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Exchanging loose change for a little time

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Column by Ben Sheroan, editor

By Ben Sheroan

In the corners of my brain, I managed to preserve memories of a child's perspective of downtown Elizabethtown.

There's a sense of wonder associated with visits to J.J. Newberry's which had a collection of ladies' hats by the front door, a massive lunch counter that always seemed crowded and a staircase in the middle of the floor that led to an actual bargain basement.

The memories include an occasional prolonged trip to the courthouse accompanying Dad as he renewed a license or paid a tax bill. It seemed that he knew everyone and had to talk to them, especially the ancient old men who occupied the benches killing time, swapping stories and arguing about politics.

Not all the thoughts are pleasant. There are shadowy images of fear associated with a second-floor walkup to visit the dentist. I’m told Novacane existed in the '60s but I remember real pain, not numbness.

But for me, downtown E'town's most consistent attraction were parking meters. For a couple kids from meter-less Vine Grove, it was a delightful curiosity.

My sister and I would fight for the right to feed the meter. Arguments almost always surfaced.

"It's my turn!"

"No, it's my turn. She did it last time."

"Did not!"

"Yes, you did. Liar!"

In retrospect, I wonder if that's why our parents did not go downtown more often.

Usually, Dad would come up with some Solomon-like solution. One child puts the coin in. The other gets to turn the knob.

Mom's typical solution was much more simple. She'd tell us to hush and do it herself.

As a young driver, I remember the special pleasure involved in finding a meter with time still on it. Somehow, you were beating the system — even if it was just beating it out of a dime.

Elizabethtown City Council was debating meters last week so when I turned into the municipal lot Friday for some business on the square, the topic was on my mind.

Coincidentally, I parked behind a barren pole where a meter once was. Although the meters are not in use, most of the parking spots still have them hanging, masked by red plastic bags.

I've seen it described recently as a blacktop field dotted with red balloons.

It also feels like a pending threat. If economic prosperity ever returns to downtown Elizabethtown, these meters are waiting to make us pay for the privilege of visiting.

Convenient parking changed shopping patterns and spoiled a lot of wonderful downtowns. I'd love to see Public Square's revival but just as J.J. Newberry's and second-story dental offices are unlikely to return, let's hope parking meters never are resurrected.

Personally, I'd join the argument to remove the things just to make sure they are not used again. Our car culture demands parking be accommodated. That seems to be an obvious consideration that rarely comes up when downtown revitalization is discussed. My simple reminder: Plan for parking.

And besides, I don't want to be on the other side of those backseat squabbles when my grandkids argue about whose turn it is to put coins in the machine.

Ben Sheroan is editor of The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or bsheroan@thenewsenterprise.com.