Well, this past week I was looking down into the holler toward Webb’s Creek thinking about the fast approaching expiration date on my car’s license plate. Earlier in the week I received a very nice letter from the folks over at the state department of motor vehicles advising me to send them some cash. In return, they said they would send me a little stamp with incredibly sticky glue that will keep me road legal for yet another year.
It is easy enough to hide stuff in my junk drawer (top left in the kitchen ) or to protect the confidentiality of the contents of my wallet (Food City gas bucks coupons), but that license plate is stuck out there in full public view for all the world to see. From personal experience I know that an expired license plate automatically brings a police car into the rear view mirror and generates a very high level of general paranoia. Thank goodness other licenses and permits in life don’t have to be publicly displayed and attached to my bumper.
Massachusetts was the first state to require license plates back in 1903, but in a few years every state figured out it was a great way to gather up some cash. Idaho took a bold step in 1928 when their legislature decided that they should become the first state to include a graphic design on their plates; a potato. Citizens of Idaho could proudly drive throughout America displaying potatoes on their license plates for all the world to see. The state legislature removed the potato from the plates one year later although potatoes continue to be an important part of a balanced diet.
Wyoming came up with the really cool idea of a cowboy riding a bucking bronco and have stuck with that same license plate design for over 70 years. You’ve got to give them solid credit for either consistency or a total lack of creativity. Other states have been all over the map with ideas, pricing schemes and designs. Early Tennessee plates were actually shaped a bit like the state itself and the “Bi-cen Tenn ial” plate was also downright clever. In recent years the license plate industry has blossomed into an exciting way to make a public graphic declaration of support for just about any organization that exists.
Virginia leads the way with over 200 different plate designs. You can get a license plate that says, “Flute Player” or “Parrot Heads.” It makes me wonder how many Virginians play the flute or more importantly, how many residents still play Jimmy Buffet albums on turntables? One of the more striking license plates includes a bowling ball and a pin with the word “Bowler” emblazoned at the bottom of the plate.
In Tennessee we have about 90 options and those living in the past can still purchase a UT national championship license plate while others can support Friends of the Smokies or many other non-profit organizations. My license plate has a black bear on it because I think it is so cool driving throughout the country displaying a bear on my plate. I often see adults and children pointing at my plate. I truly believe the bear generates respect and excitement much more so than a potato.
Vanity plates are yet another option for license plates and that has opened up a whole new world of public personal messages. Psychologists suggest it is a cost-effective way for a person to say, “Hey, I’m special.” In most states a vanity plate is still less costly than a therapy session and Virginia once again leads the way with about 16% of their plates personalized. “Virginia is for Lovers…of License Plates.”
When your license plate expiration notice arrives you can just send them some cash and get a new sticker or seize the creative opportunity to proudly proclaim to the world that you enjoy watching some football team or even that you graduated from college (transcripts not required). For a few more dollars you can create your own little miniature billboard for all the world to see. Your license plate expiration notice is an annual opportunity to re-define yourself as a human being… or to simply renew your tag. For me…I’m just gonna renew the darn thing. That is just how it looks from my log cabin.
John LaFevre is a local speaker and co-author of the interactive national park hiking book series, Scavenger Hike Adventures, Falcon Guides, Globe Pequot Press. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org. Artist G. Webb lives in Pittman Center, Tennessee. Gwebbgallery.com.