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Friday, August 31, 2012

Ray’s Mini-Golf


In the summer, during my college years, I worked with my friend Charlie Widmer for his cousin.  We installed underground sprinklers.  Charlie’s cousin paid us the handsome sum of $1.35 an hour.  I think the reason he paid so much was that the law said he had to at least pay minimum wage.

To supplement my income from this lovely job, I tended the till at Ray’s Mini-Golf Friday and Saturday nights.  Ray’s Mini-Golf was a subsidiary of Ray’s Gun Shop and Range which was right next door.  The Mini-Golf course was in North Plainfield, New Jersey, on Rt. 22 East, directly across from Bowcraft Amusement Park (for you Central Jerseyites.)

I worked from 6 to 11 collecting the 50 cents it cost for each round of golf.  It was a pretty boring job except for the occasional flirting with groups of pretty young girls.  It was surprising how the pretty young girls never seemed too attracted to a loser clerk behind the counter of a mini-golf course.

The most fun I had was when a family finished up their round.  I would watch for the littlest child in a group to fire the 18th hole shot.  If you hit the clown’s mouth you won a free game.  When the child’s attempt inevitable failed and fell harmlessly into the gutter, I would trip the free game bell.  Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.  The little one would jump up and down all excited.  Dad would just look all confused, and mom would applaud with great enthusiasm.

As I stamped the card for a free game the dad would invariably confess, “It never did go in the clown’s mouth!”  Mom would smack him on the head, “Shut up…the bell rang, he gets a free game!”  I would just say, “I don’t know, the bell rings I gotta stamp a freebie.”

At the end of the night, I would call Ray’s mom who lived in an apartment above the Gun Store.  She lowered a can from her window, I filled it with that night’s receipts, and she hauled it back to her apartment.  It was a high tech operation.  This job also paid minimum wage, plus all the free games I wanted.  I thought the free games were a big deal.  

Looking back, we didn’t have a cash register to record the nights take.  Holding back four or five bucks from the can and putting it in my pocket would have been very easy.  Ray probably expected it.  It never even occurred to me.  I thought the free games was stealing enough.

In the summer of 1967 I was working a Friday night at Ray’s.  I received a call from Ray.  “Close up the mini-golf right now.  Clear the course, give everyone their money back and get the hell out…State Trooper’s orders!”

“Why are the State Troopers concerned about a mini-golf course?”

“There are riots in the streets in Plainfield.  Twenty miles east there is rioting in the streets in Newark.  People are being shot, stores are being looted, and you are right smack in the middle.”

“Why would anyone loot from a mini-golf course?”

“Joe, look to your left.  What do you see?”

“I see the sign for Ray’s Gun Sho…EVERYONE OFF THE COURSE!!!  NOW!! Bye Ray.”

I refunded fifty cents to all the golfers, and filled the can that Ray’s mom dropped out of the window with the remaining receipts.  As I got into my car to leave I saw Trooper car after trooper car running up and down rt. 22.  The Trooper’s cars were filled with troopers and the troopers were hauling shotguns.

The Race Riots of 1967 never expanded outside the streets of Plainfield and Newark, but those cities were left with over thirty five killed and store after store burned to the ground.

For $1.35 an hour I was not going to stick around to see if the riots would spread.

I did stamp a few freebies for myself before I left.


  1. I don't blame you for bugging out. $1.35 an hour isn't exactly combat pay.

    The closest I ever came to being in a riot was my freshman year of college. Tech beat Texas in football, and afterwards all us Tech students went to the big reflecting pool at the entrance and dumped a box of Tide detergent in, then we all jumped in stirred up the suds. Oh....the horror! It was sheer pandolerium!

    The Kampus Kops were able to handle the disturbance without having to call for state trooper back up. ;)


  2. A job at a mini golf sounds exciting. Loved reading the posting, not about the riots. I was only a toddler in those years. My very first job was in the $2.25 an hour, which was minimum wage. :)

  3. I live in L.A. & was here during the Watts riot, when there was burning & looting a couple of miles away. Scary times--I would rather play miniature golf!!

  4. Damn, to be that low tech and stupid again. If you actually skimmed a few bucks you knew your hand would freeze in a fist with the bills sticking out each side. You wouldn't know how to explain them. I love the tin can in a basket on a rope.

    We all engaged in low crime. When I worked in the student cafeteria during summer sessions in college I would give monster scoops of ice cream to little kids. They were only charged by the scoop. When I got busted I'd give out one monster and one regular whenever I could.

  5. An interesting insight into what could have ended badly for you.

  6. JH, I recall that night in '67 as well. We lived in Franklin Township and New Brunswick had some rioting as well. Our neighbor owned a clothing store in town and it was heavily vandalized. My Dad went to help with the clean up - we were not allowed to go into town for several weeks as I recall. First time I was really scared. Funny how that all comes rushing back with this post. Moved to MD a year later and never thought about it again until I was an adult.


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