It's midnight on Friday, and the lanes are full of the young and the young at heart, who could have chosen any number of ways to spend the weekend night.
They chose bowling. Bowling? Yes, but this isn't your grandparents' bowling. Welcome to the world of Cosmic Bowling.
"It's basically like the Fourth of July inside here with bowling," says 21-year-old Cassandra Vaughn, who was enjoying a game with three friends. "It does make the game a lot more fun."
Those words are music to the ears of Carol Malinowski, manager of Brunswick Normandy Lanes in Ellicott City, one of two area bowling centers offering Cosmic Bowling.
"We've been running it for two weeks, and we sure hope it attracts young people," Ms. Malinowski says. "We hope to make it an enjoyable experience."
Cosmic Bowling creates a high-energy party atmosphere with laser light shows, a booming sound system pumping out fast-paced hits, fog machines and other equipment.
Some longtime bowlers might find themselves distracted by the cosmic atmosphere, but not all. Kay Fisher, 27, is a seasoned bowler who also belongs to a league.
"This is different. But I seem to do better doing Cosmic Bowling than otherwise," Ms. Fisher says. "But then again, I like music anyway."
Cosmic Bowling was created by Brunswick, the Illinois-based company that runs Brunswick Normandy Lanes and the other area Cosmic Bowling location, Brunswick Crown Lanes in Baltimore.
"It's a game, a concert, an arcade, a light show, a dance party and regular bowling all rolled into one event," says Warren Smith, the manager of Brunswick Crown Lanes in Baltimore.
"People who don't usually think of bowling love it, and so do regular bowlers. We started out with a target audience of 18 to 35 but found out it really goes from 6 to 66."
Last Friday in Ellicott City, the bowling leagues wrapped up their games while mostly the young and their parents waited around for the cosmic experience to begin. At midnight, the music cranked up, the lights went down, the fog machine went on.
Until 3 a.m., bowlers boogied to the beat of Tag Team's "Whoomp!(There It Is)" and other high-energy sounds before pausing and concentrating on getting the ball to knock down the pins. The lights flashed, and the lanes glowed.
"It's like a real cool atmosphere," says Atiba Wallace, 19.
It's also a long way from old-fashioned "moonlight bowling," when only the pins are lighted in a darkened alley.
"It does keep people off the street and away from any negativity," Ms. Vaughn adds.
A few lanes away, Paul Wood and four other adults were helping to supervise 13 teen-agers from the Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church in Clarksville.
"Well, it's a little louder than I thought," Mr. Wood says. He soon got with the program, however, when he saw how much the teens were enjoying themselves.
"It does change the whole image of bowling. The image of bowling wasn't as hip. This will make it cool," Mr. Wood says.
The image of bowling is a major concern, says Charlie Lockridge, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Bowling Association. Anything that will encourage young people to bowl is welcome, he says.
The Greater Baltimore Bowling Association is the local chapter of the American Bowling Congress. "The membership of the ABC has been dropping consistently," Mr. Lockridge says. "Ten years ago, there were about 4 million. Now there are 2 1/2 million."
There are any number of reasons why bowling has fallen in popularity over the years, Mr. Lockridge says.
"There's a lot more competition for bowling dollars. Kids now are into computers and video games. Years ago, there was one earner in the family, so there were more women bowling leagues during the day. All of these reasons can be a contributing factor. If you asked a half-dozen people, you would get a half-dozen different answers," he says.
Both bowling centers say Cosmic Bowling has been so popular that they are adding additional nights.
"And we're having special features," Ms. Malinowski says, "like a July Third night to bring in the Fourth."
Pub Date: 4/18/96
What: Cosmic Bowling
Where: Brunswick Normandy Lanes, 8419 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City; and Brunswick Crown Lanes, 40 Kingston Road, Baltimore
Call: For further information, including times, (410) 465-0355 in Ellicott City and (410) 687-2250 in Baltimore