A “Spook”y time in Chicago

I have long been a collector of bowling books. I’ve bought new books at bookstores and out-of-print ones from used bookshops and online dealers.

Anytime I’m in Portland, Oregon, I stop by the famed Powell’s City of Books — a massive multi-story bookshop occupying an entire city block — in search of, among other things, any old bowling literature. The majority of the time, I’m not disappointed:

powellsWhat $11 will get you at Powells.

Many of my books were published in the 1950s and ’60s and acquired only recently. But one of the books I’ve had the longest is Fast Lanes, the memoir of USBC and PBA hall-of-famer Carmen Salvino. The book talks about Salvino’s childhood and the time he spent bowling action in Chicago and beyond as a teenager, going on the pro tour (he’s one of the PBA’s charter members), and the fitness and diet secrets that kept him in competitive shape well into his 40s and 50s (he won his last regular tour title in 1979, at age 46; he also won the PBA National Seniors Championship in 1984).

I bought this book in 1989 when I was still a junior bowler, and over the years I’ve re-read it probably a dozen or so times. The stories are fascinating and, although ball technology has changed since its publication, the tips and advice Salvino offers about the mental and physical sides of the game still ring true. The book has long been one of my favorites, and it’s stayed with me through several moves over many years. Because of this, I’ve always thought it would be neat to get the book signed.

The opportunity presented itself last month when I traveled with three junior bowlers to Chicago for the annual Junior Gold Championships. Through mutual contacts I was able to get ahold of Salvino by phone just prior to the trip; he invited me to meet him for donuts on a Tuesday morning.

Now, I should mention that I gave up certain junk foods a couple of years back, and this includes donuts. But what was I to do… say “no” to Carmen Salvino?

Not on your life. So I met him at Dunkin’ Donuts. And we ate donuts.

Carmen_2402

One of the things that you’ll learn from Fast Lanes — and I highly recommend you scour used book dealers or eBay, where a copy occasionally turns up for auction — is that Salvino has one of the best and brightest minds ever to be associated with the sport of bowling.

While people with professional scientific backgrounds are involved in the design of modern bowling equipment, Salvino had none when he began tinkering with bowling balls in the mid-1970s. He spent hours reading and teaching himself about physics and chemistry in order to understand bowling ball construction and motion.

In Fast Lanes Salvino recalls how he would observe bowling balls in motion and noticed them wobbling and rolling in less-than-stable ways. He deduced that although pancake-shaped weight blocks helped restore balance to bowling balls when the finger and thumb holes were drilled, this was only true in a static state. In motion, the balls were out of balance dynamically.

Years of experimentation led Salvino to come up with a new design, which utilized two weight blocks — one where the finger holes are drilled, and another for the thumb. Ebonite sold a ball, the Thunderbolt, utilizing Salvino’s discoveries in the late 1980s. Salvino has received numerous patents for his bowling ball designs — and remember, he doesn’t have a college degree, and has NO academic background in either physics or chemistry.

“I’m a problem-solver,” Salvino, now 81, told me at the donut shop. “I look at a problem and figure out how to solve it. If I don’t know the answer to something, I never say ‘I don’t know.’ I say that I don’t know yet. Then I go find out the answer.”

He showed me letters of recommendation, written by people with PhDs from various companies, vouching for Salvino’s expertise and how it has been useful in the development of significant products.

Salvino still bowls several times a week and plans to enter some tournaments, including the PBA/PBA50 South Shore Doubles scheduled for later this week in Hammond, Indiana. He’s still in amazing shape — he told me he regularly does pushups on his wrists.

I also received a personal demonstration of his grip strength. He wrapped his bowling fingers and thumb around my wrist and demonstrated how his ring and middle fingers are equally strong; he could have crushed my wrist if he’d wanted. “It’s like I have two middle fingers, the same strength,” he said. “That’s my secret.” For comparison, he had me grip his wrist with the middle finger and thumb on my bowling hand, then my ring finger and thumb. (My grip strength was nothing compared to his. I’m guessing he didn’t even feel anything when I squeezed using my pathetically weaker ring finger and thumb.)

Carmen_2391 Fastlanes

After signing my copy of the book, we met up with Carmen’s wife, Ginny, for lunch at one of their favorite restaurants nearby. We talked about not only bowling, but how they’ve managed to stay married for 59 years — a really impressive feat, considering I have trouble listening to the same radio station for 59 minutes.

A wonderful morning spent with one of bowling’s all-time great showmen — and my wrist survived it in one piece.

Story and photos © 2015 by Kevin Hong.

Related Links:
Salvino’s last national title, 1979
USBC feature on Salvino at 2010 USBC Masters

Salvino interviewed by Diandra Asbaty
Salvino vs. Ray Bluth on Championship Bowling, 1966