The City: Where Ping Pong Tables Go To Die

I used to say the internet was suburban.

The idea being, both on the internet and in the suburbs you get the feeling you could be anywhere. Nowadays I might offer some serious quibbles with that proposition, but recently I revisited one corner of the internet that is indeed (at least in the Twin Cities) almost exclusively suburban: Craigslist listings for ping pong tables.

This was in service of what’s become a slightly perverse habit: Importing intact ping pong tables from their roomy environs in suburban basements and garages, into the cramped inner city where the only place for them is outside and they get wrecked. (See also: boulevard sod and downtown birch trees.)

Every few years we get the itch so we check Craigslist, and without fail all the ping pong tables looking for a new home are in the suburbs. They can be a bear to move, so among the reasonably priced or free listings, we pick from among the nearest (I mean, not Buffalo).

Our first ping pong table was from a not-too-distant northern suburb, I forget which but maybe Spring Lake Park or New Brighton. A nice couple whose children had long since left the nest led us to their tidy basement. The table was easy to carry up — a lean econo model, made in Canada in the 1950s, using as few raw materials as possible. It was easy to throw on top of the car for the trip back into town, where it functioned just fine until someone sat on it.

Next came the behemoth from Edina — a pricier, deluxe model with a metal base in the middle that weighed as much as a washing machine. The hard-bargaining sellers stood in the driveway watching us struggle to load it into a van. They were clearly glad to see it go.

And that table was such a hassle to keep dry. It took three of us to hoist it up onto (or lower it down from) the porch. When left in the yard, folded up, it required an elaborate wrapping system with tarps and ties in case of rain.

Try as you might to shelter them, outdoor ping pong tables, like outdoor pianos, inevitably get rained on and eventually get too bumpy or warped for play. (They have concrete ping pong tables outdoors in cosmopolitan places like New York City but that trend hasn’t reached us yet.)

Eventually even that brawny table went to the curb (broken into its constituent pieces for scrappers/recycling if I recall correctly).

Our latest, a freebie from Shoreview, seemed to be just right: Not too heavy and not too flimsy. However, it required disassembly to fit in the covered bed of our borrowed pickup, and it was never the same. I spent the first rainy hour of a grad party we were hosting with a couple handy guests rejiggering the aluminum pipe support structure so the table could bear its own weight. We flipped it with difficulty and held an abbreviated round robin. Within an hour it was covered with mulberries. But later the kids wiped off the berries and played their own mini-tourney and that was the whole point.

With any luck it’ll last until fall.

P.S. If all this seems wasteful, I do have a plan for a solar outdoor ping pong table.

And for those who say ping pong does so have an urban cultural heritage — you’re right. Here are the Jolly Lumberjacks performing the Ping Pong Polka at the Prom Ballroom in St. Paul.