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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Ray’s Mini-Golf

Ray’s Mini-Golf

 This cranky re-run is from August 2012

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. So nice of you to stamp all those freebies :)
    I'm glad you saw the light (gun shop) and closed the course that day.Things could have turned very badly and you would have had no chance at all to get everyone out in time if you'd waited.

  2. Things haven't changed all that much have they?

  3. Great story, Joe. That summer of '67 was a crazy one all over. I was 11, and 250 miles from Detroit, but it was still scary stuff. . .

    I also had a paper route, and one of my customers was the local miniature golf place. So, often as not, I would turn my weekly collection into a game or two of mini-golf. I actually became a half-decent putter; in the one-and-only round of real golf I've ever played, I shot a 58 (for 9 holes), which everybody assures me is pretty good for a one-and-only 9-hole round. Couldn't hit my driver straight to save my life, but never had more than 2 putts. . .

  4. Whoa, scary! Was your job over then?

  5. Sounds like a fun gig for a kid.

    I am with you about what should be risked for a minimum wage job. It floods a lot here in Houston, and every time it does, it seems like the people who drown in their cars were on their way to work as night stocker at Walgreen's or something. They probably really need that job, but there are some things that just aren't worth risking!

  6. I'm not sure what's more shocking; that you had to close up shop so quickly due to riots, or that someone lowered a can out their window to collect the night deposit!?!

  7. I'm glad you had the thought to at least stamp yourself a few freebies...

    Scary stuff Joe.

  8. That was certainly a close call for you. Glad the rioting didn't reach you.

  9. Seems we now have a new crop of rioting. It never seems to end and we live in the great nation on earth.

    Have a fabulous day, Joe. ☺

  10. Those were tragic times. It was bad here in Birmingham during those years. Some say it was ground zero for the civil rights movement. Our family didn't spend much time in Birmingham during those years though my did work in Birmingham each day.

  11. Cracked up at the reciepts delivery method.
    Like only slightly confused said, sadly, times haven't changed all that much. Glad you got everyone out safely. That had to be a scary moment.

  12. This reminded me of our L. A. riots!!

  13. You are a softie, giving free games to the youngest children!

  14. So it seems times really haven't changed too much. I loved your story about your jobs. My first job was candy girl in a movie theater. I loved it and it paid 1.25hr. Good money in'68! I always told my friends to bring back their empty popcorn boxes and I'd refill for free...extra butter too! Hey, they inventoried the boxes, not the popcorn! It was a long time before I could eat popcorn after I left that job! Growing up in Chicago there were plenty of times that riots, murders, and just plain hateful things went on...not unlike today. You would think we'd figure out a way that would be different.

  15. I don't mean to gloss over your danger in the riot zone...but I am fascinated by the thought of that can lowered out the window to be filled with money. That might have gotten you more attention with the ladies. "Stick around until we close. I've got something to show you." Of course, it might have gotten you slapped.