One of the things parents in the United States often use to occupy children on long road trips are variations on the license plate game: seeing how many different state (or Canadian provincial or Mexican state) license plates each child can identify (in our family, if you passed a graveyard on your side of the car, you lost your license plates and had to start over). This may not make sense to some of my overseas readers, for I don't recall ever visiting any other country that allowed personally-customized license plates (in Germany, for example, plates are standardized as three-part numbers, with the first 1-3 letters signifying the area of registration (1 letter for the largest cities, 2 for smaller cities, and 3 for the smallest towns or regions), followed by two letters and three or four numbers).
Nowadays, license plates are still a big deal, but for a different reason: it seems as if everyone and his uncle has to have a customized, "vanity" license plate. I used to think that it was mainly California that was consumed with this craze, but Virginia is every bit as bad. The states love them because they can make extra money by charging an additional registration fee for a specialized theme license plate and/or personalized message; drivers love them because they offer a chance to (as Virginia's ad for the plates says) "drive your message home," ha, ha.
Some vanity plates are used as advertisements:
On a plumber's truck: NO DRIPS
On a heating contractor's truck: GET HEAT
Some reflect the owner's hobbies, preferences, or personal situation:
TIED UP (no comment, there).
COL RETD (obviously a retired colonel from one of the services).
DANCER (I like this person already).
Some of the best vanity plates make use of the theme of the license plate, or of the frame that holds it in place (which often carries a message or advertisement of its own):
I've seen a Virginia license plate with the City of Alexandria theme (a fully-rigged sailing ship) on a car with a rear-window sticker reading "US Navy, Retired": the plate read ARG M8Y.
On a late-model Saturn sedan: the plate (sitting just above the word SATURN embossed on the rear panel) read RINGS OF.
But the all-time vanity license plate champion was this one from New York that featured a load of black humor: the frame holding the plate in place read US ARMY BOMB DISPOSAL, and the plate read OOPS BOOM.
I got to thinking about this topic when I read this article yesterday on the CNN website. It seems that some wealthy people in the United Arab Emirates (where, if memory serves, Random Magus blogs) with more money than good sense are spending enormous amounts of money to buy vanity plates consisting simply of the lowest possible number. According to the article, the numbers 5 and 7 have already been sold for the equivalent of $6.75 million and $2.97 million, respectively; next week, the number 1 is supposed to go on sale, and is expected to fetch an astronomical amount. The numbers 5 and 7 both belong to the same person, a stockbroker in Abu Dhabi, who notes that plate number 5 is on his bright red Rolls Royce...and cost more than ten times what the car did.
Just in case you were wondering what happens with all that money you spend on gas at the pump...
Before you ask, no, I don't have a vanity license plate...I'm too cheap. I have the plain old vanilla blue-on-white Virginia license plate on my car. Agnes has an "animal lover" theme plate on her car, but without a personal message...the plate itself costs an extra $25 on the annual registration; a personalized message would be another $25 or more.
For that kind of money, I'll just lean out the window and yell my message at other cars.
Have a good day. If you've seen a good vanity plate, let me know what it is.
More thoughts tomorrow.