The Bowling Mechanic Keeping America’s Favorite Pastime Alive

The latest episode of State of Repair shows the hard, dangerous, and sometimes beautiful work of repairing bowling machinery.

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Jul 23 2018, 2:50pm

Ask Joe Martinez to show you his fingers, and you’ll see how dangerous it is fixing bowling alleys. On his right hand, Martinez’s middle finger is sheared clean off at the outermost joint, the result of an accident while fixing the complex machinery that kicks into gear after each throw of the bowling ball. But that won’t stop him.

“My difference that I have with other mechanics is my passion for it,” he said. “I love what I do with these machines.”

The latest episode of State of Repair follows Martinez in his job as a pinsetter mechanic at Gutter Bar in Williamsburg. A Brooklyn native, Martinez has spent the past 25 years working on these machines, ensuring that after each strike, spare, or gutter ball, those red-striped pins are replaced back right where they belong.

He’s part of a dying breed that diagnoses and repairs a bowling alley’s arcane architecture, working on machines that are sometimes half-a-century old and contain innumerable pieces and parts to function properly.

“When I hear the tune of the machines running, going up and down, it’s like a symphony,” said Martinez.

But lately, it’s not just the possibility of bodily harm that has Martinez worried about his job. He’s concerned the generation that will follow him is too reluctant to get its hands dirty doing the kind of laborious, unglamourous work necessary to keep machines like these running.

As the documentary shows, Martinez takes special pride in puzzling out what ails his machines, shimmying into the tight spaces and amidst a web of contraptions to fix them.

“When the bowlers are coming in, I see them smiling and they’re throwing strikes,” Martinez said, “it’s a good feeling.”

Watch previous episodes of State of Repair here.