In 1968 I was 14 and had the downtown paper route in Hazard, Kentucky (yes, that Hazard). In 1968 Hazard was a booming coal town, and downtown, Main Street, was the place to be. My job was to deliver our only contact with the outside world, the Louisville Courier-Journal, at that time one of the best newspapers in the country. I delivered the paper to all the poolrooms, saloons and whorehouses, and everyone else downtown. In those days, we collected in person from our customers. We punched a yellow ticket on a ring when they paid us, but that meant we went in person to about a hundred people every week to collect for the paper. I had whores tell me to come back in an hour and they always had the money. The old ladies tried to keep me talking as long as they could and I indulged them. I was a charming little fart. I was 14.
Of course, I could not legally go into those joints because they served alcohol and I was a minor. I had a little document from the sheriff which was signed by my father and notarized that I had permission to go into the joints. It wouldn’t fly legally today, but that was a different time. Some of the bars had a really edgy, nervous feeling and I didn’t spend any more time than I had to in those places. I saw a man get killed one time. There were older men that wanted some kind of sexual interaction and I just played dumb like I wasn’t picking up on the message and took off. I was 14.
The joint that I completely adored was the 8-Ball Pool Room. I spent a lot of time there. They had great pool tables and juke box, but they had the best pinball machines in the whole county, and I loved pinball. The management did a good job of keeping the creeps out so it felt safe. There were guys who wanted to buy us lunch and stuff and we let them. We grew up fast.
Walmart came into town and killed Main Street. It’s a ghost town now. Most of the people have left. I’ve learned enough to know not to go back, not to kill my memories of the place. I never will. It’s not there anymore. There were two years there, 1967 and 1968, that simply changed everything about me. My folks moved us to Louisville and I never looked back. At the same time, when I think about how much that brief period of time shaped me it still takes my breath away. I was 14.