Two Countries Come Together, After a 25 Year Separation

by Dave Williams

This giant 3-story high mural, “The Origin of Bowling,” greets visitors to Bol Polanco in Mexico City.

It’s nice to see Mexico and the USA come together again after the elimination of NAFTA, and the formation of a reciprocal agreement that should benefit both countries. Ihave nothing but fond memories of my visits to Mexico while working for AMF prior to the creation of the North American “Free” Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, in 1993.

The last time that I visited Mexico was in 1986, when it was one of the best bowling markets in the world for AMF, with no less than 17 bowling centers in and around Mexico City, as well as other bowling center clusters in Monterrey and Guadalajara.

The objective of AMF was to cross-train individuals with similar positions in different countries, by providing them with a look at just how particular goals were achieved in other parts of the world. My counterpart in Mexico was Jose Luis Vazquez, who oversaw the marketing duties for the AMF Mexico Bowling Centers.

One of the advantages to all of my travels for AMF was the fact that I majored in Geography at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California, and continued with post graduate studies at San Francisco State University. My parents used to joke with me that being a part of AMF was like joining the Navy – I got to see the world!

Mexico was one of my favorite places to visit because of the vast amount of history and culture that is everywhere. Tops on my list of places to visit was Teotihuacan, and the famous Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon.

I remember on my first visit to Mexico City, I arrived on a weekend and my primary objective was to visit the ancient pyramids located about an hour to the north. After enjoying some Mexican coffee with my breakfast the next morning, I joined a sight seeing group that was headed for the pyramids.

Before we arrived at the pyramids, the tour guide warned us to take it easy, and not to tackle the Pyramid of the Sun right away. He advised trying the Pyramid of the Moon first, just to see if we could handle it, and then go on to the Pyramid of the Sun.

Like a good soldier, I journeyed about half a mile to the Pyramid of the Moon, enjoying the vast amount of temples and monuments along the way on a street known as the Avenue of the Dead. When I arrived at the Pyramid of the Moon, I took off up the steps to the first platform, and when I turned and looked back…

I realized what the tour guide was warning us about! The angle of slope of the steps was breathtaking… like that first peek over the side of the Grand Canyon or Meteor Crater. For a brief moment I had resigned myself to the fact that I would be spending the rest of my life on the Pyramid of the Moon. Oh well, as long as I’m here, I might as well go to the top!

Once I finished the climb to the top and looked around at the awesome Valley of Mexico, where more than 100,000 people once lived, my next objective was to find a way down. That’s when I discovered the “butt-step” maneuver being used by other frightened tourists. By placing my butt on the step and then moving my feet to the next step down, while looking straight ahead, I was able to eventually reach the bottom without passing out from the extreme angle of slope.

Later that day, I discovered that the Pyramid of the Sun had a chain that you could hold, unlike the Pyramid of the Moon, which had no chain, or rail… nothing! So if you’re ever in Teotihuacan, check to see if there’s a chain or rail available before attempting to climb any of the structures. You have been warned!

The vast amount of culture present in these historical sites even extends to the bowling centers, with unique architecture and symbols of the rich tradition of Mexico on display. This was nowhere more evident than at AMF Bol Polanco, a beautiful bowling center located in an upscale neighborhood of Mexico City.

Upon entering Bol Polanco, you were treated to a multi level bowling center with a giant three story mural depicting the origin of bowling. It’s quite a unique facility, and a quick google search finds that Bol Polanco still thrives today.

Unfortunately, most of the other AMF centers are gone, which seems to substantiate the fact that NAFTA could have been a disaster for both Mexico and the USA. Of the 17 locations operated by AMF in 1986, only five remain today.

Another of those locations still remaining is Bol Bahia. I remember my first visit to this location, when I noticed a tremendous commotion at one end of the reception counter. When I asked Juan Gonzalez, Managing Director of AMF in Mexico, what was going on, he said that it was the sale of lottery tickets.

Upon my return to the USA, I shared my lottery ticket experience with the powers that be at AMF, but could not influence them to provide lottery redemption at our bowling centers. One explanation that I was given that prevented our adoption of lottery redemption was the fact that we operated gambling devices in Nevada, and bingo pinball (a great game!) in South Carolina.

But I never forgot about that excitement around the lottery counter at Bol Bahia, and when I moved on to American Recreation Centers (ARC) after my days at AMF, I was able to introduce lottery scratch offs at every location, with tremendous assistance from the California State Lottery Commission.

Upon leaving ARC, which was purchased by AMF in 1993, I journeyed 3,000 miles back to the east coast and went to work for Nationwide Bowling Corporation in New Jersey, and I was once again successful in introducing lottery machines at every location.

There are pros and cons to the addition of lottery, keno or gambling machines at bowling centers (would this money be spent for extra bowling games or food and beverage purchases?), but I always viewed it as a tool to get people in the door, and to make them stay longer.

It’s amazing how much experiences influence our decisions in life. Just like the newly formed Mexico and USA trade agreement, or the fabulous cultural history of our neighbors to the south, or even a simple idea like lottery machines in bowling centers, it’s a sequence of experiences that must be lived to be understood.