By SARA R. JOHNSON
Published: Friday, November 14, 2008 11:26 AM EST
Jan Walsh had to be supportive of her son, Mike Walsh, after she loaned him her vehicle so he could visit a bowling alley in each of the 50 U.S. states.
He quit his job to make the bowling journey. Then he realized he didn’t have a car. So he borrowed his mom’s.
“The first time I talked to her about it, she pretended not to hear. But she then realized I was serious, and was willing to support me,” Walsh said. “She had to be very supportive if she wanted her car back.”
Walsh, a 1993 Upper Arlington High School graduate, ventured to each state with the notion not only to bowl, but with intention to publish a book based on conversations he had with people along the journey.
His book, Bowling Across America: 50 States in Rented Shoes, was released on Oct. 28 to major book stores across the country, along with amazon.com.
Walsh now is on a national book tour. He held a reading at the Border’s Bookstore on Sawmill Road Tuesday, Nov. 11.
Walsh, 27 at the time, left his job at an advertisement agency, Upshot Inc., to take on his pursuit.
Part of his motivation came after his father, Leo, had a goal before he died to play handball in as many states as he could.
“He really loved to travel and have the ability to do something quirky in all 50 states. He passed away with only completing 28 states,” Walsh said.
“I thought, ‘There’s no time like now to take some time off before I have a life and a family and get too established in my career to take six months off to do this.’ ”
So in September 2002, Walsh left Chicago to begin his adventure. He traveled until March 2003.
“I thought it would be an interesting way to see the country through the eyes of a local bowling alley because those are such great places to experience what the community you’re in is like,” he said.
It’s a first book for Walsh, a 33-year-old who currently works at a strategy and design agency, VSA Partners Inc., in Chicago.
“It’s not a book about bowling. It’s a book about America, people and the father-son relationship. It just happens to use bowling as a platform, but it’s a book for everyone,” he said.
“It’s not just for the bowler or the crazy guy who loves road trips; although, he’d certainly enjoy it, too.”
It came down to the conversations he had with people, despite bowling being a major focus.
“I was more interested in talking with the 82-year-old woman that runs the bar and the bowling alley than I was in improving my score,” Walsh said.
He found many of the bowling alleys he visited just by chance, and others through recommendations from friends.
Walsh said he was struck by the openness and friendliness of the people he met across the country.
“How willing they were to sit down with me and talk was a surprise, and a good one.
“I’m not necessarily very comfortable in approaching strangers and talking to them, despite choosing to do this. But I made sure to put myself out there and it helped a lot that people were willing to talk,” Walsh said.
St. Martin’s Press picked up his book idea in 2006.
“It was a great feeling to get that call that someone wanted to make an offer on it. It was a real sense of accomplishment, followed immediately by a sense of fear it could go away in a minute. That feeling never went away until I saw the book in the store for the first time,” he said.
To return to his life relatively the same way he had left it made him feel he could accomplish more than what he had thought prior to leaving, he said.
“It certainly made me more confident. Not that I was under-confident before, but it enabled myself to have the faith that if I took a big fling and do something unconventional, I would be successful at it,” Walsh said.
Frank Cole, in his 34th year as Upper Arlington High School teacher, had Walsh in class his senior year.
Back in the day, Walsh used a lively voice and writing style, similar to author and humorist Dave Berry, Cole said.
“He’s just very compassionate and real genuine. He never really did anything for himself, and the whole part of his humor is to make people enjoy things a little more,” Cole said.
“He definitely looks at life sideways, which makes him very entertaining. He’ll take the most ordinary situation and make it more enjoyable.”
“It’s a book about America, people and the father-son relationship. It just happens to use bowling as a platform.”