What You Make It

Finding warm-weather fun can be a real chore—especially when its very definition changes as often as the weather. Surfing in February may be fun for the hearty trio of 50-something daredevils I share the ocean with on weekend mornings in summer. As for me, the board doesn’t leave the garage until May. And the log flume at Sea World? Loved it. My 6-year-old daughter? Not so much.

Things that were fun 10 years ago can be downright perilous now—e.g., that ill-advised run in the snowboard terrain park from which I barely escaped in one piece this winter. That might also explain why, for some of us, our passion for watching certain professional sports intensifies as we get older, while our golf game kicks up a notch. Honestly, thwacking a little white ball with a club sure beats getting thwacked in the temple by an errant pass on the football field. I’ll leave that to the kids.

Get ready to feel even older: Skee-Ball is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. For our family, a favorite summer-fun ritual is heading to the Avalon boardwalk arcade before dinner on Saturday evenings. While my wife and daughter prefer games of chance, I make a beeline for the Skee-Ball alleys. To rack up the points in Skee-Ball, a certain degree of skill and finesse is required—of which I have a little. For old time’s sake, I only play the 25-cent machines, so the tickets don’t come in bunches. Still, I throw my meager payout into the pile, and my daughter always comes away from the redemption counter with something to keep her occupied at the restaurant.

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Skee-Ball, Inc. is owned by Berwyn’s Joe Sladek, who purchased the company in 1985 and has since taken it global, getting his kids involved in various aspects of the business. You can now find the machines in places like Saudi Arabia, Russia, Mexico and Guatemala.

These days, Sladek isn’t an easy guy to collar. “Like with Skee-Ball itself, it takes patience—and lots of games—to make any progress when trying to sit down with him,” says senior writer J.F. Pirro, who wrote the “Skee-Ball Scions” feature that anchors this month’s Summer Fun Guide. “It took weeks of phone calls and multiple e-mails. Then, even after confirming his interest and asking for a late-morning appointment, 10:30 a.m. wasn’t late enough.”

After years of working 10-hour days, the 62-year-old Sladek finally has time to enjoy himself, routinely rolling into Skee-Ball, Inc.’s Bucks County headquarters at 11:30 a.m. and leaving at 4 p.m. And when he’s not running the family business, you might track him down at one of his vacation homes in Ocean City, N.J., or Aruba.

We suggest you follow Sladek’s lead, and schedule some hard-earned downtime for yourself this summer. And we hope our Summer Fun Guide will take some of the work out of finding it.

Our Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs Party is July 25!