I drive past Russell Wantz's car wash business every day -- three or four times, in fact -- and I never knew he had vending machines on the property.
That's how well hidden they are. Or if not hidden, certainly out of public view.
And they're not even close to the sidewalk.
Yet he received a cease-and-desist letter from York City officials dated May 2, giving him 30 days to remove two vending machines -- a soda machine and a car-wash detergent dispenser -- because they are alleged to be in violation of a zoning ordinance that was passed last year by city council.
As it turns out, Wantz was just one of about 80 property owners in York City to receive similar anti-vending machine letters.
The ordinance, of course, is all about appearances. City officials want to present a prettier picture, a more aesthetically pleasing streetscape.
And, at the same time, reduce the amount of vandalism and litter that plagues city streets.
They want to eliminate vending machines from sidewalks or the public right of way.
It's an admirable goal.
Good luck making it happen, however.
Because vending machines clearly are the least of the city's problems. And some of these vending machines -- all of a sudden considered to be offensive to someone -- have been sitting where they're sitting for 30 or 40 or 50 years.
Not that vending machines are all that easy on the eyes -- they aren't. I wouldn't say they're ugly, but they're not going to win any beauty contests, either.
When it comes right down to it, though, ugly is in the eye of the beholder.
We'd all draw that line at a different spot.
I, for example, find billboards, utility poles and overhead wires a lot more unpalatable than vending machines. But we all know there's not going to be any effort to ban them from the city streetscape, even though most of us would have to admit the city would look a lot better without them. If we're being truthful, that is.
So the discussion quickly becomes not eliminating all that's ugly from our streetscapes, but choosing who gets to decide what's ugly or not.
If I'm the designated Czar of Ugliness -- the guy who gets to make that decision for the whole city, the whole county or the whole country -- I'm all for it.
But if that power rests in someone else's hands, forget about it.
Vending machines are what they are -- metal dispensing devices for all sorts of products, though mostly food and drink. And they almost always sit on a sidewalk, in easy view, in front of a retail or service establishment.
Would I rather see a flower pot or two instead of a vending machine? Well, of course. But I'd also prefer to see the pear trees lining Market Street in downtown York, rather than the fronts of a bunch of buildings. Yet there are those who would cut the pear trees down as part of the city's streetscape improvement model.
On a scale of one to 10, vending machines probably only rate a four from me in the level of annoyance they create. There are other things that annoy me more -- billboards, for example, rate an eight in my book, and utility poles a nine.
I'm not sure, either, how city officials can decide that metal vending machines are any more obnoxious (or offensive to the eye) than the metal chairs and tables they allow to sit on sidewalks in front of some downtown restaurants.
Metal is metal after all, and none of it is art.
In fact, there is not a vending machine in the city that requires walkers to practically walk in the street or walk single file just to get past it, which is more than I can say for some of the sidewalk cafes.
And while I don't personally find them offensive, I'm not certain many people wouldn't consider the promotional sign-boards sitting on the sidewalks in front of restaurants and eateries -- the Central Market, too, come to think of it -- at least as unacceptable as vending machines.
See what I mean? What you might think is ugly, I don't; and what I think is ugly, you don't.
This is a can of ugly worms.
Probably a can of worms best left undisturbed.
But it's too late for that, I guess.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.