John Jones had said his indoor archery range was just like a bowling alley, but this was ridiculous.
It was a bowling alley.
The phone rings for the 432nd time as Jones' league archers are warming up for the regular Friday-night competition.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," Jones says, smiling sweetly. "Our bowling alleys are closed. Forever."
Jones, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, is the head of and brains behind the archery leagues at Greenbelt Sports Center, which is a place that shows you what interesting things you can do with the leftovers when a bowling alley goes kaput.
Jones bought in with some partners more than 10 years ago. At that point the sports center had been empty and the bowling lanes unused for about five years. He converted 10 lanes to competition archery and left six for bowling. Just a few months ago he finally closed down the last six bowling lanes. Now it's just Jones and his archery, plus someone else's slot-car racing concession and a bunch of pinball machines that go ding-ding-ding all night, driving the archers crazy.
Indoor archery? I'd never heard of it either; but it works, it's inexpensive and a lot of people seem to enjoy it immensely.
Jones mounts targets on great blocks of compressed cardboard boxes. The targets and cardboard are wheeled electrically 60 feet down to the end of each lane. When the shooter has finished his five-arrow set he punches a little button and the targets wheel themselves back, so the arrows can be retrieved and the scores tallied. It's just like darts, but without the walk up to the board.
Rates for use of this facility are remarkably low: Jones charges $2.25 for two hours of shooting, including targets. It the shooter has no bows, no arrows, no arm guard, no skill and no idea which end of the arrow he's supposed to shoot, Jones will provide gear and a lesson for 50 cents.
"Well, 53 cents, with the tax," he corrects.
Last Friday was a league night. Forty shooters convened, as they do at about 8 every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday night.
The game they play is patterned on bowling. Archers compete in teams of two, four shooters to a lane, and everyone has a handicap so anybody can play anybody else.
A score of 300 is perfect, meaning the archer has hit the bullseye every time with 60 straight arrows. It doesn't happen any more often than it does in tenpins.
"We have all different levels of shooters," said Jones, "from kids with a shoot in the 90s. If they can hit the target they can compete. If a shooter puts them in the ceiling or the floor, we don't let him in the league."
You'd have to be pretty poorly coordinated to hit the ceiling with the kind of gear competitive archers use these days. The standard bow in Jones' league is likely to cost $150 or more and have the following gizmos for improved accuracy:
STABILIZER -- A two-or three-foot chrome rod that extends like a sword from the front/ center of the bow to steady it.
SIDE STABILIZERS -- Shorter weighted rods mounted inside the bow.
PEEP SIGHT: -- A small plastic sight mounted in the drawstring.
MICROMETER SIGHT -- Adjustable sight mounted on the frame with adjustments for windage and elevation.
SCOPE -- A very low-power single-lens magnifier for the sights.
TRIGGER -- A gadget that hooks onto the draw string for fingertip release. Sometimes it's even quicker than that, and the trigger goes off before the string reaches full tension. Then the shooter's fist greets the shooter's eye or nose or mouth with a thud. "I almost knocked my teeth out last week," said Jones.
All these gizmos are mounted on what has become the standard for all up-to-date bow hunters and shooters -- the compound bow, which uses strings and pulleys to maximize power and minimize strength requirements.
Women and children are conspicuously involved in Jones' league events.
With all the gadgetry, there's an endless need for someone to fix busted stuff, which is where Jones, a mathematician and meteorologist in his Air Force days, really shines. He can fix anything but the limbs and handles of the bows, and he seems to get delight from putting broken things back together quickly and cheaply. "Pay me when you're done," he told one archer after adjusting a balky sight.
"Look," said Jones after the shooter took his place again in the dark and drafty exbowling alley, "I'm in this because I enjoy it. I don't expect any ulcers or heart attacks, which is more than I can say about some of the things I've tried.I'm bullheaded, pigheaded and I do exactly what I want."
Then he kicked the kids off the pinball machines, closed the cash register, scurried over to his partner, Bob Rounds, and proceeded to shoot 10 straight bullseyes without even a warmup shot.