Outside the Falls Church bowling alley the parking lot is quiet, packed with empty automobiles and bathed in orange neon light. The neon sign atop the alley says BOWL AMERICA, and it seems to float in the haze of a steamy Washington summer night.
Inside the alley, infants are screaming. Pinball machine rattle and ding. Forty-eight bowling lanes rumble like a war-movie soundtrack. A Friday night ritual thunders in the suburbs - bowlers and babies and men looking for love.
On a stool overlooking the beer cooler at the snack bar, Terry Rollins says he is one of those men seeking romance. He has a black leopard tattoo on his left arm and a skull with wings on his right. He's wearing a tight black T-shirt and grips a can of beer in his right hand.
"I socialize with my friends here. I married two women out of this place. I've been married three times. I'm here tonight looking for a fourth. You never know when cupid is going to shoot you," Rollins said.
From that same stool on a Staurday afternoon in the fall of 1961, Rollins says he spotted his first wife.
"She was bowling down there at lane 38. I started flirting with her and told her that when she finished we should take a ride in my car. So we went for a ride. I ain't telling you the rest. Anyway, it led to marriage," Rollins says.
Rollins, who's been a regular at the Bowl America alley in Falls Church since it opened 20 years ago, stopped bowling in 1966. But that hasn't stopped him from returning as often as seven nights a week.
While most of the more than 200 people who jammed Bowl America on Friday night do bowl, the bowlers say it's the atmosphere - the kind of place where a man can find a good wife - that keeps them coming back. And married couples say it's a fine place for children to play.
"I come in here and I meet a lot of good people," says Doug Miller, a 40-year-old parts salesman for Koons Ford. "Women. Oh man, let me tell you that in mixed leagues, you get to know the gals. It's like going to church, you meet the nice people.
The bowling industry estimates there are more than 62 million regular bowlers in the United States, giving bowling more participants than any other sport. Leslie Goldberg, president of Bowl America, which has 14 alleys in the Washington area, says the current gasoline shortage has had little affect on business because most bowlers live near the alleys.
The bowlers on Friday night at Bowl America included carpenters, auto salesmen, train brakemen, produce men, grocery store clerks, Army administrators, taxi drivers and housewives. As one of them said Friday night: "We cannot afford to go to the Kennedy Center all the time."
They began appearing at the alley around 7:30 p.m,, toting bowling balls (about 70 percent have custom-made bowling balls) and children ranging in age from two months to 28 years old.
"The kids aren't doing nothing but kicking the football anyhow, says Tereseda Snead, a nursing assistant at Fairfax Hospital. "Actually, it (coming to the alley) is the onliest thing to do in Falls Church."
Snead, who bowls three nights a week, said her grandchildren like to come to the alley "for their soft drink and I give 'em a quarter for the electric ping pong.
"Besides, time you pay $4.75 to bowl (the cost of three games for league bowlers), you can't afford no babysittter," said Snead.
While the parents bowl, the children socialize.
Michael Lenker, 10, a Friday night regular, says he most enjoys tackling other children on the orange carpet between the two bowling areas. "It is a sort of tag that I like," he says. "I also like the french fries."
Families didn't always dominate Bowl America.Snack bar amnager Yvette Levavasseur, who's worked nights at the alley for 14 years, remembers the days when two pool tables used to attract, "riff-raff" to Bowl America.
"We had bums, dope fiends, and punks just looking to fight. The bowlers were complaining. The last straw was when one pool player hit another on the head with his pool stick. He had to be taken to the hospital," Leavavasseur says.
So, Levavasseur says, the pool tables were hauled out nine years ago.
Terry Rollins, the tattooed man who sits near the beer cooler at the alley, says taking the pool tables out calmed down the alley a little too much.
"Ah, we used to have some fights here. Cops and ambulances. But we don't have no trouble here anymore. Times have changed," Rollins says.
On Friday night, however, there was a brief return to what Rollins calls the glory days of the alley.
A bowler with black horn-rim glasses was finishing his last game of league play at about 11 p.m. He'd been having a bad night and a female bowler on his team had been needling him. Finally, he punched her.
She was not hurt, but the man with the horn-rim glasses was told by a woman in a blue jogging outfit that if he ever punched a woman again he'd be off the team. He refused to discuss the incident, and appeared depressed.
According to witnesses, frustrated bowlers at Bowl America have in past years thrown bowling balls across the alley, broken fingers by slapping their own thighs and broken toes by kicking automatic bowling ball return machines.
Charles Baxley, 19, who works as a brakeman at Union Station and who has a 191 bowling average on Wednesday nights, says he is not the sort of person who gets mad. (The best possible bowling score is 300.)
"They can jump around in the lane next to me when I'm bowling and it doesn't bother me," Baxley says.
Baxley, who wants to be a professional bowler, says he manages not only to bowl well at Bowl America, but that he also meets many girls there.
"I even take some away from their boyfriends. I'm usually a better bowler. I guess they see something better in me," Baxley says. CAPTION: Picture 1, More than 200 patrons, including leagues like "The Black Outs," jam Bowl America on Fridays.; Picture 2, Terry Rollins met his first two wives at Bowl America in Falls Church. The tattooed former bowler says, "You never know when cupid is going to shoot." Photos by Fred Sweets - The Washington Post; Picture 3, Bowl America regular Charles Baxley. By Fred Sweets - The Washington Post