Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I Guess It Means Something Different in Ohio...

Ever since being given a copy of I-Spy Car Number Plates as a child I have always been just a little bit interested in these commonplace identifiers. Those long journeys used to fly by as I looked up each of the 650 basic ways of combining two letters. Sometimes, pre-2001 BDs, KVs and WKs still remind me of spotting them far from home on the motorway and wondering if they were going all the way back with us. I would never find out though, as my Dad drove so slowly. It's a wonder that I spotted any at all – every other vehicle was just a blur. Those near-neighbours would have been watching Pan’s People, eating Arctic roll and playing on their space hoppers long before us. (That was all anyone did in the 70s.)

I have mixed feelings about personalised number plates though. On the one hand, everyone who has one is an idiot with more M0 NEY than S3 NSE (yes, I know that first one isn't strictly allowed – they would have to do something like M10 NEY or N\0 NEY (that's N10 NEY with an illegally sloping 1)). It's like a designer label that says "I couldn't find a car expensive enough to show how rich I am, so look at what else I've wasted my money on!" You could achieve the same effect by fitting a device to the exhaust that burns a £20 note every mile.

On the other hand, I like the way that even in something as mundane as a rigid alpha-numeric system designed solely to identify vehicles in case of crime or collision people still like to express their creativity, albeit often in a piss-poor way that requires putting in extra screws to make one letter look a bit like another. Americans have a much more flexible approach to vanity plates though – you don't need to have even a single digit that you have to pretend is an E or, with a bit more squinting, an A. I find that a bit too easy – like writing poetry that doesn't have to rhyme. The only restriction is that it can't be offensive, so how this slipped through the net is anyone's guess...

I guess it means something different in Ohio...

I used to see this car around Cleveland a lot in the early 90s, and eventually had to explain to my then girlfriend what was so funny. I really wanted to get a picture of it, but as soon as I decided to carry my camera with me at all times it went into hiding. I would stalk my quarry along I-77 as others would go after big game in the Serengeti. Then, the day that we parted (it was the old story – boy meets girl, girl finds out boy is obsessed with number plates), there it was, parked majestically like a wildebeest at a watering hole.

(Note the Cleveland Rocks sticker. For anyone who hasn't been to Cleveland, "rocks" is perhaps pushing it slightly.)