Larry Penkava Column: A penny found is a penny pinched

Published 12:17 pm Sunday, September 9, 2018

I brake for coins.

Larry Penkava

No, not in my car. But when I’m walking and see money on the ground, I stop to pick it up.

With my artificial hips, it may take five seconds for me to get down there, but I keep a watchful eye out for traffic.

No matter if it’s just a penny, it’s not going to just lie there. I’m helping to clean up the city of filthy lucre, after all.

My inclination to be a grubber of dirty money goes back to my childhood, I suppose. Back then a penny could actually buy something. Gum machines took my copper coins and gave me back a gumball.

For a nickel I could go to Trotter’s Store and come out with a soft drink. Then one year in the ‘50s, Coke decided to add a penny to the price and knocked my budget upside-down.

Trotter’s didn’t have a vending machine to dispense soft drinks. Instead, there was a big metal cooler with folding doors on top. We could lift one of the doors to reveal drinks cooling in ice water down in the depths.

When I wanted a drink I had to swish around in the icy water with my hand to find the drink I wanted. Back then there was quite a selection, besides just Coke and Pepsi.
Royal Crown Cola, otherwise known as RC, was probably as good as the top two brands. Then there was Cheerwine with its cherry flavor long before Cherry Coke or Cherry Pepsi.

Nehi was known for its variety of fruit flavors. And there was A&W Root Beer, SunDrop, Orange Crush, Sunkist, Upper 10, Bubble Up and Brownie, a chocolate drink.

All the soft drinks came in bottles when I was growing up. You could return your empty for a penny so the bottlers could wash and refill it with your favorite bubbly.

When I was walking up and down the roads as a youngster, the empty bottles tossed in side ditches were my form of money. I would collect the empties and return them to the store for cash. With enough bottles, I could buy myself a cold drink.

Those glass drink bottles have given way to aluminum cans. They’re collectibles too, but not nearly as profitable. That’s why I’ll kick a flattened can aside looking for coins underneath.

I have to admit, coin hunting isn’t going to get me rich. It’s the walking that really pays off by helping me keep some semblance of physical conditioning.

But it’s always a pleasant surprise to find a shiny coin on the ground, especially when it’s silver.

I was telling my teenage grandson about my coin search the other day while we were walking. It was right after I found a penny and later a dime along the way.

“You ought to keep them in a jar,” Ryan said. “They might add up.”

“I’m afraid if I do then I’ll stop finding them,” I responded.

If I wanted to be really serious about looking for money, I would invest in a metal detector. I see guys with those things at the beach all the time but wonder how hard it is to find stuff buried in the sand.

Actually, I was at the beach a few years ago and found several coins lying on the sand near the protective dunes. One coin I had to scrape off gunk to uncover FDR’s profile.

A coin I found a week or so ago had been driven over so much that I had to put it under a bright light to reveal the lines of the Capitol Building on the reverse side of Tom Jefferson.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a coin collector. I don’t keep folders with slots to hold Indian head nickels or the like.

I just like to pick up money. And wonder how the coin wound up where it was.

A few weeks ago I was walking on a main drag near downtown. I saw a shiny penny and picked it up.

I few feet away I found another shiny penny, and then a few more feet away I found another shiny penny.

Then, about half a block farther on I found another shiny penny. It reminded me of Hansel and Gretel dropping bread crumbs to mark their trail, only to have birds swoop down to eat the bread.

I guess I was the bird removing someone’s penny path.

Or maybe it was just a leaky coin purse.

Who knows how and why coins wind up on the ground? All I know is that I don’t intend to leave them there.

Pennies, after all, become nickels and dimes, and nickels and dimes become dollars.
If I find enough of them, maybe I’ll use them to buy an RC Cola.

Larry Penkava, who has written Now and Then since 1994, hates finding metal slugs.