate in the country. Most of the moms on our block and maybe the entire city, were stay at home moms. Every house had a car and every family took a vacation.
I was only fourteen years old but most of my friends had jobs. We sold donuts door to door, or delivered groceries, tossed the Windsor Star or the Globe and Mail or Sunday Freepress up onto porches. The older guys pumped gas , or washed cars at the car lots. If we needed a few bucks we could hang outside the corner bar and open doors for the ladies. First the car door then the establishment door. Tips were pretty good.
If it was a week-end night we could hang around later and get them coming out of the hotel. If the guy was a nice drunk we got great tips, if not we got the “What do you want? A kick in the ass” routine. Went with the business.
We cut grass in the summer and shoveled snow in the winter. There was always a way to make a few dollars.
The toughest job around was pin setting at the bowling alley on Drouillard Road. Some of the smaller bowling alleys didn’t have the automatic setters yet. It was a hard way to make a buck.
Just getting to and from work was running a gauntlet of street gangs that just loved taking what little money we earned. None of the guys on our block would go near the place so I had no back up. But I could run like a deer and relied on that for my safety.
When arriving at work you would leave your name with the boss and go into the pin boy room. This room was a 12 foot square with a bared window. It was like a prison cell. While we waited for the leagues to arrive , Bruno, an older teenager, would point to two guys and they would have to fight one another. Since I was so small, my competitor was always this little fat guy who was strong as a bull. My only defence was to keep climbing the walls, jumping over other pin boys and clinging to the bared window. I’d drop down to smack him and keep on moving. Sure was glad when my turn was over.
When the bowlers came in we’d go to our assigned alleys. We always set two alleys at a time so keeping track of which ball the bowler was on was crucial. Jumping down into the pit too soon could send you to the hospital. Still, perched just a few feet from flying pins, was a risky trick at the best of times. Every pin boy had bruised shins and knees, I seen guys get knocked out cold more than once.
After the game you would sit in the pit and wait for the bowlers to bowl you down a dime or maybe a quarter. Added to the nine cents a game we got it wasn’t a get rich scheme. Most of the guys would spend most of their nights pay buying pop and burgers from the bowling alley restaurant.
Getting home was the next trick. The other pin boys were mostly from the street gang so it was safe to leave when they did. But, sometimes I’d get stuck with an ” old ” ladies team and they were terribly slow bowlers. Tipped well, but so slow. I’d be the last kid to leave work and it always seemed to be at night.
The shortest route home was a three-mile stretch down the railway tracks. The box cars were parked here for the night on both tracks so the way home was a dark and scary corridor.
Sometimes, in the summer, hobo’s would sleep in the cars. Or the punks would stash their stolen goods and post a guard to watch over it. When I entered the tracks I would burst into a run and didn’t stop until I emerged, totally exhausted, at the park in my neighbourhood.
My father never liked me working at the bowling alley but he would never think of asking me to quit anything. When Bruno was stabbed outside the bowling alley one night pops was really concerned and then an older pin boy killed a girl and left her body in a junk yard next to the railroad tracks. That was the last straw for the old man and he offered to pay me whatever I made setting pins if I’d stay away from Drouillard Road.
So, I quit the pin setting game and every week asked dad for my money. The old man never paid up. He’s always say ” What do you prefer? Me owing you, or you owing me?” I’d say the first one of course. And he’d reply “Well then everybody is happy.” I really didn’t care anyway. I just needed an out for telling the guys why I wasn’t going to the bowling alley any more. Ya know, blame the “old man.”
That same summer dad paid a kid $50 for a Windsor Star paper route for my brother and I. The routes are supposed to be free but paying was the way to get to the top of the list. Brother Don and I made some decent coin delivering papers.
Looking back I shudder to think of how kids set pins, without knee pads or helmets or even a safe ride home. Sure wouldn’t be allowed today. Those times were different for sure. Not better, not worse, but definitely different. We survived and really, none the worse for it. I’m happy to say, I was part of it all. Thanks for reading, Jack
Keep the faith friends, it gets better, it always does.